A WNIJ Perspective and Commentary
Somedays when I walk out, I can hear gravel trucks banging as they hit bumps on the main road half a mile away. I follow their progress. Other times the Union Pacific train fills the air like sheets billowing on a clothesline. Other mornings the wind is just right and I can hear robins, redwing blackbirds, my footsteps and breezes over the grass.
These days I practice silence when I walk Little Dog. No longer do I speak my requests or even name my thanks. I listen to the fields and the sky. I feel my feet step on gravel. Little Dog darts to the ditch to sniff a pocket of scent. I smell the air—sometimes fertilizer, sometimes smoke from a neighbor’s hearth, sometimes nothing. I look to the neighbor’s oak tree, her branches bent as though the wind had frozen them. Sometimes clouds are turned like a spatula that has rolled batter. Sometimes the sun lies down in the trees like a cat curling up on a chair.
My mind wanders. Of course it does. But I hear my teacher’s voice, “When that happens, return.” I come back to the sights, smells, sounds, footsteps. The gaping loneliness I have tried to fill with Facebook and friends who are tired of hearing from me has filled with silence like a well, where I can look up and see night sky and stars even on a sunny day. It’s gotten easier to smile and laugh.
I’m Katie Andraski and that’s my perspective.
If you'd like to hear me read this, click here.
When my producer read this she said, "the ending strikes me as enormously sad. Or is it the dawn of something better? I hope it's the latter!" And when I showed it to a friend she said she didn't know I was that lonely.
Oops. Sometimes writing reveals more than we want to share. But it's true I am acquainted with loneliness. (I wonder if that's something we don't dare admit about ourselves because it's a set up for people to avoid us, like we're wearing a neon sign: Needy. Your need is too great-- something my aunt actually said in the wake of my brother's death, in the wake of my becoming the sole survivor of my family. Danger. Danger. She'll suck you dry.)
But I'm convinced it's the human condition, whether or not we want to admit this is how we feel.
When I was a junior in high school I wrote a poem that began like this: "I am a loner/I stand on the rock, alone/I stand on the rock of Jesus/I gaze at my friends of past/They've all left me, alone/Not one of them could learn to love a wretch like me." It goes on to talk about trying to tell people about Jesus and how they didn't want to hear it. I take a turn at the end by viewing my friends and wondering if I was the one who was alone. It's a defiant little bugger, influenced by Paul Simon's lyrics: "Hello darkness my old friend" and by my young fundamentalist faith.
(I bless that faith. I bless it like the ground, but as I grew I found a Christianity that is wider, broader and so much better good news than I knew as a preachy young girl. A friend said I sucked as a witness for Jesus because I was so dour and sad. To be honest I bless those tears. Only recently have I realized that tears like those are a spiritual gift. Maggie Ross in Writing the Icon of the Heart says, "Tears are a sign we are struggling with power of one sort or another: the loss of ours, the entering of God's" (115).)
Ross identifies that broad Christianity: "God's life dwells in us whether or not we cooperate. We share the divine nature, and we exist by mercy. Yet we need to open to God's grace in order to increase our capacity for the pouring of divine love through us. To open to God we must become willing. That is all we have to do. God will do the rest" (114).
I am grateful for my English teacher, Miss Busky, for her soft touch with my writing. She wasn't freaked out or offended by my defiant, lonely, arrogant faith. She let me write, gave me good grades and I think trusted the wisdom that working things out on the page can bring. That year was seminal for my call to be a writer. That year I read many of CS Lewis' works and wrote a paper on Sehnsucht, with the help of Clyde Kilby's books tracing Lewis's themes. Lewis named that homesickness for home even though I was home, he put language to my tears. I wanted to do for others what he did for me, show a vision of glory. I went on to get my MFA in poetry and pretty much lead a literary life--doing publicity for a Christian publishing house and teaching first year composition for twenty years.
This practice walking down the road, doing centering prayer, has been a wonderful gift. I've been taking a class on Listening as a Sacred Art. Part one introduced us to listening to God and listening to ourselves. Our teacher, Kathi Gatlin explained how to do centering prayer by choosing a word or phrase and breathing. One of the exercises was to go for a walk and tune into our senses. (I have done this with my students in order to show them how to bring their five senses into their writing.) So I started doing that when I walk the dog in the morning. Kathi encouraged us by saying, "When your mind wanders, return" so I hear her quiet, centered voice when my. mind wanders. The walk is a cup where I can practice this.
That hollowed out loneliness has subsided or maybe it's been transfigured into solitude by practicing silence. Instead of contacting my friends out of a need to "help" them because I'd desperate to be useful, I am filled up like a pitcher brimful with tea. I'm not running into distracting screens to avoid my pain, which wasn't that terrible in the first place. Being silent and beholding the world around me has given my brain a rest and has allowed my own thoughts to surface even though I return to beholding the world around me. Maggie Ross says in Writing The Icon of the Heart, "Even something as simple as refusing to anesthetize the gnawing pain in the pit of your soul that is the resonance of the pain of the human condition is a form of habitual intercession. To bear this pain into the silence is to bring it into the open place of God's infinite mercy" (31). Ross talks about beholding, gazing on how the earth is full of the fulness of God. "We come to realize that in this spacious silence of beholding, the whole of creation is present, and we are given the eyes of compassion. We realize every moment is prayer, life is prayer, and it is our task to immerse ourselves in this wellspring of silence so our lives arise and overflow from it" (32).
I'm finding my voice again because I don't feel compelled to bear witness to people on Facebook and Substack or email. My own thoughts were being squashed.
This quiet has helped my ADHD as well. My psychiatrist took me off my stimulant because it became evident it was all stimulant and no focus. I can find my center without diving through anxiety and I'm not so absent minded.
Longer form projects are rising and sending roots into the ground after a winter's quiet. My biggest challenge is settling on which project because I tend to thrown assorted pots on the stove. My spiritual director reminded me that some projects might still be plants under ground, others sprouting and others ready to be harvested. We'll see if I can get those off my desk and into the world.