I well remember the very widespread custom, back in the South, of “twilighting.” Carried over from before the Revolution, it might have also been fortified by the meager, perilous years of the Civil War. Yet this practice had come about much earlier. Was it born of the months-long warmness of the Southern dusk? Many became accustomed never to rush lighting their lamps, yet, having completed their chores (or tended to the livestock) before nightfall, they were in no hurry to get to bed. Instead, they emerged outside to sit on dirt ledges or benches, or just lounged inside with the windows wide open – no light to draw in bugs. One after another they would sit softly down, as if lost in thought. And long remained silent.
If someone did speak, it was quietly, delicately, unobtrusively. Somehow, in those exchanges, no one got fired up to argue, or to reproach spitefully, or to quarrel. Faces could barely be made out, then not at all; and, lo, one began to discern in them, and their voices, something unfamiliar, something one failed to observe through the prior course of years.
A feeling would take hold of everyone, of something impalpable and unseen that descended gently from the dimming after-sunset sky, dissolved in the air, streamed in through the windows: that profound seriousness of life, its unfragmented meaning, that goes ignored in the bustle of the day. Our brush with the enigma that we let flit away.
From “Minatures 1996-99,” published in First Things, December 2006, Number 168, pg. 5
Solzhenitsyn writes of an older time in his own land – which like ours has had its own brush with modernity (some parts of Russia never quite got brushed). But I remember our own summer nights in the American South – in my childhood air conditioning was unknown. It was far too hot to go inside until well after dark. People sat on porches, talking quietly, children playing, chasing lightning bugs (“fireflies” for the foreigners reading this). There was a quiet – perhaps even an inner stillness. Strangely, it was too hot even to venture in to the television set. We knew our neighbors for at least the reason that we were all forced outside to sit.
Place, like stability, and even economic and human condition are sacramental (all life is sacramental). There is truly the rare saint who can make a place for silence in the bustle of the world if the bustle never quietens down.
Fr. Thomas Hopko says that a man cannot possibly be a priest if he isn’t silent (doing nothing) for 30 minutes a day.
I think I’ll go work on my priesthood now. Goodnight.