When Silence Sings

“‘You can listen to silence, Reuven. I’ve begun to realize that you can listen to silence and learn from it. It has a quality and a dimension all its own. It talks to me sometimes. I feel myself alive in it. It talks. And I can hear it.’

“‘You have to want to listen to it, and then you can hear it. It has a strange, beautiful texture. It doesn’t always talk. Sometimes – sometimes it cries, and you can hear the pain of the world in it. It hurts to listen to it then. But you have to.’”

This is a quote from the novel The Chosen by Chaim Potok. The first time I read this dialogue, I ran straight to my sister and shoved the book in her face, gibbering incomprehensibly with excitement. Quite literally, might I add. I just couldn’t believe that somebody else could understand what I had thought all my life, had felt that beautiful yet tragic force and, furthermore, had called it the same thing: Silence.

There is another novel I loved when I was a kid (still do, actually), called How to Be a Dragon Without Burning Your Tongue. In it a character takes the MC to a beautiful valley and asks her if she can feel “forever” in it. I don’t have the book on hand, otherwise I would give you the exact quote. The description that Arlene Williams uses, though, fits the same description as Silence. It crops up in disguised forms in novels and music everywhere.

I grew up searching for Silence. It can be found in any created thing that has been crafted with sincerity. It whispers and it sings; it gives inanimate objects feelings and binds together all art—including and, in fact, especially nature. All my life I have been spellbound by its song. When I was little, it frustrated and perplexed me how so few people seemed to feel it too. At first I thought they couldn’t. The idea astonished me; I felt sorry for them and tried to show them how to listen to the hush of eternity. It wasn’t long, however, before I realized that they could hear it just fine. They just didn’t want to.

This knowledge filled my young, prideful, and extremely idealistic self with disdain. Now that I’m older (still quite proud and idealistic, though, I must add), I understand. I didn’t want to admit it back then, but Silence frightens me just as much as it does anybody else. Tranquility is revealing. When I was small, I ignored the mirror of naked honesty that Forever held to my face. I closed my eyes and concentrated on filling myself with the rocking, humming warmth of its song.

Silence is painfully beautiful. In that place, you cannot ignore the hurts the world has suffered and is suffering; nor can you run from a personal call to selfless righteousness. The universe is wonderful, but it’s full of evil. It wasn’t meant to be so dark, and every strand and every atom is crying with the pain of the wrongness. That which is “bent”, as C.S. Lewis might say. When you really listen and really look, the twisted pieces in your own heart show their crooked faces.

If it ended there, Silence would be terrifying. But there’s another layer to the song. Silence opens up essence, Platonic forms, the way things were meant to be. It weeps, but it doesn’t lay its head down in despair. It calls, “This is what I am meant to be. This, right here. Now stand up and do your part. Do what is right; fight the wrongness; restore goodness and wholeness to every corner of life you touch.”

Don’t ignore the whisper of the light. Don’t close your ears to it or—worse yet, like I did, feast on its beauty while ignoring the reason. You don’t have to save the world. You don’t have to do anything spectacular or grandiose. Just keep your ear tuned to that thread of music that courses over the whole world, and don’t ignore its call of truth when it speaks to you.


The Colored Glass Effect

Writing isn’t so much like drawing a line as it is cutting and then arranging shapes of colored glass into a mosaic. A surreal, abstract mosaic, probably, but there’s the beauty of it. Because the abstract pattern could even be considered a colored shape of glass itself, and and and . . . this excites me probably more than it should. But isn’t it breathtaking?

Every important anything in a story is a piece of colored glass. Each shape takes a single idea and reflects it in fiction form. The mosaic is the medium, the go-between of the surreal and the mind’s eye.

My favorite stories are those in which you can almost feel the crystalline shapes, can hear their song of prism light. Properly exectued fairytales tend to do this very well through their idealism. Dostoevsky created this effect beautifully with his characters. Frances Hodgson Burnett accomplished it with theme, and CLAMP, when they really put their all into it, show their mastery of stained glass symbolism. Have you ever watched The Fall? That movie breathes with the effect.

What if somebody could write a story where everything felt that way, but they still managed to ground the reader in reality?

I’m going to be honest now: that is my ultimate goal. Can you imagine how beautiful that would be? Fantasy world, characters, themes, symbols, atmosphere–just everything–all color and shape and light. Still realistic at the same time, too. Crazy. Can it be done? I guess there’s only one way to find out.

Still, if I’m going to grow in this direction, I’m going to need a lot of help. And so begins my study of stories that strike me with their colored glass. Now and again, I will share my findings. It’ll be like setting out to explore a mysterious, beautiful land, where all the examined colored glass reflects into the design of the world. Hey, that’s actually kind of neat. What would Alyosha Karamazov’s character resemble as fantasy terrain?

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