For everything, there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: . . . a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
From the Book of Ecclesiastics
There seems to be a power to silence that allows us to focus on the “still, small voice” of God that reveals the true nature of life, but only as we learn to be silent.
Our modern life is filled with so many sounds, starting from the time we wake up: our commute to work with earplugs dangling from our heads; our workdays filled with beeps and blips from computer screens; evenings in front of the TV or play-stations; noise, noise, noise . . . everywhere.
I am so fed-up hearing blaring cell phones going off every few minutes with clanging bells, Beethoven’s Fifth or the Mexican Hat Dance in every conceivable place on earth – restaurants, malls, walking down the street, on airplanes AND YES, even in bathrooms – dumb conversations we are forced to sometimes overhear.
Our world is filled with sounds not just for our ears, but our lives are filled with all kinds of “noise” polluting our minds as well. We are people who are suffering from sensory overload.
Now if anybody needed to be connected to his world and work, it was Our Lord Jesus Christ. But even Jesus had the habit of pulling away from the crowd, to be quiet and find time to be alone and to pray.
Once, when Jesus perceived that the people were about to come and take Him by force to make Him king, “He departed again to the mountain by Himself, to be alone.” (John 6:15)
Jesus saw the need to regularly be alone with His Father to strengthen His soul.
There is a story about an old man who would sit in a church for hours in front of the icon of Jesus without saying a word. When asked about this, the old man replied, “I look at Him, and He looks at me, and we are happy together.”
I can attest that one of the most calming and spiritually uplifting moments I ever had was when I was a student as the seminary in Holy Etchmiadzin. One evening, I found myself alone in the Cathedral just after everyone had left. There were only candles lighting the sanctuary, the fragrance of incense still lingering in the air, and the sounds of small birds flying around the Cathedral dome.
I sat at the back of the church quietly gazing upon the holy altar, the holy cross, the icon painting of the holy mother of God, and began to feel the love and presence of the Holy Spirit of God encompassing my entire being. I truly felt God was there with me.
We all can realize that same experience when we attend our Holy Badarak if we learn how to focus on what is being offered to us.
If during Badarak, I simply stood before you, raised the Gospel in your presence, and held it there without speaking a word, would you be able to focus and feel the presence of God before you? You should.
Just before the choir sings the announcement and prayer of Soorp Asdvadz, we hold high the Gospel of Jesus Christ before the gathered faithful and the world. We acknowledge the presence of God amongst us for the Deacon instructs PAY ATTENTION – BROSKHOOMEH.
We then declare and pray:
Holy God, Holy and Mighty, Holy and Immortal,
who rose from the dead,
and then we ask God to
have mercy upon us.
These words are the Church’s pronouncement and affirmation of what is to be also your belief in Jesus Christ as the Son of God. It is your open declaration as an Armenian Christian. Let that sink in for a moment.
The power of silence and stillness in our lives cannot be overlooked, especially when we understand that God gives us the gift of life each day to do the important, spiritual, and internal work that is to lead us to an enhanced, fuller life.
Stillness presents us with a powerful challenge to our modern lives that seems to be measured by our busyness rather than by our holiness. But a few lessons we can learn from silence:
First: The truth is that words alone will never be able to really convey our need or our love for God.
St. Paul, quoting the Old Testament prophet Isaiah, told the Corinthian Church: “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him.” (1 Corinthians 2:9).
We will never be able to really enter into the mystery of God’s love for us until we are confronted with our own inadequacy to reach God on our own terms. Being quiet before Him gives us the opportunity to confront this inadequacy.
Second: If all our communications with God is one-sided, babbling our desires into His ears, then how will we be able to hear him when he responds?
The Old Testament prophet Elijah learned that God was speaking to him during a particularly difficult time in his ministry “ . . . in a still, small voice.” (1 Kings 19:12) Sometimes God does the same to us.
This is why we need listen for the “still, small voice” which forces us to be quiet and
stop the incessant speaking or complaining to God, at least for a while. We are no longer to make ourselves the center of attention, but a listener to the wisdom of God and His loving communication with us.
A very learned Franciscan monk, Fr. Benedict Groeschel, a teacher, mentor and friend to a number of our older Armenian priests – especially to our St Nersess Seminary alumni, – wrote a beautiful book entitled Listening at Prayer. He tells us that in our prayer life there comes a time when we simply must be still, be quiet, and listen for the response by God.
Finally: Silence allows us the time and the space, to leave a place where we are constantly asking God for something, and to go to a place where we actually allow ourselves to learn to love Him for Himself and not for what He can give us.
It is the self-centered notion that our voice, our needs, and our desires are of paramount importance that keeps us enslaved to a small spiritual life. But silence allows us the time to truly think and meditate on the beauties of Christ and His love for us.
My suggestion is that during your next attendance at Badarak, take a few moments to quiet your minds in front of your vision or image of Christ. Don’t empty your mind as some Eastern mystical religions teach, but fill your mind with the face of Jesus and allow His presence, which is always as close as your very breath, to teach you how to silence the noise of life and “tune in” to that “still, small voice” that longs to teach you the Truth of eternal life. Be silent in words but sing joyously in spirit.