Peter exclaimed, “Rabbi, it’s wonderful for us to be here! Let’s make three shelters as memorials—one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” He said this because he didn’t really know what else to say, for they were all terrified.
Why is it that we so frequently feel we must say something to fill the silence? Nobody had asked Peter to speak in this moment when Jesus was transfigured and was with Moses and Elijah, yet Peter felt that he needed to speak up, to make his presence known, to fill the silence instead of being an observer.
We use noise of any kind to soothe us because we are afraid of silence. It makes us uncomfortable, often when we are alone, and always when we are with another.
In my Sunday school class, where our attendance is usually around 20-30 each week I struggle sometimes to remain silent when there is a time of open discussion. Observing Peter, I recognize that many times my speaking is not about sharing some profound insight but about the desire for acknowledgment. Like Peter, I speak to make my presence known, and like Peter, much of what comes out of my mouth is equally as irrelevant.
In Freedom of Simplicity Richard Foster speaks of simplifying our speech. He says we shouldn’t say we’re starving when we are merely hungry. Doing so diminishes real starvation, a plight all too real in our world. My hunger in no way is anything like the real starvation another faces.
I think simplicity of speech also extends to the “filling the air with words” that we sometimes do. It’s understandable that we do it, for our entire days can be filled with words from television, radio and work. We sing songs in our heads, read words on a page or a screen, talk on the phone, text or e-mail (or even blog!). Even if the words aren’t audible, they fill our heads.
What if I used fewer words? What if I could disconnect, unplug and shut down the constant river of words that beats on me like a waterfall and that spews forth from my own mind and mouth? Maybe a good Lenten discipline would be to use fewer words, especially words directed (or aimed, as the case may be) at others instead of God. Maybe if I used fewer words, I would learn to make my words more meaningful.
Maybe too, I could enter into a silence that is without words, a place where being present in the presence of God is sufficient, where nothing needs to be said (or even thought), where the glory of God simply shines into me, and I receive it in silent, wordless gratitude.