Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 19; 150, 1 Kings 19:8-21, Acts 5:34-42, John 11:45-57
When we find ourselves in a verbal disagreement, most of us have a natural tendency to raise our voices. As the discussion becomes more heated, we try to convince each other through sheer volume. However, many communication experts tell us the best way to be heard – in an argument, or whenever we need to emphasize a point – is to speak more softly. Doing so decreases aggression in others, and compels them to focus and listen.
The prophet Elijah learned God did not always speak through mountain-cracking winds, rumbling earthquakes, or roaring fires … but was also present in the still silence that followed. When Jesus needed to rest in God’s presence, he often retreated to quiet isolation. Paul exhorted the faithful to speak only those words that build up, certainly not the sort of words that are loud or argumentative. In a world where even religious voices are often shrill, are we placing enough value on silence?
Saint Francis of Assisi is sometimes credited with saying: “Preach the Gospel at all times. Use words if necessary.” It’s not really his saying, but is very much in the spirit of his teachings. Our society emphasizes the persuasiveness of words (thus the steady appeal of talk radio and blogs), but relatively few people are “talked into” faith. We listen most eagerly to words that echo what we already believe. Attitudes and beliefs are changed most often by experiences. If we are to be the hands of Christ, perhaps those hands are most authentically experienced when they are offered silently in comfort or prayer.
Of course there is nothing inherently evil about words, even those spoken loudly if they are for a just cause, but we must remember they are merely symbols of the ideas they represent. If they become a stumbling block, we can dispense with them. If our actions betray our words, we are better off not using them. If we want to teach someone about our faith, quiet, loving actions are a solid beginning. Jesus is the Logos – the Word made flesh: what other words could possibly serve us better?
Comfort: You can speak softly and still carry a big witness.
Challenge: In your prayer life, stop speaking long enough to listen.
Prayer: [Observe one full minute of silence]
Discussion: What makes you raise your voice?
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