Over a decade ago, a friend of mine was a teaching pastor at a very large evangelical church in Southern California. While he was working at the offices, the senior pastor approached him and asked him if he could help organize the two-day staff retreat that was coming up. Keep in mind, this was a staff of over fifty people, so the task of organizing was not a simple one. My friend told the pastor he was willing to organize the retreat and thought it would be great if Brennan Manning led their time together. The pastor was open to this exciting possibility.
When my friend explained the situation to Brennan and invited him to lead the retreat, the kind and loving sage looked at my friend and said, “I will do it under one condition: nobody can bring a Bible.” My friend was puzzled, to say the least. He respectfully asked Brennan why he would refuse to do it if any of the staff brought a Bible. Without any hesitation or any form of judgment in his response, Brennan replied, “Because too many Christians hide from God in their Bibles.”
A Good Cover
It is fascinating to think about how easy it is for any form of religious activity to function as a means of hiding from God (and from ourselves, too). Although Manning’s focus was on how people can hide from God even while reading their Bibles, this same unconscious technique for hiding can be found in any expression of good works each day. We can hide from God while we pray, prepare sermons, counsel, strategize, lead meetings, or preach: any task that involves any kind of performing or accomplishing can distract us and keep us from an authentic encounter with God.
The Resistance of Silence
Silence is one of the most subversive acts in which a pastor or practitioner can engage. In silence we enter into a space where accomplishing and achieving aren’t a part of the vocabulary, where fulfilling another task creates no value, and where remaining busy is impossible. This is where we discover that we have nothing to prove, nothing to establish, nothing to protect, and nothing to earn. It is also the environment where we can trust that we are not being analyzed, judged, or criticized. As a result, we do not have to worry about each of these realities. It is the space where we are liberated from the need to do anything and are finally able just to be.
That is why silence is a form of resistance.
Here are three specific instances of silence as resistance.
1. Silence resists an economic system that communicates that we are what we produce.
2. Silence resists a culture that constantly tries to convince us that we are what we do.
3. Silence resists the ecclesiastical enterprise that tries to persuade us of the same things in instances 1 and 2 by unknowingly perpetuating these toxic forces within our churches.
Silence unhinges us from a system that attempts to induce us to believe we are never enough. It disengages us from the dominant cultural imagination that keeps telling us to do more. It urges us to step off of the compulsive path of performance and enter into the rest that comes only from the unanxious presence of God.
In silence we experience the God who says yes to our lives before we do anything.
In silence we experience the God who delights in our presence and whose delight is not connected to our performance.
In silence we experience a Mirror that reflects to us who we truly are.
In silence we understand that real change comes not from trying harder, but by better allowing ourselves to be loved.
In silence we understand that faith is not foundationally about doing what is right, but about tasting what is good.
In silence we discover that we already have everything we desire and need.
In silence we encounter the God we spend so much time talking about.
In silence we experience the unconditional love we expend extraordinary amounts of energy leading others to.
In silence we feast at the very table we have given our lives to setting and inviting others to.
It silence–and only in silence–are we are nourished, energized, strengthened, and empowered to proclaim and live out the gospel in a way that expresses what we already possess instead of ways that attempt to create what we think we lack.
Silence is about learning how to preach the gospel without losing our souls.