Silence and Whispers

Reflections of a vulnerable Grandad on Day One of “lock down.”

Scripture:       Luke 4:1-13 Jesus in the wilderness.

1 Kings 19: 7-13. Elijah retreats to a cave.

Our Context: One quarter of the world’s population is now in “lock down.”  Global cases are over 416,000, with 18589 deaths. Italy had six hundred plus and Spain seven hundred thirty-eight new positive cases in the last day.

We are in our first day of “Lock Down”, with the nation-wide Civil Defence Emergency. The Police and Army will be patrolling for unnecessary travellers, only those who are engaged with essential services can leave home. My early morning walks are permitted for fitness and healthy exercises.

Earthquakes, fires on the Port Hills, the lack of rainfall and persistent northerly winds means drought is quietly stalking both rural and urban citizens.   The terrorist shooter who attacked Muslim worshipers in two mosques on 17th March 2019, has pleaded guilty to fifty murders and over forty charges of attempted murder. The Evil One has relentlessly attacked this City which bears the name of Christ. Recent years has brought many different forms of wilderness experiences for Cantabrians. The Prime Minister told us to act like you have Covit-19. Can we be so silent that we hear God’s whisper.

 “Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper.” 1 Kings 19: v11-12.

An Historical Perspective.

Christian women and men joined the ascetic movement of the early church, they retreated from the raucous and immoral life of cities. Antony [c251 – 356] was one of the “Desert Fathers” He moved from a wealthy family background. He bequeathed his inherited property to the poor. Antony moved further into remote areas to develop and live a “desert spirituality” including the disciplines of solitude and silence.

Antony was a famous contributor to “The sayings of the Fathers.” Many people sought him out living alone in the wilderness. His spiritual counselling became famous. The knowledge of Antony depends largely on “The Life,” written soon after his death by Athanasius and translated at least twice into Latin by 379 A.D. Through the centuries Antony’s writings have inspired the development of the monastic movement, through Egypt, Europe and Russia and beyond. “The Sayings of the Fathers,” has shaped spirituality in the last hundred years, in Roman Catholic, Anglican, Protestant and Orthodox churches around the world. “A desert spirituality” can give deep faith and hope, in challenging times. Desert Spirituality produces courage and perseverance during dark times.

Reflection on Silence and listening for the whisper of God. In the wilderness Jesus did not have any human company, he chose social isolation and personal distance. In solitude he also exercised the spiritual discipline of Silence. No television, or internet and email. No WhatsApp, nor Zoom to chat on.  Jesus did not wear   earplugs for a pod cast. Why do we talk so much, obsessed with being busy?

Silence enables us to “Be still and know that I am God.” Learning to be silent in this time of “lock down” creates space in our lives to listen for God’s whisper. “What are you doing here, Elijah?” Perhaps being confined to home for weeks is a God given opportunity to reconsider our personal spiritual life and God’s purpose for our lives?  Being silent and two metres apart is new for us all. Could God be whispering, learn to be silent and really listen to those in our bubble? They may feel really valued and loved. However other voices could encourage reactions of domestic violence and child abuse!!!  Jesus heard the voice of the evil one tempting him to work a miracle, stones into bread and set up a food bank. That would draw locked down crowds away from crowded queues in Supermarkets.

Jesus responded with a quote from Deuteronomy 8:3. “It is written that man does not live by bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”  Oophs! That is counter-cultural in these days of secularism and consumerism. Covid-19 has ruined many hopes for cruises, new cars, upgraded technology. The airline and tourism industry are holding their breath. Perhaps this pandemic can give rise to a serious rethinking about the place of Spirituality in secular society.

Elijah had a major crisis and feared for his life. Today we would expect him to drive a 4WD for forty days and forty nights to escape from blood thirsty Queen Jezebel. Elijah walked and jogged in ultra-marathon style, until he reached the Holy Mountain and sheltered in a cave. In the silence he heard God’s whisper. “What are you doing here, Elijah?” Jesus’ temptations alert us to the evil voice. ‘Be busy, prove you are worthwhile. Silence raises our awareness of the temptation to make a god out of our lifestyle. Silence alerts us to the temptation of seeking popularity by any means. Do we have ears to hear the still small voice of God?

Prayer. Holy God, we praise you for the Biblical stories of Elijah and Jesus in the wilderness. We praise you for “your still small voice.” We give you thanks for your Holy Spirit alerting us to the whisper of God. We thank you for your faithful people of every century, people of deep faith, people who exercised the Spiritual Disciplines of Solitude and Silence.

God of grace and truth, we confess that we often talk too much and listen too little. We confess the temptation of being busy too often. We tend to justify our self-worth by our busyness.  We ignore regular reading the gospels of Jesus Christ. Too often we fail to listen for your gentle whisper. Too often words clutter our minds and images confuse our values.

We humbly confess that we have fallen into many temptations. Through faith in Jesus Christ we ask for your assurance of forgiveness, as you promised. Come Holy Spirit lead us into a true desert spirituality of solitude and silence. Help us to discover what on earth I am here for   on this pandemic infected planet.   Let your Kingdom come, in Jesus name. Amen

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