The Sound of Silence (Stanley Hauerwas)

Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. (1 Kings 19:11b-12)

There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28).

One of the great gifts of a sabbatical is time for silence, and silence seems a fitting topic for this, my first sabbatical blog entry. In his sermon The Sound of Silence, Stanley Hauerwas says that “to hear the sound of silence means we face a God we cannot make serve our particular purposes. Like Elijah, we must first listen.”

The world is noisy – in fact, it’s probably the noisiest it’s ever been. It’s not just the audible noise, there’s the noise of so much constant activity. There’s a certain comfort in noise – when we go, go, go and our thoughts keep spinning and spinning, then we can avoid what we might find in the silence. Alan Watts observes that “an enormous number of people devote their lives to keeping their minds busy and feel extremely uncomfortable with silence. When you’re alone, nobody saying anything, there’s nothing to do… there’s this… this worry, this lack of distraction… I’m left alone with myself… and I want to get away from myself… I’m always wanting to get away from myself, that’s why I go to the movies, that’s why I read mystery stories, that’s why I go after the girls or anything that you do or get drunk or whatever… I don’t want to be with myself. I feel queer. So, well, why do you want to run away from yourself – what’s so bad about it?”*

That’s the question – what’s so bad about being with ourselves in silence? Perhaps our fear isn’t of the silence itself as of what we might find (or not find) – we fear the unknown. Maybe we’ll find feelings of “I’m not good enough.” Maybe we’ll find out that we don’t have as much control over our lives as we thought. Maybe we’ll find darkness that never seems to end. Maybe we’ll find memories we hoped to forget. Maybe we’ll find God. Maybe we’ll find out we can’t make God do our bidding. Maybe we’ll find nothing – that might be the scariest of all, that all we’ll find in silence is silence.

Hauerwas preaches that it’s silence which draws us together in Christ – specifically, the silence of God at the crucifixion “is when we learn to listen to the sheer silence of God. This is the moment we discover we are one in Christ Jesus… It is this silence that makes us one with him in a manner more determinative than our arguments or commonalities.” In the silence of the crucifixion we are drawn into “the love that matters… which does not fear difference.”

We are told “do not be afraid” between 300-400 times in the scriptures, yet fear rules so much of our lives. One of our biggest fears is of the “other,” the one who is “different.” Instead of reacting to difference out of fear, God invites us into the silence of the cross where “there is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”

O God, you have made of one blood all the peoples of the earth, and sent your blessed Son to preach peace to those who are far off and to those who are near: Grant that people everywhere may seek after you and find you; bring the nations into your fold; pour out your Spirit upon all flesh; and hasten the coming of your kingdom; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (Book of Common Prayer, 100).

* You can hear Alan Watts here.