Monday, December 18, 2017

A Quaker Advent Reader: Day Sixteen -- "Silence, God's Presence, and Advent"

Biblical parallels. I've been thinking about them a lot this season -- especially when it seems like all sorts of parallels are being made between the worlds in the Old Testament and the New -- to point to Jesus' coming. Still, I thought of a parallel that I don't think I've seen anybody else has drawn -- and that is between Jesus and Elijah and caves (hmmm, perhaps that's a tri-allel).

But it occurred to me, that Jesus was probably born in a cave (mangers in that day and place often put in caves) and Elijah hiding out in one. And how silence infused them both.

Yes, silence.

Silence speaks – yes, speaks, oddly enough – to a hunger evident in our culture. Just look at the rising interest in silent retreats and contemplative reading. Something in our souls tells us that getting quiet is a good way to meet God. That is something the prophet Elijah discovered. When he needed to hear God, the Lord told him:

“Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.”

Now Elijah was not a Quaker, though we would be happy to claim him (but only if he repented of killing the 800 prophets of Baal – hardly a Quaker act). Come to think of it, maybe Elijah was the first Friend. He learned that God was in “a gentle whisper.” What Elijah’s story teaches us lies at the heart of Friends silence. Quaker silence is about the real presence of Christ being with us in an intimate way. Quaker silence encourages us to relax so deeply in the love of God that we hear the Spirit’s voice whispering softly in our soul’s ear.

And that is "the silence of eternity" that Whittier spoke of -- a silence experienced by Elijah and those who stopped by the manger in the cave. At that manger they experienced a holiness that awed them into stillness and silence which is the only appropriate response to being in the presence of the Divine.

And in that silence, they heard in their souls the words echoing down eternity's way "`et in terra pax hominibus, bonae voluntatis." "On earth peace, good will toward all humankind."

It is my hope during this season that I put aside the rush of life and any expectation of hearing God amidst the busyness. I need to wait quietly by the cave of my soul for the Eternal presence.

Yes, I know that Quakers don't recognize liturgical seasons. But I like Advent and so will be sharing various readings during this season (all of which fit with my understanding of Friends faith and life).  

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