Quiet

Since my recent post, Listen, I came across The Listening Path: The Creative Art of Paying Attention by Julia Cameron. Perhaps you recognize her name from The Artist’s Way.

In The Listening Path, Cameron includes a chapter entitled “Listening to Silence.” She introduces this chapter with a quote by Alfred Brendel: The word “listen” contains the same letters as the word “silent.”

She urges us to seek quiet:

I’m a person who craves quiet moments. My husband does not. He always, always has the TV running, even when he’s in another room; he has to have sound. I sometimes wonder if he fears quiet. I will stay up late at night or get up early in the morning to write in the silence before life awakens and begins stirring around me. When I was writing the poem “Listen” no one was home and the TV was off. I listened to the sea of my own mind, for what would surface. The house, cooling in late afternoon of a warm day, popped so loudly that I jumped—sounds were definitely “more pronounced.” And what does the house have to say? What does the silence itself have to say?

It occurs to me that quiet is one of the benefits of night. That is often the only time we are quiet. We know the brain repairs itself while we sleep. Does quiet not bring healing to the mind? Is quiet itself a form of repair, inherent in sleep? A release, for opening the gate to a “higher force”? Perhaps that is a fearsome thing. What might be heard?

One doctor I know said that dreams are the brain’s way of entertaining us while we sleep, but…tonight, as as I sit in the quiet, finishing this post before going to bed, I am thinking of a young boy who heard a voice in his dreams. He’d been kidnapped at sixteen and taken to a far country where he was a slave for six years. He learned the value of prayer in captivity, tending sheep. This night, the voice told him he’d go back to his homeland; his ship was ready. And it was. He escaped and found it, two hundred miles away in a place he’d never been before. He went home. Yet he’d eventually return to the land of his captors. He had work to do there. In Ireland.

His name, of course, was Patrick.

His day is hardly one associated with “quiet.” But in the spirit of one who listened…let us seek the quiet and what it offers; let us practice the art of paying attention; let us claim the calm and carry it with us, throughout the clamor, in all the work we have to do. Let us enter into quiet…and find our path.

Of special note in this regard: My grandfather’s middle name was—I promise I am not making this up—St. Patrick. I wrote about this a few years ago: My Grandfather, St. Patrick. In my lifetime, he was a quiet man. Not to be confused with the movie.

*******

The annual Slice of Life Story Challenge with Two Writing Teachers is underway, meaning that I am posting every day in the month of March. This marks my fifth consecutive year and I’m experimenting with an abecedarian approach: On Day 17, I am writing around a word beginning with letter q.

Be still

Psalm 46:10 is one of my life’s verses: Be still and know that I am God.

It’s appeared, and re-appeared, at various junctures of my life. When I was a teenager, my youth minister presented me with a little plaque bearing this verse. It hung on my bedroom wall until I married and left home.

In recent years, a church member gave my family a stepping stone with Be still and know that I am God etched on it. That stone hangs on my bedroom wall now.

Imagine my delight— awe, rather — on researching quotes by Saint Patrick and discovering Psalm 46:10 and how it’s reduced, a line at a time, to one word:

Be still and know that I am God.
Be still and know that I am.
Be still and know.
Be still.
Be.

I can’t verify that Patrick actually deconstructed the verse this way, but it’s widely attributed to him. If so, what was he getting at?

My first thought: It’s an admonishment to be still. How fitting for the present time. With a pandemic on the rise, when we are at the mercy of a new ultramicroscopic virus with the power to deconstruct society, we must pull in and be still. Fear not. And wait.

It is not what we do best. We are not patient. We “do” fear and anger far better. We are accustomed to go go go and hurry hurry hurry and get get get. We have to-do lists that are never complete, that only grow longer.

And when do we ever just be?

Maybe right about now.

Oh, and by the way, here’s the whole of Psalm 46:10:

“Be still, and know that I am God.
    I will be exalted among the nations,
    I will be exalted in the earth!”

I shall leave you with the words of Saint Patrick — but not the one you know. This day cannot pass without mention of my grandfather, born in 1906 with the given name Columbus and the middle name St. Patrick (yes, for real). In one of our last phone conversations (his love for me evident in that he would talk to me on the phone, for he hated it; he was hard of hearing), I said, tears streaming, which he couldn’t see, thankfully: “I love you, Granddaddy. You’re safe in God’s hands.”

To which he replied, in his raspy, precious voice: “There’s no better place to be.”

Be still and know that I am God.
Be still and know that I am.
Be still and know.
Be still.
Be.

—St. Patrick’s Day blessings, dear hearts.

My grandfather, St. Patrick

Columbus St. Patrick

Columbus St. Patrick Brantley, circa 1924-1925, age 18 or 19.

On a small family farm in Beaufort County, North Carolina, in late September of 1906, my great-grandmother had her fifth of ten children. Her previous children were named Franklin, James, William Hosea, and Penelope (not pronounced pe-nel-o-pee, mind you, but pen-a-lope, rhyming with cantaloupe).  Thankfully the girl was called Penny,  which the family spelled Peaney.

This new son was named Columbus St. Patrick.

We do not know why.

He wasn’t born on March 17th.

The family wasn’t Catholic; they were Baptists and Methodists.

Legend has it that a great-great ancestor came over from Ireland, but this isn’t evident in the family tree roots running deep in North Carolina and Virginia to the 1700s. In fact, as Columbus St. Patrick grew up, his southern dialect carried traces of Elizabethan English: He pronounced his brothers’ middle names as Acey and Hosey – that’s Asa and Hosea – and a neighbor’s name as Miss Etter, which I believed was spelled that way until I saw it on her mailbox: Etta.

His middle name troubled him.

I became fascinated by names around the age of five. My own given name is in honor of my grandmother, Ruby Frances. I asked her: “What’s Granddaddy’s middle name?”

“It’s just S,” Grandma replied.

“S?”

“Yes.”

“How can a name be S? That is just a letter.”

“It’s an initial. He had his name changed to an S.”

I didn’t know anyone could do that. Your name is your name; it’s who you are.

Grandma went on: “It’s S because his middle name was St. Patrick and it bothered him his whole life, so he changed it.”

Even as a preschooler who knew nothing of Saint Patrick yet, I felt a pang at this. What a magical-sounding name. Strange, but pretty.

Later that day I crawled into his lap and in the blunt way of children, asked: “Granddaddy, why did your mother name you St. Patrick?”

Granddaddy shook his head, briefly drawing a hand over his face as if to brush the thought away.

“I have no ideer,” he replied, sighing.

Those who did know were already long gone.

When St. Patrick’s Day rolls around, of course I think of Granddaddy. He was St. Patrick. He was a man of faith and a man of the earth, a farmer; Saint Patrick is depicted holding a cross and a shamrock. Saint Patrick sailed on ships in the fifth century; his namesake built them in World War II. Columbus St. Patrick spent his life serving others, putting their needs ahead of his own, always a compass for doing what is right, what is good.

The venerated saint is said to have driven the snakes out of Ireland. I recall Granddaddy killing copperheads with a hoe on the dirt road of his country home when I was a child. When he grew too old to manage the hoe, he simply grabbed his shotgun and that was it for the copperheads. No harm was going to come to his own, not on his watch.

“Never kill a black snake,” he told me. “They keep rats and mice away.”

I suppose it would not do for North Carolina to be rid of all snakes.

Today I celebrate my heritage as do many others, but I suspect very few can say they are St. Patrick’s granddaughter.

slice-of-life_individualEarly Morning Slicer