James 1: 19
You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger
Silent Sam did not come down quietly last week.
The images of the statue toppling down, the counter protests that ensued, and the counter-counter protests that reciprocated all swirled together, creating a cacophony of non-silence, amplified by megaphones and microphones.
And the reverberations can still be heard. At this moment, police are keeping a continual presence at the site where Silent Sam stood, riding the razor-thin line of protecting freedom of speech on one hand while keeping angry crowds from violently silencing their enemies on the other.
It is a noisy crucible, and inhabiting that space in a way that saves (both yourself and others) is among the hardest work in the world.
Truth be told, this noisy crucible is the world we inhabit.
Whether it is the external noise of things like politics, religion, sociology, economics or the internal noise of depression, anxiety, loneliness or unreconciled relationships, we are a people conditioned by noise.
And most of the silence we experience is the result of forced silencing.
People being shouted down…voices being discounted…sadness being ignored instead of heard.
Even the silence of our world cries out.
When James encourages the followers of Jesus to be, “slow to speak and quick to listen” it is not an invitation to continue the unholy silence that we are familiar with. This is not a scriptural statue, reminding all who walk by that some voices are more important than others.
This is an invitation to the deep, sacred silence which is in the very heart of God.
“Silence is God’s first language” a monk once told me.
The holy silence which James and the monk speak of is the place from which all holy speech flows. It is the place of deepest knowing and being known. The holy silence is the very grounding of prayer, where we listen deeply to God, others and ourselves, and from that deep listening, we are empowered to participate in divine speech.
This holy silence is the crucible of salvation for our noisy world.
In an interview shortly before his assassination, The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King puts on a Master’s level class in this holy listening and divinely paced speech. Note how he listens deeply to the interviewer’s question (one, which he undoubtedly has heard thousands of times before), how he is aware of his own righteous indignation at the question, and how he is aware of all those who will be listening (both victimizers and victims) to his answer.
It is from this holy silence that The Rev. Dr. King speaks with such clarity, and his words carry on them the truth that will set us free.
This does not happen overnight. King’s ability to listen and speak with such fluidity is the result of a lifetime of prayer, of hours spent contemplating the nature of God and the noise of the world.
Contemplation conditions the followers of Jesus. It is the silent discipline that saves us and the noisy world we live in.
It is Elijah on the mountain, being wrapped in silence before he speaks words of truth in the valley.
It is Mary, pregnant with pondering after The Annunciation before she breaks into song.
It is Jesus wandering in the whispering wilderness before he preaches the Sermon on the Mount.
Holy silence is the context for holy listening. It is from this holy space that all holy speech flows.
This week, perhaps invite your people to practice holy listening together.
Consider a period of silence as a response to the word.
And invite your folks to engage in The Examine in order to be conditioned by contemplation as they offer their lives as a quiet balm amidst the noisy world.
- What does unholy silence look like in your community? How is James not inviting us to that?
- What would holy silence look like for individuals and for your community? What disciplines can you create in order to foster holy silence? How might this lead to a people who are, “quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger?”