Arthur O. Roberts

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1. Silence fosters awe before the Almighty

Bible Reading: Zech. 2:1-5; 10-13

For this devotional series the theme is silence. Verse 13 of the Bible reading is our text: "Be still before the LORD, all mankind, because hehas roused himself from his holy dwelling." A lamentable aspect of ourmaterialistic culture is a diminishment of awe before the Lord.Sometimes it takes a nearby tragedy or storm to make us stand, hand overmouth, awestricken before the Lord God Almighty. The biblical word about silence before the Lord draws upon the third of Zechariah's eight visions of hope for Judah during its captivity.This vision pictures a people peacefully settled in the "holy land" (theonly place in the Bible that term appears). The Zionism depicted here isinclusive, not exclusive. Jews are to be what Abraham envisioned, a peoplewhose faith enables others to find God's blessing for themselves. The vision portrays God's presence in the midst of Jerusalem, with all nations reconciled and at peace. No need to survey Jerusalem's boundaries, the young man in Zechariah's vision is told, for the Lord will be "the wall of fire around it [and] its glory within." Here is something to shout about,certainly--security plus joyous splendor. When the Holy One appears on the stage of the heart, just as when he entered history at Bethlehem, silence is an appropriate human response.

Picture curtains being pulled just before a major drama or symphonybegins. How expectantly the audience waits! This is how silence shouldbe: a holy hush as the King of glory strides on stage. In the words of the text: "Be still before the LORD, all mankind, because he has roused himself from his holy dwelling."

Hymn: How Great Thou Art!

Prayer suggestion: Let a quiet hush precede your praise to the Almighty.

2. Silence indicates submission to God.

Bible Reading Luke 20: 21-26

Submission to God is first to accept judgment for our sins and then toacknowledge God's grace that restores us to the Divine image. When Jesuscaught the Pharisees in duplicity, as noted in our New Testament reading,they were reduced to silence. Before the power of Jesus' insight they werespeechless. These interrogators were not interested in truth but incontrol. They tried to use Jesus for their own political purposes. They treated him as a thing to advance their own agenda, rather than a person tobe treated with true respect. Flatterers, they used speech to entrap rather than to communicate. And Jesus caught them at it. He saw through the scheming. God's judgment came down through his penetrating words. God always sees through our scheming, our duplicity (saying one thing, meaning another), our attempts to manipulate, to be clever rather than wise. God'sjudgment falls upon us when we use speech to bludgeon other people rather than as a bridge to reach them. Early Quakers understood the moral aspects of speech, accepting seriously the Biblical admonition, "Simply let your 'Yes' be 'Yes,' and your 'No,' 'No'; anything beyond this comes from the evil one." (Matt. 5:37) In an age in which duplicity has become a fine art, Quaker simplicity of speech is a much needed witness to truth, anappropriate response of awe before the Almighty.

Guilt is appropriately acknowledged first by silent submission to Divine judgment, then by appropriate restitution. The good news of the Gospel is not only forgiveness but also a Spirit-gifted power to walk in righteousness. "Let all flesh be silent," says the Lord. Do not usurp Divine sovereignty.

Hymn: Now I Belong to Jesus

Prayer suggestion: Let the Lord check your speech for integrity.

3. Silence provides a posture for worship

Bible Reading: Luke 24: 13-32

Jesus is our pioneer leader now, not Moses. Singly and together Christleads us through the wilderness of sinful wanderings and to the Promised Land. Our deliverance is celebrated in His name. Table grace acknowledges Christ as the present Lord. Christ is present in the vocations we choose and in our homes. Christ is the head and we are the body, the Church. This is our primary circle of belonging, encompassing circles of family,work, culture and governance. On the Emmaus Road Christ was known to thedisciples in the breaking of the bread. How else should we respond but with reverence, adoration, and worship? This we Christians know, but we become careless, preoccupied with mundane things. We take for granted the Divine appearing and worship becomes a routine social event. The Quaker movement arose to recover holy hush as an expected experience for worshipers. We emphasize silence in worship. Whether alone or with others we wait for Christ to stride on the stage of our hearts to sharewith us dramatic Kingdom news.

So, I use speech to exhort about silence. I'm like a sign to be ignored once one gets his bearings. The disciples asked each other, "Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?" Can we ask that question of each other now?

We can let Christ surprise us at the dinner table or church potluck, at work or school, taking a walk or talking with neighbors. Such is the order of the burning heart.

Hymn: Christ Whose Glory Fills the Skies

Prayer suggestion: Celebrate your Emmaus walk with the Messiah.

4. Silence provides freedom from noise and distraction

Bible Reading: Mark 9: 2-8

Silence offers a retreat from too much artificial sound. We require some environmental serenity in order to achieve spiritualsensitivity. But traffic and machinery noise marks our culture and often is oppressive not only for our physical and emotional health but for our spirits as well. An incessant chatter of advertising hype and program sounds on radio and television add to the aural clutter. Music, supposed to soothe the soul , unfortunately, is often distorted into a noisy and manipulative marketing tool. Without deprecating music's aesthetic and spiritual values, we must concede that people sometimes use music to avoid hearing and heeding the Lord. Deep soul cries can be drowned out by wretched music, and by good music. Even chorus singing can be seductive. Aesthetically pleased but spiritually bereft, we can feel religious while our ears remain closed to what God wants us to be and to do. Persons inexperienced at solitude are vulnerable to such seduction, especially youth. In a world overstuffed with noise, persuasive speech, even sermons and prayers, can bounce back from our ears like repetitive advertisements--becoming clanging cymbals, signifying nothing.

Sometimes only silence can bring us to our mount of transfiguration, there to be alone with Jesus, there to discern the true meaning of things and events. Silence clears the mind of confusion. Silence lets us face God without pretense. In silence our bumbling is exposed and corrected. In silence we prepare to meet life's hard demands, to bear the cross of Christ, if necessary, to the death. When in silence we experience God's glory all is well.

Hymn: Blessed Quietness

Prayer suggestion: Find a special outside place today to listen to the Lord.

5. Silence is a condition for tranquillity

Bible reading: Philippians 4: 4-9

Tranquillity means inner peace independent of circumstances. To achievetranquillity involves learning to be comfortable alone as well as in the company of others. No one can escape circumstances that lead to loneliness. Mature persons have learned that loneliness is not overcome but only poorly masked by frantic socializing and noisy entertainment. Indeed, efforts to escape solitude by sating the ears only deepen loneliness when the TV is clicked off and darkness falls. It is really sad if people find tranquillity only in sleep. Tranquillity is for the day as well as for the night. To accept solitude is the first step in achieving tranquillity.

If you regularly invite God into the center of the soul, then the seeds of silence thus planted eventually blossom into a solitude glowing with all the hues of happiness. We don't arrive at such ecstatic solitude without discipline, and most of us are inclined to leave this spiritual goal to monks. This need not be. Earnest Christians can find tranquillity without taking monastic vows. They can find tranquillity in the solitary as well as the shared experiences of life. Indeed, contemplatives such as Thomas Merton encourage us to find solitude in our own way. "When we have really met and known the world in silence," Merton wrote, "words do not separate us from the world nor from other men, nor from God, nor from ourselves because we no longer trust entirely in language to contain reality. God rises up out of the sea like a treasure in the waves, and when language recedes His brightness remains on the shores of our own being." (Thoughts in Solitude, Farrar, 1976 printing, p. 86).

Hymn: Take Time to Be Holy

Prayer suggestion: Pondering the significance of Christ's calling to discipleship.

6. Silence sets the stage for prayer

Bible reading: Matthew 6: 1-6

John Calvin likened prayer to conversation, but warned against abusing God's kindness through irreverent attitudes, He describes the discipline of prayer in this way: "we are to rid ourselves of all alien and outside cares, by which the mind, itself a wanderer, is borne about hither and thither, drawn away from heaven, and pressed down to earth. I mean that it ought to be raised above itself that it may not bring into God's sight anything our blind and stupid reason is wont to devise, nor hold itself within the limits of its own vanity, but rise to a purity worthy of God." (Inst Book III. 4)

We don't hear much about the sin of vanity nowadays. Perhaps we should. For it is vanity to dominate the conversation with the Almighty God. To rid ourselves of what Calvin called "alien and outside cares" and "rise to a purity worthy of God" isn't easy, even for Quakers who stress the presence of God in worship without intermediary rituals. Silence is good preparation for conversational prayer. Silence enables us to settle the mind, turning it from its busy agenda. Each day we do have lotsof things on our minds. We won't necessarily ignore these thoughts about persons and activities, when we engage in private prayer, but we will put them to the side when first we approach the Almighty, so that we come to prayer joyously awaiting conversation with the Creator of the universe.

We are admonished to come before that throne of grace boldly; but that doesn't mean brashly or rudely. If we approach professional helpers, or friends, courteously, how much more should we approach with reverent respect the Lord of glory, our creator?

Hymn: Blessed be the Name

Prayer suggestion: Lay your earthly cares down before the throne, then pray.

7. Silence signifies respect for others

Bible reading: John 8: 1-12

Richard Foster advocates occasional short retreats--three or four hours long--to gain perspective. "Like Jesus," he writes, "we must go away from people so that we can be truly present when we are with people. . . . The fruit of solitude is increased sensitivity and compassion for others." (Celebration of Discipline , Harper, 1978, pp. 94-95).

Standing before the mirror of God we see ourselves as we are. Then we are able to see others as they are. Then we are better able to bring persons to reconciliation and peace. Where there is strife, wrote George Fox, "first learn the ministry of condemnation in yourselves. . . that the ministry in the Spirit be known, which preaches Peace by Jesus Christ, where there is no strife." (145) In another passage the Quaker minister wrote, "Silence all flesh and see your ways be clean. As you grow therein, the Way of Peace will be more prized by you and the perfect bond you will come to know. All who are here established shall stand in strength, when others fall on the right hand and on the left." (Epis, Jones ed. 47)

Thus baptized with the Holy Spirit we can more readily accept other people, without feeling threatened by their sins, envious of their successes, or arrogant about their failures. We can more easily love others unconditionally, without yielding to temptations to retaliate, or vindicate ourselves.

Hymn: O Master, Let me Walk With Thee

Prayer suggestion: Ask God to show you where you have been harsh instead of loving.

8. Silence renews wonder at the world.

Bible reading: Psalm 8

With sound damped, eyes can see more clearly, hands and bodies can touch and be touched more meaningfully. Food and aromas can be savored more fully. In stillness grass and trees and flowers, the sea and the land, and birds and animals more fully manifest their presence in our shared world. Physical silence forces us to remove the barriers of noise and face God unwalled by chatter and machineried sounds. Said Moses long ago

"Yours, O LORD, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the majesty and the splendor, for everything in heaven and earth is yours. Yours, O LORD, is the kingdom; you are exalted as head over all. (1Chr. 29:11)

In the Arctic, while doing research for the book, Tomorrow is Growing Old: Stories of the Quakers in Alaska, I experienced for the first time since my rural childhood nearly complete environmental silence. In the world of Eskimo Quakers, used to great stretches of silence, I discovered how noisy we outlanders can be! Snow offers an acoustical blanket. Out on the winter trail by sled there were often long silences, broken only occasionally by natural or artificial sounds. Even the sounds of speech were well-framed by silence. Barry Lopez interprets the significance of Arctic silence eloquently in these examples:

The silent arrival of caribou in an otherwise empty landscape. . . The long wait at a seal hole for prey to surface. Waiting for a lead to close. The Eskimo have a word for this kind of long waiting, prepared for a sudden event: quinuituq. Deep patience. (Arctic Dreams, Scribners, 1986 p. 176)

We appreciate deep patience, don't we? Silence is the discipline that helps us achieve it.

Hymn: For the Beauty of the Earth

Prayer suggestion: Would today be a good time to talk a long praying walk?

9. Silence provides holy space

Bible reading: Isaiah 6: 1-9

Hinduism can be criticized for blurring distinctions between God and creation. But a similar attitude has entered Western culture, preoccupied with technical ways of treating the world--how to understand it, control it, and be comfortable within it. But the Enlightenment era is over, with its near deification of human knowledge. People look for a Deity who is more than a pious synonym for humanity on its march to perfection, more than a master computer, more than anthropological myth. In theological terms, people seek transcendence. Recent culture reduced deity to human inwardness. Ego was deified. This is the worst sort of idolatry. Wooden idols at least pose some distance between God and humanity.

A 17th century Indian peasant poet, Tukaram, perceived the need for distance between God and humanity. (Tukaram, trans. J. Hoyland, Woodbrooke, 1932). He wrote:

He who worships God must stand distinct from Him So only shall he know the joyful love of God; For if he say that God and he are one, That joy, that love, shall vanish instantly away. Where were the beauty if jewel and setting were one? Scientists increasingly acknowledge transcendent mystery as linear equations fall short of explanation and theories of reality transmute to metaphors shining like flashlights into a cosmos the dimensions of which scarcely have been probed.

The world tries to turn God into a useful social instrument. But God can't be tamed. It is we who must be tamed. God, not humanity, is sovereign. Through bloody wars and social upheavals God waits for our response to His announced Kingdom. As we bow in respectful silence we will see the Sovereign Lord rousing Himself from His holy temple, and once more hear His voice calling us to faithful obedience.

Hymn: We Sing the Greatness of our God

Prayer suggestion: This is the time to check your ego for idolatry.

10. Silence prepares for effective social witness.

Bible reading: Exodus 3: 1-12

Moses remained in desert stillness until God appeared on holy ground andcommissioned him a liberator of his people. A New Jersey tailor in the 1740's, John Woolman, had cultivated habits of the heart that included Bible reading and silent waiting. And on the holy ground of his burning heart the Lord commissioned this youth a prophet to speak judgment against social wrongs, particularly violence to animals, economic injustices that led to drunkenness, and human slavery. In his Journal, Woolman wrote, "I.. . was early convinced in my mind that true religion consists in an inward life, wherein the heart doth love and reverence God the Creator and learn to exercise true justice and goodness, not only toward all men but also toward the brute creatures." (Moulton edition, LPP, p. 28). Because Woolman heeded as well as heard the Spirit, he quietly convinced fellow Quakers and then other Christians to stop slave holding. His humble and persistent witness quickened the conscience of the Church, so it could truly leaven society to correct injustices hitherto overlooked or wronglyjustified. Woolman's power came through silent waiting before the Lord.

Accept silence before the Lord not as a luxury but as a necessity for effective Christian witness in the world. Christianity is a quiet revolution; like flowers and grain truth and love grow when nourished. Find in silence a freedom from distractive noise, discipline yourself to turn loneliness into tranquillity, discover within yourself a holy space for listening and obeying the word of the Lord. "Be still before the LORD, all mankind, because he has roused himself from his holy dwelling." Are you ready to listen to the Lord of Glory?

Hymn: Where Cross the Crowded Ways of Life

Prayer suggestion: Is there some special ministry or service to which the Lord is calling you?