by Joe Gunby
Matthew 11:28-29: Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
Today marks the beginning of a forty-day journey with Jesus. A journey that stops for a time in the desert, in the wilderness, and the out-of-the-way places where wisdom is found. A journey of silence, and contemplation, and mystery. For many, this is a season to “give up” foods or habits that may be weighing us down, so that we might step more lightly in the footsteps of Jesus. This is also a season when many will “take up” habits of the heart that wake us to the Divine Presence all around us. We may pray with greater attention, serve with more intention, or meditate upon the Word sets us free.
Lent engenders a kind of paradox for those seeking spiritual maturity. For at once we know that our standing with God is not improved by what we do—even the good things we would do to pray more in no way make us worthy to be loved by God. If they did, then spiritual disciplines would become yet another self-improvement program that we have to master, and all of our activity would take us further from the rest that Jesus promises. But the rest Jesus promises is not the same as laziness and inattention. In order to find the peace that we so desperately desire, we have to take active steps to separate from the noise and strife around us. So then, there are two parts to faith—the active and the passive, both equally important.
During Sunday worship this Lent, we will have opportunities to turn down the noise of our busy lives and listen to the Voice that is closer to us than we are to ourselves. We will rest, listen, and keep silence. In preparation for these unique worship services, I’ve found myself returning to the music of the Estonian composer Arvo Pärt. His beautifully spare choral works are filled with quiet and silence, so much so that one comes to hear the silence as the goal of the music, and not as an interruption of it. His insights about the nature of silence would help us maintain tension between active and passive spirituality.
“On the one hand, silence is like fertile soil, which, as it were, awaits our creative act, our seed. On the other hand, silence must be approached with a feeling of awe. And when we speak about silence, we must keep in mind that it has two different wings, so to speak. Silence can be both that which is outside of us and that which is inside a person. The silence of our soul, which isn’t even affected by external distractions, is actually more crucial but more difficult to achieve.”
For our part, we have the good work of making time and space for exterior silence, for without that, we have little hope of receiving that more difficult interior silence—the peace that God gives.
Prayer: Almighty God, whose most dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified: Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.