The words to a Simon and Garfunkle song from my youth have been reverberating in my brain all week as I continue to agonize over the heartbreaking news in community where I live and serve. Remember this?
Hello darkness, my old friend
I’ve come to talk with you again
Because a vision softly creeping
Left its seeds while I was sleeping
And the vision that was planted in my brain
Within the sound of silence
In restless dreams I walked alone
Narrow streets of cobblestone
‘Neath the halo of a street lamp
I turned my collar to the cold and damp
When my eyes were stabbed by the flash of a neon light
That split the night
And touched the sound of silence
And in the naked light I saw
Ten thousand people, maybe more
People talking without speaking
People hearing without listening
People writing songs that voices never share
And no one dared
Disturb the sound of silence
“Fools”, said I, “You do not know
Silence like a cancer grows
Hear my words that I might teach you
Take my arms that I might reach you”
But my words, like silent raindrops fell
In the wells of silence
And the people bowed and prayed
To the neon god they made
And the sign flashed out its warning
In the words that it was forming
And the sign said, “The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls
And tenement halls”
And whispered in the sounds of silenceI love silence, except when it is used to stand by and let injustice and evil take place.
I love silence, except when it punishes others
I love silence, except when it shuts down voices that need to be heard.
I love silence, except when it becomes an escape route which lets others suffer.
History slams us with examples of silence wrongly used, of people not speaking out because if they did, they would take major hits. Silence brings safety, of a sort, until those who stay silent to save their own skins find that they need someone else to speak in order to save those same skins.
The wrong use of silence takes us back to the beginning—to the place where a man and a woman enjoyed the life of a garden, a garden filled with good and with God. Into that garden came the crafty voice, inviting doubt of the goodness of God and the compromise of truth. The crafty one spoke to both, but the man stood by, silent, listening, watching truth get twisted and choosing to let it happen—after all, it wasn’t HIS problem, was it?
Except it was—we stand and fall together.
Years ago, one of my children asked me, after I had taught about the first temptation, “Mom, what would have happened if the man had picked up a tree limb and beaten the **** out of the serpent?” A profound theological thought from a child, despite the forceful language.
What would have happened indeed!!!! Perhaps we’d still be in intimate relationship with God and with one another. But we keep repeating that pattern, choosing silence in the face of evil and injustice.
It takes maturity to speak up and out against evil. Evil will always turn on the one speaking, put that one firmly in its sights, and attack with all force. So much easier to go along to get along.
But when we do, when you and I refuse to speak because we’d rather save our own skins, we all become complicit players in the dark, dank, slimy ensnaring tentacles of darkness and destruction. We become those who chose lies over light and creation and truth.
When our children and youth find alcohol and drugs freely available because adults silently walk the easy path of being liked rather than the hard path of being respected, then all are part of the problem.
But silence is ever so much easier. Until it swallows you.