There is a silence that lives in the grass
On the underside of each blade
And in the blue space between the stones.
There is a silence that rests like a young bird in your palms. – Rolf Jacobsen
As we finally move towards the turning of the calendar on 2020, I am thinking about what I want to do differently in the coming days, weeks, and months. I don’t cotton to New Year’s resolutions, but I do think that the freshness of that hard-to-remember-number we write our checks, serves as a good starting line for some new rhythms.
The one that has surfaced in my soul is the idea of silence. As I thumb my way through the New Testament, I find that silence played an important role in the life of Jesus of Nazareth. At the start of his ministry, he spent 40 days in solitude and silence. Often, in his ministry, Jesus, who talked all the time, goes into places where he can be silent and hear silence.
In the first chapter of Mark, at the beginning of his ministry, very early in the morning while it was still dark, he withdrew to a solitary, silent place. Before he chose his disciples, he withdrew into silence. After he fed the 5,000, and the people want to make him a king. He withdrew into silence. After his friend John the Baptist is executed, Jesus withdraws into silence to grieve.
If Jesus, who lived in a much less noisy world and was the sinless Son of God needed to practice silence, there is a good chance you and I might need a little booster shot now and then.
How Can I Be Silent?
- Give Your Mouth a Sabbath
I remember many years ago, Pastor Keith Carpenter did a Day of Silence. I remember being impressed with that. Any preacher who will take a day and shut up is a preacher I can be friends with! Haven’t you been around folks that you wish would have learned what my retired pastor friend, Phil Meyers told me one time? He said, “Pastor, silence may be golden, but duct tape is silver.”
I’ve determined that I am going to begin each day in a simple way. After I’ve made my coffee and it is sitting on the coaster beside my chair with steam curling up in gray swirls, I am going to sit very still for ten minutes—centering prayer. The only sound will be the slurp of my black coffee and the ticking of the house as she begins to stir to meet the day.
One Sabbath a month I am going to practice silence from sunup to noon. I will alert my wife of this ahead of time, but the idea is to be attuned to the voice of God instead of the sound of my own voice.
In conversations, I will do my best to not dominate conversations with my many words. I love what Henri Nouwen wrote,
“It is a good discipline to wonder in each new situation if people wouldn’t be better served by our silence than by our words.”
- Give Your Ears A Sabbath
What if we take a fast from the news media? This will limit how much worldly pollution I put into my brain. Even if that worldly noise is just that—background noise. The point of practicing silence is not to practice silence.
When I am silent before the Living God, I feel like I walk into God’s house. I drop off all my excess baggage at the front door. I sit in God’s living room. God has a special chair for me. I am invited to sit and rest. It is here that I am loved, healed. It is my special time with God. No words need to be said or heard. We are two friends who can be silent in each other’s presence.
Or as Dallas Willard said, “People who love one another can be silent together.”
More than anything else, I want to be like Jesus. That means I am going to have to live like he lived—the ways and means of Jesus. Jesus practiced silence all through his life—all the way to the very end. If you’ve ever read through what is called the Passion Narratives, the story about Jesus’ death, we’re told about Jesus being silent.
It actually tied back to the ancient prophecy in Isaiah about the Messiah, the suffering servant that would be silent before his executioners like a lamb before the slaughter. This odd statement keeps coming up.
Jesus is silent before the chief priest. He’s silent when he’s mocked. He’s silent when he’s before Pilate. He’s silent when he’s before Herod. The narrative is peppered with these stories of Jesus’ silence.
Why? What’s the big deal about that? Jesus said to his disciples, just before he was crucified in Matthew 26:53, Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels?
In other words, “Do you not know all I have to do is say the word, and there would be no suffering for me?” In fact, in the Gospels, that’s the great temptation that is put before Jesus: be the Messiah, but don’t suffer.
Right up until the very end, this is his great struggle. In a way we cannot comprehend, its as if heaven and hell watched Jesus in the garden, at the trial, on the cross and said,
“Just say the word, Jesus, and there will be no suffering. There will be no death. There will be no cross.
Just say the word, Jesus. All you have to do is say one word, and then no blood will be shed. No lamb will be slain. No curse will be born. No sacrifice will be made. No sin will be atoned for. No debt gets paid.
Just say the word. No redemption, and every member of the human race will die unforgiven, uncleansed, unreconciled, unsaved.”
When one word could save him and crush us, when one silence would save us and crush him, he was silent. He chose to be silent. He did not say the word.
In the end, we’re saved by that word Jesus did not say. Maybe Jesus was training his whole life for that silence.
In a way, maybe Jesus was training to show us all the words God could say to me but does not, words of judgment and condemnation and guilt I deserve and God does not say even though it killed him.
Maybe we are saved as much by the silence of God as we are by the Word of God.
That is the kind of silence that is golden indeed.