For Lent: Listening
A blessed Ash Wednesday and season of Lent to you all. As the old English word lent signifies the days, in the Northern Hemisphere, are indeed lengthening. Praise God!
I’m thinking that for this Lent my spiritual practice will be listening. This is inspired by the first session of the current Crackers and Grape Juice webinar, based on Chris Green’s book, Being Transfigured, and our conversations with its author. Here’s a link to a video recording of the first session. It’s not too late to join the (250) folks who are already signed up. Registration is free. Seven Monday evenings, 4:00 to 5:30 p.m. PST/ adjust for your time zone.
Being Transfigured is a collection of sermons, a very rich one. The first, our focus last Monday, is titled “Transfiguring Silence.” In it Green suggests that there’s a time for silence, a time to listen, and that such a time can be a gift of God.
He notes that in the Transfiguration story according to St. Mark (his sermon text) Jesus admonishes the disciples, “Do not tell anyone what you have seen, until the son of man has been raised from the dead.”
“What does this mean for us?” asks Green. “Why has the Spirit told us these stories in these ways? Because we, like the first disciples, tend to speak up when we should quiet down and quiet down when we should speak up.”
Green turns to Bonhoeffer who argues in Life Together, “we cannot speak the gospel to others until we have learned to hold our tongues.”
Green continues, “this is especially true, he says, when what occurs to us to say seems obviously right . . . It feels at times, that we’ve been convinced that feeling strongly about something gives us all the permission we need to say whatever, whenever, and however we like about it. But the Spirit teaches us otherwise. If the truth is not known in love, if it is not held in intercession and compassion, if it is not offered in courage and humility, then what we know is not the truth at all. So, we have to learn to rein in our thoughts, to hold our tongues.”
Green riffed in a brief but fascinating digression on the story of Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist. When Zechariah asked the angel Gabriel how he could be sure that his wife, Elizabeth, would bear a son (both were old and childless), Zechariah lost his ability to speak. “This is often construed,” said Green, “as a punishment for seeming doubt. But it is not. It was a gift, the gift of silence so that Zechariah could hear God’s word. ”
“To be silenced by God,” wrote Green, “is to be impregnated with the Word.”
Further on, ‘The Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him’ (Habakuk 2:20). In Lent, as in Advent, we learn to practice silence — and to practice it before God. We relinquish our fixed ideals and suspend judgments, unclenching our fists so we can receive the gifts of God. We are, as Bonhoeffer says, silent for the sake of listening. ‘Silence ultimately means nothing but waiting for God’s word.”
Or, as Janet Steputis (RIP), one of the saints of Plymouth Church told me, the Lord gave us two ears and one tongue, to suggest that we are to listen at least twice as much as we speak.
A blessed Lent to you all.