During the summer of 1985, I was working at Mercer Island Presbyterian with High School and College students. It was a pretty formative season – I turned 21, had my first car (a ’73 Dodge Dart that I had to hit the starter motor each morning with a hammer to loosen the brushes – but it had a sweet Radio Shack cassette deck), and all my college friends were off doing other things – so basically I was 24/7 ministry and making sure my car didn’t break down on the 520 floating bridge. The summer was spent with a lot of introspection and soul searching: this was my ‘attempt’ at full-time ministry and was never really sure whether this was a calling for me. The students I was working with were…well… rich. I went to Garfield High School in Seattle’s Central District and and growing up in a family of school teachers didn’t really prep me for the fact that there were kids for whom the big question wasn’t if they could go water skiing on the weekend, it was which friend had the better boat. I clearly wasn’t from this tribe so to speak.
At any rate, the summer ended with a big retreat (yes… a water ski camp) east of the mountains with a number of other churches on Mercer Island. One of the churches we partnered with was a Catholic parish called St. Monica’s. The youth pastor at St. Monica’s was named Dan and he was what you would typically call a product of post-Vatican II libertarianism – loved to play guitar, was culturally savvy, and a real joy to be with. In short, he was pretty cool. One morning I was tuning my guitar to help lead in the morning worship service and he was listening to a cassette tape on his boom box (yes – the 80’s – think Lloyd Dobbler in his trench coat hoisting Peter Gabriel over his head to win back Diane Court in Say Anything… THAT boom box). It was strange, but in the early morning heat and looking out on the browned sage bushes while listening to that tape, I felt what Wordsworth seemed to describe in “Lines Composed a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey, on Revisiting the Banks of the Wye during a Tour. July 13, 1798”:
And I have felt
A Presence that disturbs me with the Joy
Of Elevated Thoughts; A sense sublime
Of something far more deeply interfused,
Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,
And the round ocean and the living air,
And the blue sky, and in the mind of man,
A motion and a spirit that impels
All thinking, all objects of all thought,
And rolls through all things.
“Dan” I said, “what is that we are listening to?” “The Quiet” he replied. “What?” “John Michael Talbot – have you heard of him? It is an album he recorded called “The Quiet” The music draws you into the quiet places God wishes to speak, not cover them up.”
I just sat there and listened to the Quiet some more. I thought about how hard that summer had actually been, how lonely at times and yet so full of purpose in what I was doing with those youth. I thought about my family – not always easy – and I thought about the fact that I was going to be graduating from college soon and had to make some hard decisions about my life.
I realised that I rarely listened to and with real quiet. Only in the quiet was I able to see and hear just how big the storm in my soul had become… and how little I wanted to deal with it.
I turned and saw Dan and turned off the tape and took it out of the boom box. “Here,” he said, “you need this I think.” I took the tape and then realised that I didnt know what to say. Dan probably knew this because he just stood up and walked away – leaving me in the Quiet.