Space for Silence
01 July 1989

How can we expect to manage our own lives, and find satisfaction in them, if we do not make time for hearing the word of the Lord?

Recently I was sent a book which has caused me to reconsider my own spiritual life. It is called Meditating on the Word, and is a collection of the occasional papers of Dietrich Bonhoffer. His is a name to conjure with - a hero of the German Resistance, a brilliant academic with a doctorate at the tender age of 21, then the head of a seminary, and executed by the Nazis in 1945 at the age of 39. In these papers I find a passionate commitment to the study of the word of God. For the first half an hour every morning he devoted himself to silent meditation. `For God alone my soul in silence waits.' He regarded it a wasted day in which he had not penetrated more deeply into God's word. This was the secret of his own life and the secret of those whom he taught- in a situation fraught with danger and unrest.

There is nothing new about such an emphasis. It resounds throughout the Scriptures. Abraham heard the voice of God and solely on the strength of it left his native land for the backwoods of Canaan. Samuel, though only a child, heard the voice of God and became a formidable leader of the nation in a time of great peril. The classic instance in the Old Testament is Elijah, a volcanic man in flight and looking for spectacular reassurance. There came a strong wind but God was not in the wind; an earthquake but God was not in the earthquake; a fire but God was not in the fire. Then `the sound of a low murmuring. And then there came a voice, and God said, "What are you doing here, Elijah?"' On the strength of that incommunicable message he returned to Israel, and changed the political direction of the nation. God speaks, man heals, and it is done.

In the New Testament there is Paul, and Christ himself. What was the source of Paul's reinterpretation of faith, a reinterpretation that changed the face of the world? He seems to claim that it was the long silent sojourn in the Arabian desert, where he listened for the word of God. And his subsequent journeys were dominated by his readiness to hear the word of God and to change his own mind.

We must not presume that Christ knew from the beginning all the answers and could predict his future movements with accuracy. There were several situations in which he was required to wait upon God for guidance and reassurance. He waited in the wilderness as he struggled with his own ambitions and desires. His brothers wanted him to go to Jerusalem for a feast, but he declined and then went later, in private. When the news of Lazarus's illness reached him, he stayed where he was for several days as he listened for the word of God, and then went to Bethany when it appeared to be too late; when he brought Lazarus back to life, it opened a new window on the
power of God's love. He was tortured by doubt in the Garden of Gethsemane, as he waited for conclusive word from God about whether he had to die the death of a criminal. In a sense, he summed up his whole life in those gnomic words, `As I hear, so I speak.'

The world still depends on people, famous or unknown, who will attend sacrificially to hearing the word of God. As for the nation, `The time is coming, says the Lord God, when I will send a famine in the land, not hunger for bread or thirst for water, but for hearing the word of the Lord. Men shall stagger from north to south, they shall range from east to west, seeking the word of the Lord, but they shall not find it.' Surely the world has a right to ask, as a confused king of Judaea once asked, `Is there any word from the Lord?' in our political and social confusions.

And for ourselves - how can we expect to manage our own lives, and find satisfaction in them, if we do not make time for hearing the word of the Lord?

We need not hunger and thirst or run to and fro, looking for the word of God. The word of God is near us, in our hearts, just waiting to be heard and obeyed. It is living and active - and sharper than any two-edged sword.

Extract from the Oxford University Sermon, 5 March 1989, by the Rt Rev Lord Blanch, former Archbishop of York

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