Advent Reflections: Silence (Week 2)
Thanks to Urban Skye Project
for sharing the advent series with Ruminate.
Thin Places are cultivated through our inner world.
God’s 400 years of silence is broken with good news to an old priest doing his priestly duty. The irony is that more silence must follow.
Out of the 18,000 priests and Levites in Palestine in his day, Zechariah was chosen by lot to offer the evening incense in the Temple, an honor that can never be repeated. Zechariah was thinking, perhaps, that it was enough just to be chosen, but the real honor was yet to come: an angelic messenger reveals God’s will for the world to Zechariah in the Holiest place of the Jewish world.
That’s hard to believe, even as you’re face down before the angel. The difficult part of the message was not that God was about to intersect humanity in a dramatic way, it was that Zechariah and his future family were at the axis of the intersection. The priest questioned. Gabriel disciplined. And the world began to change.
Like a nine month “time-out”, Zechariah is placed in the corner unable to speak or to hear. The most remarkable attribute of this old priest is that his heart is filled more with gratitude than guilt. His silence is imposed by the angel as a disciplinary action – and you can be sure he thought long and hard about his initial lack of faith - yet his reflection produced healing and direction.
With Zechariah out of our view for the whole pregnancy, you wonder how he spent his days without sound? He must have noticed things as if seeing them for the first time. We hear that to take away one sense is to heighten another. Imagine the pleasures of touch, smell and sight magnified. Imagine his old hand daily on his old wife’s belly as it grew larger with their son. Zechariah’s awareness of God, of life, of little things as well as big must have become acute. Prayer would have been his primary language as he experienced the joys of reflective silence. This was a thin place gift.
Zechariah did have one big decision to make: the name for his son. We may miss the significance of this. We may feel the pressure of a family name, but in the Ancient Near East an alternative name was less of an option; the firstborn son took the name from the father’s family. Also, the community often had an active role in naming. No one in the family was ever named “John” (Yahweh has shown favor), so Zechariah must make a counter cultural choice to follow the direction of the angel.
His obedience to God was cultivated in his thin place. He demonstrated solidarity with his wife, Elizabeth, by writing on a tablet, “His name is John!” The community is amazed, his tongue is loosed and he breaks forth into song:
By the tender mercy of our God,
The dawn from on high will break upon us,
To give light to those who sit in darkness
and in the shadow of death,
To guide our feet into the way of peace. (see Luke 1:67-79)
The Celtic Way: Rhythmic Prayer
The Celts prayed in ways that were natural to their context. They created prayers in response to everyday living: for waking and sleeping, for work and for rest, for catching fish or stirring the embers of a fire. In this way they sustained continuity between themselves and God through the natural rhythms of their day. They also practiced The Daily Office, a cycle of daily prayers that was seen as the essential rhythm of life.
Cultivating Your Thin Place
We picture Zechariah with a heightened rhythm of prayer during his months of silence. Reflective silence and prayer may be the most counter-cultural of all spiritual disciplines during the busy Christmas season. We offer two ways this second week of Advent to help us (re)discover a rhythm of prayer.
1. Practice The Daily Office. Find prayers for morning and evening or use these from The Celtic Way of Prayer (Esther De Waal) and Celtic Daily Prayer. A Celtic Daily Office can be found online at www.northumbriacommunity.org
Christ, as a light
Illumine and guide me.
Christ, as a shield
This day be within and without me,
Lowly and meek, yet all-powerful.
Be in the heart of each to whom I speak;
In the mouth of each who speaks to me.
The Sacred Three
My fortress be
Come and be round
My hearth and my home.
2. A Caim or encircling prayer is especially helpful when you don’t know what to pray. Caim is a Gaelic word for “circle”. As you pray, draw a circle with your finger over yourself or another to symbolize the encircling love of God. See the contrast between light and darkness and create your own caim prayers.
Circle ______, Lord Circle ______, Lord
keep light near keep peace within
and darkness afar. keep evil out
Finally, we don’t want to miss the act that loosed Zechariah’s tongue: deciding to break tradition when naming his son. Is there a decision that you fear may not be well received? Are you being led toward something that may be seen as counter cultural? Use time in reflective prayer to ask God’s clarity, strength and leading.
May I have the courage today
To live the life that I would love,
To postpone my dream no longer
But do at last what I came here for
And waste my heart on fear no more.
“A Morning Offering”,
John O’Donahue, Bless the Space Between Us
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