Last week I was revisiting one of Krista Tippett’s On Being podcasts. While I listen to this in real time each week, I often like to listen again to ones that are particularly rich. Her guest was Marilyn Nelson, a professor emerita of English at the University of Connecticut and a poet. I remembered being taken with this interview when I heard it a few months ago and it was a joy to hear it again. In the hour long conversation, the two women spoke of ‘communal pondering’. It was a phrase that just jumped out and grabbed me. Communal pondering…an act of being in silence, or at least prolonged quiet, with others. The actual title of the podcast was ‘Communal Pondering in a Noisy World.’
Noisy world! There is so much ‘noise’ that makes up our days, isn’t there? I think of all the ways in which sound, noisy or otherwise is our daily bread. The sounds assaulting us are not always words, of course. Traffic sounds are background music. Machines of all kinds hum or clank or roar outside our windows. All our devices with beeps, dings and inane tunes that signal someone is trying to reach us, tell us something often not that important, rarely urgent.
Communal pondering in the midst of all this seems so sane to me. Something born of a deep wisdom that often seems just outside our reach. Rolling the phrase around in my mind, I thought of the old hymn, ‘Praise to the Lord, the Almighty’ with its lyric’ Ponder anew, what the almighty can do.’ I laughed thinking about what the Almighty would have to do to get our attention in the flurry of the noise that often surrounds every waking moment.
As I listened to the women talk about this experience of communal pondering I began to realize that it was so much more than being alone in meditation or even prayer. It was more active than that. What they were inviting people to consider was the experience of sitting with, fully present to others around with the intention of being still enough, quiet enough, to hear not only our own breath but the breath of the other. In doing so, we also might be able to hear the Breath of the Other. We might actually hear ‘what the Almighty can do.’ It seems an invitation ripe for our time, doesn’t it? I wondered how much calmer my days would be if I turned from the seductive noise that calls to me like a siren song and instead engaged in the deliberate act of pondering. Something tells me it might make for more grounded days.
The irises are in full bloom in our garden right now. They ask nothing more of me and anyone else that happens by than to ponder them. Ponder their beauty. Ponder their presence. Ponder the miracle of them. Ponder their fragility and their fleeting nature, not unlike our own. Perhaps, as I ponder their life, they are also pondering mine. If so, we are engaging in some very fine communal pondering.
The Almighty would be pleased, I believe.