The Sound of Sheer Silence!

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I’ve been wondering about finding God in the darkness, not at the top of mountains, but in the valleys and trenches of war and violence, in the darkness of unkindness and rejection, when our souls shut down and our spirits are overwhelmed with despair and weariness.  Our prayer instead becomes: ‘How long O Lord, how long?’ 

The text in Mark 9:2-10 describes a mountaintop revelation of God, where we see beyond the curtain separating heaven and earth.  The Transfiguration of our Lord which we celebrate on the first Sunday in August, reveals Jesus’ divinity, and it becomes a moment we can hang onto when all around us is dark, when God is telling us to listen rather than to see.  The description in Mark echoes Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14, with Jesus clothed in dazzling white, blinding in its brightness, hard to see.  On mountaintops, it all seems unreal; we know we must descend.   The beauty and harshness of the world is seen and known differently in the valleys.

Remembering such lightness and the experience of comfort which comes with the light, chasing the shadows away is so important; whereas in the dark places of the cloud such experiences seem unreal.  Echoes and memories of comfort, expressions of faith in the face of darkness, in the valleys and trenches, are seen as unrealistic and naïve.  No more unending, exhausting bright-eyed optimism and joy please: we say, it’s too hard to live with on a daily basis.  I want to talk to a God who knows pain intimately, shares my suffering and with whom I can speak without explaining myself.  God who holds my hand in the darkness, who weeps with me and who dies with me; in the bomb shelters, on the operating table, in the women’s refuge, in the bedrooms of abuse, in the noise of empty, meaningless modern living and in the loneliness of old age. And then I can remember and imagine the mountaintops, once again. 

Mark’s ideas of revelation come from Isaiah, who had been exiled, along with the battered, broken remnant of Judah, and who declares:

Have you not known? Have you not heard?  Has it not been told you from the beginning?  Have you not understood from the foundation of the earth?  It is he who sits above the circle of the earth…; who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them like a tent to live in: who brings princes to naught, and makes the rulers of the earth as nothing. (Is. 40:21-23)

No matter how far away the people were from Jerusalem and the rubble of the temple, Isaiah reminded them, the people of Israel still dwelled in the tabernacle and God is ever present holding God’s people as they abide in God.

But over time, the curtain became a barrier behind which God was hidden from the people.  Isaiah called on God to rend the heavens and come down:

O, that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence…when you did awesome deeds that we did not expect, you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence.  From ages past no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who works for those who wait for him. (Is. 64:1-4)

The cry from the people has become shouting and persistent prayers and complaints, asking God to show God’s self to the people, to the ones who are struggling, who need things shaking up.  Enough is enough.

In Mark, God responds to the demand, but in the strangest way.   In the one who stands silent before councils and kings and then dies in darkness, God comes out of hiding.  The curtain concealing God rips wide open.  The kingdom of God is present while Jesus died, praying a lament, not cursing and taunting, begging or weeping, but unafraid and waiting on the Lord.

The revelation on the mountaintop to those disciples with Jesus is clear: This is the Son of God, God’s Messiah, just as Peter had declared six days earlier, and we need to listen to him, now!

Peter’s habit of speaking-before-thinking had got him into trouble then, too, as he rebukes Jesus for talking about death and being killed.  Jesus looks at the disciples and in turn rebukes Peter saying:

Get behind me Satan!  For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things. (Mark 8:27-30) 

The cloud which descends and overshadows the disciples is often our daily experience.  God is found in the darkness, in the ambiguity, in the hiddenness.  Even though we long for certainty, living the life of faith is like travelling in a cloud. 

The revelation of Jesus as the Messiah, in the company of the two great prophets, Moses and Elijah, representing the law and the prophets, are brought together in the darkness at Golgotha. 

Peter’s terror at the presence of divinity and his rush to fill the awkward moment, is filled instead with God’s speaking from the cloud, which sounds like another reminder for Peter and for all of us to be quiet and: ‘Listen to him’.

I wonder briefly what Jesus, Moses and Elijah were saying to each other, but in the great silence on the mountaintop, as we listen to God, we know Jesus, the greatest of all of them, the very Son of God, took the longer road, the one that sent him through a garden of agony, and only then to a cross. 

The disciples stood on the mountaintop hoping for an easier way.  They did not realise, even though they glimpse God’s glory on the mountain, that God’s glory will also be revealed to them in our long and painful journeys.  God chooses to be made known not only on the mountains, but also in the valley of the shadow of death.   With or without clouds, perhaps we too can be like Elijah, discovering God is not in the breaking up of the mountains, nor in the wind, nor in the earthquake or fire, but in the sound of sheer silence.  (I Kings 14:4-14) Like Elijah, we hide our faces, standing at the entrance, in the liminal space between heaven and earth, and we listen to the Lord asking us as he asked Elijah:  What are you, what are we, doing?  Wherever we are, whatever we’re doing, perhaps our only answer at this time is: I am listening Lord, I am listening.    

The Lord be with you.

Reference:

Jarvis, C.E., Johnson, E.E. [Gen. Eds].  2014.  Feasting on the Gospels Mark.  Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, Kentucky, USA.

Lucy Morris
Lucy Morris
Anglican Priest, International Speaker, Published Author, Social Justice Advocate and Activist.

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