Kearsarge Unitarian Universalist
NOT ENOUGH SILENCE
Sermon given by Rev. Dick Dutton on 2/17/2013
at Kearsarge Uniterian Universalist Fellowship
We’ve been together for some nine years, as your occasional preacher… so you can trust me, right? Well, for just a minute or so… I want you to close your eyes… I’ll do the same. Now take this minute to experience the silence. You can recite a mantra, a focused thought, a personal prayer, or just let your mind wander… let’s individually, and yet together experience the silence…
Amen. Thank you!
In our one minute of silence, I imagine you had several thoughts about the exercise… this is something I can do, alone, not in a group… I really couldn’t concentrate, I came for noise and words, not quiet, just get into it, and you stopped me.
Cindy Johnson is Associate Pastor of First Baptist Church in New London. This is her story…
As Cindy said, “In this symphony of our lives, if we could be a bit more intent on ‘practicing the rests’.”
In the Hebrew Scriptures there is that classic account of the confrontation between Elijah and God. Elijah is angry, he’s scared, he’s at the end of his rope…
Most Old Testament scholars believe that the ‘still small voice’ was really Elijah’s own within… his deepest inner thoughts… even the voice of his own soul.
Silence is like that… we get to hear the voice within… maybe the voice of conscience, the voice of our own nature… our deepest thoughts… our innermost feelings… the struggles of our own wills.
The story of the Prodigal Son who had blown his inheritance, starving to death, and slopping hogs… the Bible says he ‘came to himself’… in the midst of his physical suffering, his moral struggles, his humiliation and pain… “He came to himself.” He was driven to listen to his ‘still small voice’ within… the voice of his own nature…
Gordon Cosby of the Church of the Savior in Washington, DC wrote… “The one journey that ultimately matters is the journey into the place of stillness deep within one’s self.”
We really have to fight to re-discover silence as the lost art, in our society made of noise. Smart phones, timers, radios, TVs…
We live in ‘Surround Sound’… music, news, sports, everywhere, all the time, in your face, relentless, pervasive… noise, noise, noise, noise, noise.
Sister Joan Chittister says it again… “What the contemplative knows… what the spiritual seekers know that modern society has forgotten is that the real material of spiritual development is not in books… it is in the subject matter of the self, and our own personal struggles. But until we are quiet and listen, we can never know what is really going on in ourselves.”
In a quiet space and time, is it really possible to hear the still small voice, to listen, to ‘come to myself’… to discover ‘what is really within’… even our own calling…
I keep going back to this marvelous story from the Talmud, "The Rabbi’s Gift".
Maybe that’s the reason that some of us are terrified by the silence… we may discover that we are the Messiah… or a reluctant teacher… or one of the few voices left… or an essential healer. We don’t want to be called or sent forth. We don’t want to be challenged or changed or commissioned. We don’t want our planned lives to be disturbed.
And the risk of silence… is that we may get dangerously in touch with our true selves… and that may scare the fire out of us. The real contemporary ‘deniers’ are not the skeptics of global warming… they’re you and me when we run from ourselves!
But as Sister Joan writes… “Until we are quiet… until we listen… we can never know what is really going on within”… we can’t really understand who we are!
But some of us remember that day, that hour, that moment when we stopped… and we with great joy heard the wind… and the earthquake… and the fire… and then the ‘still small voice’ within.
Recently Nancy and I have been watching an amazing ‘morality play’ on TV… it’s called “Downton Abbey.” Maybe you’ve heard of it. We are captivated, as you are, with Carson and O’Brien and Daisy and Matthew and Thomas and Lord and Lady Grantham and every one of the marvelous actors… they’re British, of course. But my favorites are Anna and Bates. For those of you living on another planet for the past five weeks… Bates has been in prison, falsely accused… but there he goes through a bit of a transformation. Always a good person, kind and fair, but now he’s in forced isolation… endless silence… totally under the control of others. When Bates is released… his normal anger, his desire for revenge… his demands for justice… all that’s changing, as he discovers his true self. Through his time in prison and introspection, he becomes a man of large mercy… and he helps others learn mercy too. Through his enforced journey of silence, he ‘came to himself.’ The question for us… Are we able to move beyond our fears and our angst… to discover the ‘still small voice’ within… and our true selves? That’s the glorious gift of silence, isn’t it!
But we all know that, don’t we. And everyone here this morning… knows we are too busy, too stressed, and too surrounded by constant noise. And we also are absolutely sure we should do something about it… but… but…
As your preacher of the morning, I owe you a final brilliant response… ultimate answer. As the Rabbi says, “Let me tell you a parable.”
In the Old Testament book of Genesis the 11th chapter it says…
Words are still confusing, and misunderstood, and often divisive… we need all the more, don’t we, to listen to others and to ourselves, for the ‘still small voice’, the ‘quiet inner voice’, to come to ourselves!
T.S. Eliot, in his poem “Ash Wednesday” writes…