08 November 2012

Quiet shorts

Kazimir Malevich, Black Square (1915)
The end of the 2012 U.S. election season has changed my life in a way I hadn't expected. Suddenly my life seems quieter. I now receive about a quarter of the unsolicited e-mails that were flooding in daily just a few days ago. Social media have quieted down, with the exception of a few friends who tell me that the end of the U.S. is now inevitable. I've lost the compulsion to check certain political news sites every few minutes.

It's true that there was a little corner of my mind that remained quiet. When I got too worried about political outcomes, I could retreat there. I could quietly remind myself that both major candidates for the U.S. presidency were essentially playing roles in a huge system that would only grant either one limited powers. This system, well described in the Bible, would defend its priorities--wealth, power, natural resources--no matter who was president, no matter who was hurt. Both candidates were decent human beings who hardly resembled the gross caricatures drawn by their most extreme opponents. The victory of Obama over Romney seems to me to be a victory of the politics of competence over the politics of fear and nostalgia, and given the limited choices we had, I chose competence.

But neither represented the politics of Jesus.

Again this past Sunday, I brought that day's reading from the Friends United Meeting's "Forty Days of Prayer for the Future of Friends" into the quiet of our Moscow Meeting. Based on Luke 5:17-26 (the paralyzed man and the friends who lowered his mat through the roof to get him to Jesus), we were invited to consider these queries (slightly adapted):
  • In what ways might our congregation be stretcher bearers for others?
  • What are the characteristics of good stretcher bearers?
  • When have I been carried by others?

The word "venture" has for me been linked with silent (waiting) worship ever since I first read the description of Quaker worship as prepared for a meeting of the World Council of Churches in 1948. If I remember correctly, D. Elton Trueblood was an author of this statement:
Worship, according to the ancient practice of the Religious Society of Friends, is entirely without any human direction or supervision. A group of devout persons come together and sit down quietly with no prearrangements, each seeking to have an immediate sense of divine leading and to know at first hand the presence of the Living Christ. It is not wholly accurate to say that such a Meeting is held in the basis of Silence; it is more accurate to say that it is held on the basis of "Holy Obedience." Those who enter such a Meeting can harm it in two ways: first, by an advanced determination to speak; and second, by advanced determination to keep silent. The only way in which a worshipper can help such a Meeting is by an advanced determination to try to be responsive in listening to the still small voice and doing whatever may be commanded. Such a Meeting is always a high venture of faith and it is to this venture we invite you this hour.
If I remember to enter worship with the desire to hear God, it never fails: the time stretching before me seems like a path into true adventure. Please, God, may it not decay into a form, or worse, a pose.

I wish I could remember who first gave me the following insight about quiet waiting--an insight that may at first seem self-centered but I'm convinced is a great antidote to two related problems: addiction and boredom. The insight is this: in silence we open ourselves to communion with God, but we also open ourselves to communion with ourselves. I open myself to communion with myself. Knowing that God loves me with costly love, I can risk learning to appreciate my own company. Sometimes it's not easy, but that's exactly when I should (in God's presence) confront the things that block me from liking my own company. Usually it involves recalling how I mistreated someone else, either intentionally or through neglect. I need to do something about that so that I can restore companionship with myself. Self-flagellation and addictive distractions can't do the job, but healing and restoration can.

And in that place of communion, keeping company with my real embodied self (not my haughty idealized projection or my shriveled shamed self), I can start asking God to show me where I'm caught in the systems and illusions that can entrap even high politicians, and enroll me in the Lamb's War to help free others.

Silence on the BBC World Service Web site: words from Graham Turner, author of The Power of Silence, starting at about 48 minutes, 55 seconds, on this edition of Newshour. And a companion posting on the BBC World Service Facebook page, "Do you get enough silence?"

"Speak love with power."

"Why I Stank at Predicting the 2012 Presidential Election."

"A book title that annoyed me." "The part that sticks slightly in my throat is 'biblical Christianity'."

"Pirated novelist gets on board with rogue [Russian] translator." (Thanks to Carol Holmes for the reference.)

Rachel Marie Stone, "Rachel Held Evans and the hermeneutics of love."

Joyce Lamb (USA Today), "Author Lyn Cote on romancing the plain people."

Youtube user AlruneRod2811 in Denmark comes through again, with a fine recording of Bernard Allison, "Rockett 88."

1 comment:

'Mela said...

Johan, I enjoyed this post.

Your speaking of solitude, and how to keep good company with yourself, I enjoyed reading...

You have a calm and reasonable mind, and great taste in music... ;^)

Please keep up your good work here.