Deepen Faith and Witness - Silence
“Be still, and know that I am God.” Psalm 46: 10
You may have participated in an exercise with this verse, whittling it down.
Be still and know that I am God
Be still and know
Silence is a faith practice. We live in a noisy world, and a fast-paced world. It is acoustically noisy. It is also visually noisy, if we can combine the senses like that. The current political season is but one manifestation of our society’s absence of silence, as candidates shout over one another, interrupting, yelling to be the loudest voice in the room. We need silence.
Often we engage in conversations like ping pong matches—lobbing comments back and forth as fast as we can. Whether it is a chance encounter in the grocery store, a heart-to-heart with a good friend, or a serious debate—we fill the space with words. And we can miss what happens when there is silence.
Our order for worship includes silence. And yet in most congregations, if the silence is more than about 5 seconds, people become uneasy. We don’t know what to do with “dead air.” We fidget. So that refreshing, holy part of the liturgy gets sacrificed because of our discomfort.
We need silence. We need it as individuals. We need it as communities of faith. We need it as a society. We need silence for reflection. We need silence for contemplation. We need silence in order to be able to hear others, to hear God.
Quakers know about silence. Quaker meetings are long periods of silence, broken only when someone in the meeting feels called on to speak. Silence is the norm; speaking is the exception. In our gatherings, it is the opposite. Speaking is the norm, silence the exception.
What do Quakers do during the silence? They listen for the Spirit. Oh, I’m sure that not everybody stays focused the entire time. I’m sure some people are thinking about other things, just as Lutherans sitting in pews during a sermon have been known from time to time to be thinking about other things.
Have you tried to keep silence for a sustained period of time? Not talking isn’t the real challenge. The real challenge is emptying your mind, slowing down, clearing out the internal chatter as well as the external noise. The real challenge is setting aside your agenda, letting go of your racing thoughts, your great ideas, your big questions, and waiting.
Quakers know that they can sit for a whole meeting and never hear the murmuring of the Spirit. Keeping silent does not guarantee that the voice of God will fill that space. Mother Theresa, in her reflections published after her death, wrote of the terrible silence she felt because she did not hear from God.
When Elijah was on Mount Horeb, he experienced all kinds of epic events that might have been God’s way of communicating. The mountain split and crashed, but God was not in the mountain. The earth split, but God was not in the earthquake. A fire raged, but God was not in the wildfire. And there was “sheer silence.” And God spoke, into the deep silence. (I Kings 19:ll ff).
“Be still, and know that I am God.”
Jessica Crist, Bishop
Deepen Faith and Witness—Gratitude
“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” ( I Thessalonians 5: 16-18)
Gratitude is a faith practice. Sometimes we think gratitude is simply saying “Thank you.” My parents taught us to say “please” and “thank you.” And we taught our children to say “please” and “thank you.” Good manners are the foundation of a civil society, and we could all use a refresher course, especially in this political climate. Good manners are not the cure to all of society’s ills—but they are a start.
Good manners involve reciprocity. You do something for someone else, and they do it for you. The “Golden Rule,” which has parallels in almost every religious tradition, says, “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” (Luke 6:31) Just about everybody agrees that it is a common-sense moral guide, as universally applicable as “Do no harm.”
But Jesus, immediately after pronouncing “Do unto others as you would have them do to you,” in Luke’s Gospel, immediately goes way beyond it. “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them.” (v. 32).
Jesus goes beyond reciprocity and good manners, into deep commitment. And that is what gratitude is. It is far more than an automatic “thank you.” Gratitude is a whole way of life that is learned. Gratitude is knowing that everything that we have and that everything we are comes from God. Gratitude is finding grace and the hand of God in everything we experience. Gratitude is what enabled Martin Rinkhart to write “Now Thank We All Our God,” in the midst of an epidemic that took his wife and children. Gratitude is what made it possible for South Africans under the yoke of Apartheid to sing, “We are Marching in the Light.”
Gratitude is not rosy optimism or shallow happiness. Gratitude embraces pain and sorrow, and sees God’s love through it all. How many times have you heard someone say, “I would never have wanted this, but I have been so changed and so blessed throughout it.” That is gratitude, born out of grief, born out of experience.
Gratitude is a response to love, to grace, to life. It is a way of life. It is thankfulness, generosity, trust and joy. There are no “buts” with gratitude. Gratitude is complete. In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians he writes: “I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus.” (I Corinthians 1: 4-5) His gratitude does not prevent him from admonishing them harshly immediately thereafter.
Gratitude is not a behavior. It is an orientation, an approach to life. It doesn’t dull the senses or cloud the judgment. Rather it is an interpretive lens through which we view and experience all of life. It is extravagant, and it is countercultural. There is nothing rational about gratitude. In the end, it is a gift.
Henri Nouwen decided to leave his comfortable academic appointment and live among the poorest of the poor in Latin America. He went to help because he had so much to offer and they were in so much need. Instead he learned that these people whom he imagined had nothing were always giving to others, always grateful to others. Whatever they had they shared, and gratefully. He called his book Gracias! , because that’s what he heard everywhere he went. “Gracias!” Not desparate, not pleading, but confident, joyous. Gratitude. It is a faith practice.
Jessica Crist, Bishop
“We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate in cheerfulness.” (Romans 12: 5-8)
Generosity is a faith practice. It naturally follows hospitality, our topic last week. It involves letting go of ownership and control. Jesus lifted up a poor widow as a model for generosity.
“He looked up and saw rich people putting their gifts into the treasury; he also saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. He said, ‘Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them; for all of them have contributed out of their abundance but she out of her poverty has put in all she had to live on.” (Luke 21: 1-4)
Generosity is sharing, but it is more than sharing. It is letting go, and it is letting go with joy. Generosity is living as if everything we have comes from God, and not holding on to it too tightly. Generosity is seeing the need in others and responding. Generosity is going above and beyond what is required. Generosity can even be offensive. The unnamed woman who anointed Jesus in Bethany angered Jesus’ disciples.
“While he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he sat at the table, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very costly ointment of nard, and she broke open the jar and poured the ointment on his head. But some were there who said to one another in anger, ‘Why was this ointment wasted in this way? For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor.’…Jesus said, .. ‘Truly I tell you, wherever the good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her.’” (Mark 14: 3-9)
Giving is important. It is part of who we are, what we do as Christians. Mark Allen Powell, in his book Giving to God: The Bible’s Good News about Living a Generous Life, makes the point that giving is part of worship. Passing the plate during worship is not simply an inefficient way to pay the bills. With opportunities to pay online, or have automatic deductions from a bank account (all of which do help pay the bills), we can forget that giving to the Lord is an act of worship.
We are an incarnational people. We don’t just live in our heads. Our worship is embodied. We baptize with real, wet water, making puddles and splashes sometimes. We communion with real bread and real wine, which we believe become the read body and real blood of Jesus. We pass the peace with real handshakes, hugs and greetings. And, I think we can argue, that we take seriously that offering plate that goes around as an opportunity for real letting go.
Paul writes to the Galatians:
“The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things.” (Galatians 5:22-23)
Jessica Crist, Bishop
Bishop Jessica Crist
Bishop of the Montana Synod of the ELCA