Why I Can’t Shut Up

According to Gyle Brandreth’s The Joy of Lex, by the time of their death the average American will have uttered around 860,341,500 words. As of 2011, Twitter reported that its users were posting 200 million tweets every single day. The year previously, 750,000 new music albums were released in the US alone. Wordpress.com reports that it’s site hosts an average of 41.7 million new blog posts each month.

No matter what our vocation, all humans are in the business of talking; we’re all dots somewhere along the pendulum of self-expression. Although this may not always be articulated by literal verbal expression, vibrating vocal chords and a moving tongue, the world of homo sapiens is not a silent one; it never has been. For whether it is through stirring speeches, transcendent poetry, athletic feats or sexual acts, our existence is consumed with the compulsion to express ourselves.

And I’m no different.

I step out my door and plug in my headphones. I take out my phone to send a text , post a photo, update my status. I hit a few ‘like’ buttons. I comment on a post about abortion, an athlete who was traded to another team, a celebrity suicide. I answer a call from my wife. I reply to her question, recall a minuet detail I’d forgotten to mention before leaving the house, say: “I love you” and hang up. I jot a quick note in my calendar to pick up some salad and milk on the way home. All this happens while I am waiting for the bus.

The act of expressing oneself, in whatever form that may be, is a compulsion to break forth into the silence that surrounds us. Otherwise the silence overwhelms us. And anyone who has ever been alone for long periods of time against his or her will can tell you: silence is terrifying.

Stormy Weather- painting by Arena Shawn
Stormy Weather by Arena Shawn

The compulsion to speak, to create, to express, to write, to sing, to dance, to jump, to dive, to make love, to paint and rap, the compulsion to launch words into the heavy surrounding silence us is a compulsion to hold our lights out into the void that would otherwise engulf us. We are terrified of that void, we cannot contain it. It creeps in on us the moment we close our mouths, the moment we turn off our TVs, unplug the phones and turn down our speakers.

It’s there.

Always there.

Waiting.

And the terrifying reality is that the void is not just there, it is within us as well. And the void is something so terrifying, so remarkable, so unknown, so beautiful, that we must speak, we must express ourselves, to keep it at bay. We must plug in our phones, scream our lungs out, play the guitar, paint the sunset, absorb a whole season of ‘Friends’ while texting our own friends. To be silent would be to entertain the void, to stop talking would be to let it overcome us and work it’s way in us, through us and over us. And that could be wonderful. But it would be also be terrifying. More terrifying than we can imagine.

And so I cannot keep quiet.

I cannot shut up.

Job Answers God by William Blake
Job Answers God by William Blake

For in the beginning was:

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silence.

nothingness.

 

void

 

But was-ness nonetheless.

was-ness amidst the silence

something unnamable

something we cannot label

something we cannot articulate, or describe

 

It was. He was. A Word was.

A single Word amidst the Silence.

With God. Was God. Logos. The wind, spirit, moving over the water. Hovering.

  1. Single. Word.

A Single Word with the Silence.

And then God spoke and it happened. He spoke, it happened. He spoke, it happened. Six times. God rested; it remained. He did not speak.

Silence.

Job implored God and yet, for thirty-four chapters, no answer is recorded.

Silence.

God revealed himself to Elijah in a gentle whisper following quake and fire.

 Silence.

“What is truth?” Pilate asked.

Silence.

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” His Son cried out.

Silence.

The Scriptures are not silent on the topic of silence. The absence of speech haunts the pages and seep between the lines we read. Jesus is silent on numerous crucial topics. For every example in the Bible of someone crying out to God and actually receiving a reply, there exists more pertinent example of a silence in response.

“…lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction,” the prophet Malachi pens in the closing words of his book. And for 400 years God struck the land with a decree of silence.

The Ebola virus threatens to decimate populations.

God, where are you? 

An uncle rapes his 5 year-old-niece over and over again, threatening her into secrecy and shame. She cries out to the God of felt boards and Sunday school volunteers.

Why? Are you there? Is anyone?

A twenty-year-old soldier holds the muzzle of his rifle to the head of prisoner, a terrorist. No one is looking and three days ago he had to drag half of his friend from a burning Humvee because of these bastards.

God, only you can judge me.

And yet.

Silence.

Is it just a void?

Or does the answer come in a couple making love on their honeymoon, a Twitter feed gone viral, a six-year-old dancing before her proud parents, the winning touchdown at a football game?

Does the answer come in my inability to shut up?

Elijah in the Wilderness by Frederic Leighton
Elijah in the Wilderness by Frederic Leighton

Is God silent or is He speaking? Is the Word that spoke still speaking through the Creation it spoke into being, the creature it made in it’s own image? Is the Silence the surrounds it the God that holds it all together?

For if silence speaks to the non-existence of God then there is no justification for our fear of silence, and no proper understanding for our compulsion towards self-expression. Pragmatic evolution cannot explain the compulsion of humanity to produce billions of megapixels of information every second, to make love and call it ‘love’, to write novels and plays and symphonies and ballads, for the same desperate mind to pen a comedy, a tragedy and, finally, a suicide note.

If the Silence is nothing beyond a void, then there should be no reason why I can just shut up.

But if Silence is something more than a void, then expression, human expression, is the fulfillment of Silence working itself out, in and through the instruments of it’s being. This simple truth finds it’s home in lighters held high during a summer concert, tears at the end of a moving film, an orgasm coupled with a whisper of “je t’aime” and the feeling of treasured novel gripped in one’s hands. We are compelled by the power of words, moved by the ability to express ourselves, but when words fail us we yield to Silence.  And the Silence terrifies but also captivates us.  Because Silence is something more, something overpowering, something mysterious, something terrible, wonderful, fearful and unknown. Something we cannot contain, something to be worshipped.

Our words are not a shout into the void but a shout into the Silence that was, the Silence that is, the Silence that permeates the everything we are, were and always will be. The Silence which created us, created everything and, in the end, will renew everything. Our words do not drift endlessly but are absorbed by the Silence.

For if not into the arms of Silence, then where do our words go? A mere void cannot contain them; they have too much weight.

All words are prayers, the question is whether or not we know if we are making them. God’s spam box is never full.

Which is why an encounter with this Silence is terrifying. Because in the Silence we are suddenly aware of the violence, the might, the power, the eternality, the was, the is, the am, the great, the humble, the desolate, the horrific, the loving, the simple, the complex. In the Silence we encounter the Everything, the Final Word To End All Words. And we are not ready.

In the silence, I can shut up.

But we are not ready for the final word, the end for the necessity of expression, for venturing into the void. There is an alpha and there is an omega. The Christian creation narrative insists on a Final Word being spoken and the ability to embrace the Silence flows from the power of that word. After God spoke the word, he rested. All was well. With a word on the cross, Christ proclaimed: “it is finished”. And he breathed his last. The final word to end all words. All will be well again.

The final word to points to the silence for which we all long, the silence of all of our Twitter feeds, political commentaries, eviction notices, parodies, aching hearts and flowing tears. In that day there will be no need for these, expression will be a moot point because we see the silence as we see the sun, as though we’re seeing our words, our paintings, our blogs, our dances and our lovers for the first time. The final word will have been spoken, and the first word begun.

But until that day, we talk. We tweet, we blog, we preach, we cheer, we laugh, run we cry, we fight, we punch, we dance, we hobble, we write, we try.

And I am no different.

Because for now, I can’t shut up.

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God Versus Truth

“What is truth?”

This is the question Jesus posed to Pilate at his trial, nearly 2000 years ago.

Today, I still don’t know if I’ve heard an answer that completely satisfies me. Yes, I know Jesus made the proclamation “I am the way, the truth and the life” but what does that mean? Beyond the clichés, beyond the Sunday school answers and the platitudes, what is truth?

Pop culture looks for it constantly. I’m haunted by the lyrics of songwriter Jim Adkins: “If you always knew the truth / then the world would spin around you / are you dizzy yet?” And I’m sure there’s a few readers who will reference the famous Christopher McCandless quote (with apologies to Thoreau), stating: “rather than love, than money, than faith, than fame, than fairness…give me truth.”

There have been two significant times in my walk as a Christian when I was close to, what many evangelicals will refer to as “losing my faith”. One time I actually did. But, by the grace of God, my fling with atheism was the intellectual equivalency of a drunken one-night stand; I quickly slipped out the door with a look of shame, wondering how I got there. While both of these times in my life were very different, in retrospect I see one common thread: both of my doubts in the faith were fueled by my search for truth.

And so I make this proposition: I’d like to suggest that while God is truth, truth is not necessarily God.  A square is a rectangle but a rectangle is not necessarily a square. So truth, as we’ve come to know it in our subjective psyches, does not equate to God.

If we seek God, we will find truth. But if we seek truth we may not necessarily find God. Whether this is due to finding a skewed or misrepresented version of truth or because truth itself is an elusive characteristic of God is not the point of this discussion, nor am I the judge of it. What I know is a simple fact: many people have embarked on the search for truth, and found themselves on a road other than that of the Truth. Myself being one of them.

And the reason for such mishaps? Simply put, God is so far outside the parameters of truth, of logic, that it takes a leap of faith to reach Him. Today that leap of faith requires a leap of abandonment to the labels, lenses and predispositions of our own notion and will. Nothing else will cut it. Until we take that leap our journey and exploration for truth will lead us short of God, to the point where faith is required. If, however, truth is not the means to an end but and end in itself, then that leap of faith will be illogical.

Picture a large canyon, on one side is truth, and on the other God, with a huge chasm in between. That chasm represents the leap of faith we all must take in order to truly believe God is who He claims He is. If we come searching for truth, we will find ourselves on one side of the chasm, staring down into the abyss, contemplating how illogical any movement (let alone jumping) would be.  Why risk it? We came searching for truth, and found it, so why attempt to leap across to the other side for a God that wasn’t our aim in the first place? If we find ourselves searching for truth, and short of God, we may very well look to other sources for that truth, and dispel the notion of God completely.

So where does this leave us? Well it leaves us in a very precarious position on that requires reflection. We are a nation of searching cynics. And what do we claim to look for in our wanderlust of intellect? Truth, facts, theories and understanding. Within this it is easy for truth to become an idol. After all, truth is by no means evil. In fact it is pure; it is an attribute of God. But let us remember that an idol is rarely evil in and of itself, it is the desire of our hearts that places it upon the throne and makes it an idol. Truth is good, it is noble, and as Christians we should seek it. But what we should seek above all else is God.

If God is our God, then the idea of truth being secondary in our desire shouldn’t make us queasy. But if we place God below the throne of our hearts and proclaim “yes, I will take you, as long as you line up with what I find to be truth” then we have entered the most dangerous of spiritual realms. We are all held on the tight rope of faith, by grace, from taking an intellectual dive into what is not only not true but more importantly not God.

Therefore, let us seek God. Let God be on the throne of our heart, and our search for truth merely as a means to the end of knowing and loving God more completely. I don’t ever want to be known as someone who sought truth, but someone who sought God and by His grace stumbled upon infinite truth, of which God has always been the source.

Sunday Quotes: Love the Questions

In lieu of Wednesday’s post, I would like to share a quote that I’d intended to squeeze into the sermon before cutting it out at the last minute; I hope you can see it’s applicability. Also, in case you’re curious, this quotation is the source for part of my blog’s subtitle. Like so many others, it sums up much of what I wish I could express from the brief but blessed life I’ve lived thus far.  Anyways, here you are…Happy Sabbath everyone!

“You are so young; you stand before beginnings. I would like to beg of you, dear friend, as well as I can, to have patience with everything that remains unsolved in your heart. Try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books written in a foreign language. Do not now look for the answers. They cannot now be given to you because you could not live them. It is a question of experiencing everything. At present you need to live the question. Perhaps you will gradually, without even noticing it, find yourself experiencing the answer, some distant day. And the point is to live everything, live the questions now.”

– Rainer Rilke; Letters to a Young Poet (#4)