Harrowing Of Hell
December 17, 2017

The Sound of Silence

Preacher:  The Rev. Doyt L. Conn, Jr.

“{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 rain drops fell
And echoed In the wells of silence.”

The first live concert I saw was Simon and Garfunkel in Minneapolis with my mom and dad and sister.  I was in the fifth grade.

The Sound of Silence was sung, and words from that song have rung through my mind lately as voices unbound reveal the reality of silences repressed, silences acquiesced, silences given up, silences that have bound living souls.

Paul Simon wrote The Sound of Silence in 1964. That was 53 years ago, but the silence it speaks of is as old as silent rain drops. It is as old as the impulses that have kept victims from speaking their truth because of the repercussions they would certainly encounter.

These silences have sat heavily upon the soul of humanity for as long as bullies have been roamed the earth inflicting silence upon those they wound. Bullies drink their power from the wells of silence.

But I believe these wells are beginning to dry up. Something has shifted, some economy of scale has been achieved, some corner of the soul of this nation has had a light cast into it, and written songs, once barred from the studio of national dialogue, are now being sung, and not as solos, but as choirs, in full voice and in many parts.

And now that this conversation is finally happening, and truths are being told, silence, more than ever, needs to be noticed and attended to.

In the season of Advent when silence and waiting and patience form the pattern of our spiritual exercises, I would like us to pay attention to the power of silence, and what role it plays in our lives.

There are three silences in particular that I’d like to speak about today:

  1. The silence that needs to be broken.
  2. The silence held as a means of affirmation.
  3. And the silence in which we sit with God.

There is silence to break. There is silence by which to affirm. And there is silence with God.

We begin with the silence that needs to be broken. It is happening. It is cascading.  There is momentum.  It must continue, and it must continue without shame. Shame is the bully’s tool, used to fog a victim’s perspective. If that fog has been set upon you, let the winds of this reformation blow it away.  The light revealed will be bright, eye-blinking bright, and take some getting used to, but as you do, a new warmth will fill your soul.  It is worth it. And remember shame belongs to the bully alone.

Some will believe the reality of your stories and others will not. But either way, what was silent now must be said. The songs written, once held, must be sung.  The silence must be disturbed, so the cancer can be irradiated, and lessons learned, and arms taken, as the well of silence is drained.

I pray people will tell their stories and speak their truth.  It can be done quietlywith a spouse, or a spiritual friend, or within a small group.  Or it can be done privately with Ruth Anne or Todd or myself.  Or it can be shouted from the rooftops for all to hear.  But however it is done, if shame surfaces, give it back to the perpetrator through your story.  It is not yours to own. Shame belongs to the bully. Now is a time to celebrate breaking the silence.

But if the silence is not yours to break ,if being silenced is not part of your story, then silence is yours to hold. This brings us to silence as invitation and affirmation.

This is a silence I struggle with. I struggle to be quiet. Some may say it is my extroverted gene… maybe; but it also has to do with my embedded power and authority as a priest, and the Rector of Epiphany, and also as a studied man from a privileged background, who has been raised to believe that I have a voice that I can use, and no silence will be put upon me.

That is my experience, and it causes me to, mostly by accident, but not always, silence the voices of others. One of the key indicators of my capacity to silence others is measured by the number of times I have the last word in a conversation.  If you don’t know the power of your own voice, start counting up the number of times you have the last word in a conversation. The last word measures one’s power to silence.

In this time of celebrating the breaking of silence it is important for many of us to remain silent; to let our silence be an affirming silence; to let our silence be an inviting silence; to let our silence be a sign that we are willing to sit in the discomfort of our complicity, however that may have played out through the privilege of our power.  This may be a time for many of us to hold a listening silence.

The spiritual discipline of Advent has prepared us. And even though Advent may be short in this calendar year, figuratively speaking, the season of Advent we are entering into will be very long; as long as it needs to be to change our culture from one that represses with silence to one where silence is always broken in response to the bully.

We can stay in Advent as long as we must, because as practitioners of the liturgical cycle, we know our Lord will come to usher in a new day when bullies no longer drink their power from the wells of silence. But now, in this long season of Advent, for those of us without stories to tell, we let our silence be a listening and supportive silence that creates a safe space for others to tell their story.

Finally, there is silence in which we sit with God.  This is a silence that is available to all.  It is the silence, the deep silence, of simply being in the presence of God transformed into a listening being.

In this deep silence we hear the echo of God.  Scientsts say the universe has a sound rumbling through all creation at 57 octaves below Middle C. I imagine it as a sweet, deep sound like the bass voice of the town crier calling out: “I hear you.  I am singing to your soul.  The sound of your life is sweet music to me.  I am here.  I am with you. I love you.”  That is the rumble of our God.

Listen for this rumble in your daily prayers.  Pray in silence as a spiritual exercise into this deep quiet. It belongs both to those breaking silence, and those affirming silence…after all, we are all beloved by God.

And if spiritual exercise of silence is difficult for you, I encourage you to practice silence with Pieter Drummond, who leads mediation here Wednesday and Friday mornings. I also invite you to practice silence by attending the silent retreats we have here a few times a year.

When we connect with God in silence we are better able to connect with each other.  When we listen for God, our capacity to speak and to affirm is magnified. Seek the silence in which you meet God.

There is silence to break. There is silence with which to affirm. There is silence through which to seek God.

And I wonder why is it now that silences, broken, affirmed, and sought are taking center stage?  What has provoked the courage of so many to finally speak out? And why are they being heard and believed now, when just a year ago they weren’t? Has the time of The Sound of Silence run its course; has it been overthrown?

I am an optimist, I would to say it has; and yet I know there will be many powerful forces that work against this trend; there will be many powerful forces that seek to silence women again.

Structures have been built since communities were formed that use silence as a tool for retaining power. That demon will not die easily. But I believe, the one who calls us faithful is doing a new thing. (1 Thess 5:24).

I believe we are at the front edge of a Beloved Reformation at work in the world through the power of the Holy Spirit.  And that power is greater than the demon’s silence. And that power is greater that the fog of repression. And that power is greater than any bully pulpit that could ever be built.

The light is shining forth through us to give us the power to blow away the fog, to drain the well, to stand up to the bully. And we do all of this in the name of Jesus Christ; God incarnate; God in the world.

For some of us that means breaking silence;
for some of us that means keeping silence;

And for all of us it means letting our souls listen deeply for the silent rumbling love of God.