Archive for August, 2009

Simple Silence

My second week of Sabbatical found me on the shores of Sam Rayburn Lake in southeast Texas – a beautiful place to find inspiration for my writing! I was struck this morning by the quietness in the woods along the lake. It wasn’t silence mind you but quietness. I’m getting better at enjoying quietness but still working on the silence piece.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer defined spiritual silence as “simple stillness of the individual under the Word of God.” He goes on to suggest that we must develop the ability to be silent before hearing the Word so that our thoughts can be directed  to what God wants to say to us through it as well as silent after hearing the  Word because the Word is still speaking and dwelling within us.  In the words of Bonhoeffer, “Silence is nothing else but waiting for God’s Word and coming from God’s Word with a blessing.”

Silence can be threatening. We’re alone with our thoughts. We’re alone with our doubts. We’re alone with our fears. We’re alone with our guilt. It is in our silence that we hear from our true self and connect with the deepest reaches of our soul.

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Words as Frail Containers

While packing for my recent move I came across my ordination certificate and was surprised to note that I have been talking about faith and followership professionally for ten years this month. That’s a lot of God-talk, thousands of words spoken on behalf of the Divine. Ten years ago I pretty much knew of what I spoke. I was a corner-dweller — one who had the corner on all things Truth and God. Looking back I realize that a young preacher who knows precisely what he believes every time he opens his mouth is a scary thing. Better to ascribe to the beliefs of the thirteenth century theologian Thomas Aquinas who said, “If you comprehend God, He is not God.”

I’m learning that the more I speak about God, about the nature of God or the way in which He works in the world, the more I must admit at the outset that my grasp of the truths that I declare is imperfect. I don’t have all the answers and I will not pretend to know. My only prayer is that in my attempts to communicate even the most simple concepts of God, that my words don’t confuse, muddle or otherwise obscure the revelation of God.

The prophet Habakkuk wrote, “the Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him!” (Habakkuk 2:20). As Christopher Page reminded me today, it wasn’t that that prophet lacekd faith, or had not had a profound experience of the reality of God. It is simply that Habakkuk understood that words are a frail container for Divinity. In the end, words may function decently as signpost; but if we settle down at the signpost, we will never reach our destination.

It was the French Jesuit Jean-Pierre de Caussade who actually asked God to smash all of his concepts about God. His prayer to God was, “Oh! divine Love, hide yourself, test us, mingle, confuse and snap like threads all our ideas and systems.” Anyone dare pray that prayer today?