Visit the Abbey of the Arts online retreat platform to access your programs:

Monk in the World Guest Post: Hillel Brandes

I am delighted to share another beautiful submission to the Monk in the World Guest Post series from the community. Read on for Hillel Brandes’s reflection, “Sound of Snowfall”.

” . . . The only other sounds the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep . . .”
Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening by Robert Frost

Stopping by woods on a snowy evening…well, not evening at the moment, but late afternoon. The silence of the winter woods is real, is grounding, and is wondrous. I could call it magical, and so it is. But most of all I’m convinced silence is the language of Mystery. I know it, not intellectually, but in my inner Self. There is nothing else that draws me into the cave of my Being, like the silence of the winter woods — the snowy winter woods. And that’s maybe the biggest reason I so connect to the snowy winter woodlands. There are other reasons, but I think they’re all interrelated, not isolated from each other, but all manifestations of the same thing. The snowy winter landscape is still, quiet, sparse, and bare. ‘All metaphor for the deepest interior connections to Mystery. ‘To where Mystery, or better, Divine Mystery, dwells within. ‘To the core of where I can be one with Mystery. We are each created with Divine Mystery embedded at the “center of the truth of the image you were born with” [David Whyte]. That idea isn’t mine. It’s corroborated from sacred texts from various faith traditions. It’s universal. But it’s not about assertions and corroborations. It’s personal. It’s a personal knowing, or better yet, an unknowing — that which is known in the heart or center of one’s being, for which any rational explanation is inadequate, or impossible. It’s the external dressing which is stripped away, that is symbolic for a clearer, unimpeded connection to Mystery: thus stillness, quietness, sparseness, bareness.

It’s in the winter stillness and quiet that the connection to Mystery (Divine Mystery) seems to occur naturally. To connect to the Divine Mystery that pervades all of the natural world, the Earth, and all of the Cosmos. It’s sinking into the ultimate reality of that Mystery. Darkness too, is symbolic of the interior realm of our own being, of soul. And so I also greatly appreciate the darkness of this season. So too, the theme of waiting is very fitting. The attentive awareness to what Mystery is speaking. Am I still and quiet enough to hear what Mystery would reveal?

When outdoors in the winter woodland, when surrounded by stillness and quiet, and it’s snowing, I wonder if I’m hearing the snow fall. It can seem like it. What am I hearing? Or is that an appealing imagination. Other than the snow landing or hitting my jacket, maybe I’m not hearing anything. Maybe I’m hearing silence. Regardless, it’s another experience of wonder. What I’ve learned about that question, doesn’t take away from the experience, only maybe making it feel magical.

There are at least a few reasons why the snowy landscape can be considerably quieter than what we experience otherwise. First, a cover of snow is highly porous and as such is very effective in absorbing sound. I don’t know the relationship between how much sound is absorbed and the depth of the snow cover, but the scientist in me can’t help but ask the question. I’m thinking of inches vs a foot or more. The second impact of cold weather on muffling sounds, is less obvious. Cold air is denser than warm air, thus soundwaves will travel faster in cold air than warm air; and so the soundwaves in fact curve upward away from the warmer ground surface. Thus, another reason for the hushed snow-covered winter landscape. Lastly, falling snow does scatter soundwaves, but the impact is comparatively very small. As for a sound of snowfall, yes there is, but the frequency is much higher than the limits of human hearing. For creatures that are able to hear it (including birds), it’s rather noisy and so they generally retreat to shelter. Have you ever thought you noticed how birds will feast before a coming snowstorm? I wonder how far away they can hear the snowfall. Could it be maybe, that’s what clues them into eating more while they can, before the snowstorm arrives and they seek shelter?

The science of snowy landscapes muffling sounds sure is fascinating, but that’s not what the wonder and draw of being in such places is about.  Rather it almost makes it more magical. It’s all so marvelous and wonder-full. 

Wonder and Mystery are a matter of my awareness. Am I present to these realities?

It’s the quiet, stillness, and beauty that settles, grounds, and centers me, bringing a greater awareness of Mystery that surrounds me and is within me. I become immersed in Mystery in an intimate way that dissolves any sense of separateness from it. I am moved to be present to it and rest in it. And thus, I may even stay for the night.

“Still, still, still,
One can hear the falling snow.
For all is hushed,
The world is sleeping,
Holy Star, its vigil keeping.
Still, still, still,
One can hear the falling snow.”

Hillel Brandes is a scientist by means, and otherwise one who always connected to Mystery through his experience in, and love of Nature. That is in fact, how his curiosities took him into studies of the natural sciences. As his search of soul discovery took him further away from the institutional church, he found connections with Celtic spirituality, and it is in that juncture that he learned of Abbey of the Arts. He continues to participate with and receive the gifts that Christine and her colleagues bring into this world.  His creative outlet is photography, which is a conduit for the expression of his response to the flow of Mystery in the natural world. He will be putting together a website to share his delight and offering for others, but for now, his artwork is best viewed by following him on Facebook.

You might also enjoy

Monk in the World Guest Post: Kate Kennington Steer

I am delighted to share another beautiful submission to our Monk in the World guest post series from the community. Read on for Kate Kennington Steer’s reflection Heart of Stone. I arrived at February 2023 in a post-viral fatigue fug, feeling beset by depression, with

Read More »

Soul of a Pilgrim Video Podcast Day 2

Blessing for Packing Lightly*Winnowing God, you ask us to release, let go, surrender, and yield all that we canin service of making space for what is most essential. The more we set aside that which burdens us and takes up too much spacethe more room

Read More »

Monk in the World Guest Post: Mary Camille Thomas

I am delighted to share another beautiful submission to our Monk in the World guest post series from the community. Read on for Mary Camille Thomas’s reflection Sitting in Paradise. “Sit in your cell as in paradise,” St. Romuald says in his brief rule for

Read More »