More than once since a recent Community Palm Sunday service, I’ve wished I’d not preached a sermon recommending some silence (introspection, reflection, quietness). I knew at the time how badly I always need some, but I didn’t plan to go overboard with it.
Then came April 12.
I’ll long remember that day. First and by far most important, it was the day I performed the baptism of my granddaughter Brenley. An incredibly sweet moment.
But it was also the day laryngitis laid me low, as it never has before, and I fervently hope never will again.
I’d sung three or so hours the day before. Didn’t strain anything. But by that evening, some diabolical combination of a virus and allergies nailed me. I was supposed to preach, baptize, and sing at Bren’s church. I gave my manuscript to my son and asked him to read it, managed to squawk out enough words to perform the baptism, and we’ll do the singing later. Boy, was I silent! And not happy about it.
Jesus talks about a “cup of cold water.” At the house later, Bren suddenly was at my side placing on my throat a plastic bag she’d filled with ice chips. Such a sweet nurse!
To shorten the story, I’ll just say that at the doc’s later, he said he thought I’d be fine, but, “How about trying to avoid unnecessary talking for the next ten days? I know you’ve got some stuff you can hardly cancel, but try some vocal rest. Don’t answer. Just nod your head.”
“Yeah, Bucko, how about this: you try not using your hands for ten days!? Just nod your head.” But he was right.
It’s been interesting. Here are a few things I think I’ve learned.
We talk too much, and it’s difficult to curtail our talk. St. James is right: we can tame all sorts of creatures, but “no man can tame the tongue” (3:8). It does makes good sense, and it’s great discipline, to lock it down for a little while.
By the way, “vocal rest” is difficult discipline, but it’s just half of the “silence equation.” Noise comes from two directions: the things we rattle about, and the things that rattle about (around) us. Your best bet, if you’re trying to be silent, is to find some solitude. Not only is some occasional “alone time” also balm for our souls, being silent is a lot easier by yourself.
The only place I can imagine going where they really understand the discipline of silence is a monastery. I’m not planning to enter one. Protestants are probably not their prime candidates. But many are kind enough to accept visitors, and I’m not kidding, wherever we can find it, I think most of us might find a few days of that kind of silence to be golden. We’d be amazed at what we’d learn. Some things—about silence and about so much else we desperately need to know—can only be learned in silence.
Apart from that, if you’re trying to be quiet in a crowd, good luck. It’s tough in both directions. Lest folks think you’re depressed, I’d suggest you smile more than usual. That’s probably good anyway. As is listening more and saying much less.
James, again, is the one who counseled, “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry” (1:19). Shh! Let’s listen to him!
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Copyright 2015 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.