Penetrating Silence

I Kings 3: 5, 7-12; Matt 13: 44-52

The first reading, from First Kings is one that I’m quite familiar.  It’s the reading we use each year at the celebration marking the end of the Pinkard Scholars at the seminary.  There’s a lot to like about it.  Solomon finds himself, like many others in Scripture, in a position he’s not sure he’s capable of fulfilling, despite the call from God.  He’s also free to ask for anything to help him become the leader that he’s being called to at this point.  It’s almost like asking for a wish, and yet, despite all of it, Solomon asks not for what he wants but what he feels he needs in that moment in this momentous call from God.  Solomon asks for an understanding heart.

It appears that even God is taken back by the request, assuming he’d ask for a long life, riches, the life of his enemies.  Anything; and yet, he asks for a heart that understands.  Even in the request, this prayer of Solomon, shows the depth of his wisdom and understanding, a deep penetrating silence, that is already there and somehow, in the midst of the unknown, God is going to take it and use him as an instrument of that wisdom and understanding.

It’s a great reading to reflect upon in our own lives as to what the treasure, the pearl of great price, in which we’d ask of God at this moment.  Not this is not to say that our prayers are futile in some ways, but in my experience, we tend to tell God what we want, as if somehow God is the dispensary of wishes.  We know exactly the way things are supposed to be or should be and we want it that way and so that’s what we ask.  However, that’s not a treasure, nor a pearl of great price, nor the wisdom that Solomon exemplifies.  Rather, it’s so often the God we think we want rather than the God that is trying to reveal in the penetrating silence of our hearts, a deeper mystery, to be able to let go and surrender to the mystery and allow the prayer to fall within.

If there is one thing I have learned up in the mountains of Acadia this week it’s just how much noise we have in our lives.  First, with the noise that I create for myself in the busyness of life but also all the noise that surrounds us and in so many ways violates that deep penetrating silence of our hearts, to the point that we no longer know what it is that we need when God asks and gradually get swallowed up in life, unable to breathe, unable to fall into the mystery in which God is inviting each of us.

More often than not, in my experience, people have no idea what they’d really ask God for.  Sure, there are the standard prayers of praying for everyone else, for the world, and so on, but to understand and touch the deepest desire of our own heart is a whole other story.  One, we often feel unworthy to even say it or even because we already know deep down that if I do ask as Solomon does, it may just happen and something more may be demanded of me, just as it was for him.  So I hold back that desire out of fear, unworthiness, as even he thinks because of his age, and I choose to live with a constant restlessness until I can finally rest in that deep penetrating silence in my heart as Solomon does, realizing that the prayer has already begun to bear fruit in the simple act of naming the desire from deep in my heart.

Solomon is one of the key wisdom figures in Scripture and has much to teach us in our own prayer and in the barrage of noise in our own lives that often prevents us, knowingly or unknowingly, from moving to that place of deep penetrating silence in our own hearts that knows our truest desire, maybe an understanding heart as it was for Solomon.  His invitation and mirror to all of us is, that despite our own fear, our anxiety, our own feeling of unworthiness, can we step away from the noise of our lives long enough to move to that deeper place, that ocean of silence that often reveals what we truly desire and know that we have nothing to fear all at the same time.  In the end, did the disciples really understand what Jesus was trying to convey.  Probably not, but somehow it at least spoke to them on that deeper level, stirring something within them and preparing them for that descent in their own lives, in the face of the cross, to that deep, penetrating silence revealing their deepest desires and the heart open to understanding the mystery of God.





Come Out!


John 11: 1-45

All movement in today’s gospel is towards the tomb. Every word and action of Jesus is moving everyone in that direction. In many ways, to learn to die before they encounter the great death. Lazarus is obviously already there, bound now for four days, surely there will be a stench. Yet, the lesson is for everyone else that Jesus encounters on this journey to Bethany. Before they can encounter the fullness of life, they too must go where Lazarus has gone, led by Jesus to where none of them want to go but need to go. It provides us the opportunity to put ourselves in place of some of people Jesus encounters and what it is that needs to die.

Certainly the Jews, the scribes and Pharisees, are a continuous part of the journey. Jesus too is trying to inch them towards the tomb. For them I see that it is resistance that they need to let go of and die. As time goes on the resistance deep within them continues to build and grow ever more resentful of Jesus. They don’t like what he has to say and certainly don’t like what he is doing. It is causing a deep restlessness within them. Now when they see the tomb they take it at face value. They see death, despair, hopelessness. Despite being led by Jesus, they won’t go there. They don’t want to change. They know what they know and it gives them perceived power over others. Rather than embracing the tomb as a place of transformation, they will in turn act out of their insecurity and restlessness and bring about the death of Jesus, projecting their own pain onto him. Where is the resistance in my own life? Where am I resisting change and letting go? Where do I see despair and hopelessness in my life? So often it’s our judgments, minds, our egos that stand in the way and cause us to dig in our heels. Where is the Pharisee in me resisting letting go and experiencing life?

Then there’s Martha and Mary, Lazarus’ sisters. Martha has one motive in mind, the return of her brother and being bothered that Jesus wasn’t there to stop it. But again, all his words and actions are leading them to the tomb, where they don’t want to go, which somewhat explains this two day wait that he takes before heading to Bethany. Martha too needs to go where her brother has gone. Yes, she believes to a point, but doesn’t know in totality who this Jesus is. She just wants her brother back and she knows that Jesus has some tricks up his sleeve to pull it off. I am the resurrection and the life, Jesus says. Martha will come to believe but for a different reason. How often have we just wanted God to bring back a loved one after the experience death? Jesus will lead Martha to the tomb of her brother, where she has avoided, to come to understand just who Jesus is. Where in my life to I avoid grieving? Where do I cling to what no longer is? Where is the Martha in me being led by Jesus to the tomb, the cave of transformation?

And yes, Mary. The one who believes. The one who falls to the feet of the Lord. The one who has anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped them with her hair. Mary, the believer. Yet, for some reason Jesus moves and nudges her to the tomb as well. How will Mary react? All the negative voices of the leaders and doubters continue to grow and it begins to impact Mary’s belief. You don’t need to go there. This is crazy; what does this Jesus know about life and death? This is a place of despair. And Mary begins to doubt and question. Mary too needs to let go and die before she dies. And Jesus wept. Jesus weeps for all of humanity. He understands the human dilemma of dealing and experiencing death. Yet, as he does for all these characters he does for us, he nudges us to the places of resistance in our lives, where we do not want to go in order to bring about life. Where have I doubted? What about me do I believe God can never love that leads to doubt and despair? Where have I given into the negativity of life, that as God nudges me to those places in my life, I turn away out of fear, not wanting to go?

Yet, Jesus nudges us along to where Lazarus is. Lazarus has gotten it right. But as much as God continues to lead us to that tomb before we experience the great death, if we move with faith and trust rather than fear, we too hear, as Lazarus does, come out! Come out, unbind us and set us free! Yes, God will move us to that place of resistance and is there every step of the way, but he is also the gentle voice that calls us out to freedom.  It is God that allows us to see not as man sees but as God sees, that the tomb is not a place of hopelessness and despair, but a place of change and growth and life.  Yes, death happens but in turn life follows. Imagine those words being proclaimed to you today…come out!! Unbind and be set free from death to fullness of life!