Let all mortal flesh keep silence, and with fear and trembling stand; ponder nothing earthly minded, for with blessing in his hand, Christ our God to earth descended, our full homage to demand. (Liturgy of St. James, 4th Century)
Much of the important preparation of Advent happens in silence. Zechariah lives in an imposed silence. Elizabeth is left without a conversation partner for most of her pregnancy. And surely Mary could only muse in silence as to the Meaning, after the Angel Gabriel went his way, before seeking out the companionship of her cousin Elizabeth Later on after the Birth, and the shepherds arrival, we read that she treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart (Luke 2: 19).
Counter to the Holiday Culture swarming around us, Advent is a time for some silence. We are in anticipation mode, reflection stance, receiving posture. As Christians we are looking, listening for signs of the presence of the Holy in our life, our systems, and the world. And how hard it is to develop that way of being in a milieu that screams out for more, better, louder, and shinier. All the more reason to find ways and means to silence. Those with full-time jobs or full households can find this even more challenging. Yet I watch with admiration as so many faithful find ways to keep silence–in quiet days, in early morning or late evening prayer, in walking in the beauty of the day, even turning off appliances and electronic beacons.
More challenging for me is to silence the chatter of the squirrels and monkeys and crows of my mind. More often than not it requires a stilling of my body, and staying in one place, anchoring my silence in a words or an image in prayer . Then, I need to allow whatever comes to illumine me, to open my eyes, ears and heart. Isabel Anders in her book, Awaiting the Child: An Advent Journal, (Cowley, 1987), discovered much about silence in her first pregnancy:
Silence for a purpose, for a time, can be healing. If everyone would learn to practice a degree of silence–refraining from criticism that wounds, holding back when unsure, praying behind the scenes without recognition, meeting one’s own standards before expecting them of others–we would see, I believe, a springing forth of the benefits of silence.
I ask myself what needs to be healed in silence this Advent. The year just passing has been filled with damage. So many places live with the devastation of nature–the Philippines, Colorado, the Midwest, New Jersey. So many structure and systems are dysfunctional and broken. So many people have encountered broken hearts, failed dreams, frustrated hopes. What will I do in silence as these realities course through my head and heart in anticipation of the coming of the Light? And what in my own heart, soul and body is in need of healing in which I need to participate?
I pray, “O come, Thou Dayspring, come and cheer our spirits by Thine Advent here; Disperse the gloomy clouds of night, and death’s dark shadow put to flight. (Latin, 12th C.) And then I look to see if I can notice where the Light is coming in, if I can hear the angels sing anywhere in those places of pain, and if there is an invitation to me to be an agent of healing in any of these venues–with a donation, with action, with a word, with presence. Often it will be in silence in the Presence of the Holy One that a particular call comes to me.
So I look for, create and wait in silence…to see what the Spirit will say and prompt and happen in me.
How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given! So God imparts to human hearts the blessings of His heaven. No ear may hear His coming, but in this world of sin, where meek souls will receive Him, still the dear Christ enters in. (Phillips Brooks, 1868)
Even so, come Lord Jesus!