“And after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence.” (1 Kgs. 19:12)
“Speak, for your servant is listening.” (1 Sam 3:10)
My encounters with people over the last few weeks of the internship – encounters that included family members, interviewees, shut-ins, friends, colleagues, mentors, and aquaintances – have by and large been informed by a growing conviction of mine, namely, that we cannot fully engage with the other if we aren’t willing to encounter silence. And I don’t simply mean this just in the literal sense of “not speaking” although that is part of it. It is part of it because I think that in approaching an encounter, having the mindset of “make to haste listen” rather than “make haste to speak” frees us from the anxiety of deciding what to say and allows us to be attentive to the other. But I also mean silence in a deeper sense. This is the silence that comes with recognizing the presence of God in the other. It is a silence, perhaps better described as a stillness, that comes with the conviction that this person with whom I am engaging with is at the most basic level the same as me. Both of us are participants in the marvellous act of creation. Both of us are of one image. And what comes from this conviction is deep silence. A deep trust. A lack of fear. The rest of this blog post is a meditation on time and silence. I hope that even if what I am trying to grasp is not very clear (and how could it be!), that something will speak to you the reader. If that is the case, then that is enough for me!
We often approach silence with the mindset of “how can I occupy this space?” “How can I fill it?” I think that rooted in this mindset is a deep-seated fear of silence, a fear of the absence of distraction, a fear of being confronted with ourselves. It is a fear partly rooted in the human desire for control. We want to control and manage our time, to feel a sense of autonomy, a sense of our own power over life. We may feel that we need to have total control over our lives because of a sense of inadequacy, that somehow if we keep busy we will be bettering ourselves. But unbridled desire for control, while indeed providing a sense of comfort is a tentative and fragile comforter. We may feel secure behind our own constructions but we run a great risk of not listening, not being attentive, not being open to the the workings of God. We may also feel that our time is something we possess and therefore needs to be defended. And this I think shows a great lack of faith because God is most visibly at work where we step aside, in the silence, where we relinquish control and accept our dependence upon God. Too often we try to contain, control and manage the gift of time and the gift of silence (two concepts that I think are closely linked though I will not here investigate that further!), a gift through which God speaks to us saying “Peace be with you.” This peace, God’s peace, does not come through our own efforts. It is not something we can attain with our own power, indeed it is not something we need to attain. It is God’s peace, not ours. Just as love in itself is not something we attain or create by our own efforts, but is given to us and indeed is always present to us whether we accept it or not. There is nothing we need to do to receive the gifts of peace and of love. Just be silent and participate. Participate in the gift of love, participate in the gift of peace.
To clarify, I am not advocating for pacivity. I am not suggesting, “do nothing because all is provided for.” What I am suggesting is that “all is provided for, know this and act accordingly.” That is to say, in accepting that we do not need to strive for perfection, that we are “wonderfully and fearfully made,” that we do not need to “occupy” our time that all of this, perfection and love is and has always been present to us, we are set free from anxiety. We are freed to be more fully able to explore our potential without the fear of failure, without the belief that we must always be working to fill our time. All of life, I would suggest, is wasting time productively. But it is not even wasting time. Properly understood, I believe we need to inhabit the time we are given. Anxiety arises when our striving for a future imagined time removes us from the immediate context. We need to inhabit the time we are given, not ignore it, not gloss over, but inhabit it fully with our full love and attention. And this is not counterpoductive. It does not mean “do not plan for the future.” It means do not think of the future as being more real then the present moment. If we inhabit time more fully, not only are we more receptive towards what’s around us, not only are we more aware of our dependance, but we realize that our present work is all that there is. We realize that accepting that we abide in love is simply a matter of just that, acceptance. So back to silence. And I will speak for myself here. If I am willing to be silent my time will be richer and more full of love, and of grace and will allow me to see my limits for what they are. Not barriers, but the full glory of human potential. The rest is in God’s hands.