For anyone who knows me, I have many things I am passionate about – and when I say passionate about, I mean I arc up about them, I speak up about them, feel strongly about them, speak strongly about, enter into dynamic and sometimes heated conversations about them.
For many of you, you know what these are. If you don’t, not to worry – I’m sure there’s plenty of time.
But we all have these things. We all have these things about which we want to stand up and say “No, I’m done listening to this. This is awful. This is unjust. This is not ok.” We all have things that we wish to speak up about, to yell about, to fight back against. I know this feeling well. I do.
It doesn’t always solve a problem though, does it? Yelling and screaming, ranting and raving. Years ago I entered into a heated conversation with someone who stood completely opposite of the fence to me on a subject that I have felt strongly about for a very long time. Just a differing of opinion. And yet, he was standing firm and strong and noisily in what he believed to be right, and I felt attacked. I felt as though my opinions did not matter whatsoever – and to be honest, in that moment to that person, they probably didn’t. He stood so closely to his view, willing to humiliate and hurt someone else to prove himself right.
So, I did what I normally did back then in that situation, and ran and cried. Now, this was 5 years ago – I had just started my college journey, my theology and my opinions were being slandered, I was being attacked by an intimidatingly large male figure, and it was scary. I was afraid.
“Complain if you must, but don’t lash out.
Keep your mouth shut, and let your heart do the talking,” is what the Psalm says today.
The reality is that we are human – we feel deeply, strongly – for good reason. We see things on the television and are saddened and angered. We experience hurt and grief and loss; we feel love; we are immersed in joy.
Which is wonderful.
However, we often don’t know what to do with it…
In reading the Psalm this week, I found myself feeling uncomfortable with one verse in particular.
“Be angry,[b] and do not sin;
ponder in your own hearts on your beds, and be silent.”
Any clues as to why I pushed back against this verse in particular?
Be angry, ponder in your own hearts, and be silent.
If we feel passionate about something, why should we be silent?
Why should we sit on our own and be silent about it? Obviously if there’s something that is touching our protective layers and forcing us to respond, it is worth responding to – so why not get angry!? Why not speak up against the threat?!
So, when I raised this in the Bible Study this week, the gorgeous Bible Study ladies gave me some wise advice.
“Perhaps its about sitting with it for a bit… Resting… Pondering… So that when you do respond you can have a conversation and not scream and shout and yell.”
And I was reminded of the conversation that upset me years ago. If we are not level headed in response, we stoop to the level of those that are pushing against us. We are not only being hurt, we are ones who are causing hurt. So, we must sit in silence.
The silence can be transformative. Within the silence of prayer, of meditation, we can be radically changed.
We are not changed so we don’t care about what is bothering us. We are not changed so our voice is weaker or not valuable.
We take time out – we rest in it – we breathe with it, so that we can respond in a way that will be heard, that will bring value and worth to the experience, not diminish it.
In going back to the example at the beginning, if I had responded in kind to the person who belittled me, if I had responded in kind and attacked him personally and made him vulnerable, I would have been as hurtful and hard and callous as him. Going away and thinking about it, reflecting on it, sitting with it for a bit, mulling it over, praying about it gives us the space to work out what to do with it.
So we can stand up and say clearly and strongly, “No, I’m done with you treating people this way.” We can stand up and make our voice be heard for good, rather than stooping to the level of those who hurt and cause pain.
Having come through the contemplative and transformative time of Easter, we can recognise that we can be radically changed. In the silence we are given an opportunity to reflect on our new identity in Christ, and choose to live out of that new identity. We are able to find a sense of hope, and we can reflect on what that might look like.
Is our Christian hope based on how nice we are, or how well we behave, or is it being grounded in something, and living out of a love and a voice of truth? Are we just doing good deeds to get brownie points, or are we seeking a life that is connected to a reality that is relational and of love?
If we spend time in the silence, if we spend time in reflection, we open ourselves to listening. Bonhoeffer says: “It’s not just that for which we ourselves want to pray that is important, but that for which God wants us to pray… Not the poverty of our heart, but the richness of God’s word, ought to determine our prayer.”
After the conversation I had several years ago, after reflecting on it, I came to the conclusion that I didn’t actually need to talk to him about it at all. I did however need to talk to others about it – to clarify my views in my own mind, to know that I am not alone in believing what I do and holding onto the ideas and the ideals that I am so passionate about. In the silence, I heard that to develop and grow myself, I had to talk about it – not argue about it, but learn about the differing opinions surrounding all kinds of topics. To learn about the different opinons, to enter into safe and respectful conversations with others. And that’s what Christianity, in my opinion, is about – creating safe and nurturing spaces for conversation and dialogue in a respectful and comfortable way. It’s about relationship. About finding space to nurture self within the chaos of everyday life; about finding space to relate to people and interact with people. To form relationship with people.
To constantly and consistently turn toward God in prayer, in reading of the Scripture, in conversations with people. In the reading of this Psalm for example, we are immersed in the richness of God’s word, a word that speaks to us anew, a word that direct our emotions towards God. We learn how to pray by praying the words of the Psalm, words that come from outside of us, to within us. Words that sustain us and ground us. Words that create a stillness and a silence that can be transformative if we allow it to.
It’s what we do with that silence that determines how we live, and what we live out of.
It goes against our human nature to wait with the uncomfortable emotions, allowing ourselves to feel the awkward feelings, and sit with them. To be still, to wait, to be patient, is to give up control of the situation and just be present in the moment, just be. Waiting and trusting is hard work. It’s uncomfortable. But it’s the work that the Psalmist speaks about as making us open to receive joy from elsewhere, from the Spirit of God – a disruptive moment that doesn’t quite fit into the plans of our lives, our justice ideals, can then be flipped around to bring peace to the moment of distress. A peace that is not simplistic, not a solution, but a sense of this is what is. What will I do with it now.
The final verse sums it all up for me, I have to say. He lies down and sleeps knowing he is safe. Not happy, not comfortable, not with everything sorted and wrapped up in a nice little package with a pretty red bow. The issues are not resolved and haven’t disappeared, but in reflecting and sitting calmly, in handing over to God what we must hand over, we can finally sleep, rest.
So, what can we do with this? What do we do after we have rested and reflected? Well, we speak. We confront. We can think of creative ways to use our voice for good, and speak up against injustice. We do not sit idly by.
The silence brings strength, the silence brings courage, the silence brings a settling of spirit, and a space to say what needs to be said.
I invite you now to sit in the silence. To spend a few minutes in silence, and reflect on what might be sitting uncomfortably within you. And to simply sit with it. And then afterwards perhaps think about what you might possibly be able to do with it.