Yesterday morning, as I meandered from one thought to another, the
words “Be still, and know that I am God” registered on my
consciousness. As I quieted myself, I found a clarity of mind and focus
of action that I am wont to attribute to divine action. Silence on my
part is often a prerequisite for communing with God. What happens
though when God is not be found — or to be heard — when we actively
search for God, whether in quiet or in silence? The theme for
yesterday’s sermon at First Pres Berkeley (based on Job 23)
was precisely such silence of God. Mark Labberton’s sermon induced the
scribbling of a lot of quotes, questions, phrases, pregnant phrases on
my notepad. Let me share a few:
Job 23 as a counterpoint to the proverbial wisdom tradition in which you will have a good life if you do right.
Job’s friends marshalled all the arguments of proverbial wisdom in an attempt to set Job right.
How did Job know that he was righteous? Aren’t we all less than
righteous? Is that type of righteousness what Job was thinking about?
I don’t think that I’ve ever been plunged in the “dark night of the soul”, that Jobian darkness.
The silences in Yosujiro Ozu’s films came to my mind. The previous
day, Laura and I had just seen silences in Ozu, who came to my mind
because of our seeing Café Lumière,
Hsiao-hsien Hou’s tribute to Ozu. I found a lot of Hou’s silences
unbearable, while Ozu’s silences were illuminating. Why is that? Are
some of God’s silences unbearable while others are illuminating?
The choir had just sung Ich harre des Herrn, meine Seele harret, und ich boffe auf sein Wort from Bach’s Cantata 131 (BWV 131) (Aus der Tiefen rufe ich, Herr, zu dir.) (Out of the depths I cry to thee, o Lord. Lord, hear my voice!). What suitable accompaniment to the day’s sermon.
All this reflection makes me once again deeply aware of my own
acute vulnerability. God does not explain or even justify His silences.
He provides no satsifying answers other than the ultimate, eventual
assurance that things will be set right….eventually.
In the face of such vulnerability, we need to live in the here and now and live in hope.
Jesus provide his own share of odd silences. Eg., with Lazarus, Mary and Martha.
In Bach’s St. Matthew Passion, Jesus is ostensibly one of the star
singers. Yet he doesn’t sing very much. At the beginning, he sings
beautifully, reassuringly. Then he falls silent very soon into the
In the face of global suffering on mind-staggering scale, how can I not expect to suffer too?
In silence, we “face the reality of our own mortality” (ML)
Milosz expresses the transience of the moment with poignancy. See, for example, Czeslaw Milosz – Poetry: Encounter