The value of silence

Last weekend we facilitated our 13th yearly silent retreat. Yes…silent. We talk through the process on Friday night and then go into silence with a worship and stay in silence until after a personal celebration of the Lord’s Supper on Sunday morning.

In the pre-retreat information we send out, we tell folks that they will be surprised at how difficult it is to come out of silence. Many don’t believe us–until they experience it, and then they agree that it is truly difficult to do.

Even though we don’t speak during that time, there is a lot of interaction that goes on. Nonverbal communication can say a lot–sometimes far more than when we use words.

So what do we do?

We share in worship together. We have opportunity to enjoy the beauty of nature. We can just sit and “be”… We take time to listen to God. We pray for–and with–each other. We read (whatever we want). It’s not just a time of sitting and twiddling your thumbs.

Our biggest challenge isn’t in getting people to come back to the retreats. It’s in getting them there in the first place.

I think the thought of silence panics many of us. We’re so used to being busy…running from this place to that…worrying about all the things that we think we have to get done…stewing about various family issues… What on earth are we going to do when all of that isn’t part of our day?

But maybe that’s part of our contemporary problem. We’re afraid to be by ourselves…afraid to listen for (and talk with) God–maybe afraid there’s no one there? or afraid we might get scolded? And so we drown out what we’re afraid of by the noise we make for ourselves. And for some of us, silence has been used in an abusive way.

But God–or whatever name you call the One who created us–loves us, even more than we love our children. We embrace them, even when we may not be happy with what they’ve done. We want to hold them…wrap them in love…encourage them. Why do we think our Creator would do any different?

Silence gives us a chance to see with new eyes…to hear with new ears.

There’s a statement in Psalm 46:10 that is really the foundation for these retreats (the first line is the specific statement; the rest provides more of the foundation):

Be still and know I am God.
Be still and know I am…
Be still and know…
Be still…
Be…

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Saying good-bye

Good-byes are never easy. Sometimes they’re not as difficult because you know you’ll see the person again, even if it’s not going to be right away.

But some are much harder. The final “good-bye” is the hardest of all.

Even some of them are less difficult…especially if the person has lived a long, full life and is at the point of being ready. My parents were both like that. My father was alert and cogent right up to the day before he died. My mother was less so–she struggled with dementia, but again, was still able to have fairly cogent conversations until close to her death.

But this morning I took part in one of those difficult good-byes. Velma Tyson was four years younger than I am. I know that I’m entering into the older years of life–but to see someone I know die at the age of 62 is a rather vivid reminder!

Velma was an extremely gifted musician…a piano teacher…accompanist for the Independence Messiah Choir for 30+ years…accompanist for the Jacomo Chorale…and involved with many other music groups that I’m not aware of. While I didn’t know her well, we had a friendly relationship, and I always appreciated her smile and warm greetings.

About 18 months ago, she was diagnosed with cancer. She fought it–and was apparently beating it surgically. But–as is often the case–chemo and radiation were recommended as follow-up treatment to ensure no stray cells…and it seems that she had issues with those treatments that caused her to die far too soon.

Her funeral this morning was a celebration of life–hers, but even more important, her relationship with the One who created her. Everything she did was an extension of her faith…and her trust in the goodness of the Creator. There were lots of stories…tears and laughter…

And at the end, there was a sending forth in praise. I had been asked to play for however many members of the Independence Messiah Choir and Jacomo Chorale who could be there to send us out with a rousing performance of Handel’s wonderful “Hallelujah Chorus.” With her service being on a work day, we didn’t know how many people would be there…but about 50 were able to join in that performance. And yes, it was a performance…but also a testimony on behalf of Velma.

Hallelujah!…and good-bye to a life well lived.

Do the most toys win?

There’s a saying that I’ve heard a lot of times…the one with the most toys wins. But is that really true?

Sure, it’s fun looking…and buying…and deciding something is truly a need…and buying…and thinking that you really want something…and buying… But then the problems start coming. Where are you going to put everything? You work and work to find room in your house–and when it gets full, you think about buying a bigger house for all your “stuff.” Then somebody has to dust it (unless you decide that dust is really a protective coating!)…and you have to figure out how to walk around all the things.

If (when) you move, someone has to pack up everything…carefully…and then arrange for it to be moved…and unpacked…and arranged…and re-arranged…. And then the process is likely to start again.

If you’re not careful, it turns into hoarding, and it becomes the focus of your life rather than relationships.

Besides, it’s always easier for stuff to get moved into your house than it is for it to be moved out! Once it arrives, it puts out hooks and attaches itself firmly to wherever you put it.

So is the person with the most toys really a winner?

I don’t think so. Of course, it depends on your definition of “winning.” But I think of one of the things that Jesus said–that where your treasure is, that’s where your heart is also going to be. Do I want my treasure to be in my things? or in my connections with people? What (and who) do I worship?

“End time” thinking and me…

There’s going to be a blood moon tonight–a complete lunar eclipse. This isn’t particularly unusual…but what is somewhat unusual is that it’s the first of four eclipses in a row that will be visible from North America…and this one is occurred while the Earth, Mars, the sun, and the moon are all aligned.

Because of all of that, there’s been a lot of talk about this being the beginning of “the end times”–the end of the world.

This isn’t unusual. There’s always a lot of talking about “the end times” whenever something unusual (at least, unusual to us!) occurs astronomically. We always seem to be ready to find some religious significance in events that are not part of our usual activity.

Yes, I know there are lots of scriptures. Matthew 24:29-31 talks about a time when the sun and moon will be dark, the stars will fall from the sky, and other heavenly bodies will be shaken. Luke 21:11 talks about earthquakes and famines. Other scriptures talk about how horribly people will treat each other.

And so, every time there’s an unusual astronomical event, these scriptures get pulled out by many who seem to live by what I would call a fearful Christianity.

But there are also other scriptures that talk about no one knowing when the end of time will be. NO one.

One of the things that distresses me about these “discussions” is that they always seem to focus on making sure that one has the right beliefs so that they can be saved. There’s not a lot of concern about others who may not be part of one’s own community.

And that just seems so wrong to me.

The way I read Christ’s mission, he was concerned about people’s lives in the here and now. Were they at peace–both with themselves and with others? Were they in right relationships? Were they living in ways that bring wholeness and reconciliation? He came to show people that God cared (and cares) for each one, no matter their religion, their economic status, their gender, or any of the other things that we allow to bring divisions between us.

If this particular event were to be the beginning of the “end times,” what difference would it make in my life? Would I change how I behave? my daily activities?

I hope not. I would like to think that I am living in a way that it doesn’t matter when the end time comes, whether it’s the eschatatological end times…or whether it’s my own mortality. Because in the end, it really doesn’t matter. The end times are going to come for each of us, and–at least to my way of thinking and understanding my faith tradition of Christianity–if I am truly living out what I believe, then I have no reason to worry. Not because I know I’m believing the correct beliefs to be saved…but because I’m doing my best to share what I understand to be God’s love with others in ways that bring healing and wholeness…shalom…in my interactions with them…and them with me.

 

Lives well lived…

There were two memorial services today. Not funerals–but celebrations of life.

The women involved were 30 years apart in age, but both touched a significant number of lives, and that was obvious in the celebrations.

One was my 94-year-old aunt. I wrote about her right after she died, and today was her celebration. One thing about our family–in every situation like this, yes, there are tears. But there is also laughter–so many stories to share! So many wonderful memories! And that was true again today. All of us who were her family had similar memories of her energy, her involvement in life, the ways she touched people’s lives in such a variety of ways–and we all remembered her as our energizer bunny! As we shared, we dabbed at our eyes…we sniffed back tears…and we laughed. Oh, we laughed! And we learned a little more about her–there was a flower arrangement that had been sent by her boyfriend…something we hadn’t known about.

The other was a 62-year-old friend. We had just begun to make connections with her and her husband at a retirement workshop we all attended last fall. But before that relationship could develop, she was diagnosed with the cancer that eventually took her life. She had also elected as pastor right before her diagnosis and was not able to fulfill that function in the way she had hoped to. But despite that, she touched lives. I wasn’t able to attend her service–but friends who were there have said that it was a wonderful service that Joan planned herself. There was sharing…there were children’s moments…there were tears and laughter.

Both women touched lives. They were active in their communities…their church…their families. And both of them truly deserved the praise of “Well done, good and faithful servant.” Thank God for women like Aunt D and Joan.