Over the last few weeks, I have been a little sick. For me, that means that I will lose my voice. The smokey tones of Marge Simpson will emerge for a while, giving way to the honk of an imprisoned swan, leaving me finally with utter silence.
I pause now for my wife to rejoice. It is a bit rough in my line of work – It is hard to preach, lead the prayers or to talk with someone who is having a rough day. So this was an eye-opening experience as I moved through the community observing how other people communicated.
What I learned was that there is a great value in silence, and we trade it in for cheaply filled prattling noisiness. Silence is not a time of laziness or unproductivity, but the most valuable moments when the world can be contemplated, adored and understood. Unfortunately, this is not what the secular world is teaching. Be busy, be loud, be heard, be number one in everything at the expense of the uselessly beautiful.
For all of the long game that the Sith perpetrated for 1000 years, their frenetic activity and vapid words are a sign of the sort of noise about which I am speaking. They manipulate through their words. They spend their time gaining power to satisfy the base lust of power. Their lives and teaching are full of action without value. The power they seek is ultimately elusive, for they spend no time communing with the Force, but working to bend it to their individual wills. This is destructive.
The proper teaching of the Jedi way is quite the opposite. Contemplation and care for the other are the foundation of the authority with which they have been entrusted. Indeed, they know that their sensitivity to the Force is a gift that must be matured and cultivated if it is to achieve the potential that lies within. They do this through meditation and listening more than speaking. Their cognates in the real world are the monastics of the various religious traditions: they meditate and pray, they work for the communal good and are obedient to the superior of a community. Simply look to Qui-Gon’s meditative poses in his fateful duel with Darth Maul to see the value of meditation in even the most horrendous situations.
The great example of silence in the face of outrageous oppression is the trial of Jesus Christ in front of Pontius Pilate. You see, Jesus was an affront to several different societies around him. He was not a constant stream of words, but a perfect life of preaching, teaching, healing, praying and seeking solitude. All of these make the complete man; out of whack, and the life becomes imbalanced. Christ’s trial before Pontius Pilate, who was the appointed Roman governor, has a moment of amazing silence. After Pilate hears the accusation made against Jesus by the priests, “he said to Jesus, ‘Where are You from?’ But Jesus gave him no answer. Then Pilate said to Him, ‘Are You not speaking to me? Do You not know that I have power to crucify You, and power to release You?’”
In the very moment when he could have saved his own life, he remained silent. Had he said he was from Galilee, he would have been sent to Herod again. Had he said the other side of the Jordan, he would have been deported. But in the moment when he could have filled the air with a defense, Christ remained silent. The true God, who through his own will spoke creation to come into being, knew that his power would be completely made known in his silence and weakness. Pilate did not comprehend the profound statement made in the silence from Jesus. Instead, he leveled a threat, hoping to scare out a confession. Thereafter, “Jesus answered, ‘You could have no power at all against Me unless it had been given you from above.’” Christ is perfect in his weakness and silence, because even he knows that all power and authority is not from within the weak vessels of the humans, but coming down from Heaven itself.
Where Anakin ran into aggressive negotiations with his lightsaber drawn, and the Jedi Council sought to subdue the demonic Palpatine through demonic actions, Luke stands in divine contemplation on Death Star II, choosing to cast away the weapon of violence for silent love. His victory that saved the galaxy from Sith domination was done in silence, through a compassionate look to his father, and the enduring of Sith lightning. Instead of justifying himself and displaying his immense power through the blade, Luke rebuffs the emperor through small words and large actions. He says “I’ll never turn to the Dark Side. You’ve failed, your highness. I am a Jedi, like my father before me.” With that, he returns to the silence, waiting for the evil one to throw all of his efforts against an immovable wall. In his silence and suffering, Luke wins. Goodness wins when the battling is no longer done merely to scar the opponent, but to aid the brother or sister (or father) in their journey toward everlasting light. In one of the latest songs from Pink Floyd, the profound statement is made: “The beat of our hearts is louder than words…this thing they call soul/Is there with a pulse louder than words.”
So for those of you who are celebrating Easter (the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, or commonly called Pascha in my Orthodox Christian tradition) this coming weekend on the Gregorian calendar, the lesson before us is one of profound silence. Silently listening for the still small voice of the Creator to call us ever closer to himself. When we drown out that voice, when we turn away from the ultimate good, we set ourselves up as the empty idol to which we pay homage. But, should we recognize our frailty and deep existential needfulness, we just might become a lump of clay that can be transfigured into something transcendent.
For me, after the feast of Pascha has been celebrated in the Orthodox Church (on May 1 on the Julian calendar), when life returns to the normal and mundane, I hope to carry within myself the same lessons. At all times, it is no longer I who has to be the master of all things, but humble in knowing that my help comes from above, and I am only built to listen and respond with all of my life to the call to silence and compassion. It is my hope and prayer that these lessons might remain with you as well.
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Please leave comments on this and all my posts – I really look forward to it. You can find me on Twitter at @adelphotheos and email at jamesw@CoffeeWithKenobi.com, occasionally at TheForceandFaith.blogspot.com as long as I am not listening to the latest edition of the Coffee With Kenobi podcast!