Let me hear what God the Lord will speak,
for he will speak peace to his people,
to his faithful, to those who turn to him in their hearts.
Psalm 85:8 NRSV
And he said, “Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the Lord.” And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice. And when Eli′jah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. And behold, there came a voice to him, and said, “What are you doing here, Eli′jah?” 1 Kings 19:11-13 RSV Revised Standard Version
A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” Mark 4:37-41 NRSV The first time I heard it, I was sitting on a rooftop in Haiti in the early morning...the very early morning. The bell for morning prayer rang just before 5am, at which time morning prayer began. The night before, I had laid out my clothes over the end of my bunk, so all I had to do was scramble into them, slap a cap on my head, and climb the stairs to the circle of chairs on the roof. As the prayer time came to a close, the leader said, “Time to get dressed for your mission work today; then there will be breakfast at 6. From 7-8:30, spiritual instruction will be given here on the roof. By 8:45, you’ll be on your way to your work site.” Talk about a front-end loaded day, I thought to myself, these folks have it down to a science. Then the leader indicated that today, we would be exploring the spirituality of Mother Teresa during our morning instruction, and, as we were dismissed, he intoned the words I can’t forget, a quote from the writings of Teresa of Calcutta: The fruit of silence is prayer. The fruit of prayer is faith. The fruit of faith is love. The fruit of love is service. The fruit of service is peace. It all begins with silence. If we want to find our way to prayer, or faith, or love, or service, it all begins with silence. If we long to experience peace, it all begins with silence. Which is almost exactly what the rector at St. Christopher By The Sea (On The Lawn) said in his sermon yesterday morning. We keep looking for God in the spectacular events of our times, in the high winds, the earthquakes, the fires of this life. (Clearly, he had not read his morning news feed, for he made no mention of the actual earthquake that rocked large portions of the South early yesterday.) But sometimes, he continued, God is found in periods of silence, and experienced most powerfully in moments of peace. Hard to argue with that, I thought to myself; besides, it’s right there in both lessons. Elijah cannot find God in the high winds (sounded like a tornado to me, frankly; but are there tornadoes in the Middle East?), nor in the earthquake, nor in the storm...because God wasn’t there. But when all the big noises ceased, Elijah got himself up and out of his man cave, and there he heard the “still, small voice” that he knew right away was THE Voice. Other translations say that what Elijah heard was “a gentle whisper” (NIV) or “the sound of sheer silence” (NRSV), but no matter how you slice it, God was not waving banners and shouting through a megaphone: Elijah heard God speak only when there was silence. The disciples had the very same experience when they were caught in a storm on the water at night. Jesus was out cold in the back of the boat, but they were utterly unable to locate the presence of God in the midst of the storm; the howling of the wind, the rocking of the waves, the lashing of the rain - it just wasn’t doing anything for their spiritual growth. But when Jesus spoke the words “Peace, be still!” and all was calm and quiet, then they were able to locate the Lord almost instantly - turns out, God had been snoring away in the stern all along. The disciples heard God speak only when there was silence.
Sadly, some of the congregation didn’t seem to pick up the ball and run with the sermon as I did. Silence didn’t seem to float their boats. On the way to the car, I heard some comments about how we’d all already said everything we had to say to the people we live with, we don’t get to spend time with our coworkers or our friends, etc., so where’s the appeal in silence? - we’ve got enough silence right now to sink a ship. OK, so I understand where those comments were coming from, but I’m not so sure they were on target. Boredom and frustration do not a Great Silence make. There are so many online distractions available that every minute of every day can easily be filled with noise. Real silence comes when we turn off the cell phone (and all our other devices), find some solitude (or some alone together-ness), and wait in readiness to hear what God has to say to us. Sometimes the Lord speaks up when I’m reading the scriptures or hearing them read, sometimes when I listen quietly to music, sometimes when I listen intently to another person, sometimes when I’m outside listening to “the music of the spheres” - but seldom when I’m yacking. I hear God most clearly in silence, and what I hear almost always moves me to respond in some way...the fruit of silence really is prayer. Don’t get me wrong; I know that sometimes, silence can be scary; after all, knows what we might hear? So we do not see, because we do not look: we do not look, because we do not want to see. We do not hear, because we do not listen; we do not listen, because we do not want to hear.
Because if we really see or really hear, then we’re going to have to do something about what we’ve seen or heard. But then, that was Mother Teresa’s point: when it comes to our spiritual journeys, one thing really does lead to another. So if where we want to be led is to a life of love, if where we want to be grown is in the firmness of our faith, if where we want to be found is in a place of peace...it all begins with silence, and the prayer that springs from it. Snag yourself some silence, and God will not fail to meet you there.
Come Away With Me
Come away with me to a quiet place,
apart from the world with its frantic pace,
to pray, reflect, and seek God's grace.
Come away with me. Come away. O God, in mystery and in silence you are present in our lives, bringing new life out of destruction, hope out of despair, growth out of difficulty. We thank you that you do not leave us alone, but labor to make us whole. Help us to perceive your unseen hand in the unfolding of our lives, and to attend to the gentle guidance of your Spirit, that we may know the joy you give your people. Amen. (Ruth Duck; #464, The United Methodist Book of Worship) Pastor Susan Pate Greenwood