Monday, March 21, 2011

Heartbeat of Lent

In silence I hear the beating of my heart, a rhythm that mirrors the tempo heard in the womb of my mother. We speak of silence as if it exists, as if it is real, and yet we have almost no conscious experience of it.

Can we turn off our heart for a minute even? Can we turn off our thoughts? What then exists in that space we call silence? Only ourselves, only our God.

In the biblical book 1Kings, Elijah, the ancient prophet, journeys for forty days and forty nights to Mount Horeb (Sinai) where Moses received the Ten Commandments centuries earlier. Elijah wanders desperate, lonely and afraid. He drags himself on, outcast by rulers and priests alike, as the people turn away from God and God’s prophet.

Elijah would sleep, would let himself die, but God does not allow it. Instead he is sent to await God’s presence on the sacred mountain. Wind rends the mountain, but God is not in the wind. An earthquake follows, but God is not in the earthquake. A fire erupts but God is not there either. Finally in the silence that follows, God comes to Elijah as a ‘still small voice’ (1 Kings 19:12).

In stillness, God instructs Elijah of what he must do next. And Elijah follows, Elijah listens.

We too find ourselves on a Lenten forty day journey to come closer to God. We too are called to spend time with God in silence. Not forever, not for always. Elijah does not remain on the mountain. But we cannot act responsibly, sacredly, without first spending time with God.

In the New Testament, Jesus climbs a mountain with Peter, James and John, and stands transfigured before them, shining bright, with Moses and Elijah at his side. But when Peter urges Jesus to stay on the mountain, to create booths for everyone to remain above and away from the crowds, God refuses.

Like Elijah, like Peter, we stand at a moment in history when it appears as if cataclysm is imminent (and for many people in the world, including those in Japan, has already come). Environmental degradation threatens life itself, materialism fuels a sense of the self indistinguishable from selfishness, and religious hierarchies often appear more intent on control, exclusion and power than facilitating humanity’s ability to hear the still small voice of God.

What then are we to do amidst this cacophony of competing demands? Some flee to the mountain, refusing to return to the world, hiding amongst a self-centred charismatic and wasted faith from the dirt and uncertainty of life. Others remain unaware that the mountain even exists beyond the screen of secular busyness.

But the mountain feeds the valley as a stream splashes down a hillside into the lived world. So we move from one to the other in a heart-thrumming rhythm, a breath inspired and exhaled. Return to God. Reach for the world. Find that still small voice, that silent gap amidst the heartbeat of life. Listen, pray. Follow. Then act.

Once we have spent that time in silence, once we have climbed that mountain and beheld God, we are called to move beyond silence, to speak the words that must be said, to bend to the task of creating a world of peace, justice and love.

In the complexity of life, we need to move to the rhythm of our hearts and to the voice of our God. Like that moment between heartbeats, we need silence in our lives. But without the thump of life, of reality, we would be nothing. So raise your voice. Say your piece. Throw yourself in the fray, nourished always by that still small voice that carries through silence and noise, rest and confusion, laughter and tears, up and down, lost and found.

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