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Issue Date:  December 15, 2006

From the Editor's Desk

The light and quiet of winter

I think often this time of year of light and quiet. Light, because so much of what the Catholic community thinks about in December is the coming of the Light and because so much of what surrounds us during this season, at least where seasons exist and the cold visits, invites us to quiet.

Sometimes it is nothing more significant than realizing that the annuals have all been yanked out of the garden and that the ground lies bare and uncomplicated; or that one doesn’t go out the back door nearly as often during the cold months as happens in the warm. Or that coming in the front door during December, into warmth and, more often than not as days shorten, into light, is more noteworthy and comforting than at other times of year.

We don’t get much snow in this part of the Midwest, but when it happens in any substantial way, as it did recently, it can bring with it a profound stillness. It is the muffled luxury I recall from childhood in the Northeast, the day off because of snow and that stall that seems to occur in the machinery of everyday life, that small window of snowbound tranquility, before the engines all around us fire to life again.

Light and the quiet force of snow mingle in a favorite passage in John Updike’s The Centaur, when Peter and his father leave a high school basketball game into an evening snowstorm. Peter sees snow anew as “an immense whispering whose throat seems to be now here, now there. He looks at the sky and it answers his eyes with a mauve, a lilac, a muffled yellow-pearl.” As his eyes adjust, he sees the swirl of flakes “as an edge of a wing, and then an entire broadening wing of infinitesimal feathers, broadening into the realization that this wing is all about them and crowds the air to four hidden horizons and beyond.”

~ ~ ~

An “immense whispering” I find increasingly appealing and I can only presume it is because of two realizations. First is that of the immense noisiness of the world about us, particularly the growing “quiet noise,” if you’ll allow it, of the overwhelming digital age. Delightful as it is at times to be so easily connected to each other and to sound, images, and bits of just about anything one might want to happen upon, I find it can be equally exhausting. Second is the growing understanding that rejuvenating the spirit, finding God anew, requires quiet. It is a theme that is reflected in Rich Heffern’s cover piece on Advent ( see story) and again in his story in the Spirituality section (Rich has been busy these last weeks) about what evangelicals find attractive in Catholic practice ( see story). The high-profile evangelical pastor Rick Warren, for instance, is now teaching solitude, meditation and the writings of the monastic tradition.

~ ~ ~

One of the modern writers of the monastic tradition, of course, is Thomas Merton, and, though I might be one who thinks that Merton has been sized up, quoted, used and reused in every imaginable way, I was pleasantly surprised recently when I came across Thomas Merton: A Book of Hours, compiled by Kathleen Deignan. It is a marvelous, inspiring, comforting, jolting, consoling little volume that organizes Merton’s writing into prayers for dawn, midday, dusk and night of each day. A portion of a Night Hymn for Friday seems appropriate for the season:

How long we wait, with minds as quiet as time,
Like sentries on a tower.
How long we watch, by night, like the astronomers.
Heaven, when will we hear you sing,
Arising from our grassy hills,
And say: “The dark is done, and Day
Laughs like a Bridegroom in His tent, the lovely sun,
His tent the sun, His tent the smiling sky!”

In these last weeks before the days begin to ever so slowly stretch out again, I wish you some moments infused with God’s quiet and presence.

-- Tom Roberts

National Catholic Reporter, December 15, 2006

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