Scenes from the first day in Sydney

Scenes from the first day in Sydney
D, the Opera House, and the Bridge

Sunday, February 8, 2009

The Prayer of Jesus: The Silence of Life

Today, I had the privilege of celebrating Sunday mass for the community that gathers here on Sunday mornings. In the gospel reading from the first chapter of Mark, Jesus is a man on the move-- liberating people from demons, healing the sick, raising up those who are cast down, and making whole those who are broken. It would seem that he barely takes a moment for himself, so urgent he is in his labors for others. However, early in the morning, he withdraws to a deserted place where he prays to his Father in silence.

Some might think that the prayer of Jesus must be different from our own, more special somehow. We might assume that Jesus heard God speaking to him directly and unambiguously. Yet one theologian I've read suggests that Jesus' experience of prayer was more like our own than less, and that he too experiences God's stillness and silence. Yet unlike a silence that is empty and somehow threatening, this is a silence that is full--what we might call the Silence of Life. It was perhaps in this Silence of Life that the relationship with Jesus' Father became most manifest to him as a relationship of intimate love and affection, mercy and profound acceptance. In the Silence, Jesus could discern more clearly the path he needed to walk, and the way to accomplish the Father's will, rather than the will of the world, which must have been a temptation. From this Silence, God's Word is manifest, the Good News that God is Love, and that God's intention and will for us is Life in its fullness. It is through the Silence of Life that Jesus is able to discern what magnifies the authentic Life that God intends, and all the ways that this Life is diminished.

Rather than see Jesus as a "do gooder," or a "Mr. Fixit" who is constantly acting on behalf of others whether they want his help or not, the "doing" of Jesus flows from his "being" which is nourished and formed in this Silence of Life. His action seems to flow from his contemplation, just as his contemplation is no doubt fed by his action.

I've been reflecting myself on how seldom I withdraw for prayer and allow myself to settle quietly into the Silence of Life, to become consciously present to the fullness of the Divine Presence. Instead, I am usually "busy about many things," as Jesus says of Martha in the Gospel. And even when I do take time to pray, so often it is busy prayer, about people I love, and for the wellbeing of the world. There is nothing wrong with this, of course, but I do notice how affected I am when I allow myself to quiet down and discover this Silence of Life, the fullness of this moment here and now in God's living presence. In that rare moment, I know who I am and what my life is for, who gives me life and for what purpose... and the false urgencies that usually push and pull me every which way seem to fall away.

Thomas Merton, a trappist monk and one of the most well known writers about the contemplative life, once wrote, "the soul is like a shy, quiet animal," and thus in order to commune with our own souls, we must learn to not only endure silence, but cultivate a habit and practice of silence in our busy lives. May the Silence of Life bring us into the fullness of this very moment, and help guide all the decisions and actions that flow from it.

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