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By Norris Burkes, Jan 23, 2022
Last week, my wife, Becky, and I took a bargain flight to the sun-drenched volcanic island of Hawaii, retreating from the threatening snow in our California foothills.
We spent much of the monotonous five-hour trip watching videos, but the sweeping sight of the endlessly smooth beaches on final approach had me imagining how I might find some peaceful silence.
The noise in my life had been building so slowly that I hadn’t realized how it had squelched so much of what God wants me to hear in the silence of his creation.
A few days after landing on the “Big Island,” we set out to find what Simon and Garfunkel called “The Sound of Silence.” We began our search with a one-hour road trip from our Kona hotel to Mauna Kea, a 13,677-foot dormant volcano.
We broke through the clouds at 8,000 feet and finally reached the visitor’s center at 9,200 feet. As we stepped from the car, we were spotlighted by the slanting rays of the fading sunlight.
We layered our summer clothing and donned sweatshirts to ward off the chilling threat of hypothermia. We then set out to ascend another 200 feet to grasp the pallet hues of the setting sun. Within a few minutes, the sun was gone, and I found myself eager for our pending engagement with silent beauty.
In the darkening dusk, I was excited to peer into the night skies described on the park website as being “among the clearest, driest, darkest places on the planet.”
“What,” I asked myself, “would darkness look like? What would silence sound like?”
Little holes began poking through the sky like sparkling glitter on black canvas. This was the kind of sky that likely inspired pilot and poet John Gillespie Magee to claim he had “put out my hand and touched the face of God.”
Silence is the unspoken partner in this darkness. Mount Mauna Kea is so high that astronomers say they sometimes hear meteors pass in the silence.
In this solitude, if God had a hearing booth this might be it. I could imagine the booth as a place where God played some tones and asked you to indicate which ear you were hearing from — your spiritual ear or your secular ear?
The silence told me that, as of late, I’d heard too much with that secular ear. My head seemed to be overflowing with a colluding cacophony of the distracting e-mails and voicemails, flight times and deadlines.
In that moment, I was anxious to hear with my spiritual senses.
But up in that thinning air, the only sound I heard was my weight nervously shifting over the obsidian rocks. I heard my breath and my heartbeat.
I was wary of being alone and covered, nearly smothered by the silence.
I strained to hear something. Anything at all.
What else might I hear?
Nothing. Nothing at all.
Yet I’ve never known “nothing” to sound so sacredly wonderful. It was as if I could hear the planets spin above me, as if I could hear myself aging, as if I could hear the clouds as they ran away searching for a new home.
This silence offered me a window into my soul as I stood honoring the sacred injunction to “Be still and know that I am God.”
As I walked back to the visitor’s center, guided by the sound of a car alarm, I couldn’t help but feel a bit sad. Had silence become such a threatened commodity that it now belonged on the acoustically endangered list?
Has the modern day made silence so threatening, distrustful and formidable that it must be sequestered to lonely mountaintops?
I certainly hope not.
We need to find silence every day, but in my case, I was privileged to aquire an extra dose of it on Mauna Kea.
By the way, that car alarm that so carelessly broke the silence — it was mine.
Contact Chaplain Norris at firstname.lastname@example.org or 10556 Combie Rd. Suite 6643 Auburn, CA 95602 or voicemail (843) 608-9715.