This January’s Pastors Week at Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary focused on the book of Revelation. Professor Loren Johns reminded us that a primary emphasis of this book is worship. A central text for our study was Rev 8:1: “When the Lamb opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour.”
It seems that an increasing amount of my time and energy is focused on words — written words, spoken words, read words. The emphasis on silence was a welcome respite from the “wordiness” of my life as conference minister. While we did not experience a full half hour of silence in our worship times, the moments we did spend in silence were deeply appreciated. I found myself during the week at AMBS considering what my Lenten discipline would be for this year. Beginning with Ash Wednesday on Feb. 22, I will try to spend some time each day in silence.
Two additional scripture passages came to me as I considered this Lenten discipline. One came from the Old Testament book of Job. In chapter 2:13 we read, “They sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great.” Job’s friends had heard about his many trials and came to offer him comfort. They were rendered speechless by the magnitude of his suffering. I firmly believe they offered him more pastoral care during those seven days of silence than by anything that transpired when they opened their mouths to try and justify or explain what had happened to him. Sometimes it is best to remain silent rather than to speak words that ring hollow, sound presumptuous, condescending, or patronizing.
The second text that came to mind is from 2 Corinthians 12:2-4: “I know a person in Christ who…was caught up to the third heaven…[and] heard things that are not to be told….” Paul is telling this to the Corinthians as a way of chastising them for their boasting. He suggests that there are some things so much beyond our comprehension that we have no idea how to communicate them to others. Some things are better left unspoken, allowing the silence of our lips to be our testimony, rather than tarnish them with inadequate words.
When we worship God, it is right and valid to proclaim our allegiance to the One who created us and calls us to salvation. It is right to give glory to God for all that we have and are. But God is also far beyond our explaining. The mysteries of this world (to say nothing of the next!) are beyond what we can sometimes explain. We can also worship God with more (or less) than words.
There are occasions when our silence, our simply sitting or standing or kneeling in awestruck presence before God, may be our wisest and best testimony. So during Lent this season, I plan to take time each day to intentionally be in silence before God. Quieting my mouth may be the easy part. Quieting my mind may be much more difficult! But I trust the Holy Spirit will be present to help me.
But enough words for now. I’ll let the remaining silence speak the rest…