stilling the storm of words

Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. Go near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools, who do not know that they do wrong.

Do not be quick with your mouth,
do not be hasty in your heart
to utter anything before God.
God is in heaven
and you are on earth,
so let your words be few.
A dream comes when there are many cares,
and many words mark the speech of a fool.

Ecclesiastes 5:1-3

I think I’m a word person, so words are important to me. I want to know truth, and I want to communicate. It is probably something of the gift God has given me. So if there’s a storm of words, I may not like the storm, but I might easily be taken into the storm. And I’ve found over the years that such participation does little if any good. All too often it feels like one is only becoming part of that storm, certainly not helping to still it.

And now we have a pandemic which has hit the United States in full force economically, politically- exacerbating the great divide, and certainly physically, with the mounting death toll. And politically, it’s an election year. So all of this gets played out into a never ending storm of words. The map for this weather front sees little break in the clouds and storm to come. And not sure where the light at the end of the tunnel might be, if it’s coming at all.

Qohelet, the main writer of Ecclesiastes, seems to be a pessimist by nature, maybe what we would call a realist. He/she seems to be something of a hard core skeptic. I can resonate with that. When people think they have the answer to something, they’re never at a loss for words. But when one is not sure, or knows enough to know that they don’t know that much, then less words come, or maybe none at all.

The book of Job is a case in point. Filled with words from Job questioning God’s justice, and Job’s friends, correcting Job, and the words go on and on. But after God speaks, Job shuts his mouth, and continues to listen. And then repents in dust and ashes. Yes, we need the word from God, and much less of our own words. But to get to that point of listening, maybe we have to experience something of the storm of words, our own and others.

When one considers all of Scripture, and I’m especially thinking of the psalms, it seems like pouring our hearts in prayer to God, and expressing our unvarnished thoughts to him is commendable, and seen over and over again in Scripture. I think what we need a good healthy dose of though, is to learn to say less and listen more. And the one we need to listen to is God. To hear what God is saying to us ought to be our goal. We need to speak less and listen more. Yes, to others. But above all to God. Then the words we do speak might actually matter more.

 

to the quiet

A song of ascents. Of David.

My heart is not proud, Lord,
my eyes are not haughty;
I do not concern myself with great matters
or things too wonderful for me.
But I have calmed and quieted myself,
I am like a weaned child with its mother;
like a weaned child I am content.

Israel, put your hope in the Lord
both now and forevermore.

Psalm 131

The older I get, the more I would like to stay out of endless controversy. Yes, you might score some points on someone’s ledger here and there, but to what avail? I do appreciate those in difficult callings, such as political, who try to work through difficult policy issues in seeking to govern and represent the people who elected them. Nowadays there’s no end to the strife which accompanies it.

As people of God, I think we have to ask ourselves just what our calling from God is. And to understand that, we must turn to God’s word, Scripture, the Bible. And pastors and teachers, and I’ll add scholars, must lead the way. But there’s a place for everyone, regardless of what part we might play.

My role I think is mainly to be a witness of God’s work of grace in my own life. I would like to say more, since I am a person of words. But I’m learning to be quiet. And to listen. And then maybe offer a word or two probably more for my own benefit than anyone else’s. In and through Jesus.

finding true wisdom

Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.

But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.

James 3:13-18

Oftentimes, at least I can speak for myself, we need to step back and be quiet and let God speak to us. Nowadays we hear a storm of words and we can all too easily get caught up in that. Instead we need to hear God’s word to us, let that impact and soak into our lives. Then our lives even without words can speak volumes to others. A part of the wisdom available to us in and through Jesus.

 

the rest the Lord gives

He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
he refreshes my soul.

Psalm 23:2-3a

It’s interesting that the Lord takes the initiative here. I’m reminded of Jesus’s words, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest” (Mark 6:31b). I think the main meaning is what we might call soul rest, but surely there’s physical rest as well as spiritual rest (Psalm 127:2). Certainly Jesus’s words to his disciples were for their physical rest, as well as spiritual.

Quietness is also a part of the picture here. We’re off somewhere without all the noise of a busy world, even without what noise we like, music or whatever it might be. And we’re off some place where in the silence we can hear God’s voice (1 Kings 19:12). I like music playing most all the time, if I don’t have something else on. At least I like less volume than especially in my younger years, but silence, no. But even I find silence valuable because it seems to awaken in me more of a sensitivity to and appreciation for the Lord’s voice. It’s not like we can never hear God’s voice above all the noise. And music might actually help us that way (2 Kings 3:15-16, and note that the psalms are often set to music along with other passages in Scripture). But being silent and finding quiet can help us hear God’s voice, and is also restful in itself.

And the Lord refreshes our soul. That probably means something like renewing our strength (see NET Bible footnote and parallel versions). The Hebrew word translated “soul” in the NIV means “life” or an individual person or persons. Times of rest should be times of refreshment when our strength is renewed. A kind of restoration to face life again with anticipation, ready for the long haul or whatever awaits us is surely in the cards here. We can see from the rest of Psalm 23 that all of life is pictured. So that this blessing is meant to prepare us for such, as we continue under the leading and care of the good shepherd. In and through Jesus.

 

 

learning to relax

“Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”

Mark 6:31b

These words of Jesus were interrupted by the incessant swell of humanity demanding attention. There’s at least one other place where Jesus wanted solitude and rest, but was likewise interrupted (Mark 7:24). Good reminders to us that though we may attempt to relax and get some rest, we may not always be able to.

But the point remains: Jesus did value solitude, quiet and rest. In their case it was an escape from what surely was an exhausting ministry, even if to Jesus such was invigorating (John 4). Still even he in his humanity needed rest and quiet time with his disciples, and especially with his Father.

As I get older I’m finding it naturally easier to rest and not think I have to be doing something. Oftentimes the best thing we can do is simply nothing. Be in God’s presence, in quiet so as to hear God’s gentle whisper. But simply resting. Knowing it’s God’s work, as well as his will that matter. We receive and participate in that. And rest in him. In and through Jesus.

a benefit of slowing down

Better one handful with tranquillity
than two handfuls with toil
and chasing after the wind.

Ecclesiastes 4:6

Life is busy, sometimes quite demanding. We have automation nowadays, but that only increases expectations of more efficiency at less cost. And with that comes pressure to make it work. But I think a lot of that pressure we impose on ourselves. And that’s related to all our other expectations to succeed and even excel, to be better than someone else, to uphold our own imagined high view of ourselves or our ability, or the reputation we’ve gained.

When you read the book of Ecclesiastes, that’s all poppycock. Just a waste of time, effort, literally a passing breath. The text above tells us it’s better to have less with tranquility, rest, or quiet (compare NIV with NASB and NRSV from link above). It depends on how one translates it, but the idea is essentially the same. Putting one’s whole heart and life into something doesn’t mean what we’ve thought and maybe been taught: to run ourselves ragged.

This is not at all downplaying the importance of hard work and diligence. But it’s saying that we need to do so out of heart of tranquility, rest and quiet. And I think for most all of us, certainly for me, that means we have to slow down. Part of slowing down is not only physical, but inward. We pause, become more thoughtful. We pull out the stops here and there when need be, but we’re willing to shut the operation down rather than try to do what is barely manageable, if at all.

When we refuse to slow down, expectation builds to maybe do better, or keep up what often amounts to a brutal pace. Or we have other expectations, like being better than someone else at this or that, or persuading others that we’re right and they’re wrong, whatever. The list could probably go on and on.

Instead we will do much better if we learn to slow down, be satisfied with something less than before, which actually will become something more. Our tranquility can help others. Our expectation is always from God, not from ourselves. And it’s God’s work, whatever God considers important. Oftentimes that will be a change of heart in ourselves which comes only in stillness and rest as we look to God.

It’s a learning process, not something we can step into easily overnight, but something indeed that we need to do. The same problems exist, but we can now engage them more prayerfully and thoughtfully in faith. And find the rest meant for us in and through Jesus.

rest and quiet

Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”

Mark 6:31

Although this is in the pericope of the feeding of the five thousand, it is noteworthy in that our Lord encourages his disciples, and by extension, even us, to break away from service, from ministry, from our work, and get some quiet rest.

We live in a society which lives for its weekends, but little knows, I suppose, the rest Jesus talks about here. We need time and space to gather our thoughts, to gather ourselves, since we get so enmeshed, worked up and worked in the bundle of necessary and even good, healthy in its place as long as it has some balance, but the normal everyday workaday world. Unlike so many societies in the past and present, we have plenty of time for diversions along the way, for entertainment and plenty of distractions. But how much of the kind of rest the Lord was pressing on his disciples, do we really get? Do we know much at all about such rest?

Of course in the case above, life came pressing in on Jesus and the disciples, so that the plan was thwarted, a multitude coming to be fed not only from the five loaves of bread and the two small fishes, but from the mouth of the Lord himself. But there were surely times when they were able to get some of that rest.

I need that kind of rest. I used to enjoy complete solitude and would often want to get away to wooded, scenic places to be quiet, read scripture and pray, to simply enjoy the scenery. I still like to get away, but preferably with my wife. I still like some solitude, but I prefer company, easily getting lonely, so that I would long for human companionship. In the case of Jesus and his disciples, evidently they would be with each other and him, but apart from the crowds, the noisy throng of people who clammered to the Lord to be healed and to hear just what he would have to say. So it must have been a highlight to the disciples, and to the Lord himself, to actually find such spaces, though in the gospel accounts, we find such withdrawals interrupted.

I look forward even to breaks from the normal routine, ideally two weeks away, although we usually have just around one week away. Whatever time we can get in quiet and loving fellowship or communion with our Lord and each other, is a good time. We probably need more of it. Especially some of the poor, who because of the evil of the day, do not have a job which gives them a living wage, not to mention, good healthcare. Both ought to be a given, not because they’re a “right,” but because these people are made in God’s image and loved by God, and should be loved by all, their personhood and needs met.* Instead too many of them work more than one job, sometimes two or three, and barely have enough time to rest at all.

Yes, everyone needs and deserves, being made in God’s image, and loved by God, some rest from their work. We all need to make that a priority for ourselves and encourage others to do the same. So that we can find ourselves and each other and the Lord. To hear his voice, to be renewed and refreshed. To know that we are loved, as we love each other. Quiet. Rest. May we know some of that this summer, and this year. And in so doing, find new strength, new vision, maybe just new quiet, and know more and share the love God has for us.

*From Public Faith in Action: How to Think Carefully, Engage Wisely, and Vote with Integrity by Miroslav Volf and Ryan McAnnally-Linz, a book I would highly recommend.

processing thoughts (and life)

I can’t forget either Eugene Peterson saying, or I think writing that we should read less, not more. And slowly. I have been told that I am a thought processor in that I don’t jump on something right away with some kind of insight, but rather hold it in tow, to sift through it. I think that’s right. I hope I’m not addicted to thinking, another new thought which is new and you can find on the internet (a TED talk or two).

I would have liked to have read so many more books during my lifetime. Although I’ve read quite a bit from the books downstairs, I would say I’ve not even read nearly half of the written content in my own personal library, though I have read through a number of the books there. My work has not made that conducive, so the dream of really honing in on some subject, reading widely, then hopefully making some sort of contribution in that discussion or field, is now gone. I have listened to the Bible being read over the years, beginning as a new Christian with the KJV New Testament, then the NIV for so many years, though I haven’t been listening lately, but reading myself in a way in which I might end.

In this information age, we have all kinds of knowledge available right at our fingertips. We can easily get lost in it all, probably in more ways than one. And much of it can be quite good. But that doesn’t mean we’re to spend hours on end in it, from one good thing to the next.

Factory work is not something I planned to do, but only a job until I would hopefully get into the ministry, which didn’t pan out. I have second and third thoughts now, still wanting to do ministry, and enjoying the nursing home on Sundays. But thinking I should have worked on landing a teaching job early on. Factory work has its good and bad aspects. I have breathed some bad stuff along the way (not much, if at all, now). And the days have been monotonous, boredom has certainly been a companion over the years.

But boredom, and being in a place of relative silence, now with my New Testament/Psalms and Proverbs in hand, when I can glance at the next line, but such a place can be quite good for thinking on God’s revelation in Jesus as given to us in scripture and the gospel. And how that relates to life where we live, where I live.

I have to try to fit in well to the life that is, the reality in which I live. And be content there, with all the challenges we face, some of our own making to an extent. But much of what easily happens in the world in which we live.

We all have our place, our contribution to make, along with our limitations. We gather from each other what the Lord gives to us, to the entire church. And we work and rest there. Hoping and praying and looking. As we continue on together in the gift that continues to be given to us even in this life in and through Jesus our Lord.

when we’re tired and worn down

Sometimes we either feel on the edge or pushed over the edge at least a bit. The pressures of life can seem relentless with little or no place to turn. That is when we probably need to slow down, to stop, to be still and quiet. To know that God is God.

Also to read. For me reading scripture and meditating on it, and remaining in it is so key. But just as key is the weekly service of liturgy which includes the scripture readings along with prayers, including corporate confession of sin along with the priest’s absolution, confession of the creed, and together partaking of the Lord’s body and blood in the Eucharist.

Sometimes we simply need that extra physical rest. Maybe a break from normal activities to sleep. We always like those occasional, or in the case of some of us, periodic, but not often enough for most of us get aways. And we need to learn how to do it when the normal routine is still pressing up against us. Not easy, but we do need to find our bearings, our strength in the Lord, learning to wait on him so that we are both strengthened and ennobled. To not only go on, but go on well in and through Jesus.

quiet

Recently my CD player died and the extra CD player my mother was giving to me, I forgot when I left my sister’s place (yes, I’m technologically behind). For most of my life as a Christian (40+ years now) I have listened to scripture being read in either straightforward or dramatic fashion. Since I chose not to replace my broken CD player, but wait until we get back to my sister or Mom’s place, I have not listened to scripture, or to my classical music when reading (and there is indeed a dearth of classical music on the radio; it is dying here in the States). And so, apart from NPR Michigan radio and Blue Lake radio, my life has taken on a drastic turn into silence. And into the reading I have needed to do more of straight from the Book.

I have to say that while this quiet was hard at first, it has grown on me. And while I miss, particularly scripture being read, I am forced to get into it more directly myself. The end result of that has been that I actually seem all the more tethered to scripture, and not just to a bunch of words, but as the living inscripturated word of God. In fact I’ve come to the place where I’m quite content, at least for now, not to listen to scripture anymore. Though one can listen to Max McClean on Bible Gateway. And I do intend to listen to my classical music CDs again, especially while reading, though quiet has become a friend as well.

In fact I am finding quiet a most helpful friend, even if I am still as unaccustomed to it as not. I still want to hear the news or stories on NPR. But as soon as I’ve had enough of that, I am finding that quiet is not all that bad. There is something about it which seems rather life giving. Perhaps it is freeing me up to hear something of the voice of God. Or to be open to the nudges God may send my way, which can all but be drowned out in the maelstrom of noise which makes up all too much of our lives.

Quiet. I like that.