Persons, places and things: A time for silence

Barb Arland-Fye

In his homily last weekend, Father Joe Wolf shared a quote attributed to the Quakers: “Speak only if you can improve upon the silence.”
My mind lingered on that phrase, remembering the many times I have failed to improve upon the silence with words.
As far back as childhood I found myself apologizing for words uttered imprudently. My dad would advise me that if I had just held my tongue I wouldn’t have needed to apologize.
But to be honest, I find silence, at times, to be challenging and uncomfortable.  Seven or so years ago, our Catholic Messenger staff went on a self-directed retreat. We did not know ahead of time that during lunch we were expected to observe silence. I’m not sure how long we sat at the table eating our food without saying a word, but it felt like an eternity. One of our staffers refrained from eating his potato chips because he thought it disturbed the silence!
At other times, when I’ve visited an acquaintance in the hospital, I’ve struggled to keep the conversation flowing, not realizing until I’d taken classes on pastoral care that it’s OK to simply sit and be present to that person.
And who hasn’t endured or inflicted the “silent treatment” at some time in life?  But that’s not the kind of silence Fr. Joe, pastor of Our Lady of the River Parish in LeClaire, preached about. His emphasis was on choosing words wisely; he offered examples from speeches of Abraham Lincoln, who chose passages from the Book of Psalms to help convey his eloquent thoughts.
Mother Teresa, who expressed herself beautifully with and without words, said we need to find God, who cannot be found in noise and restlessness. “See how nature — trees, flowers, grass — grows in silence … We need silence to be able to touch souls.”
Father encouraged us to also look from within to find the ways in which God touches our lives. He included that advice in the closing announcements that I read during Mass last weekend.
But before I began, Fr. Joe asked the congregation to sing Happy Birthday to my son Colin, who would celebrate his 25th birthday on March 25 — a very special birthday for this young man with autism. In our family, when your age matches the birth date, it’s called a golden birthday. Colin told someone he’d been waiting for this birthday since 1987. (The year he was born!)
As the congregation sang, and I watched Colin light up with his inimitable, clenched-jaw smile, tears welled in my eyes. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to read the final announcements. Father’s words, coupled with our congregation’s love, filled my heart with inexplicable aching. Many of these people have watched my son on his unpredictable journey with autism, and accept him for who he is.
In this collage of memories I felt God’s presence within me. I couldn’t possibly use words to express the intimacy of the moment. My words couldn’t improve upon the silence.
Barb Arland-Fye

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