January 28th, 2024
Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany
Rev. Nicole Lamarche
Welcome again on what is in our tradition the fourth Sunday after the Epiphany. I love saying liturgical things like that! You won’t hear that anywhere else!
Before we get much further, I invite you to take some deeper breaths with me.
Arriving, tuning in, giving thanks, making space.
To hear beyond the surface.
And I invite you to join me in this prayer from Psalm 19.
God may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts, be acceptable in your sight, our rock and our redeemer. Amen.
Be Silent. Or in other versions, Be quiet. Or just, Quiet. In the King James version, “Hold thy peace.” Try that line later!
This what Jesus says to the man who shows up to the sacred space, to the center of the room, throwing a bit of a tantrum, loudly ranting, with questions and anger and taking over the teaching. And he accuses Jesus of not really being one of them and he says that Jesus does not really have their best interests in mind. He is basically saying that Jesus that he doesn’t belong.
Maybe what we could call something like First Century threats? Bullying 1.0? He takes over the conversation, rules the room with his fury and asks, What have you to do with us? Have you come here to destroy us?
And Jesus responds with this, Be silent.
And as you heard, as the story goes here, from this declaration, the man whom the scripture gives no name and labels unclean, this man is healed, because something is released from him and something is changed in him.
Tradition has of course as always mapped a lot onto this, and we have assumed that the man had a physical ailment that was somehow removed right then or that the man had a mental ailment that was somehow removed right then or that the man had been taken over by an evil power that was removed right then and any one of those could be true.
But as one scholar tells us, “In biblical language, “impure” or here unclean, means simply contrary to the sacred” (1) apart from the Holy, so what if it was none of those things that was ailing the man?
What if what was making the man unwell, making him feel disconnected, him sick, out of touch, was that he needed to stop talking? He was being quick, to mistrust, and slow to listen fast to anger and assume and slow to come to silence and to be quiet, to listen for that deeper voice.
I love what we heard from the poet Wendell Berry. What if we forget that the world we need, the healing and hope we yearn for, often lives in the death of speech?
Especially in this culture that seems to think that being busy is the same as being productive. Doesn’t it seem like that? As if a full calendar means we are doing things worthwhile. Or that every space needs to be filled, every silence needs to have words? What if the healing, the answers, the hope we need, is often found in the pause between all that we have planned?
There in the silence?
What if that man was healed because he quieted himself for just a time? Put the assumptions aside, lay the anger down, turning inward. We don’t know how long it took. Maybe what really happened was the man had hours between when Jesus said that and when he was healed? We don’t know for sure.
EE Cummings wrote that “most people are perfectly afraid of silence.” That seems to be true of our culture as a whole at least. There are very few places where silence is the norm and a welcome companion.
The Christianity of my childhood didn’t include much in the way of silence or inner work or meditation or centering prayer. It wasn’t until into my adulthood that I learned of the mystical expressions of our tradition and read of the desert monastics and the present mystics alike.
It wasn’t later that I learned about chanting and labyrinths and letting as the Quakers say, allowing silence to be guest and a teacher.
But I believe while this part of what Jesus taught might have gotten lost, it’s still here in the teachings and I think our spiritual lives might be incomplete without these practices that are vehicles for our inner work.
I think this is what Jesus meant when he spoke of the Kin-dom of Heaven being at hand, right here, in here, in the silence. But we must make a point of stopping long enough to hear it, quieting all of the noises around us. And sometimes that is in fact when healing comes, when wholeness comes, when a sense of reconnection comes, when we slow down.
There is enough room for something to be shifted in us, for something to be released in us, for something to be changed.
But we must create that inner space.
I bet most of us have at one time or another in our lives, in a literal or a spiritual way, maybe have found ourselves being like that man going to the Universe demanding answers to our questions. Coming in a bit of hurt, wondering who possibly has our back, needing our ailments fixed! I bet we have all been like that man at one point or another. It can feel like being destroyed for sure. But what if, just like that man, sometimes the answers we need can be found when we turn to the silence, when we stop our inquiries, turn down our worries, turn it all of and turn in? I saw something on social media recently that said, “I wish people were more fluent in silence.” Here’s another one for those of you who have toddlers, “Silence is golden unless you have kids of a certain age and then silence is just suspicious.” Last! “It is better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt.” -Mark Twain!
What about you? Is silence comfortable for you? Is it a guest, a companion on your spiritual journey? Knowing that each of us arrives from different places and perspectives, seeking different possibilities, I invite you now as you are comfortable and willing, to listen and/or share and reflect together for about two minutes on what I have offered.
Is silence a regular part of your life? Why or why not? Knowing that some of our answers are found in more listening and less talking, how might we more fully reclaim inner work/silent and centering prayer/meditation as part of our Christian tradition and practice? How can we individually and collectively become more fluent in silence?
Beloved of God, may we welcome silence as a guest in our lives. May it be so. Amen.
1- Ofelia Ortega in Feasting on the Word: Year B. Vol. 1. Commentary on Mark 1:21-28