Many people my age, on hearing the passage from the Book of Ecclesiastes that says “to everything there is a season,” break out singing Turn Turn Turn Turn! The Byrds, who put that text to music for my generation, were singing about how we all try to make sense of the issues of our time and make peace with being mortal. There is a time to be born, a time to die, a time to plant and a time to pluck up. A time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance. We sing and pray and live these truths and we have to keep repeating them because it is still very hard to swallow that there is a season for everything and nothing lasts forever.
The phrases from that song/text that are haunting me these days are these: “A time to keep silence and a time to speak. A time to love and a time to hate.”
There is so much talking going on and so much hate. So much silence and yes, thank goodness, so much love as well. If anyone ever thought that politics and religion should not mix or that some things are best left well enough alone, they are certainly put to the test now, in our mixed up and very vocal culture. Social media, including lovely blogs like this one, never mind FaceBook, Twitter, Snapchat etc., have us all chatting up a storm and sometimes forgetting the age old wisdom of “a time to keep silence.” We seem compelled to broadcast live who and what we love and hate as though saying it out loud gives our emotions validity. If I say it, it must be true. So there! End of story. Of course what actually happens is that the story just grows and morphs and after a long enough time it is very hard to cleanly say what is truth and what is fiction.
These past weeks in our Gospel readings at my church, we heard about two different religious and political parties who ganged up against Jesus trying to trip him up in his own words. Jesus must have been very astute with his own Bible studies because, without using the words “for every season,” he was able to quiet them all enough so that they could hear a pin drop and, even more than hearing a pin, they could hear themselves. Deftly he played back to them the tone and the hidden messages that they were putting out and then he turned the volume up so they could recognize themselves. The stories end with this line “No one was able to give him an answer, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions.”
I don’t take this to mean that Jesus thought that questioning was a wrong thing. In fact, he loved to answer questions with more questions. I think that his love for his questioners, even when they hated or feared him, was so strong that being in his presence helped them go silent, not to censure, but to center. Not to “keep the peace,” but to bring peace, self-awareness, and truth.
Listening to Jesus, I have come to believe that what is missing most from our current culture clashing is this: respectful silence. Listening to each other not for our truth to be spoken but for an opening where something new might be heard. A faithful stance that says “to everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose.”
I am making time for silence in my life. I am monitoring how much chatter I am engaging in and how much space I am allowing to gather in my mind and heart. Trusting that Christ, the light of my life, is powerful enough to silence my fear and anxiety and hatred so that I can relax and engage with those who provoke me only when the time is right for engagement. After all, wise old Ecclesiastes also says “there is a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing.” It is time for me to both sharpen up and soften up my vision and hearing skills so that I can hear and see the other side of the equation. There is a time for silence.
Photo by Marguerite Sheehan.
About Marguerite Sheehan
Rev. Marguerite Sheehan is a United Church of Christ pastor presently serving Trinity Church, an ecumenical church in Shelburne Falls MA. She blogs at reverendmarguerite.wordpress.com and also writes a pastoral column for the Shelburne Falls West County Independent newspaper. She is a pastor, preacher, wife, lesbian feminist, mother, friend and grandmother.