Hello darkness, my old friend,
I’ve come to talk with you again
Because a vision softly creeping
Left its seeds while I was sleeping
And the vision that was planted in my brain
Within the sounds of silence.
— Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel, “Sounds of Silence”
IN TODAY’S SESSION . . .
The children explored the physical reflective properties of mirrors. We used a mirror as a symbol to teach about reflection as a tool we find in our Unitarian Universalist faith. We talked about using reflection when we have difficult questions and need to think about the answers. And, we talked about when, where, and how we take the time to listen inside ourselves for a still, small voice.
The children learned that we often think of our own “still, small voice” as our conscience and that some people think of it as the voice of God. The group heard the story, adapted from Hebrew scripture (I Kings 19:11-12), of the prophet Elijah and his experience hearing a “still, small voice.”
We learned about reflection to illustrate that:
- Unitarian Universalism is a faith that will help you nurture your spirit through reflection
- Unitarian Universalism encourages a free and responsible search for truth and meaning (fourth Principle)
- Unitarian Universalism learns from direct experience of that transcending mystery and wonder, affirmed in all cultures, which moves us to a renewal of the spirit and an openness to the forces which create and uphold life (first Source)
EXPLORE THE TOPIC TOGETHER. Talk about . . .
When are times that different people in your family find it easy to be reflective? Around a campfire? On a mountaintop? At night?
Talk about the kinds of things each of you think about when you are being reflective. Does reflecting give you fresh ideas? Calm you down? Help you solve problems?
What does your “still, small voice” say to you?
EXTEND THE TOPIC TOGETHER. Try . . .
Talk about ways you have used, or could use, reflection to help find meaningful, truthful answers to difficult questions in your lives.
Many cultures and faiths use meditative practices to foster inward reflection. Explore forms of meditation that members of your family could learn together. Research online about Zen meditation or yoga meditation and locate meditation centers or classes in your area. I recently just completed a 10-day Vipassana meditation retreat in Jesup, Georgia, which is also offered to children and youth via 2-day camps in the summer. I would *highly* recommend this to almost anyone. Course information can be found at: http://courses.dhamma.org/en-US/schedules/schpatapa. You can hear guided meditations for children and adults on websites such as Learning Meditation or Meditation Oasis. UUCT also offers a meditation hour every Sunday from 10am to 11am in Room C.
A FAMILY RITUAL
Try setting a time, such as during a family meal or before children go to sleep, to be deliberate about reflecting on events and issues. Ask each other to reflect on something unusual about your day or something that happened which made you think. Share your reflections with one another.
FIND OUT MORE
Two sermons offer Unitarian Universalist interpretations of the passage from scripture about Elijah and the still, small voice:
“The Still, Small Voice of Calm,” given March 18, 2001, by Revered Gary E. Smith in Concord, Massachusetts, relates the story of Elijah, a tired prophet, to modern UUs’ lives. He says, in part:
Up until this point, the Israelites have depended heavily upon the wind, the earthquake, and the fire to prove the power and the might of the one they hold most holy. What if instead the God of our forebears is to be found in the power of silence, found not in this booming anthropomorphic bellow of an angry father, but in a “small voice of calm?” This is a radical theological change and not one with which the storyteller necessarily lingers.
. . . I think we often find ourselves in Elijah’s place: overworked, overstressed, burned out, tired of trying to prove ourselves, under-appreciated, at the end of our rope, alone, and tired . . . We can find ourselves in Elijah’s place in the wider world, particularly in our passion for politics and change. It all sometimes seems so hopeless. What difference can one person make?
. . . Elijah is a caricature for all of this, it seems to me, to the point that he is reduced to challenging his detractors to a fire ignition contest. Better that he had skipped that and gone directly to what he does next. He heads for the wilderness. He rests. He dreams. Better yet, he listens to his dreams.
In his essay, “Elijah and the ‘Still, Small Voice’: A Desert Reading,” Rabbi Michael Comins, proposes the translation “voice of fragile silence,” based on his own experience reflecting on Elijah’s story while sitting under the shadow of Mt. Sinai and reflecting on Elijah’s experience. He says, in part
Not all silences are alike. Put in earplugs or enter a soundproof room and the silence is muggy and oppressive. Silence in a forested, mountain wilderness is rare. The wind howls, leaves rustle, birds chirp, insects buzz, creeks “sing.” True silence, perhaps on a peak when the wind stops, is actually quite rare. It hits suddenly, with dramatic impact.
In Israel’s deserts and the Sinai, where the wind is usually still for at least half the day, the silence is vastly different. If you are in the desert now, close your eyes and wait for the wind to stop. This silence is total, yet light and natural — even embracing.
And precious. The smallest movement of an insect or the slightest breeze registers audibly. You hear the ruffling of your sleeve, or the call of a raven miles away. This is desert silence. Easily disturbed. A fragile silence.
A sermon by Rabbi Janet Marder, given in September 2004 at Temple Beth Am, Los Altos Hills, California, articulates a contemporary message she finds in the story of Elijah and the still, small voice. Read “Does God Still Speak to People?” online. She says, in part:
The text says that God passed by. There was a great and mighty wind, splitting mountains and shattering rocks, but God was not in the wind. After the wind came an earthquake, but God was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came fire, but God was not in the fire. Finally, after the fire came “kol d’mama daka” — a phrase that is sometimes translated “a still, small voice.” That is the only answer that Elijah gets; but it is enough to send him back to the world to do God’s work.
Most important for us, today, though, may be our experiences of the still, small voice — the quiet yet overpowering consciousness inside us of what is right, of what is real, of what matters in this life and what is essential for us to do. The still, small voice speaks the deepest truths we know. It comes to us at moments of intense joy and also in sadness, when we feel most alone. The still, small voice can lift us out of despair, as it did Elijah; it can remind us that our lives have meaning and purpose, and that there is work to be done in this world.