The thirteenth day of Lent

Wednesday after 2 Lent

Salvador Dali - Christ of Saint John of the Cross, 1951St John of the Cross wrote, "Silence is God's first language." On the other hand, archaeologists believe that the development of language was one of the key elements enabling our human ancestors to survive and to accomplish the great migrations by which humans eventually came to inhabit nearly every corner of the earth. Clearly, these are not mutually exclusive propositions and when we read another St John--the Evangelist--we are reminded that Jesus Christ, the second Person of the Holy Trinity, is the Word. To put this another way, we might say that Jesus Christ is the "language" by which God discloses himself to humankind. If the archaeologists are right, language is in some way necessary to our survival as human beings. Nevertheless, if John of the Cross is right, it is possible, perhaps even desirable in some sense, to move beyond words and to the place where we may encounter God in silence. Surely, this is the meaning of Elijah's encounter with God at Mount Horeb when the prophet is virtually assaulted by loud crashing manifestations of nature but finds God in none of them. God is only perceived after the noise subsides and the echoes fade, and then it is in the "still small voice," a whisper, as it were, that Elijah realizes that God is near.

The noise of life and even the noise of religion can be a distraction in our spiritual lives. Like Elijah, we need not only to go into the Lenten wilderness but into a Lenten silence, a time of listening for the still small voice of God which speaks to us in the depths of our souls. Prayer involves listening as well as talking and Lent is an opportunity to separate ourselves from, to "give up," even if only for short periods of time, the noise and other distractions that may make us feel religious but can also manage to prevent us from the deeper prayer of listening to God. In our daily prayer, indeed even in our public liturgies, can we make room for silence? A time of silent meditation after the reading of Scripture; a substantial pause in the space between "let us pray" and the spoken prayer; a total stillness and silence after the congregation has received communion; or, best of all, a day or several days of silent retreat.

If you have time and can obtain a copy, watching Philip Gröning's remarkable movie, Into Great Silence, would be a wonderful Lenten activity. More than a documentary, the film takes the audience into an experience of the life of the Carthusian Abbey of the Grande Chartreuse, where silence is a central feature of the monastic rule.

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