The Art of Listening to Nothing
There is a slowness to these winter days, a watching from the windows and a gentle whispered hope for snow.
A pause to look for the stillness that comes with snow, to wait for the slowing down of life that comes in this solstice.
For in all the wild, traipsing world that doesn’t stop, there is nothing quite like the sound of snow.
It’s there, like the music of falling icicles, this one soft answer in all the quiet:
“Be still, and know . . .”
It’s here I feel it most, in the deepness of midwinter. Perhaps that’s why I love it most, this silence when the world is cold and the deepness of the snow makes your tread slow.
The cold snow and the silence of a winter day, in the nothingness of no sound, this is where you can begin to know what quiet is. This is where you may begin to hear the still and often noiselessness of how peace is meant to feel.
The scurry of summer is over. The hushing of autumn’s rest is sleeping. And winter stillness has come at last. The trees fall into a silent sleep, and the furious whirling of the world has paused to heave a breath. To take a moment.
I am so alone here, and I am so alive. I can breathe here. I can slow.
In these shadowy, slow days there is time. Time to find peace and make peace. In these drifted, chilling hours of storing up and building fires, there are places to make cozy and warm, and there are places in the soul for which to do the same.
There is time to listen. Time to notice, time to feel without fear how the length of days draws shorter so that we may grow taller. Time to feel the cold and its magic.
Cold, bringer of silence and stillness, enticing in its peace, and hallowing in its danger, changer of echoes and silence to all-encasing sphere. How often the cold makes quiet, how often the cold turns your breath to clouds, how often seeing your breath is all but this slow and silent exhale to watch it again and again, to listen for the sound it makes curling and unfurling into cold.
What is slowing but this gentle moment of making time, clearing space, and listening?
What is winter but a soothing quieting of the world, a snow white urging to slow?
What is cold but shivering enlivening to know that you are alive?
And somehow you do know it—I am breathing. I can see it. I am alive.
There’s quiet that can shame you and there’s cold that can rip you raw.
There’s quiet that can burn your insides and there’s a cold that cannot quench it.
There’s quiet where the fear leaks in and everything you’ve ever hidden can be heard, and ridiculed, and assaulted.
It’s hard to take the quiet. It’s hard to listen to silence because there’s an onslaught of vicious thoughts just waiting for battle, a need to be needed and among others. It’s hard to step into a place where you are alone with only you to think, to fight, to stand ready, to battle the interminable. It’s hard to take the quiet with all the self-hatred, all the anger, all the fear that permeates.
But simply and terribly there is this . . .
Quiet is sometimes a stepping out of the comfort zone of distraction.
Quiet is not a matter of finding, quiet is a matter of becoming. Quiet is a state of being. Quiet is a matter of being still. Because in the Hebrew ‘be still’ means to slacken. To let alone. To let go.
‘To know’ is yâda‛, to ascertain by seeing.
“Let go, and see that I am God.” See me in quiet. See me in the cold. See me in the slowing and see me in the listening. See me in the letting go. See me in the being still.
Be still and listen for Him. For He is exalted on earth, in the wilderness, among the nations and the unbelieving, in the chaos and in the deafening, fear-stricken silence.
God comes in the quiet and in the chaos. God comes in war, in the breaking of spears and the spilling of blood, in the sea of Egyptians, in the encircling of enemies and doubts and fears, and He says,
Quiet is not a place where the mind is empty. Quiet is a place where the mind is given over to slowness, to focus, to the deep and intense sense of hearing, of listening, of being aware, of seeing with the soul all that remains unseen. It is a place where God breaks through.
Becoming quiet becomes this real and heart-aching search for a God that breaks the quiet adulterated with the heavy darkness of your anger, your self-hatred, your sin with His broken, crucified, risen presence.
The way to letting God fight the cold of your past and the shame of your quiet, is not by climbing ladders of importance, nor the drawing of swords, nor the bundling up of your soul tight against the onslaught of a weary world trying to freeze you helpless.
The way to God is the slow and steady pace of a winter day. It is in the looking out of windows and watching the snow come down, drifting. It is the standing still and raising of face to feel this sound, the sound of peace. It is the practice of listening, of being quiet, of relinquishing the noise and chaos we’ve given place to in our souls slip away in all their ringing, clamoring bluster, and saying,
“I will let You fight for me. I will be still. And in this I will see that you are God.”
Because God comes in the silent places, the unlikely places, the mangers of animals in the dank of stables, and the dinner tables of thieves, the battlefields, the dens of lepers, the houses of the mad, the prisons of the anxious, the depressed, and the worried, the tombs of the dead.
He comes to impossible places, He comes to the wild, chaotic torment of your quiet. God comes in the moments where you’re crying out for Him to break His silence. God comes when you cannot hear Him, when there’s just too many hurting moments where you scream, “Where are you, God?” God comes. God comes and He turns your soul to snowfall, gentle, to the stillness of the cold, to the quiet and slowness of winter.
Let go. Know. Be still. And see that He is God.
Let me know this in my bones—that slowness is an exhale in the cold where quiet is unequaled.
Slowness is a place where I am still and watching as I breathe.
Quiet is a place where I am alive and I am listening, to all the wild and quiet moments, and I am still in both.
Let me know it in my soul, that in fact, the art of listening to nothing is the art of seeing God in everything.