As we think about the effects of Covid 19 in the world there are many harmful effects. At this stage no one knows how many people will die from the corona virus and how long it will last. No one knows what the full impact with be on world economies and on the lives of people, especially the poorest and most vulnerable peoples in the world. At the same time many people are also reporting many positive effects of the lockdowns and are reflecting or their lives and re-evaluating their priorities. How are the economic systems impacting on the way we live our lives? Why are things the way they are? What can we change? What are some of the things that I can change in my life to make it the life that I want to live?
In the church while many are greatly missing gathering for worship others are enjoying the space to reflect on their lives and the world we live in. This time has forced us into spending time reflecting on the life of the church. Why have we been too busy in the past to spend time in deep reflection? Why is this? What is it that we allow to drive the church? Why is it now that without some of those drivers that we are beginning to look at church life from a different perspective? Perhaps we are now beginning to look at church life more as outsiders look at our churches rather than as insiders?
One of the things that has worried me in recent weeks is to hear how ministers and lay people who hold responsible leadership positions in the church report that they are getting busier and busier as each week passes. There is new work to do. New ways of doing work are increasing. There are more meetings online. As well as sitting in front of screens attending online worship services we are also attending church business meetings online even on Sundays. I have scheduled two Zoom meetings for this weekend: one on Saturday and one on Sunday morning. Where is the day of rest? For me these are warning signs. These are warning signs that we may swap one life of busyness for another life of busyness. There will always be far more that needs to be done than we can achieve especially if we are dealing in the needs of people. We may again miss the opportunity o reflect, to set time aside for stillness and silence; to be alone with ourselves and to be alone with God. Stillness and silence are so important for us, for our lives and relationships and for our relationship with God.
In the Scripture reading for this week, Jesus tells the disciples to wait, to wait for the promised Holy Spirit, to stay in the city until they have been clothed from on high. Acts 1:4,5 While staying with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. "This," he said, "is what you have heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptised with the Holy Spirit not many days from now." Similarly, in Luke 24:49 - Jesus says, “And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high." And so we read in Acts 1:12-14 - the disciples returned to the city and went to an upper room and they constantly devoted themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers.
I remember older versions of the bible using the word tarry – tarry a while in the city. The word tarry is often used negatively in sentences. It is seen as wasting time. In a world driven by economic systems, there is no time for tarrying, for dilly dallying, for day dreaming, for reflecting deeply, for stillness and silence; yet it is in the stillness and silence that God is found. Look at Elijah’s experience of God in 1 Kings 19: 11-13 – The word of the Lord came to Elijah saying,.. “Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him that said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” To tarry a while in stillness and silence is never time wasted. It may be purer worship; what God is longing for us to do and what our souls are crying out for.
We spend a lot of time talking at each other and listening to hurtful words that do not come from the well of life - words that are spoken out of fear and desperation, words that are used to control and intimidate and to get others to do what we want. These are not words of life. These are not words that come from a place where one has met with the source of life. One thing that I have learned from Narrative Therapy is that what a person really means or desires is not always conveyed in words. What are the silences saying? What is it that is not being said? What is said between the lines? The silences need to be unpacked gently and carefully; and coaxed out so that one listens with empathy and deeper understandings are formed. Then in that stillness a richness grows between people. It is the same with stillness and silence in God’s presence. Like the disciples and Jesus’ family who devoted themselves to prayer, stillness and silence is a prayer in itself - waiting for the promised Spirit.
Prayer: Be still and know that I am God. Let your prayer this week be one of learning to sit still in silence. Perhaps focus on your breath or on the sound of the wind, watch the branches blown by the wind. Try it for one minute. Next time try it for longer. See where this prayer takes you. Song: ‘The Sound of Silence’ by Simon and Garfunkel