Given my work—writing, teaching, and preaching—I do a lot of talking, either on paper, on a screen, in a classroom, or in a worship space. A lot of talking. Last fall, I spent 13 hours a week in class, preached every week, and taught occasional classes or seminars for congregations and other groups. I also wrote, sporadically, for this website.
In early December, I grew tired—really tired—of hearing myself talk. I was overextended: I expended far more than I took-in. I wasn’t listening, reading, and pondering enough to speak from a reservoir of reflection. Instead, I scrambled frantically, before the next lecture, sermon, or article, for something worthy of my readers’ and listeners’ time and attention. I’m didn’t always find it.
Though I’ve still talked more than I wanted to, I’ve made an effort, since the fall semester ended, to shut up. I’ve read more poetry, novels, and short stories than I’ve read in a while. I’m immersing myself in James Baldwin’s elegant and incisive prose and in Roxanne Gay’s surgically-sharp insight and wisdom in books like Bad Feminist and Hunger.
I’m lingering over the Psalms and over the Sermon on the Mount. And, I’m sitting in silence so that I can hear, rather than vainly try to ignore, the riotous and cacophonous voices which live in me. I hope that, if I can assure them that I’ve heard them, they will be still enough for me to tune-in again and at last to the voice of the Spirit. If I’m ever to have anything to say which might be helpful, it will be a gift of that Spirit (I had Pentecostal grandparents, and this lesson “took”).
In addition to having been overextended, I’ve also been reactive rather than responsive. For reasons that seem plain to me, but which I know aren’t as clear to others, I think our nation teeters on the verge of crisis: fabrications displace facts; manipulative demagoguery shoves aside genuine leadership; narcissism diminishes commitment to the common good; and xenophobia shuts down the government. There are many other reasons I have a palpable feeling of impending crisis, including the ways some evangelical Christian opinion-shapers claim divine legitimacy for ways of governing which are plainly at-odds with the life and teachings of Jesus.
As the outrages continue, I’m tempted to comment on as many of them as I can. Outwardly, I mostly resist the temptation, while, internally, I’ve become maddeningly Pavlovian; I hardly pause between stimulus and response. Headlines and tweet-storms set me off, and, in my mind, I fire-off quick reactions. The result is that provocateurs set the agenda for me, rather than the good news of God’s just and merciful reign. I become part of the vicious cycle.
There’s also more than a little of the wrong kind of pride—hubris–in my thinking that people need to hear my reactions to the outrages du jour. Really? I’m white, male, straight, nearly 62-years old, and solidly middle class. My roots are in Appalachia and the redneck side of Atlanta, but the fact that I know more about kudzu than about the Ivy League doesn’t change the fact that I benefit, and always have benefitted, from privileges I didn’t earn.
I can, should, and do openly question the arrangements, assumptions, theologies, and policies that keep my privileges in place. Beyond such questioning, however, on many of the issues we face, the only things people need to hear from me are: “I repent” and “I step to the side ” and “Please join me in learning from the people who have the most to teach us, people whose voices have been muffled and muzzled by men positioned as I am.”
Isaiah of the Exile (“Second Isaiah”) has a cycle of Servant Songs which describes a faithful servant-leader among God’s people. In the third song (see Isaiah 50:4-9), the servant says “The Lord God has given me the tongue of a teacher, that I may know how to sustain the weary with a word. Morning by morning God wakens—wakens my ear to listen as those who are taught.” God “wakens”—literally, “digs out”—the ears of those who would speak. I’ve been submitting, gratefully, to the awakening, reopening, and “digging out” of my ears. It’s not always pleasant, but it is a way out of the imbalance and reactivity in which I’ve let myself get trapped.
The song also gives me an important discernment question: “Is what I’m about to say likely to sustain the weary?” If not, don’t say it. Be still and know—and be still until you know.
I can truly relate. I am 62 white female and am middle class , My husband is a buthcher , a dying trade but we do just have certain privileges. I never even gave much thought to that until a month or two ago I was on the receiving end of some unkind words from a woman. I will not expand on the story because it opened my eyes and ears. I didn’t ask to have certain privileges but I do. And she does not. I said some silent prayers and vowed to make a difference in my perspective. Sad to say it’s a struggle , but indeed I ask God every morning to Create a clean heart in me. Show me how to have love and give love , and for forgiveness because I fail. I listen to the Holy Spirit tell me to muzzle my tongue more often than not. The last few months I have had a few trials … keeping my heart on Jesus but I was tired and some negative thoughts were creeping in. I just had to be still . Be still and know he is God and that was all I needed. this one thing that remains is that I have hope for a beautiful peaceful world . Ps I know all about kudzu too. My daughter lived in Georgia for some time and it is everywhere. The roots really do go To China lol . I am a Christian Healing Prayer Minister in Yorktown Heights NY and I am so blessed
Thank you, Cindy. It is, indeed, a struggle to learn to see, hear, and feel differently, especially when we’ve benefited from the ways we have seen, heard, and felt in the past. I respect very much your willingness to engage in the work of change. My grandfather–whom we called “PaPa Butcher” (his name was “Hearvey”) was proud, and rightly so, of his craft. I’m glad that your husband continues in that practice.
The “digging out” of your ears caught my attention because just today I had a physical examination. My doctor said you have a build up of wax in both ears. His nurse softened the wax with a solution, then “shot” warm water into the ear canal. But that only partially removed the wax; my doctor took an instrument and carefully “dug out” more wax. My physical hearing has already improved, I pray that my spiritual hearing and discernment will likewise improve.
Thank you for your words of wisdom.
Marion, thank you for a perfect elaboration and illustration of the not-always-pleasant process of having our ears–literal and metaphorical–“dug out”! All the best, Guy
Thank you Guy for always being honest sbout your feelings. I still miss u and am sorry you’re having to deal with that terrible disease agai .we still love and miss you at church.
Thank you so much, Peggy. It’s good to hear from you. My love to you, too.
Amen. As always, Guy, you illuminate and elucidate perfectly. I can’t imagine how difficult it must be to bare your soul and your feelings so publicly. We love you and are praying for you. It was good to run into you at the Cornerstone over the holidays!
Guy, eloquent as usual. Thank you. May God continue to surround you in Grace and Love. Peace, my friend.
Dee & I always look forward to your E-Mails.
We continue to PRAY for you daily!
Thanks, Guy, for being willing to open a window into your life and let us see what genuine introspection looks like, for letting us hear what it feels like to know that you are “running on empty.” But more importantly, thanks for sharing with us the crucial step of turning from recognition to remedy. We have all been there or will get there and even at this point in my life, I need to be reminded that whether it is activity and nourishment, giving and receiving, working hard and resting back–or as you put it, expending and taking in–neither is much good without the other. You have said it and are living it and have let us be the richer for it.
Thanks so much, Earl. The emptier-fuller circuit is one we all travel, so I get more than a bit bemused at myself when I’m surprised to be on the emptier end of it. You’d think I would remember and, perhaps, even learn not to get quite as empty again. Best, Guy
As the hymn suggests, be still my soul, it is hard to do when all around is disruption- of the Earth’s crust (volcanoes…), of family trees (DNA…,) of just and democratic government (on-going ballot tampering…). Knowing our Creator desires that good defeat evil, we have to actively seek the ways that bring the healthiest living to all of humankind and all of nature and stop seeking the most robust bottom line. Guy, thank you for directing me towards thinking about what our Creator wants of us on this little piece of the magnificent Universe (s?!).
Thank you, Sandra, for the reminder that God is always on the side of our peace and wholeness and that we may choose to cooperate with those gracious divine intentions.
Your words have calmed this weary soul many times. The decision to lighten your schedule is a good one. You give so much to so many while facing the brutal effects of Frank. Be still and Know is so appropriate. There has to be time for refreshment and refilling the tank. I also question the legitimacy of Christian ideology that does not line up with the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. I give way too much thought to this. Many things can capture our thoughts. I am going to continue to let faith in God capture my heart and in doing so capture my thoughts. You are so missed and so loved.
Thank you, Dianne.
In these troubled times in our culture, it’s inevitable, I think, that we’re going to spend a good deal of time thinking about how “Christian” ideology reflects (or fails to reflect) the way of Jesus. There’s a fine line, and I often fail to discern it, between thinking about these things enough to be discerning and thinking about them too much, which ramps up our anxiety.
I’m grateful for your reminders of the invitations God gives us to be refreshed and replenished.
All my best to you and Bob, with my love.