Where to Begin?Posted on: February 10, 2021, by : David
Meister Eckhart, the C13 German mystic and theologian, wrote, There is nothing in all the universe so much like God as silence. I wonder what he meant?
Did he mean the simple absence-of-noise silence? Turning off the TV or the radio, escaping from the office or the phone, taking a solo walk in the bush or along the beach. Is that the silence that so closely approximates God? I guess there have been times when I have enjoyed or appreciated that sort of silence, but I’m not sure that the absence of noise, on its own, automatically ushers in an encounter with God.
Perhaps the silence Eckhart is pointing us to has less to do with external noise and more to do with an inner stillness, a deep silence, a quieting of the soul, that enables us to ‘tune in’ to God, to ‘hear’ the gentle promptings of God’s Spirit, to discern the nearness of God? Silence such as that can be entered into no matter how noisy the environment, no matter how loud the cacophony of life.
I am coming to understand that without silence, without quietness, without stillness, life makes little or no sense.
It is no accident that in constructing his story of the life of Jesus, the writer of Mark’s gospel chooses to place the passage we heard today right at the start of the story. It sets a pattern, a rhythm, that will be observed throughout the story. In this episode it begins with frenetic activity – boisterous crowds, demanding supplicants, healings and cleansings – and ends with a moment of silence – stillness and quietness – before plunging back into the work of the day. The stark contrast is emphasized by Mark’s language: one moment ‘the whole city was gathered around the door’ (v. 33) and the next moment ‘while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place’ (v. 35).
This is the ‘action/reflection’ model that served Jesus so well – periods of activity broken up by periods of silence and reflective practice. It’s a rhythm that we would do well to emulate. It’s a rhythm that we would do well to recall as we plunge back into the routines and expectations of life in 2021. The temptation is to jump back into life with a vengeance, to make up for all we missed in 2020, or to catch up on the lost productivity of 2020.
And the busyness is so tempting! So much of our self-worth is tied up in being busy! We wear our busyness as a badge of honour, as though being busy somehow makes us more worthwhile. At some stage we’ve all said words like, ‘I know you’re busy, and I’m sorry to take your time, but …’ – as though time taken from a busy person is somehow worth more than time taken from one not so busy!
It takes courage, an act of bravery, to say ‘No’ to the lure of busyness and to ‘get up and go out to a deserted place’ – to create spaces for stillness and silence within the busyness.
2020 was a tough year and I hope the world never has to experience anything like it again. But somewhere down the track we may look back and acknowledge that it was a year in which a dreaded lockdown allowed us to rediscover the value of space, the benefit of silence, the importance of stillness. May we claim that wisdom now and carry that insight into this new year – corporately: as we plan the program for church life may we be sure to include spaces for soul-nurture, for silence, for anchoring into the stillness that Meister Eckhart equated with God; and personally: as we pick up the pace of the new year may we be sure to claim the life-giving spaces that give meaning to the activities either side of them.
TS Elliot wrote: ‘Except for the point, the still point, there would be no dance, and there is only the dance.’
He’s right: it is the space between the words that makes the sentence; it is the minute pause between the notes that makes the music; it is that momentary still point between the dance moves that creates the magic.
I encourage you to make use of the resources and the opportunities we will be providing this year to build those spaces into the rhythm of your days – small group options, online resources, reflective practice gatherings and more. And I encourage you to encourage each other in this journey – check in with your friends and networks from time to time to see how they are doing with their reflective practice. Invite them to take a walk in the bush, or grab a coffee at the café, or share a thought for the day, to support them in their quest for the wholeness and wellbeing that stillness promotes.
Let’s be brave as we walk together into this new year.