03 March 2007

WAKE UP! and Be Quiet

2nd Sunday of Lent: Gen 15.5-12, 17-18; Phil 3.17-4.1; Luke 9.28-36
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
Women’s Retreat for U.D. Seniors (Vigil Mass)


Sssshhhhhhhhhhhhhhh! Listen. Hear that? That thumping silence? The quiet of being attentive to nothing at all? That vacuum, that bare blare of Empty is the sound of God in the desert with you, His spirited breath, held for a moment, waiting for you to be quiet, to be still and settled, to be fixed on every possibility that His Word might create. Ssssshhhhhhhhhhhh! Would you clamor and clang and squeal and miss what He has to say to you? Are you fully awake?

If you are to be transfigured by your time in the desert, you must be fully awake and quiet. And not just “without noise” but also without hurrying, without pressured racing and competition, without distracted calculation and cautious deliberation. You must be Without. Entirely empty of envy, pride, desire for applause, desire for honors, desire for power; entirely emptied of self-pity, self-hatred, self-congratulation; emptied of self-righteous assurance, contagious despairing, and you must be emptied of our culture’s soul crippling scripts for women, those vacuous dramas of prince charmings, princess brides, the abused but dutiful wife, the mother eaten alive by maternal myths of all-consuming sacrifice. If you are to be transfigured by your time in the desert, you must be fully awake and quiet.

Full awake and quiet. Ssssshhhhhhh! The cloud speaks: “This is my chosen Son; listen to him.” Jesus was then alone and the disciples fell silent and did not tell anyone about what they had seen. And their silence about this miracle doomed the church. Their selfish silence thwarted the spread of the gospel; it destroyed any chance the apostles would have of casting the seeds of the Good News onto fertile, Gentile soil. Right? The Way died when Peter, John, and James sealed their lips in conspiracy and refused to talk about the Christ in his dazzling whites. NO! They were silent in the face of being told directly by the Father Himself that Jesus is His Son. Somehow, silence seems like the appropriate response to that revelation! They talked later. And often. And all over the Gentile world. And until they died as martyrs they spoke of the Chosen Son and the power of his fiery Spirit and the necessity of turning from rebellion and disobedience and turning to love and mercy. And because of their awed silence and then their obedient preaching, we can say with them: “Master! It is good that we are here!”

If you are to be transfigured by your time in the desert, you must be fully awake and quiet. Thomas Merton writes, “The desert was created simply to be itself, not to be transformed by men into something else […] The desert therefore is the logical dwelling place for the man who seeks to be nothing but himself—that is to say, a creature solitary and poor and dependent upon no one but God, with no great project standing between himself and his Creator”(TS, 5). To be asleep, spiritually, is live in a dreamland where you are liberated from all social constraints, all social commitments, all familial ties; to live in a dreamland where you are in control, where you define your truth and your limits, and where you pick and choose how you will moved by those around you. To be asleep spiritually to be foolish about speaking to God as an equal, treating Him like Santa Claus, trying to capture Him with small things like words or pictures or music or science. You are sleeping if you dream that God loves the Good Girl more. That He races to the rescue of the most pious first. That He treasures as indicators of your humility and obedience your obsessiveness, your self-doubt, your dark self-image. What project stands between you and God? What layers of sticky illusion cling to your waking and keep you stupored?

WAKE UP! Sssssshhhhhhhhhhhhhhh! Listen: stand firm in the Lord. He will bring all things into subjection under him, including you and me. We will all be transfigured. Even now: we are changing. One step in front of the other. Over the sand. Over the dunes. Into the desert of Lent to be tempted. To know your weak spot, the weakness that will call the Devil to the fight that will clean your heart for sacrifice. Stand firm. And walk. And walk and walk and walk to the Cross. Knowing that he waits there. Waits for you, for us, for the nails and our healing.

‘Til then, imitate the stars: shine, wait, and be as still as light.

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