Friday, September 5, 2008

Sermon by Anne Omelianowich

Dear Abbey -- Several weeks ago, Abbey member Anne Omelianowich gave a fabulous sermon at St. George's about the importance of silence. Her message seems especially appropriate for Abbey members, so I've asked her for permission to reproduce it on the Abbey blog. Thank you, Anne, for this reminder of the importance of silence in our lives.


‘Now, there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind, an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake, a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire, a sound of sheer silence.'

We fill our calendars with appointments and load our lives with words and events; and somehow, we think that in the chaos of living, we will find life. Perhaps, we do find a life, but is it the life that we desire?

On Wednesday evenings, I often attend a prayer service at St. John's. It is a hour filled with long spaces of silence. When some have questioned the length of those silences, others have responded that they have a need for silence in their lives and seem only to find it there.

In those moments of sheer silence, we find the place where we are one with God, the space where we have been created in his likeness. We find the Peace that is ours when we live a life conscious of that integral part of ourselves. It isn't a peace without conflict, or without the presence of the racket that life pours on us, but a peace as a sense of really knowing who we are and what we are becoming.

We drink in the excitement of spectacular events. The opening of the Olympics this weekend reminds us of the expectations that we have of the spectacular. We hold our breath against the possibility of the fury that may accompany these events. Everyone has a statement to make. All want to be heard.

But God doesn't clamor for our attention. God waits for us in silence, waits for us to become silent.

We set aside a time of silent prayer and then rush to fill the space with words that neither God nor we require. By some, silence is seen as a waste of time and space that could be used for something.

We are constantly lured into the religion of acquisition, be it of possessions or ideas or the attention of others.

A couple of weeks ago, I arrived at my daughter's home to spend the evening with my grandsons, Isaac, who is nearly 6, and Ethan, 3 and a half. Noise assaulted me when I opened the door. The usual din of their household. I prepared the evening meal for the boys and myself, as Carol and Marty prepared themselves to go out for the evening. The din continued as we sat down to eat. We waved goodbye and sent them away with wishes to ‘have a good time'. The door closed, and silence fell on us like a cool breeze on a steamy, hot day. The struggle for attention had been silenced by the closing of a door. On both sides of that door, there was relief at the peace it brought. Even the perpetrators of that struggle for the attention of their parents were suddenly pleased by the silence.

We suffocate the very essence of who we are and allow no time for the process of becoming.

We pay so much attention to getting what we think we want, to what others are thinking of what we do, and where we go, and with whom we keep company, and what we are wearing that we find no time to clear away the rubbish to see ourselves, stripped of all the trappings, to find the presence of God in us, and to know when ‘we find ourselves in the place just right' as the Shaker Hymn says.

I invite you to schedule a place for silence in your lives where God might meet you. The place where you are at home with yourself without the distractions of phones ringing (particularly cell phones), clocks ticking away the minutes until your next appointment, chores that will still be there if not done during these precious minutes.

Henri Nouwen said that ‘Silence is a place where we all become pilgrims. It is what guards that fire within us and it teaches us how to speak.' Paul writes to the Church in Rome that ‘The Word is very near you, on your lips and in your heart.' We don't have to go somewhere else to find God, we need only to clear away the clutter so that when God speaks to us, we can hear the Word in our hearts.

We have thought that silence belongs to monasteries. But I can tell you that silence is what welcomes us home to ourselves and where God waits for us.

When I lived in Nevada, there were some years when I worked in Las Vegas and spent the day pressured to produce the product of my employer. I drove home in traffic that rivals rush hour here. But once I reached the mountain pass that separates Boulder City, the small town where I lived from the Valley where Las Vegas spreads across its entire floor, I could once again see the vastness of the desert and the canopy of blue sky unobstructed by buildings and highways, and the noise was left behind like a door closing against it.

I can breath again. There is space and solitude and great beauty in the desert. When I first came to the desert, I read in Hosea about how God called the one he loves into the desert to win her back there with words of love. It was a message with my name on it, and I understood the desert to be the place where, in solitude, God would wait for me.

God has a desert for each of us, where he waits to win us back with those words of love.

In the Gospel today, we see Jesus, once again leaving the throngs of people who have been listening to him teach, and go up into the mountains to be alone, to be alone with God, to restore his spirit and to find there the words to speak. There he is alone with God, in silence.

We see Jesus, time and again, taking himself off. We need to take ourselves off for the very same reasons. God will speak to us there, not in the wind, not in the earthquake, not in the fire, but in the silence.

The monk and theologian, Thomas Merton, wrote: "I, Solitude, am Angel
And have prayed in your name.

Look at the empty, wealthy night
The pilgrim moon!
I am the appointed hour,
The ‘now' that cuts
Time like a blade.

I am the unexpected flash
Beyond ‘yes', beyond ‘no',
The forerunner of the Word of God.

Follow my ways and I will lead you
To golden-haired suns,
Logos and music, blameless joys,
Innocent of questions
And beyond answers.

For I, Solitude, am thine own self;
I, nothingness, am thy all,
I, Silence, am thy ‘Amen'. "

In Spiritual Literacy by Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat, they write:

"Silence is a special place you must go regularly. Silence is a grace that nurtures, heals, reveals and renews. ‘No spiritual excercise,' counsels St. Seraphim of Sarov, ‘is as good as that of silence'.

Be still and know.
Be still.

Readings for this sermon are from Proper 14 Year A (see below). The original sermon was delivered on August 10, 2008 at St. George's Episcopal Church in Arlington, VA

1 Kings 19:9-18
Psalm 85:8-13
Romans 10:5-15
Matthew 14:22-33

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