How I Acquired A Taste For Quiet

by Kevin Burton

   My fourth grade teacher Ruth Rice, when she had had enough and wanted us to be quiet said, “Subside!”

    I doubt any of us had ever heard that word before hearing her say it, but we knew what it meant by context, in no uncertain terms.

   That was funny enough, but what she really said was “sss-sss, subside!”  Because she made that S sound we called her “snake.”

    We stayed hilarious like that throughout our schooling of course.  Thing is, now, if I could reduce my obligations to reporting to a classroom, learning and being quiet, I would be very, very quiet indeed.

   Not sure how or when this happened, I’m sure it was gradual, but I rather like quiet now. In fact, I have a strong preference for quiet, as Mrs. Rice did.

  Now I’m seeking to understand quiet. How do you define quiet?

   I have always enjoyed the speech pattern of the English. I have come to realize it’s because it is quieter than that of Americans most of the time.

   I like cats much more than I do dogs, because they are easier to take care of but also because they are quieter. The screamiest, most bent-out-of-shape cat doesn’t approach the noise of even a small dog, announcing breaking news such as “the neighbor is walking!!! Right by our house!!!”

   These are two instances of quiet which I appreciate, but which don’t get to the core of quiet.

   There was a time when I would have told you quiet was sound at low volume, or the absence of sound. Maybe in fourth grade I would have said that. Now I know better.

   I asked my mother to define quiet because she asked me what blog topics I was working on. She said “Nothing upsetting in your mind, peaceful, restful.”

   See there? She’s in her 80s and she knows what quiet is all about. She also told me about “Blessed Quietness” a hymn by M. P. Ferguson.

  The chorus of that hymn is “Blessed quietness, Holy quietness, what assurance in my soul; On the stormy sea, Jesus speaks to me, and the billows cease to roll.”

   There is a hymn called “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus” written by Helen Howarth Lemmel that sums it up even better for me.

   Part of the lyric is, “Turn your eyes upon Jesus. Look full in His wonderful face, and the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace.”

   Lemmel is talking about the visual part dimming, but I have always included the sound element with that.

   “Calvin and Hobbes” is one of my all-time favorite comic strips.  It’s about the adventures of a precocious six-year-old and his stuffed tiger. Calvin sees the tiger as real but the others in the strip see it as just a toy.

   Since you can’t put sound into a newspaper, cartoonist Bill Watterson would depict the attention-demanding clatter of appliances by drawing the television or telephone a foot above their table. 

   When I think of “the things of earth” growing strangely dim, that’s part of it for me. It’s not a matter of turning the volume knob down. It’s about lessening, even eliminating the clamoring “fix it, do it right now” aspect of daily life.

   Silence is not necessarily quiet.  Silence stuck in the wrong place wails like a siren. The absence of a loved one’s voice is a screaming searing pain you can’t escape, like a bad tooth.

   Peace often goes with quiet, like minding Ps and Qs.  I think of people ordering up some quiet at the Heavenly drive through window and Jesus asking, “You want peace with that?”

   You can get quiet just by quoting Rhett Butler, “frankly my dear…”

   For true peace, follow the lead of those hymn writers. Turn your eyes upon Jesus. Trust Him for that holy quietness that brings peace now and perfects it on the other side of death.

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