The Second Sunday of Lent: March 12, 2017
Preacher: The Rev. Leigh Mackintosh, Associate Rector of St. Michael’s Church
Last week, Jesus’ journey into the wilderness and his struggles with temptation marked the beginning of our own Lenten spiritual journeys of inward self reflection. Today, as we hear of Abram who follows God’s call to depart from kin and country to walk towards a land that God would reveal, we are reminded of God’s call in our lives to depart from our places of comfort, familiarity, and security and to wander with God in the desert until we let go of our own agendas and discover where God is leading us. And as we listen to the Psalmist who is embarking on a yearly pilgrimage to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover Feast in the Jewish Temple so we are reminded of our own pilgrim journey in Lent towards the celebrations of Holy Week and Easter where we will once again witness the power of God’s love radiating from the cross and resurrection.
Both Scripture and the Season of Lent invite us to reflect on faith as a spiritual journey. But, unlike Abram and the Psalmist, we don’t have to leave kin and country or travel afar to walk the pilgrim road. The path is nearer than we might think. We need only step into the land of silence and we will find ourselves on the way to reclaiming who we are and whose we are in God.
Now I see there’s some squirming in the pews at the sound of bringing sheer silence into your prayer life. There are those of you who may be thinking, or praying, ‘please God send me out to do justice, love kindness, to walk humbly, but please, don’t send me to sit in silence!’
Friends, you are not alone. Many of the spiritual giants across time have struggled with the spiritual discipline of silence called contemplative prayer. Like playing a sport or musical instrument, spending time in silence and solitude takes practice.
Spanish poet Antonio Machado says: “Wanderer, your footsteps are the path, and nothing more; there is no way, the path is made by walking.” The ways is shown to us by each step we make in silence with God. God is both the destination and the journey.
This Lent, we are invited to spend time wandering with God in the silence.
So why is silence so important to our prayer lives and how can we enter into this silence in our walk with God? Silence is important to our prayer lives because it is a place where we find God. In Scripture, Moses meets God in silence on Mt. Sinai. The prophet Elijah meets God not in thunder, earthquake, wind or fire but in the sound of sheer silence. And last week, Jesus prepares for his ministry by retreating to the silence and solitude of the desert.
Just as these spiritual leaders found God in silence, Psalm 46 instructs us that we too can know God’s presence in quiet and stillness. Medieval German theologian and mystic Meister Eckhart states, “There is nothing so much like God in all the universe as silence.”
Focused silence creates a stillness in which particular sounds become distinctly heard or felt. Such silence can grant us signs of God’s presence–a vision of God’s call. If listening is cultivated as a habit in all aspects of life, the continuity between our daily lives and the occasions of our prayers will grow and develop, each enriching the other.
How can we hear God’s voice in the silence?
God’s voice sounds like:
Peace — deep sense of calm and confidence.
Persistence — the theme that keeps coming up.
Convergence — seemingly unrelated things suddenly begin coming together.
Fruitfulness — signs of abundance.
Silence is an important part of our prayer practice that moves us from thoughts of doing to a place of being. In silence we enter a simple stillness where we meet our thoughts and let them go.
In silence we may ask questions and raise concerns. Like the Psalmist, we may say, “As I gaze upon the mountain, from where will my help come?” But the Psalmist reassures us that ‘our help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth.’ God chooses to stay with us even when we slip or sleep. At times, we may seem like we lose our grip on God, but it is nice to know that God does not lose a grip on us.
“The LORD is your guardian, your protection at your right hand.
By day the sun will not strike you,
Nor the moon by night.
The LORD will keep you from all harm;
He will guard your life, your soul.
The LORD will guard your going and coming now and forever.”
In the silence, we may not find answers for all our concerns, but we can be receptive to God’s presence as we ponder the questions.
Abram will not see the outcome of God’s future blessing; but his response shapes it. So too, we may not perceive future outcomes from our prayer, but our response to God in silence shapes the blessings to come.
The Psalm reminds us that our spiritual growth as a community of faith and as individuals does not ultimately rest on getting everything right. Rather it rests on our courage to stay the course and take the next step in the journey with God. If we spend enough time in the silence of being, we encounter the ineffable and enter the silent land where we are one with God. “Wanderer the path is made by your footsteps.” God is both the destination and the journey.
Wandering with God in silence means listening for what is life-giving. But like the desert, silence offers no hiding places. In silence, our flaws and gifts are laid bare before us and God. An important part of silence in prayer involves descending into the depths of our being. This means examining the places where wounds and shame dwell. It means retrieving the lost parts and welcoming them back into the wholeness of our being. In silence, we allow ourselves to be loved unconditionally; it is the journey of forgiving ourselves.
Silence is important to our prayer lives for so many reasons. It creates a space to find God; it helps us discern God’s voice; it helps us become one with divine love; it encourages us to love and forgive ourselves as God does. It calls us journey from doing into a place of being.
In the busy, bustling, boisterous boulevards of urban life, finding space for silence can be challenging, but not impossible. Point out opportunities for silence and solitude…
Lectio Divina Bible Study
Like Psalm 121, our wanderings with God in silence are journeys of ascent not because contemplative prayer takes us up to mountaintop spiritual experiences, but because the journey of silence begins in God. Each footstep enriches the larger journey of our daily lives. And each of these smaller wanderings enriches the larger lifelong journey of our walk with God. Amen.
Resources for Silence:
Martin Laird, Into the Silent Land: A Guide to the Christian Practice of Contemplation.
Christine Valters Paintner, The Soul of a Pilgrim: Eight Practices for the Journey Within.
Suzanne G. Farnham, Stephanie A. Hull & R. Taylor McLean, Grounded in God: Listening Hearts Discernment for Group Deliberations. (Revised Edition)