Give in to the biting winds of winter, pulling up your collar and pulling down your chin, listening to the call to silence.
Perhaps it is all of the above. Slower living gives us time for reflection, and reflection calls for quiet. The precise outline of a bare tree against a clear sky begs us to think about the shape of our lives, as if they were unadorned.
Look long enough at the stark silhouette of an oak in winter and you will notice that the trunk and branches look like a root system reaching toward the heavens. Thinking about shapes and sources of nourishment requires quiet. And of course, when we tuck our chins into pulled-up collars it is hard to say much at all, and silence settles all around.
Perhaps slower days, sharper horizons and biting winds call us to silence. In all of them, and more, we may be hearing the voice of God, the voice echoing in the Psalmist’s words: “Be still and know that I am God” (Ps 46:10).
However the call comes, it is necessary. Heed the call. Fall silent. Listen. In the quiet we can hear the rhythms of our lives and hear again how God’s presence sets the tone for life’s rhythm.
Living in a new millennium, the call to silence may be harder than ever to hear. What began a generation ago as “elevator music” has moved into every area of our lives. Silence nearly has been banned. Radio, television and Internet broadcasters fear the “dead air” that might make someone change the channel. Merchants flood their shops with cheery music, with the intent of getting customers to stay longer and buy more. Even in church services the call to silent prayer is often accompanied by soft music, which of course cancels out any silent encounter with the God to whom we pray.
In contemporary culture silence seems more and more like an enemy to be destroyed rather than a friend to be embraced. In our contemporary culture, what are we to make of the Psalmist’s plea, “Be still and know that I am God”? What are we to make of the simple claim of Ecclesiastes, that there is “a time to keep silence” (3:7)?
What are we to make of these calls to silence? Thomas Merton once remarked that our best confessions of faith were those times when we fall silent in God’s presence and invest all of our energy toward listening. Learning the importance of recognizing “a time to keep silence” or the importance of being still is a winter kind of task. Winter itself calls us to silence.
The calendar is not as full as it was a month ago. Listen to the call to silence. Bare trees stand on the horizon, giving a glimpse of the clarity of God’s world. Listen to the call to silence. Give in to the biting winds of winter, pulling up your collar and pulling down your chin, listening to the call to silence.
In the silence we might catch the sound of our beating heart and know, again, that God sets the tone of the rhythms of our lives.
Rick Wilson is the Columbus Roberts Professor of Theology and chair of the Roberts Department of Christianity in Mercer University’s College of Liberal Arts in Macon, Ga.
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Mercer Commentary on the Bible
Rhythms: Sermons for a Community of Faith and Learning
Richard Wilson is the Columbus Roberts professor of theology and chair of the Columbus Roberts Department of Religion in the college of liberal arts at Mercer University in Macon, Georgia.