Thursday, December 4, 2014

An Advent Silence

Has the hysterical laughter about me writing a blog post about silence abated yet? No? I'll give you another minute.

Silence is all over this time of year, except when it's not. "Silent Night," "the silent stars go by," "Mary pondered all these things silently in her heart," "but marveling at his answer they became silent." We are urged, through scripture and counter-cultural Advent practices, to be silent and to listen. It is more difficult this time of year to be silent, we are told, so we should seek it out more. We can prepare for Christmas externally by decorating a tree and wrapping presents or we can prepare internally by being silent and contemplative, but not at the same time.

This kind of dualistic thought bothers me. When is life so easy? When is making the best choice black or white, on or off? Pretty much never, and especially not when we are already trying to hold the tension of God and humanity in one, the all-powerful as a baby, the creator of all owning nothing. Why are we urged into silence as the antidote to the world's noise right now?

Especially when the justice the prophets speak of is so lacking in our world. When men can be killed for being at the wrong place at the wrong time while being the wrong color. When a young man I know can speak easily, almost lightheartedly, of his cousin's encounters with IEDs in Iraq. When I got a request for assistance in my inbox, not to make a family's Christmas easier by buying presents, but to make their life better by providing transportation, because public transit simply won't work for them and allow them to keep a job. Why hold a contemplative silence when there is so much to scream, or rant, or babble incoherently about?

I was inspired to think about silence because of yesterday's gospel reading. (Don't look it up yet, just hang with me for a minute.) I was structuring this post in my head before I put fingers to keyboard. When I did start typing, I went off to find the verse that says "Mary pondered all these things silently in her heart." Turns out it doesn't exist. She pondered all these things in her heart, to be sure, but Luke never tells us she does so silently. Can you imagine the processing and debriefing one would need to do after giving birth to God?

So that leaves us "marveling at his answer they became silent." Oops--turns out that's not part of the Christmas story either. That's from yesterday's gospel, after the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, shortly before the crucifixion. The people who became silent are spies sent by the chief priests to entrap Jesus. They become silent because Jesus pwns them.

And I started a blog for Advent.

I'm not keeping silent. I'm not arguing that there is no value in silence, but I think there may be too much weight put on silence during this season. It is given value in its opposition to worldly noise, not for its own merit.

That's not to say that what we can learn from silence is invaluable, of course. It's how we carry out what we learn that matters. I am trying to be more aware of what I say. When a facebook argument with someone I care about got heated, I withdrew, because I value the relationship. I'm thinking about what I post on social media before I do so. I'm checking myself before giving a flippant reply. I'm expressing myself to elected officials. I'm trying to talk less and listen more. (Trying.) I don't want to be silent. I want to keep lines of communication open, to have fruitful and meaningful conversations. I want to express love and caring and have it expressed back to me. At a time of year and a time of history when people are hurting because what they see is in direct contrast to Hallmark, why be silent? Why not reach out?

So keep your silent night. I'm going with, "hey! Unto you a child is born!"

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