Silence, Please

Silence, Please
Silence, Please

In light of the ever widening social divide and the social media firestorm that has ensued, Brian Zahnd agreed to allow me to share this section of his recent book “Water to Wine – Some of My Story“.  I hope that it will help you value a time of silence … to breath, to listen, and then find a way to move forward with grace and wisdom.  If it does help, I encourage you to purchase Brian’s book. The chapter Echos, Silence, Patience & Grace is worth the price of the book.

Water to Wine

Ours is an angry and vociferous age. We’re constantly subjected to the noise of charged political rhetoric—the wearying din of the culture wars. Too often Sunday morning can be little more than a religious echo of this same noise. But shouldn’t Sunday be a Christian Sabbath, a time to quiet our souls and receive the gift of silence? What if, instead of being another contributor to this clatter, our churches became a shelter from the storm offering respite to shell-shocked souls?

Echoes and silence. Echo is the return of an earlier sound. Silence belongs to an earlier age. Ours is an age of noise. With our technological progress has come the din of modernity. With the advent of digital social media has come the white noise of everyone “expressing themselves.” Silence is now a precious commodity, a scarce resource hard to come by. Sure, we can pray anywhere, anytime, but to pray well, to pray in a way that restores the soul, we need to find some quiet places. This is what we find appealing in the holy hush of the cathedral, the sacred stillness of the monastery, the reverent quiet of the woods. When birdsong and gentle footfall replace the shrill rancor of 24-7 news and the inane blare from five-hundred channels, the soul has a chance to heal. Without some intentional silence the weary soul is a prisoner being slowly worked to death in a merciless gulag of endless noise. The always-posted sign at the entrance of the tourist-attracting cathedrals is perhaps a desperate plea from the soul of modern man—Silence, Please.

It’s not just the silence of prayer that is needed—a posture of quietude needs to be adopted by contemporary Christianity, especially in North America. Too much of the most visible presence of Christianity is loud, vociferous, and angry. It bears a closer resemblance to shock-jocks than Saint Francis. And I don’t hesitate to suggest that Francis of Assisi might offer us a better model than Rush of Limbaugh. We don’t need to add more noise to the raging tumult that is America. We have enough of that as it is…and it’s not helping. Thirteenth-century Italy had plenty of social and political problems, but Francis found a more creative way to respond than by yelling at people. His own life of prayer, peace, and poverty offered a quiet critique of systemic sin, while demonstrating the alternative way of Christ. In our discordant times we need our churches to be more like Saint Francis and less like Fox News. We need a quieter, less combative, less belligerent Christianity. More quietness and trust, less riot and protest.

As Isaiah dreamed of the coming reign of God, he expressed his hope in a line of poetry by saying, “The effect of righteousness will be peace, and the result of righteousness, quietness and trust” (Isaiah 32:17). Isaiah sees the result of the reign of God as quietness and trust, not riot and protest. There are those who are fascinated by a kind of “riot Christianity” where the point is to make a lot of noise. They try to make a case for it by saying things like, “Everywhere Paul went there were riots.” Well, perhaps. But the riots weren’t Paul’s doing or desire. In Jerusalem, Paul was arrested after being falsely accused of starting a riot. In arguing his innocence Paul says, “They did not find me disputing with anyone or stirring up a crowd” (Acts 24:21). Paul never advocates for angry, loud, public protest, but just the opposite. Paul says we should “aspire to live quietly” (1 Thessalonians 4:11) and “lead a quiet and peaceable life” (1 Timothy 2:2). Paul doesn’t advocate riot Christianity, but quiet Christianity. Riots are the work of the devil, not the Holy Spirit.

A paradigm of protest and a preoccupation with power has given us wrong ideas. When we imagine the kingdom of God coming as a tsunami of irresistible force, we think our public presence needs to be loud, demonstrative, and even combative. This is entirely wrong. Babylon is built by the noisy machinery of war, conquest, and power politics, but not the kingdom of God. Almost all of Jesus’ kingdom parables are quiet stories. According to Jesus the kingdom of God is like seed being sown, like plants growing, like bread rising. It’s domestic, not militant. It’s like a woman sweeping her house, like a shepherd searching for a lost sheep, like a wayward son coming home at last. It never gets much louder than the music and dancing of a house party. This is a long way from a riot.

Because we are obsessed with all things “big” and “powerful” in the conventional sense, we are convinced that to change the world the kingdom of God needs to sound like a deafening construction site—bulldozers and jackhammers. But the kingdom coming isn’t as much like a construction site as a forest growing. Even if we do think of the kingdom as the construction of a holy temple, we’re reminded that too much noise is incompatible with the sacred. There was this unique protocol in Solomon’s construction of the temple, “In building the temple, only blocks dressed at the quarry were used, and no hammer, chisel or any other iron tool was heard at the temple site while it was being built” (1 Kings 6:7, NIV). During his ministry Jesus refused to contribute to the combative noise of his age—even when his opponents were aching for a fight.

When Jesus became aware of this, he departed. Many crowds followed him, and he cured all of them, and ordered them not to make him known. This was to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah:

“Here is my servant, whom I have chosen,
my beloved, with whom my soul is well pleased.
I will put my Spirit upon him,
and he will proclaim justice to the Gentiles.
He will not wrangle or cry aloud,
Nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets.” (Matthew 12:1519)

The church is not a special interest group that has to make its demands known. We don’t have to “fight for our rights” anymore than Jesus did. We don’t have to mimic the noise of special-interest anger. We can be an alternative of quietness and trust. The church doesn’t have to make things happen, it can simply be that part of the world that trusts God and lives under the peaceable reign of Christ here and now. As Yves Congar has said, “The Church is not a special little group, isolated, apart…The Church is the world as believing in Christ.”[2] In a world that surely must grow weary of the harsh blare of ideological anger, the church is to be a haven of quietness and trust, a gentle refuge of peace.

[1] Brian Zahnd, Water to Wine: Some of My Story Copyright © 2016 by Brian Zahnd, Published by Spello Press, Quote used by permission of the author.
[2] Yves Congar as quoted by Hans Boersma, Nouvell Theologie and Sacramental Ontology: a Return to Mystery (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009), 1.