Last month, I flew to the Big Island of Hawaii with members of my California Air National Guard unit in a horrendously noisy
C-130 military transport plane.
During this deafening nine-hour ordeal in the prop-driven aircraft, I found myself daydreaming about silence. Silence seemed as if it would be worth every bit of gold it was purported to be.
Lately, my head has been filled with more noise than this rusty old plane. It’s been filled with a colluding cacophony of hawkers calling me to distraction, things such as e-mails and voicemails, deadlines and flight times, finances and budgets.
Like the bite of a mosquito that anesthetizes you before sucking your life-sustaining blood, this life noise had drowned out much of what God had been trying to communicate through the silence of creation.
A few days after landing, I set out with a group of 10 to ascend Mount Mauna Kea in our four-wheel rentals. I had a single-minded purpose. I was determined to touch what Simon and Garfunkel describe as “the sound of silence.”
When we got to the visitor’s center at 9,200 feet, I wrapped myself in my military parka, and set out on a hike with a few others. We were eager to peer into the skies described by the park Web site as being “among the clearest, driest, darkest places on the planet.”
What, I asked myself, would darkness look like, what would silence sound like?
In this place so high that astronomers have sometimes heard meteorites, I manned my own solitary listening post. If God had a hearing booth where he told you to indicate which ear you were hearing from — your spiritual ear or your secular ear — I’d say this place would be it.
The only sound I could detect was my weight nervously shifting over the obsidian rocks. I could hear my breath and I could hear my heartbeat. I was leery at first. What else might I hear?
Nothing. Nothing at all.
Yet nothing never sounded so sacredly wonderful. It was as if I could hear the planets spin above me, as if I could hear myself aging, and as if I could hear the clouds roll overhead. This silence offered me a window into my soul, and 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 thumping stereo, I couldn’t help but feel a bit sad. Had silence become a threatened commodity, belonging on an acoustical endangered list? Have we as a human race found silence so threatening, distrustful and formidable that we must sequester it to this place?
I certainly hope not. Because silence is the prelude that God initiates to usher us into some of life’s most important events.
If you’ve ever been to a major musical production, you know this to be true. The conductor starts with silence and then through a small series of rhythmic taps, directs the listener into an acoustical wonderland.
In my case, Mauna Kea on Hawaii’s Big Island was that prelude of silence.