Silence of the Lambs

SilenceIn 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:

Habakkuk 2:18-20:

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.


5 thoughts on “Silence of the Lambs

  1. the origins of the word “sex” is about gender not fornication. “Commonly taken with seco as division or ‘half’ of the race”

    “One thing that makes God God, is that God does not need to be spoken for. God speaks for Godself.”
    that’s a very interesting take, because the Bible certainly doesn’t take this view and actually promotes acting and speaking on the behalf of God a lot. I guess you could get around this by saying that you are just spreading the word of God and not actually speaking for it, but that could only be true if you never interpreted what’s in the Bible, which would mean taking the full word of the Bible as literal, absolute truth.

    • Those are good points. I guess I should populate the bit about sex that it’s a part of a greater chapter in a book with a greater point about what Bell’s wanting to say about sex. They’re interesting points, but you sorta gotta play ball with what he’s saying.
      As far as your other point, I agree, and there’s good and bad about it. One thing one of my professors says is that the most important part of the sermon is the scripture, because it’s the only thing in the sermon that is good. But yeah, it’s a fine line between sharing interpretation and speaking for God, and it’s one many people don’t give a lot of consideration, whether it’s the person speaking or the person being spoken to. I don’t want to defend the parts of the Bible you may be referencing as far as the Bible promoting people speaking on behalf of God, but I’d be interested to hear if you’d want to share! The main thrust I’m getting at, though, underneath this might be that the Bible should be treated carefully and in close relationship with God, and that silence is a pretty careful environment.

      • Well I’m really just referring to the Bible endorsing proselytization, “go and be fishers of men” and what not. Which, of course, isn’t really speaking for God in and of itself so much as it is acting for God. Seeing that I know you, I would be willing to wager there are certain, fairly explicit, passages in the Bible that you would disagree with. So given that there is a large group of Christians that would agree with you and say “God doesn’t need you to speak for him, x is right here stated explicitly in the Bible” how do you reconcile disagreeing with x while simultaneously defending the scripture as the word of God.
        For instance 1 Tim 2:8-11, 1 Cor 14:33b-35,37,

      • Gotcha gotcha. Yeah, there are a couple of things going on in either of those passages which cause me to disagree in whatever capacity. Also, I love talking about this stuff, so excuse me if I get sorta long-winded. First though, it may seem like leaning too far into nuance, but I think the language of “word of God” can be a little heavy-handed. I usually describe the Bible as God’s revelation rather than God’s word. This kinda reaches into theories of inspiration of the Bible, which is a really hefty and dense discussion, and one I’m still learning more and more about. But anyway, describing the Bible as a source through which God might reveal Godself rather than, like, “this was straight from the Almighty’s lips onto this inexplicably thin paper”, takes undue pressure off of the text and gives more margin for not implementing human interpretation of the text as divine meaning inherent in the text, if that makes sense.

        As for those passages in particular, I point to context of the cultures and of the letters they’re in. 1 Timothy’s a little easier, so I’ll do that first. Timothy was in Ephesus where the cult of Artemis was a big thing, and an element of that was ritual prostitution, so many have posited that this is a direct and understood reference to how Christians should differentiate themselves from the surrounding religious cultures and practices. Part of that has to do with coercion, too, in that the temple prostitutes would be outside, drumming up traffic for worship of Artemis. And aside from all that, Timothy’s a pastoral letter which are all disputed as far as Paul’s authorship. That raises a whole lot of other questions and topics, too, about pseudepigraphy and how we treat Paul’s credit and status that epistles would need to be acredited to him for them to carry any weight.

        1 Corinthians is a little more difficult because there’s just so much going on, especially across the two letters. I’m actually taking a class this fall about just the Corinthian letters, so part of me wishes I could just postpone talking about this till then, but I’ll share my thoughts now, and understand those thoughts are constantly shifting and reorganizing. I guess the biggest part is that these verses occur inside of the section about spiritual gifts used to edify the church. These verses fall into the overarching topic of how to organize (specifically the Corinthian church’s) worship in order to use spiritual gifts, particularly speaking in tongues, to build up the church and not just be a means of individual edification (14:4-9). So people have taken this a number of ways. Some suggest this is just one of Paul’s personal methods for helping to organize corporate worship and keep it orderly and edifying, that is to simply cut out women, which would have just been a typical Tuesday for those who heard those instructions. There’s actually a lot of apologetic work and feminist criticism out there on Paul. I know I read one that talked about the way he speaks about power structures, for example, when he talks about headship in 1 Cor. 11. It suggested that Paul’s use of patriarchal hierarchies wasn’t necessarily his endorsement of the structures, but an instance of his adapting a pre-existing and dominant power structure in order to speak Christ into it.
        Another explanation for this particular issue is that, since the correspondence with the Corinthian church is rather extensive (Paul appears to be answering a few direct questions, and what we have as 1st and 2nd Corinthians are actually more like 2nd and 4th Corinthians when we take into consideration the letters Corinth wrote to Paul and Paul’s references to those other letters), Paul is much more acquainted with the people and situation in Corinth than we are, and thus could arguably have had a handful of women in particular in mind when he wrote this. Those few women might have been especially loud and distracting, etc. in their use of gifts, and thus to implement the model of, roughly interpreted, prophecy<tongue speaking and having only a few people speak and share, he just implemented a blanket rule of silence. And this is all without really even touching on the issues of applying particular church guidelines from the 1st century church to the second and beyond, once all the apostles and such with firsthand experience of the Gospel were gone.

        So there we go. Just a couple thoughts and such. Hopefully I said something useful/informative. If not, my apologies. But I really appreciate these questions! They've been really cool and thought-provoking, and keep me honest in posting and considering what I say!

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