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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, March 20, 2010

Silence lets God's voice get through

 •  L.A. churches run into marathon-related issues

By Father Timothy Eden

Faced with the deep mystery of the transfiguration on Mount Tabor, having witnessed Jesus becoming radiant and speaking with Moses and Elijah, the apostle Peter offers to build three tents: "one for You, one for Moses and one for Elijah." We are told "he hardly knew what to say ... so terrified were they."

Yet, despite not knowing what to say, Peter felt compelled to say something.

Profoundly disturbed and terrified by what he had witnessed, Peter talks tents. He talks trivia. Why?

Often, when facing some of the most profound of human experiences of exultant joy, or breathtaking beauty, or numbing sorrow, or transforming holiness we are like Peter. We feel compelled to say something. In truth, these profound experiences call for a listening, absorbent silence. Yet we talk, not really knowing what to say or what we are saying.

The humorist Erma Bombeck, who wrote about suburban family life and was an artist with words, knew the importance of silence.

After Bombeck's death, a woman wrote about a meeting with her. The woman had just lost her young son and Bombeck came to her home to offer her condolences. She knocked on the door and said to the grieving mother: "This is all too sad for words." She hugged her and the two women stood on the doorstep crying in each other's arms.

The woman recalled that while many came to offer their sympathies, it was those few minutes of wordless presence that were the most comforting, the most understanding. Bombeck built her whole professional life around words and her ability to use them powerfully, but she knew some things are too deep for words. Some things demand silence: a listening, accepting, absorbent silence.

Lent is a time that needs our silence. The traditional practices of Lent fasting, almsgiving and prayer are all built on silence.

We all know what's going on when someone gives to the poor and then lets the whole world know about it. That's not alms-giving, that's ego-stroking.

We all know what's going on when someone's fast of Lent becomes the opportunity to show how much weight they have lost. That's not fasting; that's bragging rights.

No, the practices of Lent, the discipline of Lent above all else is the practice of silence. Silence to hear God speak. Silence to hear God in our fasting. In our alms-giving. In our prayer. Those things call us to something. We cannot hear his call if we are not silent.

Centuries ago, the psalmist got it right when he wrote: "Be silent and know that I am God."