Waiting in Silence

Water color

Monet’s Lily Pond  – Water color on paper, 12×16. William Frank Bellais 2012

The noise and clatter o violence seems to be everywhere in the world’s cultures in this century. The noise is of self-serving and blustering politicians along with so-called news programs where people talk in circles and over one another, never answering the important questions of the day while the noise of entertainment glorifies violence in television programs, motion picture trailers, and video games, and ultimately to religious zealots murdering innocent people in the name of their god. There are few quiet spaces to which one can retreat. Even many churches have turned to the noise of drum sets, raucous music, and loud electric guitars as a form of worship. But, God seeks silence. God is in silence. God is found in the inner deep silence of the soul.

The Psalmist understood this when he wrote, “For God alone my soul in silence waits.”[1] The poetic beauty of that sentence requires the reader to sit in silence and contemplate God, to wait on hearing God speak through the quiet, the utter quiet of the soul.

The Prophet Elijah.

The Prophet Elijah.

Recall the story of Elijah in the Book of First Kings where he told that he would find the LORD on Mount Horeb. Elijah goes to the mountain, hides in a cave, and awaits the LORD’s arrival. All the expected noise of the universe arrives, but the LORD does not. There is a great wind, which splits the rocks of the mountains, and an earthquake follows, and then a great fire, but God is not in any of that violence. Suddenly there is silence. The prophet is dismayed, then terrified by the silence. So terrified he wraps himself in his mantle. Elijah is aware that God is in the silence not in the powers of nature.[2]

Silence is the key to hearing God’s call to every person who will remain in the silence to hear. If we remain silent to hear God, what will we hear?

It is a fearful thing to be silent long enough to hear what God wants of us, wants us to do, and wants us to be. In the Letter to the Hebrews, the writer declares, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”[3] And it truly is.

In the story of the prophet Jonah[4] he is told to go to the great city of Nineveh to proclaim God’s wrath will

Russian Orthodox icon of Jonah, 16th century (Iconostasis of Kizhi monastery, Karelia, Russia)

Russian Orthodox icon of Jonah, 16th century (Iconostasis of Kizhi monastery, Karelia, Russia)

come to the city if they do not repent of their sinfulness. Jonah does not want the job and he attempts to run away from his divine assignment. In running away he goes to sea, the ship he is on runs into a perilous storm, the sailors on the ship recognize that Jonah is the reason for their danger, and then they throw Jonah overboard. As Jonah flounders in the stormy sea, he is swallowed by a large fish. Three day later he regurgitated by the fish onto a safe shore. In those three days, we can presume, Jonah has had time to reflect on his relationship with God—I imagine there might have been some quiet time in the fish’s innards. What happens next is that Jonah fulfills his calling, proclaims God’s unhappiness with Nineveh, and the city is saved.

Because the biology of digestion, even in a large fish, works against survival in the innards of such a beast, I sometimes chuckle when I read the story of Jonah and the big fish. Nevertheless, it was and is an important story for Christians from the earliest times of Christian history. The story reflects Jesus in the tomb for three days and his resurrection. Instead, however, of proclaiming God’s wrath, Jesus’ new beginning proclaims God’s love and mercy for the world.


Fishermen on the Sea of Galilee

In the fearful silence of God we may be like the men casting and mending their nets by the Sea of Galilee as Jesus walks by saying, “Follow me, I will make you fishers of people.”[5] Casting and mending nets surely is safer than following Jesus to fish for people—that is calling people to be a part of the Kingdom of God? Most anything is safer than preaching the Kingdom of God and calling people to be disciples of Jesus. However, think about those men at work. While at their work, presumably, they toiled in silence and in that silence heard the call of God to follow Jesus and become fishers of people. Think of the ultimate joy these men experience in knowing the risen Lord Jesus.

Being a fisher of people requires work beyond measure. To follow that call sometimes means giving up the easy joys of life. Being a divine fisherman or fisherwoman requires turning backs on the society and culture in which we live and seeking a higher standard of living. Nevertheless, we pray “Give us grace, O Lord, to answer readily the call of our Savior Jesus Christ to proclaim to all people the Good News of his salvation, that we and the whole world may perceive the glory of his marvelous works…”[6] This prayer is not mere formality of a prayer-book invocation, or a collection of thoughts reflecting the Scriptures for a particular Sunday in the liturgical calendar, it is the prayer of the Church—all the people who follow Jesus Christ as Lord. Yet, some who hear it offered do not hear its full meaning for them. Their minds are elsewhere. They may be thinking about the lack of people attending worship, or what they have waiting for them when they go home, or will that priest up there ever stop droning on and say something useful.

Set aside concerns for the moment when you hear a prayer offered from a prayer-book and listen to the words, make them your own. Those words are a beautiful expression of faith, they are a reminder that all are called in God’s silence to proclaim and live the Gospel. As the Apostle Paul instructed the Corinthian Church, as we recognize the nearness of the Kingdom of God, we are to set aside worries about things that sometime binds us together or tear us apart.[7]

Setting aside our world as we know it may seem a harsh unreality. Giving up family, as Paul instructs, foregoing mourning loss and experiencing joy in our minds may be out of the question, nonetheless, for those moment of quiet, times to hear God speak in the silence we need, we can give up worry, we can even forego the joy of self-indulgence, and the concern about our things—possessions. Just for a moment of silence, standing in the presence of God, the entire world can be put aside to hear God say to us, you are needed to build the Kingdom on earth; you cannot build it if you are a part of the noise.

While it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God, the words of the Psalmist are reassuring, “…truly, my hope is in him (The LORD). He alone is my rock and my salvation, my stronghold, so that I shall not be shaken.”[8] In the silence we can find strength to follow the call to extend the Kingdom of Heaven to all people. Those who have been baptized and sealed as Christ’s own forever have a duty to be silent—isn’t that a strange thing to advocate? But, it is a duty to be silent and to listen.  Further, the Psalmist reminds us that all who sit in silence and wait upon God can trust that God will come to them and give them strength to meet their callings.

In the silence in which our souls wait upon God, we come to know that all things pass away except the love of God for the world, for the universe, fall that lives and exists beyond our knowing. In that love we live in safety, we are in the hands of the living God.♦

[1] Psalm 62:1.

[2] 1 Kings 19:11-13.

[3] Hebrews 10:31.

[4] The Book of Jonah is found among the Minor Prophets in the Old Testament of the Holy Bible. In the Jewish canon of the Bible, the Tanakh, Jonah is in the subsection titled Trei Asar in the Nevi’im or the Book of the Twelve Minor Prophets of the section of the Bible called The Prophets.

[5] Cf. The Gospel Proper for 3rd Epiphany: Mark 1:14-20.

[6] Collect for the 3rd Sunday after the Epiphany, Book of Common Prayer.

[7] Cf. The New Testament Proper (Epistle) for 3rd Epiphany: 1 Corinthians 7:29-31.

[8] Psalm 62:1b-2.

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