On Silence…

Posted by on Mar 7, 2021 in Blog | 7 comments

lonely pension standing in misty forest in autumn time
Photo by Nandor on Pexels.com

At present I am recovering from a skin graft to my lower leg, and it has meant that my usual activity has been severely restricted. Apparently the lower leg has a poor blood supply and to prevent swelling and the risk of the graft being rejected I must spend most of the day lying down with my leg raised and doing nothing. While I understand some might view that as bliss – a medical invitation to do nothing but sleep and read – I have found it more than a little tedious. Though the day has been interrupted with the inevitable zoom meetings, these have been restricted. My doctor informs me that even when staring zombie like at a screen and contributing only the occasional comment, we move more than we realize, and more than I am meant to. 

With Rosemary out at work most days, I have been alone in the home left to contemplate in silence – and it has got me thinking about silence. Silence symbolizes many different states in scripture.

There is the silence of trust – a silence reflected in inner stillness, as the Psalmist instructs us to “Be still and know that I am God” (Ps 46:10). This silence is about quietly trusting even in the dark. It is a silence advocated even “though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea” (v2). It is a silence that recognizes that there are many stages in a story, and that even if seemingly insurmountable difficulties are right ahead, another day will dawn – because God is God, and God can be trusted.

There is the absence of silence, Proverbs 18:13 noting, “To answer before listening – that is folly and shame.” Here we rush into speaking when silence would have been wiser. We answer the question we thought would be asked, but not the question that was asked. We talk past one another and so instead of healing, our words tear down and deepen the hurt and insult. Why do we do this? Perhaps we are afraid of real questions, perhaps we are arrogant and assume we already know, most commonly, we simply do not know how to listen. Genuine listening is hard, because it requires noting not just what the other person says but how they say it, and how often they say it, and how their eyes look when they say it, and what they do not say. It requires us to quietly give our full attention to this other person, and this is a gift many are not willing to give. More positively, if we silently listen, and give our full attention to others, it is a gift that is often transformative. Sometimes our silence allows the person speaking to us to hear and understand their own voice in a way they have never been able to before.

There is the disciplined silence of refusing to escalate conflict. Proverbs 10:19 informs us that “sin is not ended by multiplying words, but the prudent hold their tongues.” It is an interesting image to prudently hold your tongue. The sense is that the tongue is desperate to burst into speech – to say something in self-defense or to fling some beautifully crafted insult, but the wise person simply clings onto their tongue ever more tightly, refusing to allow it to speak words that will be regretted later.

There is the anguish of silence – most poignantly noted when God’s silence creates anxiety that God might be absent. Psalm 88:18 hauntingly speaks of a time when “darkness is my closest friend”. In Psalm 35:22 David pleads, “Lord you have seen this. Do not be silent.” Earlier (v17) he had asked, “How long, Lord, will you look on.”  The sense is clear. There are times of struggle and despair – times when we long for God to decisively intervene and to change things for us. At times our requests and questions are met with silence, and we simply have to trust in the dark.

There is the cowardice of silence, most famously noted when Peter refuses to acknowledge that he knows Jesus – a denial made three times (John 18:15-27). At a time when church leaders are often condemned for failing to speak up for those who need their voice of support, it is sobering to remember that the first appointed church leader also failed to speak and went on to deeply regret it. It is worth asking who might need our voice to break the silence on their behalf.

There is the peace of silence. Luke 23:9 tells us that at his trial before Herod, “Jesus gave him no answer.” While it seemed reckless to refuse to answer Herod’s questions, Jesus knew his fate was sealed and refused to participate in the charade taking place. Content to leave his life in God’s hands, he fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecy that “as a sheep before its shearer’s is silent, so he did not open his mouth” (Isa 53:7). Silence and peace are often linked – a reminder that before God, we have nothing to prove, and need only to listen for a word from God, which sometimes comes, as to Elijah on Mt Horeb, in the quietest of whispers (1Kings 19:12).

May God give us the strength to trust in the silence, to courageously speak when we should, and to be surrounded by the peace of God, even in the silence.

As always, nice chatting…

7 Comments

  1. Very good!!t

  2. Thanks for this thoughtful piece Brian. Not sure how accurate it is, but I once heard the ‘be still’ from Psalm 46 translated as ‘stop fighting’ which adds something to the silence too.

    • That’s a helpful take on it. Thanks Lynn.

  3. Another great read, thanks. I shall silently contemplate the need for more silence in this journey.

    • Hope that is a fruitful time of contemplation Chris.

  4. Brian: I pray that you are getting expert medical advice, care, and attention. Please be assure of my ongoing prayer for you.
    Rob.

    • Thanks so much Rob. I am hopeful that the worst is over. Yesterday the doctor gave me the green light to take on a little more each day and to phase in getting back to normal over a few weeks.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. On Silence… - Vose Seminary - […] post On Silence… appeared first on Brian […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.