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God is in His holy temple. Quiet everyone — a holy silence! Listen. (Habbakuk 2:20)

Noah had 40 days and 40 nights to get used to his new surroundings. I was granted just two days and one night. Yet, for that brief span of time, while my parents were away on an overnight trip, the cabin overlooking the Puget Sound would be all mine. I could run on the beach, dodge banana slug land mines in the forest, and sleep, sleep, sleep to my adolescent heart's content. No television or radio (or computers or mobile devices in those dim, dark, distant days) — just me and the solitude.

That first night, after a full day of fun, I took my 13-year-old body to bed and gazed into the darkness. Twinkling points of light appeared far out on the Sound. But in the cabin all was dark ... and quiet. Too quiet. An ant breathed heavily in the next room. Something wild — a mouse, a rat or perhaps a wolverine — commenced an incessant gnawing inside the wall. Every unusual sound, masked during daytime activities, was amplified in the pitch-black silence. A north wind began to blow; clouds parted and shafts of moonlight created eerie, amorphous shadows. Creaking branches slapped intermittently against the windows. Dark shapes danced an irregular jig around the room.

Then there was the owl.

Silence is not always golden or welcome. The awkward lapse of conversation, the uncomfortable pause, is something we avoid. In the face of oppression and wrong, silence is cowardice. Yet our society has rushed, it seems, to embrace the other extreme. Twitter tiffs of the rich and famous and high-decibel debates among political candidates leave little room for thoughtful discourse or quiet reflection. Online comments on news or blog sites often degenerate into "idiots calling each other idiots," as someone wryly lamented. Lance Ulanoff, editor-in-chief of Mashable, a news-tech site that covers social media, says, "Silence is never a good idea. People will fill that silence with their own information" — and, I might add, whether or not it is valuable or helpful.

But Ulanoff probably never met Sam Campbell. Campbell's stories and lectures about life in the north woods of Wisconsin were an integral part of Adventist culture in the 60s. His old-school philosophies are in short supply today.

In his book Too Much Salt and Pepper, Campbell reminds us of the scriptural advice: "study to be quiet." He observes, "We learn to listen only as we learn the meaning of absolute quiet, complete silence. It would do us little good if the voices of the wilderness spoke to us constantly, if we had not prepared ourselves to receive mentally those inspirational messages which are the real offering of nature."

His words are not an ode to pantheism. They indeed have meaning well beyond the hallowed halls of nature. In the frenetic pace of life that swirls around us, Jesus is still able to calm the storm for those willing to listen.

When darkness closes in, when the wind begins to howl, when the noises and fears are overwhelming, His command "Peace, be still!" is still the message I need to hear.

"We learn to listen only as we learn the meaning of absolute quiet, complete silence."

Featured in: February 2012


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