Archives for posts with tag: silence

Professional sports and the season of Advent have nothing in common. Some might consider it irreverent to even use one as analogous to the other but then again even the idea of the divine taking on human flesh is kind of irreverent anyway. In exchange for the usual Advent words: peace, joy, hope, and love, I offer four other words for contemplation this Advent season. Each one will be illustrated from the world of sports.

SILENCE

“Silent night, holy night, all is calm, all is bright.” No church Christmas season is ever without this classic Christmas carol. Although a human mother giving birth in a stable was probably anything but calm and silent, the aura of a “silent night” as a symbol of Christmas is endearing and enduring. In Canada Christmas is associated with snow; there is nothing more silent than being outside on a cold winter’s night with snow softly falling. I’ve experienced it! One my favourite winter activities that I experienced on the prairies was ice skating on our horseshoe slough in the evening with a full moon overhead. There is no sound but the silent swish, swish of the skate blades on ice. Silence is beautiful. Silence is reverent. Silence is wonderful.

Unfortunately, Canada’s national sport played on ice has been anything but silent of late. The clean ice and the soft white snow have been assaulted with verbal diarrhea. First, it was hockey commentator, Don Cherry, ranting about immigrants on Hockey Night in Canada. Then it was Bill Peters, coach of the Calgary Flames, who was called out on racist comments made while he was a junior coach. Mike Babcock, one of the most respected coaches in the game, was revealed as full of arrogant words and mean-spirited ways. Then reporters and tweeters weighed in with all their opinions, from saying that the “trash-talking” is just part of the game to self-righteous condemnation of the public scapegoats.

Perhaps we should all shut up. Hockey is not the only culprit. Politicians, preachers, party-goers, pontificaters, puny peons… all people, pay attention! We live in a noisy world where one of the most difficult disciplines is to stop and be silent. That first Christmas night may not have been particularly calm and quiet but there is something about the event of Christ’s birth that should cause us to stop our noise and words to pause in reverent silence. “Let all the earth keep silent” is a word we need to hear this Advent season.

 

 

I wrote this blog over a week ago and forgot to post it!

I am just emerging from the cloister. I spent five days and nights in solitude and silence; I did not see a soul. It was terrifying at times and it was beautiful at times, and both times holy. I needed it. After six years of teaching theology there is a tendency for it to become a scholastic exercise without me realizing it—all the while enjoying it and being invigorated by it. I confess that I was becoming a secular theologian with all the right—and sometimes wrong—words, but with scant and scattered communion with Theo.

While in the cloister I wrote a good part of a book on examining all the things that make us who we are, basically an aid for the journey of self-reflection. I also read a book and that’s what I want to blog about. It is not a new book that no one has read; it’s almost 30 years old, but it was what I needed at this time. And since one of the things that I’ll be doing on my sabbatical is a lot of reading, my blogs will become mini book reports for a while, sharing some meaningful quotes with my friends in the cyber community. I read Dallas Willard’s book, entitled Hearing God: Developing a Conversational Relationship with God, first published with a different title back in 1984—and I actually did have a conversation which I will not divulge.

“God uses our self-knowledge or self-awareness, heightened and given a special quality by [God’s] presence and direction, to search us out and reveal to us the truth about ourselves and our world. And we are able to use God’s knowledge of [Godself]—made available to us in Christ and the Scriptures—to understand in some measure God’s thoughts and intentions toward us and to help us to see [God’s] workings in our world.”

I think I’ll use that one in my book!

“I do not say that God may not guide through a vision or dream… [but] God is found most clearly and beneficially in the normal rather than the abnormal.” [Quoting E. Stanley Jones, 1946]

I was actually hoping for some kind abnormal and spectacular revelation in my time away, but this was a comforting word. Although the whole book is about practically and logically explaining a particular spiritual practice, he concludes with these words:

“The companionship with Jesus is the form that Christian spirituality, as practiced through the ages, takes. Spiritual people are not those who engage in certain spiritual practices; they are those who draw their life from a conversational relationship with God.”

 

I have been on a word fast for almost seven weeks now. I call it a fast to make it sound like a spiritual discipline, but perhaps it was more about a shortcoming than a discipline. I also call it a fast because I hoped that my deliberateness would assist me in emerging with a new sense of direction in my wordy vocation. The fast was my prayer that words would return with new meaning and purpose.

My laptop computer stayed at the office this summer for the first time in a few years. I often catch up on theological reading during the summer but that did not even cross my mind this time. I took out five highly acclaimed novels from the library and they are all collecting dust on the shelf. The past few summers I read through the Psalms but I must confess that I barely cracked open the Bible in the past seven weeks. I wrote no essays, articles or even poems. When family members engaged in conversations and debates about God, the Bible, or religious issues I left the room or remained silent even when I could have made a contribution. I barely even opened my journal and what I did write was more like a diary of daily events than any kind of reflections [This might be the most drastic of my word cutbacks].

It has not been a pure, legalistic fast where no words were read or spoken. I did lead that Anabaptist history tour in Europe with a script prepared beforehand. I did write out the sermon I had researched in June, although reading it over now does not inspire confidence that the words are inspiring or even right. “God, energize these words.” I did read one book: my twelve year old son’s young teen sports novel. “Dad, you have to read this book!” And I did have those two journal entries, but that was about it for arranged words.

The most difficult part of the fast was not cutting out words, it was realizing that I had no words to cut out. As I said seven weeks ago, “I have run out of words.” It was almost frightening that a theologian would not have words. Can I still do my job? Words are the tools of my trade. The good thing is that other things consumed my mind and time: watching mindless movies on the flights to and from Europe, visiting five countries in Europe for two weeks, driving 7000 km from BC to Manitoba through seven states with amazing geological oddities [dunes, gorges, and balanced rock in Idaho; geysers, boiling mud, and yellow canyons in Wyoming; cave formations and carved mountains in South Dakota] and back through four provinces, visiting a long line of relatives every day for ten days… It was all good fun without a lot of heavy words.

Now the time has come for the fast to be broken. Tomorrow I return to my work as a theologian. I’ll ease into it by tidying up my electronic desktop, dusting off the one made of particle board, and making some lists of things that need to be done to prepare for the semester. Sunday I will be breaking the word fast in a serious way as I deliver the sermon in our church. It’s a new sermon I’ve never preached before, although it is on a common text from the Sermon on the Mount [Matthew 5:38-48; Luke 6:37-36].

I thought it might be nice to conclude with a profound quote about the importance of balancing silence and words [I’m sure I have some in my notes somewhere], but none comes to mind right now.

 

Confession: I’m completely out of words. I have nothing left to say. I open my mouth and only breath comes out. I tried to read a novel but even that was too much about words. I’m trying to gear myself up to speak words for the next few weeks, leading an Anabaptist history tour in Europe. Thankfully, I have a carefully prepared script, otherwise I might not have anything to say.

Justification: I realize this is a drastic confession for a theologian since my vocation is all about correct combinations of words. Say the right words rightly and it sounds divinely inspired. Say the wrong words and I’m banished as a heretic. Words, words, words! Sometimes theologians say too much and it becomes idolatry. Sometimes when we’ve read and said so much, the words dry up. I have come to the point of saying nothing for a time. It was a stressful academic year and May and June were more full with research, writing and speaking than usual. I often need a break from words at this time of year, and it seems this year more than ever. Now I need silence. Silence gives meaning to words, just as a rest gives meaning to music. My backyard project of leveling the ground and laying patio blocks was just right. There were no words, even in my mind. It was all about art, mathematics, aesthetics, and sweat. It was good for the soul.

Penance: No blogging for 7 weeks! A divine number for a divine mandate. “Cease words and know that I am God.”