Focus: a different Sound of Silence
Amos rails about injustice,ingrained cheating of the poor merchants selling less for more by dishonest weights. Pseudo Paul writes about … completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions … having just written that Christ’s work is all sufficient. And Martha still gets miffed at Mary for sitting at Jesus’ feet, while she goes about doing the expected, the mandatory work of hospitality. And of course there should be the news from last week, but at this point I can’t remember any of it. No, what has my attention is silence. As soon as the idea of the differing silences in Amos and Luke, came to mind, Simon and Garfunkle’s Sound of Silence echoed through my mind. I googled the lyrics. [ I played it for the congregation]
Hello darkness, my old friend
I’ve come to talk with you again
Because a vision softly creeping
Left its seeds while I was sleeping
And the vision that was planted in my brain
Within the sound of silence
In restless dreams I walked alone
Narrow streets of cobblestone
‘Neath the halo of a street lamp
I turned my collar to the cold and damp
When my eyes were stabbed by the flash of a neon light
That split the night
And touched the sound of silence
And in the naked light I saw
Ten thousand people, maybe more
People talking without speaking
People hearing without listening|
People writing songs that voices never share
And no one dared
Disturb the sound of silence
“Fools”, said I, “You do not know
Silence like a cancer grows
Hear my words that I might teach you
Take my arms that I might reach you”
But my words, like silent raindrops fell
In the wells of silence
And the people bowed and prayed
To the neon god they made
And the sign flashed out its warning
In the words that it was forming
And the sign said,
“The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls
And tenement halls”
And whispered in the sounds of silence [i]
The opening verse is always haunting, for I have often been inspired in a nap. I’ve even been known to take a nap in search of softly creeping visions.
The third verse’s imagery of people talking without speaking, or hearing without listening, or writing songs that voices never share all because no one [dares] disturb the sound of silence. is frighteningly relevant. We live in a culture: where leaders will not speak the truth, because they fear retribution, not in general elections, but in the eccentric primaries; or where preachers hold back, in fear for their pulpits. Or doctors don’t speak, because they are afraid to say ‘death.’ It is telling that in the coverage of Nelson Mandela’s illness and birthday no one has said the word ‘death’ which everyone knows is inevitable, if for no other reason than he is 95; but no one ~ disturbs the sound of silence.
And even when the few brave speak their words, like silent raindrops [fall] … in the wells of silence. Like many, like most, I’ve demeaned Edward Snowden’s actions, and folks railing against him contrasting security against security procedures, but never pondering the possibility of prophetic work, all the while wondering why we don’t get equally enraged by the massive data collection activates of Google, Face Book, Axiom, Credit Bureaus etc…
In the meantime, we all go tripping along paying homage the latest god des jours, this sport’s personality, that celebrity, another advertising selling character, the latest techno billionaire; so distracted, we blithely pass by all the prophetic warnings written on the subway walls and tenement halls, [only] whispered in the sounds of silence.
Sound of Silence is largely a reflection on human behavior. Amos points to a silence that is the consequences of human behavior. The famine is coming, then God’s word will no longer be heard. Even when Israel seeks God’s counsel, it will not be heard. All they will know, is the sound of silence; a silence born of silence. I have known times when I could not hear God’s voice, but that was because I was hearing without listening. I expect many of you know similar times. I expect you know the chilling effect of silence, born of our actions. I cannot imagine the depths of silence, born of God turning away, of God ceasing to speak; no word at all, neither through dreams, nor music, nor poetry, nor through priests nor prophets nor kings. Sheer sacrilegus silence.
[a ten count silence]
And then, there is Mary. We all know she is sitting at Jesus’ feet. We all know Martha is furious, because she won’t get up and help. We all, at least I suspect, we all imagine Mary sitting cross legged, head tilted to one side, slightly back, eyes in glazed admiration, her face all aglow in blissful adoration. We have forgotten that in that day to sit at another’s feet, is primarily for the purpose of learning. All teaching was oral, there were no books, or they were very, very rare; so teachers spoke, and students, sat at their feet, and listened. And adult students listened, to become teachers, to spread the teachings of their teacher. Paul became a Pharisee by sitting at the feet of Rabbi Gamalile; [ii] who, curiously enough, when Jesus was brought before the Sanhedrim counseled moderation and calmness. [iii] Back to the point; Mary is sitting at Jesus feet to learn, to become a teacher, to share Jesus’ teachings.
My connection is that moment when you are in rapt attention, absorbing not just the words, but the very essence of the gleaning offered, frequently in rapt silence. It is through such silence that the sounds of silence are whisked away in whispered wonder the Kingdom of God is here! And since we know God’s ear is never totally turned away (yes there was the exile, but, there was also the return,) we know sheer sacrilegus silence gives way to the sounds of shredded sack cloth, and the profound prayers of God’s people discovering they are beloved, discovering they are home, discovering they are sent out to share the Good News that shatters the sounds of silence.
Welcome happy morning my dear friend, it’s good to greet you once again …
[i] Lyricsfreak.com © 2009
[ii] Twelve Months of Sundays, Years A, B and C, Tom Wright, 2000, SPCK
[iii] Easton’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Matthew George Easton
Illustrated Bible Dictionary: And Treasury of Biblical History Biography, Geography, Doctrine, and Literature.