Wednesday, January 04, 2012


(a short homily for middle school assembly, responding to a reading from I Kings.)

I want you all to listen to something.   You probably haven't heard it in a long time.  Someone of your generation may never have heard it.  In fact, I'm afraid that it may make you feel uncomfortable.  It may strike you as awkward. . .
Silence.   We don't like it.  I have music or news playing at my home from the moment I wake up until I'm asleep.  I turn on the radio in my car before I fasten my seat belt.  Thanks to my Android, I'm listening to news or music when I walk in the forest or ride my bike.  My students want to plug into their devices when we have silent writing time.
If you are like me, then we don't even have to care about what we're hearing, much.  Thinking about this message on the way to school this morning, I was half-listening to some guy who says he has "mo-oo-oo-ooves like Jagger."  How annoying is that?
So it's our own responsibility if we cram our own heads non-stop with messages from pop stars and politicians and comics and commercial announcers who are all trying to distract us from what we have to do, and what we want to do, and what we ought to do.
Why do we do this to ourselves?    Four centuries ago, a French mathematician named Pascal observed something new among the sophisticated city dwellers of his day:  they hated silence.  They needed other people to provide some kind of distraction at all times.  His theory  was that their belief in a God was just something they had because they were supposed to.  With no real belief in God, he says that a modern man feels alone.   Worse, the modern man alone, in silence, feels like nobody, with no real value or purpose, only to consume what others offer.
In the Hebrew Scriptures, the prophet Elijah, on the run from the evil queen Jezebel, hides in a cave on Mt. Horeb.  He is drawn out of the cave by the promise that God will speak to him.  Suddenly, a great wind rips the mountain.  But Elijah doesn't hear God in the wind.  Then an earthquake shakes the mountain.  But Elijah doesn't hear God in the earthquake.  Then a fire sweeps across the face of the mountain.  But Elijah doesn't hear God in the roaring of the fire.  Then all becomes quiet, and that's when Elijah hears what he calls a "still, small voice" that tells him what to do next in his life.
It's an interesting scene repeated in all the major religions.  Buddha, Jesus, and Mohammed all began their careers after long periods alone in silence, far away from the distractions of their hometowns.   

When we find ourselves anxious to plug in, to seek out noise and distraction, let's consider the possibility that it might be better for us to listen to silence.

1 comment:

Susan said...

Nicely said, and funny that you posted this today: at noon City Cafe on WABE had a rebroadcast of John Lemly doing some sort of a nature trek on the Chattahoochee-- lots of silence, or at least enough quiet to hear water lapping and birds singing. It was very nice, and a big contrast to what we usually hear. Always glad, too, to have Pascal cited for something other than the wager. (Philosophers claim him, too.) Hope the students appreciated the words and the silence...