Malankara World Journal - Christian Spirituality from a Jacobite and Orthodox Perspective

Malankara World Journal
Penta Centum Souvenir Edition
Volume 8 No. 500 October 14, 2018


Chapter - 20: Silence

Our Silent Path to God By Rev. Dn. Reeves Manikat

How can we overcome our shortcomings and find an answer to our faults? How can we attain this silence whereby we are commuted with the Lord? The silence of our self and the resultant creation of our understandings prepare a pathway that brings us closer to God. ...

If You Want to Hear God, Get Still and Listen by Rick Warren

You have to be quiet in order to hear God speak. If you want to hear God's vision, then you're going to have to turn off the television. You can't listen to God and the TV at the same time!...

The Silence of the Word by Pope Benedict XVI

The cross of Christ not only portrays the silence of Jesus as His final word to the Father; it also reveals that God speaks through the silence: "The silence of God, the experience of the distance of the almighty Father, is a decisive stage in the earthly journey of the Son of God, the incarnate Word. ...

Solitude: A Vital Factor in Growing Closer to God by Charles R. Swindoll

Solitude is good for us. Our natural tendency is to always have people around, always have stuff going on, but let me be candid: I've never learned anything all that significant in a crowd. ...

What I Learned When God Went Silent by Lindsey Maestas

To hear the whisper of God, we must turn down the noise of the world. ...

The Value of Silence Before the Great Mystery of the Incarnation by Msgr. Charles Pope

As the mysteries of the incarnation unfold for us liturgically, Let all mortal flesh keep silence, and with fear and trembling stand, Christ our God to earth descendeth, bearing blessings in his hand (from the hymn, "Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence")....

Should I Fight or be Still? by Debbie Holloway

Sometimes God calls us to fight, and sometimes he tells us to be still. How can we decipher it? ...

When Life Goes Without Answers by Shelli Williams

Job seems to move from apparent acceptance to what is happening to him to an out and out challenge of God and God's power in his life. He demands answers now and sees justice as due to him. We identify with Job here. We want answers. Answers would make life easier. And we want answers NOW. But Job doesn't even seem to be able to find God in order to register his complaint. God is maintaining His silence! ...

Some Quotes for Further Reflection:

In his poetic eulogy "The World of Silence", the French philosopher Max Picard says that silence is the central place of faith, where we give the Word back to the God from whom we first received it. ...

Chapter - 20: Silence

Our Silent Path to God

By Rev. Dn. Reeves Manikat

Man is encased by the creation of his own mind. We stand on a court with a wall in front of us. Behind the wall is the answer to our problems and afflictions and the answer to our purpose on this court. In our hand is the ball of knowledge that we have accrued through our years on this earth. We throw the ball against the wall in anticipation of adding to our knowledge and understanding our surroundings and in anticipation of receiving a different ball. We realize that we must break this wall in order to achieve the result we desire. Therefore, we continue to throw but the result remains the same. We look around us for guidance and various teachings and contributions to add to our skills. We are now able to catapult the ball at a greater force and greater acumen. Our efforts continue to remain futile and the anticipated result is not achieved.

The thoughts and ideas in our minds are similar. We create thoughts from the knowledge surrounding us and from our own conceptions. In an essence of self confidence we deem ourselves capable of overcoming the barrier in front of us with the knowledge that we created. In our relentless efforts we forget that as our self-confidence grows, the barrier in front of us continues to grow. The distance between us and the barrier increases and the knowledge and life experience we gain, remains futile.

When we look around us, we see the effects of our selfish desires. We change everything around us at our will in order to bring greater clarity to our lives. This constant desire to bring clarity has resulted in the destruction of the other creations of God. We are attempting to find purpose in our lives. We are attempting to create a purpose that was not the initial intention either.

How are we to silence the body that we have been bestowed and fulfill the intention of our spirit that is led by our Lord? How can we overcome our shortcomings and find an answer to our faults? How can we attain this silence whereby we are commuted with the Lord? The silence of our self and the resultant creation of our understandings prepare a pathway that brings us closer to God.

Prayer is an avenue that is commonly utilized to bring us closer to God and realize His will. Prayer is an intimate, personal communion with God and it allows us to express our desire for this communion. As it is written in 1 Corinthians 2:9, “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him.” The understanding and wisdom that God has bestowed upon us is delivered through the Holy Spirit. Contemplating on these teachings allows us then to understand the messages from God by being enlightened by the Holy Spirit. This allows us to live in the Holy Spirit and overcome worldly thoughts and desires.

Silent prayer is the constant meditation on the teachings of Christ and the church. It helps us to allow God to work in us without our hesitation or intrusion of our worldly thoughts. Prayer changes us. It instills greater faith and contemplation of our deeds and sanctification of our thoughts. As Mahatma Gandhi said, “Prayer is not an old woman’s idle amusement. Properly understood and applied, it is the most potent instrument of action.”

A difficulty that we come across when we attempt silent prayer is the worldly thoughts that may overcome us, especially our faults and shortcomings. When we close the door and are left to ourselves our mind is flooded with our insecurities. Our imperfections glare at us and we cannot think of anything else. Prayer is difficult in such a situation. However, prayer is also the answer to overcome our shortcomings.

Meditation provides us with various tools to overcome our shortcomings. Initially we are able to accept ourselves, encasing our shortcomings, as creations of God. Upon further contemplation we realize the causes of our shortcomings and seek a solution for the causative factors. In deeper meditation and contemplation we realize that the causative factors and our shortcomings are our own creation and that the purpose that God has instilled in us is different than the thoughts that fill our minds. In 1 Thessalonians 5:17 we are constantly reminded to “pray without ceasing.” In 1 Samuel 1:12-13 we read about Hannah’s prayer, “As she continued praying before the LORD, Eli observed her mouth. Hannah was speaking in her heart; only her lips moved, and her voice was not heard.” The constant meditation diverts our attention away from our desires and allows us to focus on the teachings of Christ.

Schmidt in 1971 wrote that the Liturgy is a symbolic interpretative scheme and the liturgical gestures are faith in action. The Holy Qurbono of the Syriac Orthodox Church utilizes symbols to expound meanings and interpretations where words will not suffice. It takes into account that “faith is an inner state of the soul” (Hebrews 1:1). The Qurbono allows the participants to transcend the material world and fixate themselves on the majestic prowess of the communion of man and God. We, as participants, are called to be attentive and wholly submerged the occurrences before us. The entire focus of the Qurbono is fixated chiefly on the chief celebrant. All other occurrences, actions, words, deeds are merely aiding the chief celebrant to offer himself as the sacrifice for us.

The Qurbono is a humbling experience for the faithful. In the beginning, the bell of the church tolls to call the faithful to gather to worship the Lord. On hearing the bell the faithful pray, “Open Thou my lips, O lord, that I might praise Thee” (Psalm 51:15). We are asking permission to open our mouths in order to offer praises to God. During the Qurbono, small bells are rung to call the attention of the faithful to the most significant rites. When we are called to pay attention, our minds and our thoughts are transfixed on what we witness. At this time, we close our mouths and open our eyes and ears to witness the important parts of the Qurbono. When the bells ring we silence the worldly thoughts and desires for that moment and are then filled only with the thoughts of the pure Qurbono. This diversion by sudden sounds and proclamations allows us to forget our physical being and connect with the chief celebrant. The congregation as a whole is further being unified by chanting the prose together, thereby becoming one body and one church. This call to attention and unification process dispels any barriers inherent in the thoughts and minds of the participants. Prior to the Fracture, during the Anaphora, the Kiss of peace is offered among the congregation. This allows us to reconcile with our brethren before offering the sacrifice. The prayers offered by the chief celebrant are intercessory prayers on behalf of the congregation alive and dead.

The chief celebrant prepares themselves through the prayers during the Thuyobo (Preparation) through the prayers of the orders of Melchizidek and Aaron to make them worthy to offer themselves and to ensure that they are worthy vessels to carry the body and blood of Christ. Melchizidek was a priest who mediated the worship of God by men. He offered prayers on behalf of the people and this preparatory prayer reminds us of the sacrifice that the priest offered for all men. In Leviticus 1:5-9 God instructs Moses on the way to offer animal offerings to the Lord. In this, the sons of Aaron, the priests, cleanse the animal’s organs and prepares the animal to be offered on the altar. The preparatory prayers of the Order of Aaron signify this by preparing the chief celebrant. A key component of this Order is the prayer for the congregation as the “Levite priests prayed for the twelve tribes of Israel whose names were inscribed on a stone.” Physically, the chief celebrant further prepares himself by cleansing his hands twice. The first instance, during the Thuyobo, and the second instance, during the Nicene Creed, is before the chief celebrant handles the Divine Mysteries. This purification process is a realization that we need a mediator on our behalf who is deemed worthy of interceding for us and highlights our unworthiness to offer the sacrifices by ourselves. We are reliant on the purified body of the celebrant to offer the sacrifices on our behalf. The faithful congregation is humbling themselves by being witnesses of the sacrifice. The priest during this instance symbolizes Christ himself and we are witnesses of Christ. Furthermore, we are witnessing through the actions in the Holy Qurbono how the world was prepared for the sacrifice of our Lord for the remission of our sins. The preparatory prayers symbolize the time of the Old Testament when God spoke to the church fathers through the prophets. The celebration of the public Qurbono after the veil is lifted symbolizes the ministry of our Lord as the Word took flesh.

The wall is our own creation. It signifies the barriers we create that separate us from the Good One. Our worldly thoughts and desires, our responsibilities, our faults, our aspirations constitute this wall. The ideas that we use to create this wall are the same ideas that we use to make sense of why we created it in the first place. But merely attempting to overcome the wall through brute force is futile. Utilizing knowledge and theoretical understandings of man’s creation and the purpose of our lives further hinders our true goal in finding and receiving the One who created us. Behind the wall is the answer to our problems. We therefore need to stop creating this wall for our own purpose. If this wall is our own creation it is our responsibility to tear it down and allow ourselves to receive the instruction from God to create a lasting structure on this earth that is according to His will. We need to silence our ambitions, desires, thoughts, even the fault findings of our own shortcomings in order to make this wall disappear. Through this meditation we are then able to receive the proper instruction from the proper source. How then can we be certain that our deeds are truly worthy to be called good? Silence is not merely the absence of sound or the absence of thoughts. Silence is overcoming the worldly desires and thoughts and the ability to transcend the occurrences in this world and transfix ourselves to fulfill the purpose deemed good and necessary by our Creator. Silence is the dissolution of our self that we have created and the acceptance of the being that God has created in us. As we read in 1 Corinthians 2:8-14, “Now he who plants and he who waters are one, and each one will receive his own reward according to his own labor. For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, you are God’s building...and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is.”

This silence of our self, our being as humans, our entire understanding that we are individual beings separate from those past, present, and future is the true silence that we must attain in order to bring proper purpose in our deeds. We must become nothing in order to become the something that our Lord wants us to be. That requires complete withdrawal from our understanding of the world as we know it and have come to understand it. Our understanding of the world is based on the knowledge acquired from our experiences in this world and the conceptions that we have created based on our understanding of those experiences. This silence is a deliberate attempt and can only be properly directed towards the desired goal of union with God through a strong foundation of faith in Him. Our practices of prayer and immersing ourselves in the Holy Qurbono are our guides in fully submitting to Him and realizing His will. We must dissolve this understanding and preconceived notions through prayer and partaking in the Qurbono, thereby strengthening our faith in Him, and to fully fill our minds with the teachings of Christ, the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and carry out the will of our Lord. 

If You Want to Hear God, Get Still and Listen

by Rick Warren

"Pause a moment, Job, and listen; consider the wonderful things God does"
(Job 37:14 GNT).

Sometimes as adults we get spiritual wiggles. We cannot get still and be quiet.

But you have to be quiet in order to hear God speak. If you want to hear God's vision, then you're going to have to turn off the television. You can't listen to God and the TV at the same time!

It is possible God never speaks to you because you're never quiet. Something is always going on in your mind, so while God is trying to get through to you on the telephone of life, he's getting a busy signal. You've got to reserve time alone with God.

The Bible says in Job 37:14, "Pause a moment, Job, and listen; consider the wonderful things God does" (GNT).

God wants to spend time with you. He says, "Pause, be quiet, get alone, and learn solitude so I can talk with you."

Is getting God's dream for your life worth a day of your life? Have you ever taken an entire day and done nothing but be alone with God? Talk to God in prayer. Let God talk to you through the Bible. Relax. Think. Write down the thoughts he puts in your mind. Set some goals. Look through your schedule. Set your priorities. Spend the day saying, "God, where do you want me to go? What direction do you want my feet headed?"

God speaks to people who take the time to listen — not just for a day but also on a regular basis. This is called a quiet time, and it is when we can have an intimate conversation with God.

Talk It Over

Think about your quiet time. How much time do you spend actually being quiet and waiting on God to speak to you?

What distractions do you need to eliminate so that you can be still and quiet?

Source: Daily Hope with Rick Warren
© 2017 by Rick Warren. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

The Silence of the Word

by Pope Benedict XVI

In a previous series of catecheses I spoke about the prayer of Jesus, and I would not wish to conclude this reflection without briefly pausing to consider the theme of Jesus' silence, which is so important in our relationship with God.

In the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Verbum Domini, I made reference to the role that silence assumes in the life of Jesus, especially on Golgotha: "Here we find ourselves before the "word of the cross" (1 Corinthians 1:18). The word is muted; it becomes mortal silence, for it has "spoken" exhaustively, holding back nothing of what it had to tell us (n. 12). Faced with this silence of the cross, St. Maximus the Confessor places upon the lips of the Mother of God this touching phrase:

"Wordless is the Word of the Father, who made every creature which speaks; lifeless are the eyes of the one at whose word and whose nod all living things move".
(The Life of Mary, no. 89: Marian Texts of the First Millennium, 2, Rome 1989, p. 253).

The Silence of the Father

The cross of Christ not only portrays the silence of Jesus as His final word to the Father; it also reveals that God speaks through the silence: "The silence of God, the experience of the distance of the almighty Father, is a decisive stage in the earthly journey of the Son of God, the incarnate Word. Hanging from the wood of the cross, he lamented the suffering caused by that silence: ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?' (Mark 15:34; Matthew 27:46). Advancing in obedience to his very last breath, in the obscurity of death, Jesus called upon the Father. He commended himself to him at the moment of passage, through death, to eternal life: ‘Father, into your hands I commend my spirit' (Luke 23:46)" (Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Verbum Domini, 21). The experience of Jesus on the cross speaks deeply of the situation of the man who prays and of the culmination of prayer: after having heard and acknowledged God's Word, we must also measure ourselves by God's silence, which is an important expression of the same divine Word.

With Mary, the Woman Wrapped in Silence

The interplay of word and silence that marks the prayer of Jesus during his entire earthly life — especially on the cross — also touches our own lives of prayer, in two ways. The first concerns our welcoming of God's Word. Interior and exterior silence are necessary in order that this word may be heard. And this is especially difficult in our own day. In fact, ours is not an age which fosters recollection; indeed, at times one has the impression that people have a fear of detaching themselves, even for a moment, from the barrage of words and images that mark and fill our days. For this reason, in the already mentioned Exhortation Verbum Domini, I recalled the necessity of our being educated in the value of silence: "Rediscovering the centrality of God's word in the life of the Church also means rediscovering a sense of recollection and inner repose. The great patristic tradition teaches us that the mysteries of Christ all involve silence. Only in silence can the word of God find a home in us, as it did in Mary, woman of the word and, inseparably, woman of silence" (n. 21).

Silence in the Liturgy

This principle – that without silence we neither hear nor listen nor receive the word – applies above all to personal prayer, but it also pertains to our liturgies: in order to facilitate an authentic listening, they must also be rich in moments of silence and unspoken receptivity. St. Augustine's observation forever holds true: Verbo crescente, verba deficient — "When the Word of God increases, the words of men fail" (cf. Sermon 288; 5: PL 38, 1307; Sermon 120,2: PL 38,677). The Gospels often present Jesus — especially at times of crucial decisions — withdrawing alone to a place set apart from the crowds and from his own disciples, in order to pray in the silence and to abide in his filial relationship with God. Silence is capable of excavating an interior space in our inmost depths so that God may abide there, so that his Word may remain in us, so that love for him may be rooted in our minds and in our hearts and animate our lives. The first way, then: to learn silence, [to learn] the openness to listening that opens us to the other, to the Word of God.

Silence in Secret Prayer

However, there is a second important element in the relation of silence with prayer. For in fact there exists not only our silence, which disposes us to listening to God's Word; often in our prayer, we find ourselves before the silence of God; we experience a sense of abandonment; it seems to us that God is not listening and that He does not respond. But this silence of God – as Jesus also experienced – is not a sign of His absence. The Christian knows well that the Lord is present and that he is listening, even in the darkness of suffering, rejection and solitude. Jesus reassures the disciples and each one of us that God knows well our needs at every moment of life. He teaches the disciples: "In praying do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him" (Matthew 6:7-8): an attentive, silent, open heart is more important than many words.

Job and the Silence of God

God knows us intimately, more deeply than we know ourselves, and He loves us: and knowing this should suffice. In the Bible, Job's experience is particularly significant in this regard. This man quickly loses everything: family, wealth, friends, health; it seems that God's attitude towards him is precisely one of abandonment, of total silence. And yet Job, in his relationship with God, speaks with God, cries out to God; in his prayer, despite everything, he preserves his faith intact and, in the end, he discovers the value of his experience and of God's silence. And thus, in the end, turning to his Creator, he is able to conclude: "I had heard of thee by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees thee" (Job 42:5): nearly all of us know God only through hearsay, and the more we are open to His silence and to our silence, the more we begin to know Him truly. This supreme confidence, which opens way to a profound encounter with God, matures in silence. St Francis Xavier prayed, saying to the Lord: "I love you, not because you can give me heaven or condemn me to hell, but because you are my God. I love You, because You are You."

Listen to Jesus at Prayer

As we approach the conclusion of our reflections on the prayer of Jesus, a number of the teachings from the Catechism of the Catholic Church come to mind: "The drama of prayer is fully revealed to us in the Word who became flesh and dwells among us. To seek to understand his prayer through what his witnesses proclaim to us in the Gospel is to approach the holy Lord Jesus as Moses approached the burning bush: first to contemplate him in prayer, then to hear how he teaches us to pray in order to know how he hears our prayer" (n. 2598).

And how does Jesus teach us to pray? In the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church we find a clear answer: "Jesus teaches us to pray not only with the Our Father" — certainly the central act in his teaching on how we are to pray — "but also when [He himself] prays. In this way he teaches us, in addition to the content, the dispositions necessary for every true prayer: purity of heart that seeks the Kingdom and forgives one's enemies, bold and filial faith that goes beyond what we feel and understand, and watchfulness that protects the disciple from temptation" (n. 544).

Constant Prayer

In surveying the Gospels, we saw how the Lord is the interlocutor, friend, witness and teacher of our prayer. In Jesus the newness of our dialogue with God is revealed: filial prayer, which the Father awaits from His children. And we learn from Jesus how constant prayer helps us to interpret our lives, to make decisions, to recognize and accept our vocation, to discover the talents that God had given us, to daily fulfill His Will, which is the only path to attaining fulfillment in our lives.

The Source of Salvation and of Hope

The prayer of Jesus indicates to us who are often preoccupied by the efficiency of our work and the concrete results we achieve that we need to stop and to experience moments of intimacy with God, "detaching ourselves" from the daily din in order to listen, to go to the "root" that supports and nourishes life. One of the most beautiful moments in the prayer of Jesus is precisely the moment when he — in order to face the disease, distress and limitations of his interlocutors — turns to his Father in prayer, thus teaching those around him where the source of hope and salvation is to be sought.

Jesus' Prayer to the Father

I already recalled the moving example of Jesus' prayer at the tomb of Lazarus. The Evangelist John recounts: "So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, ‘Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me. I knew that thou hearest me always, but I have said this on account of the people standing by, that they may believe that thou didst send me.' When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out!'" (John 11:41-43).

Prayer from the Cross

But Jesus reaches the heights of the depth of his prayer to the Father during his Passion and Death, when he pronounces his supreme "yes" to the plan of God and reveals how the human will finds its fulfillment precisely in adhering fully to the divine will, rather than the opposite. In Jesus' prayer, in his cry to the Father on the Cross, "all the troubles, for all time, of humanity enslaved by sin and death, all the petitions and intercessions of salvation history are summed up … Here the Father accepts them and, beyond all hope, answers them beyond all hope, answers them by raising his Son. Thus is fulfilled and brought to completion the drama of prayer in the economy of creation and salvation" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2606).

How to Turn to God

Dear brothers and sisters, with trust let us ask the Lord to enable to live out the journey of our filial prayer, by learning day by day from the Only Begotten Son made man for us how to turn to God. The words of St. Paul on the Christian life apply also to our own prayer: "For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 8:38-39).

Source: Vultus Christ Fr. Mark
© 2013-2019 The Monastery of Our Lady of the Cenacle. All Rights Reserved.

Solitude: A Vital Factor in Growing Closer to God

by Charles R. Swindoll

I often smile when I read the Gospel of Mark. He loved the word "immediately." It appears again and again. Mark reminds us that Jesus' life was packed with people and pressure like you and I have never known. But he also records that "in the early morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house, and went away to a secluded place, and was praying there" (Mark 1:35).

Why did he do that? Was He a morning person? Not necessarily. Morning was the only time He could be alone. The next verses say they hunted for Him even then and when they found Him said, "Everyone is looking for You" (1:36-37).

A paraphrase would read "Jesus, You can't stay out here by Yourself. Man, You're needed back here!" but Jesus needed the solitude of that early morning talk with His father to filter things out — and my friends, so do we.

Solitude is good for us. Our natural tendency is to always have people around, always have stuff going on, but let me be candid: I've never learned anything all that significant in a crowd. I love to be with people, but solitude helps filter out the essentials and sift away the nonessentials. Life kind of makes up its mind in solitude.

If the truth were known, some of you live on the ragged edge because you continually deal with people, demands, expectations, children pulling at you, friends, schedules, and plans. You can't remember the last time you spent absolutely alone.... I know whereof I speak.

Sometimes it's a motorcycle ride for me. Sometimes it's a long walk. But I'll tell you, every time it happens, it's deliberate. No one has ever said to me, "You need to get alone for a while." No, this is a choice we all have to make.

I can just hear some of you wondering, "What do I do when I'm alone?"

I have found that one of the best uses of my time in solitude is keeping a journal. Webster's defines a journal as "a record of experiences, ideas, or reflections kept regularly for private use." 1 I want you to consider keeping one too. You'll find it keeps you from losing the best things you gain in your solitude, and that's what draws you closer to God's heart.

If you will allow me this final thought: You owe it to God, you owe it to yourself, and you owe it to those you love the most to make solitude a deliberate choice in your life. It'll take an adjustment to your schedule, but it will make a meaningful difference in your life.

1. Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, 10th ed. (Springfield, Mass.: Merriam-Webster, 1999), "Journal."

Taken from Charles R. Swindoll, "Solitude: A Vital Factor in Growing Closer to God," Insights (January 2000): 1-2. Copyright © 2000 by Charles R. Swindoll, Inc. All rights reserved worldwide.
Source: Insight for Living

What I Learned When God Went Silent

by Lindsey Maestas

A.W. Tozer wisely said, "The one who does not expect God to speak will discount every single time that God does speak."

Have you heard from God lately?

I have had many seasons this year in which I have pleaded, asking God, "Where are you?! Why have you left?" This questioning often came from a place of anger & sadness, but mostly from one of loneliness.

One day, I heard His still small voice and He asked:

"Who or what is molding you, Lindsey? What things are you allowing to form and shape your heart and mind daily?"

Let's back up a bit.

The words "I don't have time" have become a daily speech in my life. Gosh, I can't even count the number of times that those words have rolled off of my tongue this year. I have justified the time that I spend watching Netflix, cleaning my house, having people over or mindlessly scrolling through my phone, and yet I make excuses for the fact that I have recently spent very little time with God.

I am aimless and distracted; I may as well be plugging my ears with the only goal being to diminish His voice.

Exhaustion is another excuse of mine. I'm exhausted because my toddler is in an extremely hard season. I'm nine months pregnant. I feel exhausted by the busyness of life. I'm exhausted by society's expectations and exhausted by my futile attempts to live up to them.

And though these things are tiring within themselves, I would not be half as exhausted if I didn't attempt to carry these burdens on my own.

When I look back on what this year looked like for us, I envision myself trudging through knee-deep mud, working with all of my effort just to take one tiny step forward each and every day.

It was a really hard year, you guys. I personally battled with heavy doubt, broken friendships, questioning my identity and faith, unmet expectations, the insane challenges of motherhood, family struggles and so much more.

And in this season when I have needed the strength and comfort of God the most, I have managed to list off every excuse to not spend time with Him.

At a time when I should be resisting the Enemy and clinging to the One who desires to carry all of my burdens, I turned my back and allowed them to weigh me down to the point of nearly breaking.

It's just easier sometimes, isn't it?

It's easier to give in to the Enemy's plan to destroy our faith as we succumb to laziness, distraction and lack of concern.

We tune God out and then shift the blame onto Him. We claim that everything is happening because He isn't present or near.

We blame Him for His silence when we have simply chosen to be deaf.

At least I do.

But He never walks away from us. He promises that He won't. He is faithful – reaching out and pleading for us to turn from the distractions of this world and to see Him clearly. He never intended for us to live this life on our own.

Deuteronomy 7:9, "Know therefore that the Lord your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love Him and keep His commandments, to a thousand generations."

When I finally chose to set aside my distractions and idols, He quickly reminded me that He is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. His Spirit moves in my heart, His word is living and active and I have the daily choice to live as a reflection of His love or as a reflection of my own selfishness.

Matthew 5:13 says, "You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people's feet."

Friends – how is your relationship with God in this moment? Has your salt lost its taste? Would the people that you come across daily know, without a doubt, that your life is led by Jesus?

If not, is it really because God has turned His back on you – or have you simply allowed the shiny things of this world to pull you away from Him?

Every one of us has many things in our lives that fight to shape and mold who we are, and yet most of them honestly look nothing like Christ.

I want to share three things for you to remember this year about the shaping and molding of your heart. These simple concepts have helped to shift my perspective while positively changing my relationship with Him.

1. Your Church Will Fail You

My father-in-law often does a challenging illustration at his church. He holds up a rope and the length of that rope represents the number of hours in the week – 168 inches for 168 hours. He then shows the amount of time spent at church that week (1-2 hours) and drops the rope to display only 2 minuscule inches. The remainder of the rope hangs down and represents exactly what it is – dead weight.

What are we doing with the rest of that rope? What are we filling our minds and hearts with in the other 166 hours of our week?

You guys, if you go to church for one or two hours a week and expect to be grooved, shaped and molded by the gospel, and expect that to be your full spiritual formation, I promise that your church will fail you. Your relationship with God will be lukewarm at best. It's impossible for us to take one measley hour to be transformed while the other 167 hours are being influenced by what the world says makes us "good" and "enough."

This is why the habits that we create for our moment to moment lives are so important. Where do your time, talent & treasure go?

2. If you choose darkness daily, you're pushing out the Light.

When you sanctify your sin and give in to the same things over and over again, those things will be grooved so deeply in your heart, often causing you to ask, "Where is God?"

Oftentimes, we take advantage of grace while we actively choose sin or faithlessness every day. And then we still expect God to show up.

What sin in your life have you justified and explained away to a point where it's no longer on your radar? Sexual sin, pride, relationship idolatry, love of money, drunkenness? When we choose to wake up every day, living in darkness, we are then actively choosing to push out the Light. To hear the whisper of God, we must turn down the noise of the world.

This article originally appeared on Sparrows and Lily. Used with permission.

About The Author:

Lindsey Maestas is a Christian based out of Albuquerque, NM. She received her degree in Journalism and is a writer for the faith-based lifestyle blog,

Source: Live It Devotional

The Value of Silence Before the Great Mystery of the Incarnation

by Msgr. Charles Pope

Something at Christmas urges me (a man of many words) to write of holy silence. Perhaps it is due to one of the great Christmas antiphons, which speaks of the birth of Christ as a magnum mysterium (a great mystery). During Mass recently, the words of Zechariah came to my mind:

Sing and rejoice, O daughter of Zion, for behold, I come and I will dwell in your midst, declares the Lord … Be silent, all flesh, before the Lord, for he has roused himself from his holy dwelling (Zechariah 2:11, 13).

There is a common idiom: "Words fail me." It is in this context that we can best understand God's call to fall silent before the mystery of the Lord's incarnation. Notice in the passage above that the call to silence follows the call to "sing and rejoice."

Is there a difference between singing and rejoice and just plain speaking? Of course there is! By adding the inscrutable sighs we call "song" (a deeply mysterious emanation from our souls) to the words, singing is declaring that "words fail."

To be sure words, are a "necessary evil" for us, but in using words we indicate more what a thing is not than what it is. For example, if I say to you, "I am a man," I have really told you more what I am not than what I am. I have told you I am not a woman, nor a chair, nor a lion, nor a rock. But I have not told what it means to be a man. I have not told you myriad other things about myself that I could: I am a priest; my father was a lawyer and Navy veteran; my mother was a teacher; I am descended from Irish, German, and English immigrants. I have not told you about my gifts, or my talents, or my struggles, or numerous other aspects that make me who I am. And even if I spent several paragraphs relating my curriculum vitae to you, there would still be vastly more left unsaid than was said. Words fail.

Further, words are not the reality they (often poorly) attempt to convey. They are symbols of what they indicate. If you see a sign, "Washington" you don't stop there and take a picture of the sign. The sign itself is not Washington; it merely points to the reality that is Washington. You pass the sign and enter into a reality far bigger than the metal sign and begin to experience it. Words fail.

Many words are also more unlike the reality they describe than like it. My philosophy teacher once asked us how we would describe the color green to a man born blind. We struggled with the task but were able to come up with some analogies: green is like the taste of cool mint; green is like the feel of dew-covered grass. To some extent green is like these things, but the color green is more unlike these things than like them. Green, as a reality, is so much richer than the taste of cool mint or the feel of dew-covered grass. Words fail.

And if this be so in the case of mere earthly things, how much more so in the case of heavenly and Godly matters! The Lord therefore commands a holy silence of us as a kind of reminder that words fail. Silence is proper reverence for the mystery of the incarnation and of God. Words are necessary; without them orthodoxy could not be set forth and truth could not be conveyed. But, especially regarding God and the truths of faith, there comes this salutary reminder from St. Thomas Aquinas: "Now, because we cannot know what it God is, but rather what he is not, we have no means for considering how God is, but rather how he is not" (Prima pars, q. 3, prologue).

Therefore, as the mysteries of the incarnation unfold for us liturgically, Let all mortal flesh keep silence, and with fear and trembling stand, Christ our God to earth descendeth, bearing blessings in his hand (from the hymn, "Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence").

Source: Archdiocese of Washington

Should I Fight or be Still?

by Debbie Holloway, Contributor

You have commanded your precepts to be kept diligently. Oh that my ways may be steadfast in keeping your statutes! (Psalms 119:4)

Do you often find yourself confused, unsure of how to best live according to God's will? This is a struggle for me. Should I speak or stay silent? Will this action offend or edify? Is this a time for action or inaction? Should I fight? Or should I stay still?

Though every situation is different and every person unique, the Bible paints both stillness and action as pleasing to the LORD, depending on the variables at hand.

One example is when the Israelites were fleeing from Pharaoh and the Egyptians. The LORD had fought for them in Egypt by displaying horrors and miracles through Aaron and Moses. Finally their oppressors relented and the Israelites were free – but not for long. Pharaoh changed his mind, and Exodus tells the account of their suspenseful chase after the newly freed slaves. "What have you done to us?" the people cried to Moses (Exodus 14:11). They knew there was nothing they could do to protect themselves from the mighty King of Egypt.

But then God made his will known through Moses. No, the Israelites would not be able to defeat Pharaoh.

But the LORD did not ask them to.

"The LORD will fight for you," Moses proclaimed. "You need only to be still."

But there are other times, are there not? Times when we have the choice to stretch out our hands to either right or wrong, and there is no in-between. Paul writes to Timothy,

"But you, man of God...pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith" (1 Timothy 6:11-12).

Sometimes we must fight. And make no mistake; this is not a direct call to fist-fights or military service. It is a direct command to use the Ephesians 6:10. We must fight to keep righteousness in our own lives, refusing choices which lead to sin and death. We must fight for love, which means making really hard choices and overcoming our natural selfish inclinations. We must fight for endurance, keeping promises, covenants, and our integrity in a way worthy of Christ Jesus.

Sometimes God calls us to fight, and sometimes he tells us to be still. How can we decipher it?

Sometimes it will be hard. But from these passages, I would risk saying that God knows when we are facing a foe that's too big for us. Sometimes we ache and long to fight, but we know the battle is beyond us, out of our hands. It is those times we must remember that God is a God of the weak, the poor, and the broken. The LORD will fight for you. You need only to be still.

Other times we can and must fight. When we are faced with injustice, and we have some measure of control, we must fight for the small ones. When we are faced with personal crises, we must fight for our children, parents, marriages, relationships, churches – not against them. We must use every weapon in our spiritual arsenals to build the Kingdom of God and protect it from the ever-watchful forces of darkness. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance. Fight the good fight.

Intersecting Faith and Life:

What are you struggling with now in your life, or your walk with the LORD? Spend some time in prayer to see whether God wants you to fight, or lay down your weapons and give the battle to him.

Further Reading:

  • Ephesians 6:10
  • Exodus 14:1
  • Hebrews 12:3

Source: Crosswalk the Devotional

When Life Goes Without Answers

by Shelli Williams

Scripture: Job 23: 1-9, 16-17

23 Then Job answered: 2 "Today also my complaint is bitter; his hand is heavy despite my groaning. 3 Oh, that I knew where I might find him, that I might come even to his dwelling! 4 I would lay my case before him, and fill my mouth with arguments. 5 I would learn what he would answer me, and understand what he would say to me. 6 Would he contend with me in the greatness of his power? No; but he would give heed to me. 7 There an upright person could reason with him, and I should be acquitted forever by my judge.

8 "If I go forward, he is not there; or backward, I cannot perceive him; 9 on the left he hides, and I cannot behold him; I turn to the right, but I cannot see him. 10 But he knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I shall come out like gold. 11 My foot has held fast to his steps; I have kept his way and have not turned aside. 12 I have not departed from the commandment of his lips; I have treasured in my bosom the words of his mouth.

13 But he stands alone and who can dissuade him? What he desires, that he does. 14 For he will complete what he appoints for me; and many such things are in his mind. 15 Therefore I am terrified at his presence; when I consider, I am in dread of him. 16 God has made my heart faint; the Almighty has terrified me; 17 If only I could vanish in darkness, and thick darkness would cover my face!"
Job 23:1-17

The author of the Book of Job is unknown, We also do not know the time in which it was written. This part of Job, we have in our front, is probably the hardest to read. Our friend Job seems to be giving up. He wants desperately to talk to God and to know that God is hearing him. We jump from Chapter 1 to Chapter 23. We have missed most of the poetic account of the visits and dialogue between Job and his three well-meaning, if not bothersome, friends.

Job seems to move from apparent acceptance to what is happening to him to an out and out challenge of God and God's power in his life. He demands answers now and sees justice as due to him. We identify with Job here. We want answers. Answers would make life easier. And we want answers NOW. But Job doesn't even seem to be able to find God in order to register his complaint.

His complaint is not that he is suffering - he seems to have resolved himself to that. He doesn't even seem to be questioning why God would do such a thing. Perhaps he is more comfortable with some of that mystery that is God than many of us. Job's biggest complaint is that he feels God has deserted him. He feels that God is absent in his life. And yet he still holds his integrity, unwilling to sin before God. And then, jumping to verse 16, his tune changes a bit. He admits that he is a little afraid of God, afraid of what God will do. He wants desperately to vanish into darkness and away from God. His image of God is falling into one that could quash him, could crush him. He almost sees God as an enemy and, yet, is not willing to sin before God.

To understand how Job got here, we sort of have to look at what he's been dealing with from his friends: First is his friend Eliphaz, who apparently sees God as "The Fixer”…”Come on, Job, if you just submit to God, if you have faith in God, God will fix it.” Then there's Bildad, who sees God as "The Judge”…”Well, Job, you must have done SOMETHING wrong. After all, God is fair and just. God only gives you what you deserve.” And finally, we have Zophar. Zophar seems to see God as saying whatever it is that he's saying…Job must be wrong, I must be right. We've all known these friends. Wouldn't you rather just sit in the silence?

But the truth is, Job still desires God. He wants to connect with God, to know that God is there. Richard Rohr says it like this: But somehow, Job says, I can't get through to him. "God has made my heart sink. Shaddai has filled me with fear. For darkness hides me from him, and the gloom veils his presence from me.” I can no longer "think God” or think it out at all. Job is being led beyond ideas and concepts to mere desire. He has been simplified by suffering, which is what suffering always does. He is reduced to pure desire. What we desire enough, we are likely to get. The all-important thing is to desire, and to desire deeply. What we desire is what we will become. What we have already desired is who we are right now. We must ask God to fill us with right desire. It's our profound and long-lasting desires that will finally explain our lives, and will soon explain Job's. (From Job and the Mystery of Suffering, by Richard Rohr, 123)

Job is saying, "I know I don't have a chance, I know God is right somehow; I just don't understand in this instance how he's right. But I'm willing to wait."

That's the difference. He's willing to wait in that space of nonanswer. That's the space in which God creates faith. The counselors are not willing to live in that space where there is no answer, no conclusions. To this day, many people equate "religious answers" with "faith”. But faith does not mean having answers; it means being willing to live without answers. Cultural faith and civil religion tend to define faith poorly and narrowly as having certitudes and being able to hold religious formulas.

Such common religion is often an excuse for not having faith. Strange, isn't it? Faith is having the security to be insecure, the security to live in another identity than our own and to find our value and significance in that larger union. (Rohr, 74.)

1. What is your response to this passage?
2. Why do we struggle with these seemed "silences” of God?
3. What is it about us that needs to have answers so desperately?
4. What does that say about our faith?

Source: Journey to Penuel

Quotes for Further Reflection:

In his poetic eulogy "The World of Silence", the French philosopher Max Picard says that silence is the central place of faith, where we give the Word back to the God from whom we first received it. Surrendering the Word, we surrender the medium of our creation. We unsay ourselves, voluntarily returning to the source of our being, where we must trust God to say us once again. In silence, we travel back in time to the day before the first day of Creation, when all being was still part of God's body. It had not yet been said, and silence was the womb in which it slept. (Barbara Brown Taylor, When God is Silent)

If we live our spiritual lives only in fear of punishment or in hope of reward, rather than in the awareness of the One because of whom all life is worthwhile, we can be religious people, but we will never be holy people. Then life is simply a series of tests and trials and scores, not the moment-by-moment revelation of God who is present in everything that happens to us, in everything we do…God is present in everything around us, in everything we do, wherever we are, and in whatever situations we find ourselves. It is coming to a sense of the Presence of God that changes our attitude toward life. (Joan Chittister, Becoming Fully Human)


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