Monday, February 20, 2012

The Simplicity of Silence

Peter exclaimed, “Rabbi, it’s wonderful for us to be here! Let’s make three shelters as memorialsone 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.
                                                    Mark 9:5-6

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.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Popularity vs. Purpose

Before daybreak the next morning, Jesus got up and went out to an isolated place to pray. Later Simon and the others went out to find him. When they found him, they said, “Everyone is looking for you.” But Jesus replied, “We must go on to other towns as well, and I will preach to them, too. That is why I came.”
                                                                           Mark 1:36-38

Sometimes it seems that Jesus gets pulled in every direction and responds to every request made of him. But here, in Mark 1, Jesus gently says no. I expect Simon, Andrew, James and John wanted Jesus to remain in Capernaum—it was home for them. Had Jesus stayed there, they could follow him without leaving what was familiar and comfortable, not to mention revel in what was likely newfound status and popularity by their association with Jesus.

The previous day had been exhilarating for these men. Jesus had taught in the synagogue, cast out an evil spirit and healed Simon’s mother-in-law. The day had climaxed with the whole town gathered at the home of Simon’s mother-in-law. No wonder Simon and the others went out looking for Jesus. They likely wanted more of the same!

But Jesus not only denies their request, he calls them to leave even as momentum is building. He tells them to leave a half-begun ministry and move on. I imagine it must have given them pause to consider what this call to follow Jesus really meant. It meant leaving their families and their work. It meant leaving the familiarity of their home town. And now, it probably meant some embarrassment, because, among those who knew them best, this group of men was walking away from an unfinished “project,” leaving many of their closest friends and family disappointed and angry. I know I am speculating about this, but human nature being what it is, the desire on the part of the disciples for earthly popularity and the desire on the part of their fellow townspeople to get more of Jesus certainly seem like natural behaviors.

Jesus could have stayed in Capernaum and met the expectations of this community, but if he had, he would not have been who God called him to be. He had to keep his focus on God’s expectation for him, not the expectations of the people around him. I wonder if he was torn between staying in Capernaum and building on the ministry he had done there and leaving for other towns. I wonder if that was why he withdrew to pray, to keep his focus where it needed to be.

It’s not easy to deny the expectations of others when they are asking for help. It is easier to ride the tide of pleasing people, helping with worthy causes, and building a ministry program than it is to step away from all that and move on, leaving things unfinished and people disappointed. To do that requires trust in God, deep and complete trust that is only possible through close, intimate communion with God. Such communion is not developed in the busyness of doing but in the stillness of listening. In The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey talks about getting caught up “in the thick of thin things.” The problem is that without a proper comparison, we think the thin things are actually the big things. It is only in stepping back and learning to see as God sees that we can see that we have been operating on the periphery instead of in the center.

Jesus did many things, but he was always centered in God’s will. His doing flowed out of his being, not the other way around. He could say no because he knew the only One he was focused on pleasing was God. How I want to do the same!