In the words of Ferris Bueller, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” I’d like to say my absence from this blog has been due to my stopping and looking around, but in fact it’s the opposite. I mentioned in my last post (from over a month ago), that I hadn’t been setting myself up for success in encountering God, and while that’s been remedied slightly, I’ve been neglecting this blog as an outlet for both writing for the sake of writing, and writing to reflect for myself and possibly bless/inform others.
So, fittingly for how this blog has been for a while, and ironically, given the topic itself, let’s talk about silence.
I have the gift and the curse of being able to fall asleep at just about anytime, possibly anywhere. I say possibly because I haven’t truly experienced everywhere, and apparently I just can’t wholeheartedly buy into hyperbole. I mean, can you imagine falling asleep on the Superman ride at Six Flags? Come on.
But anytime I get comfortable in a position, I typically, whether consciously or unconsciously, have a fleeting thought of, “hey, sleep is an option right now…” In a theater watching a movie I’ve been waiting to come out for months? Sleep’s an option. Sitting back in my chair in any given class when the lecture, while interesting, is lengthy? Sleep’s an option. Literally in the middle of a group conversation, but the chairs are sorta plush? I’m down for the count.
What’s interesting, though, is that I seldom find myself asleep in silence. Even when I go to bed each night, I have to have my fan running. Kids in youth groups will always say they need their iPods to go to sleep, whether they really do, or just need an excuse to bring their iPods on what’s supposed to be a technology-free trip (we are freaking onto you, you rapscallions!). People fall asleep watching TV all the time.
And when that is the case, silence will often become a disturbance. When I fall asleep around people, what wakes me up is the sudden silence of a lull in conversation. Someone turns the TV off, or the movie ends. There’s a power outage, and I suddenly realize my fan isn’t whirring anymore. The music fades out as the album ends.
I wake up, and the silence doesn’t feel like a disturbance so much as it feels like a return. Because if I have to fall asleep to noise, and there is no noise, then I’m forced to be awake and alert in silence. Something is meant to be done in that space.
Right now I’m reading Sex God by Rob Bell, a risky name to bring up to most Christians these days since he wrote that one book about love winning. But in it, he talks about the root where we get the word “sex” from meaning something along the lines of “severed, disconnected” (the same root is where we get words like dissect, bisect, and just plain ol’ sect). So, then, sexuality is both about disconnectedness, but also, and much more importantly, how we then try to reconnect.
Bell compares this to how things were in the beginning, when humans lived in Eden, in harmony with God. There was full connection, that component of sexuality fully realized. And in that way, there was silence. There was no white noise, no distractions or severed roots between the soles of our feet and the earth God created, no static between us and God.
In one of my classes, we began each day by reading a selected couple of passages from the prophets because, by and large, there’s not a lot of time spent in the prophets from the pulpit or in Bible classes, specifically in youth settings. And through this time, I was reintroduced to a passage I’d sung quite a bit, but never considered:
“Of what value is an idol carved by a craftsman?
Or an image that teaches lies?
For the one who makes it trusts in his own creation;
he makes idols that cannot speak.
Woe to him who says to wood, ‘Come to life!’
Or to lifeless stone, ‘Wake up!’
Can it give guidance?
It is covered with gold and silver;
there is no breath in it.
The Lord is in his holy temple;
let all the earth be silent before him.”
One thing that makes God God, is that God does not need to be spoken for. God speaks for Godself. What sets God apart from idols, from false gods, is that we did not craft God.
I love that line “there is no breath in it.” Doesn’t that take us back to the garden? What’s more is that when we go back to the garden, God breathes life into God’s creation, and God also gives humans the image of God, Imago Dei. We are not God, and yet the idols we would create are less alive than we are ourselves. The idols are white noise, and white noise is an idol, as if the static of background conversation and media is a pillow of comfort to us, when really it is a barricade barring us from more intimate contact with our creator.
But God does not need that pillow of noise. Where God dwells is in the silence of all things.
Perhaps there’s an illusion to this in Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount when he talks about the way in which the pagans pray, thinking they’ll be heard for their many words. And yet, what might be a difference in the way we pray?
I’d say that we’re called before God’s throne in a posture of silence.
Perhaps that is a space in which all parties would be most receptive to allowing God to be God, lest we impose our own desires and predispositions to God’s will and actions. We could approach God with anger at our enemies, with passions for certain ministries and missions, and we do, but when it comes to hearing God speak, are we willing to shout so loudly about those things that they become all that we hear? So that we can leave the temple and say, “This must be what we’re supposed to do, because that’s all I heard in there.”
What if that were a way to reclaim silence so that it wouldn’t stir us from our sleep, or otherwise make us uncomfortable anymore? If something becomes familiar as a posture before God, something like silence, I believe that’s the best shot there is at reclaiming it for the restoration of the world from brokenness to wholeness in God’s presence.
Everyone hates an awkward silence.
But maybe that awkward silence is subject to God’s presence. What if we turned in that quiet to face God’s temple? Maybe that’s a start.