from a public HS teacher (Gov't, Religion, Soc. Issues), who is eclectic (Dem-leaning) politically and Quaker (& open) on everything else. Hope you enjoy what you find here.

Tuesday, February 03, 2004

ANOTHER WEATHER DAY OFF FROM SCHOOL -- that is 4 in the past 9 days, and one of those was already a makeup day, so the school year will be extended.

We have a storm of freezing rain. When I went to take the recycling out to the curb, my brick patio was smooth, the cracks filled in with the frozen precipitation. It would not have dulled the blades of a pair of ice skates. It is supposed to warm up this afternoon, but until it does, methinks I will remain indoors, reading, allowing our four cats to crawl over me, and perhaps just sitting in silence [I am, after all, a Quaker].

This post is not about politics, at least, not directly. It is about silence. First, silence is not stillness - one can refrain from talking and yet be physically fidgety, or internally in turmoil. Scholars and sages from various religious traditions point this out. I also note that the appropriate Biblical passage is "Be still, and know that I am God." As afraid as we are of silence, we are even more afraid of stillness - we have our American compulsion to always be "doing" something, often multitasking. Here I think of my former roommate from Haverford sophomore year. As a freshman, Dan Maas was often seen playing chess on his left, being part of a bridge hand on his right, doing his math homework on his lap, while watching Outer Limits on the TV. It was amazing his ability to do all four with some modicum of skill! But I digress.

Another Biblical passage that is relevant is that what spoke to Elijah was the "still, small voice" and he immediately knew it as the voice of God.

People are often surprised how much I value silence [and stillness]. I am, after all, more than bit talkative, and my expressions are often far too verbose [and I am rarely seen except in motion]. But it is because my background is in music that I most value silence. I still remember William Hartt Reese, in a course on the symphony, telling four Haverford Music majors that the famous motto of Beethoven's Fifith symphony was NOT as commonly thought dit-dit-dit-DAH, but rather, REST-dit-dit-dit-DAH. The three notes at the beginning were not triplets dividing the time into 3, but three fourths of a time interval that began with silence.

Let me offer one more thought from my reading. I regret that mine is not the kind of mind that can immediately offer the exact reference (you will note the absence of Chapter and Verse citations on the aforementioned biblical references) and often cannot quote word for word. For my purposes, I should be able to express accurately enough to communicate the essence of the story. It comes from the tlaes of the Desert Fathers, the early generations of Christian monastics who live in the deserts of Egypt and Nitria. This is one of my favorites.

An important man, perhaps a bishop, had heard of the holiness and wisdom of one of the Desert fathers. He came a long distance, from Alexandria to the desert monastery, sat at the foot of the holy monk, and as was the custom, asked "Abba, a word" seeking to be enlightened. But the monk said nothing, and after an extended period the visitor went away, apparently saddened by his failure to hear from the monk.

One of the disciples of the Monk asked him why he had not spoken to the visitor, who after all was both distinguished and had travelled a long way. It is the response to that question that matters: "If he will not learn from my silence, than he cannot learn from any words I might offer."

As a teacher, I am heavily reliant upon words to instruct and to provoke and encourage learning. But I have found I am at my most effective when I operate not from the superfluity of my easily formed words, but from the depths of silence. It is from silence that I am able to perceive what my students really mean when they ask questions. It is from my silence that they discover the time and space to find answers for themselves rather then depend upon me to provide it [this is a real problem with most of my students, including some of the very brightest].

And since these words represent the opposite of silence, and my act of entering them into this blog is clearly not an example of stillness, you will forgive me dear reader if I now cease from this task, and honor my own advice to seek both stillness and silence on this cold and wet Winter's day.

[comments may be sent to kber@earthlink.net please preface any such remarks with "teacherken" in the subject line]
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