On Silence

I haven’t written here for some time.  In a strange way, I think my own personal book, 100 Birds Taught Me to Fly, about my life experience as a Mormon, has quieted me since its coming painting030out.  I’ve wondered a lot about this unexpected feeling of inadequacy since the book release and why silence would be the option.  I don’t think, however, that this experience is unique to me.  I don’t think it is because my book was good, or bad, well-reviewed or not well-reviewed.  I think at the root of things, I feel a pressure that so many of us in the church often feel to be good, to be more than good, to have things figured out, and have them figured out declaratively and now.

 

 

I have wrestled with the fact that I wrote a book and still struggle to find my footing as a spiritual being.  I worry I will be a disappointment when I meet people who have read the book and perceive me to be someone who has settled into a place of complete peace within the church.  The book though, is beside the point.  The question I am more interested in asking, both of myself and others, is how do we reconcile momentary surety, calm and joy in the gospel when juxtaposed to momentary loss of faith, excitement and spiritual connection?  For me, the two are rarely far apart and to keep from imploding, I have to believe that both are very much known by God.  Not directed by Him/Her necessarily, maybe not even part of the plan, but understood, and loved for what both of those times are and what those times can facilitate.   That belief does not always equal peace, however.

In the months since the book has nestled itself into the world as an object, a statement, a declaration of sorts, I’ve grappled with the unending nature of spiritual struggle, inquiry, silence and complexities. I’ve struggled with the seemingly permanent nature of the written word.  I thought somehow that writing a memoir of my experience would offer conclusive ways and paths as I moved forward, but it turns out that the writing itself was the spiritual act, an unfolding of new ideas about God, my place in relation to God, a place of respite for my soul to sit down and look around at a good life the gospel has offered me, and that, itself, is the most valuable part of the process for me.

The act of writing my life was a gift, almost an ethereal one, and that same act and experience of writing a life is open and waiting for any human being.  In these past months I have come to understand just how necessary that act is for all of us to engage in at some point, even in its impossibility to be completely permanent and binding.  I believe that much of our spiritual understanding lies in wait to be harvested through the work of sifting, pondering, writing, perhaps failing at writing, and then writing again, our stories, and not just doing this once or at one time in a life.  Not because we will at some point write these stories perfectly, or even accurately, but because those words, when written, are like the thread that binds a cloth together. The same stories will mean different things at different times.  The slow, time-spanning, quietness that accompanies any attempt at writing is both terrifying and expansive.  The idea that what you think you know, what you are sure you know as you write, is both true and holds the possibility to morph and change, is humbling.

I have not written much since finishing the edits on the manuscript over eight months ago, not for lack of trying, but for an unrealistic belief that I would have nothing else to say, or what I had to say beyond that point might be less valuable, less beloved. For that unfounded fear of having to face what new thoughts might be.  Turns out though, our lives are not fossilized in paragraphs and sentences.  Our spiritual lives are not stagnant, nor are the ebbing and flowing of their wild tides to be feared.  A written piece, a declaration, a testimony, is not a gated yard in which we always have to cloister ourselves.  The beauty of Christ’s gospel, as I understand it, is that we are free to roam, that our agency will hardly require us to stand still rooted in a single place.  Our belief in forgiveness and charity will not ask others to stand still in a single place either.

Even writing this now, I am surprised at where I’ve come to in writing these final sentences.  I came here feeling discouraged, I came here wondering who was I to write any words about a spiritual life, and now, at the end, I see that I am someone who is imperfect and for many months has been silent, but has not lost the ability, or encouragement to forge ahead.  Many unknown things are there, look under the rock, up in the tree, beyond the small roof I have been too busy building above my head.

 

Comments

  1. Thanks Ashmae. The space between voice and silence is as interesting and maybe as similar as spiritual surety and loss of it. I love how you said, “…our lives are not fossilized in paragraphs and sentences.” It’s a great reminder that movement and ebb and flow are part of well, ….everything.

  2. J. Stapley says:

    Always a welcome read.

  3. Cynthia H. says:

    Your book holds a special place in my heart and I’ve given about 5 copies away. One of the reasons why I love it is because it is so real. I appreciate your honesty and this post is meaningful for me. You write “I have wrestled with the fact that I wrote a book and still struggle to find my footing as a spiritual being. I worry I will be a disappointment when I meet people who have read the book and perceive me to be someone who has settled into a place of complete peace within the church. ” I think to some degree we all wrestle with this when we step into the church building on Sunday. Will people in my ward know that I had a terrible week and I wasn’t very Christ-like? Will people be able to tell that I don’t have much faith right now and would rather be at home? I know my testimony is fluid and I hope that God is compassionate about that. Keep writing. I need to hear more voices like yours.

  4. Like you, Ashmae, I’ve wrestled with silence and found grace on the other side. God bless you, friend.

  5. I have been longing to hear from you. I can see the cover of your book when I am in my living room. I plan to keep it where it is for a very long time, reading parts and replacing it because I know it was written by an authentic soul, not rooted in one place. Thank you.

  6. You may have been silent but your work has been speaking constantly.

    A small example from this week: On Sunday, my 7-year-old was working on a report for Black History Month and wasn’t sure who she’d pick as her subject. She pulled out her We Brave Women cards and discovered Misty Copeland.

    Even in your period of silence, you helped my daughter discover some amazing things, so thank you.

  7. Your post made me think of Virginia Woolf and her wrestle with language, not unlike Jacob’s wrestle with the angel.

    “Perhaps that is their [words] most striking peculiarity — their need of change. It is because the truth they try to catch is many-sided, and they convey it by being themselves many-sided, flashing this way, then that. Thus they mean one thing to one person, another thing to another person; they are unintelligible to one generation, plain as a pikestaff to the next. And it is because of this complexity that they survive. Perhaps then one reason why we have no great poet, novelist or critic writing to-day is that we refuse words their liberty. We pin them down to one meaning, their useful meaning, the meaning which makes us catch the train, the meaning which makes us pass the examination. And when words are pinned down they fold their wings and die.”

    (from: Craftsmanship https://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/w/woolf/virginia/w91d/chapter24.html)

    I love silence, another avenue to crack away at the dark glass, but I also think you give words their wings. Thank you.

  8. Cynthia and Klee, thank you for the kind words. It is not only a comfort, but a source of meaning to know that so many others live in a space of uncertainty, but that same space is also one of meaning.

  9. Kyle,
    Hearing things like that truly makes me so happy! thank you for letting me know. I’m glad all those brave women are making their way into so many homes.

  10. Twila, what a piece of writing! thank you for sharing. I am going to go read the essay right now. that last line!

  11. Twila, that’s a great quote, thanks for sharing it!

    Ashmae, thanks for your continued bravery and spiritually infused reflective perspective.