Tag Archives: Early Christianity

Finding Silence


Soon silence will have passed into legend. Man has turned his back on silence. Day after day he invents machines and devices that increase noise and distract humanity from the essence of life, contemplation, meditation.

—-Jean Arp

Silence has many dimensions. It can be a regression and an escape, a loss of self, or it can be presence, awareness, unification, self-discovery. Negative silence blurs and confuses our identity, and we lapse into daydreams or diffuse anxieties. Positive silence pulls us together and makes us realize who we are, who we might be, and the distance between the two. Hence, positive silence implies a choice, and what Paul Tillich called the “courage to be.”

—–Thomas Merton

For over seven years we lived on a very busy city street. During that time I began to believe that silence was just a myth that is found in some far off place. I, like the German sculptor Jean Arp, began to believe that silence was passing into legend. Two and a half years ago I moved into a much quieter, though not silent, neighborhood. Once again, I enjoyed birdsong and could hear the sound of the wind flowing through the trees. It was as though I was rediscovering creation. Soon I realized that my new home has noise as well. Determined not to let my silence be taken away from me, I began to embrace the noise as a pathway to inner silence. That sense of silence acted as a catalyst for a new and stronger spirituality.

Merton refers to the damage caused by negative silence in “Love and Living.” My observation is the more we are surrounded by noise the more likely we are to fall into negative silence. I believe that it is caused by the constant awareness of that background noise that is always present. We become so frustrated by our inability to escape the uproar of humanity and position ourselves at the feet of the creator. We fight so hard to escape the uproar, we never find peace. The path remains elusive to us because we are concentrated on the negative. True silence is out there waiting for us to discover it.

True silence is positive silence, which is August-23-Personal-quotea time and a place of self-discovery. From that place we can be in the presence of God. The prophet Zephaniah says, “Be silent before the Lord God! For the day of the Lord is at hand; the Lord has prepared a sacrifice, he has consecrated his guests. “I believe that only way to truly be before the Lord is in silence. How can we really hear God above the din of the world unless we clear our minds and focus on Him? The Bible, early Christians, medieval mystics, modern monastics and all other sorts of people in sincere search of God have a common cry -SILENCE!! This cry instructs us to find a quiet place and present ourselves to God. The quietness allows God to calm us, settle us and speak to us, and more importantly, for us to hear God.

No matter what your circumstance, try not to believe that the quiet place is a thing of the past. Take the time to hear your surroundings and listen to God wherever you may be. The throng of urban life doesn’t have to drive us into the negative silence of brooding and moping. Discover the glimpses of silence that God allows you. Try not to be frustrated with the sounds of His creation but to offer them up as part of your journey to your inner self.



MY LORD GOD, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.



—-Thomas Merton

Leave a comment

Filed under Prayer, Silence, Thomas Merton

Religion and Mythology

Religion and mythology differ but have overlapping aspects. Both terms refer to systems of concepts that are of high importance to a certain community, making statements concerning the supernatural or sacred. Generally, mythology is platostorytellingconsidered one component or aspect of religion.

I have developed a real love for the works of the very early church. In this discipline, I have discovered a new appreciation of myth. In western thought, myths are “tall tales” that have little or no meaning. For the early church, however,  myths were wrought with deep meaning and were lights along the way to God. Myths were stories that expressed deep faith and allowed God to become real. Without regard to what really happened, these stories were written about what God would do, and they were of great value to the people. I want to share a few with you today.

A wealthy young orphan-girl of Alexandria saved a man from hanging himself by giving him all her wealth to pay his debts. She was reduced to prostitution, but then she repented and sought baptism, not without difficulty — for she must find guarantors. In the absence of any others willing to do so, angels in disguise stood surety for her at the font. The Pope of Alexandria recognized that this was a case of divine intervention. The girl reluctantly confessed her one good deed and then died.

When Julian the Apostate was in Persia, he sent a demon on a mission to the west, but it was delayed by a monk named Publius who prayed all the time. Julian threatened vengeance against this monk when he returned to the west, but he was slain in battle. One of his generals however sold all his goods for the benefit of the poor and became a monk close by Publius.

A brother was granted the privilege of beholding the departure of a just and of an unjust soul. A wolf took him to a hermitage by the city wall where a famous hermit (Sozomen) was expiring. But his soul was delayed in the body by the resentful devil which plunged a fiery trident into him to make him suffer as long as possible. Then, in the city, the brother saw a sick brother, a stranger, lying untended in the square, whose soul refused to be led away by Gabriel and Michael. They were sent to bring it but commanded to use no force. They requested the Lord to send David with his harp to charm the man’s soul out of him.

Leave a comment

Filed under Church, Mythology

The Church’s Fourfold Purpose

English: page of the Acts of the Apostles from...

One of the great challenges of today’s Church is the quest for vitality. Recent years have been marked by an increasingly rapid decline in church attendance and dwindling interest in the organized church as a whole. Many people are seeking new ways of expressing their spirituality, or simply abandoning spirituality all together. The movement of being “spiritual but not religious” borders very closely to agnosticism.

People are looking to the ancient writings of the mystics and monastics for answers to this disturbing situation. In my own journey, I have discovered some very helpful materials in that arena of thought, but there is more. Perhaps we can look to the foundational story of the Church as found in the Book of Acts. This sacred writing chronicles the formation of Christianity as a separate movement. Acts is an eyewitness account of the birth and growth of the early church. This book begins with the coming of the Holy Spirit and ends with the preaching of Paul. Acts 2:42 gives us a foundational model for the Church that is well worth a look today. The scripture proclaims to us: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” Let’s unpack that fourfold charge of the church.

Teaching – We are told that the early church devoted themselves to the Apostles’ teaching. Indisputably, they taught the words and actions of Jesus as only an eyewitness could. They spoke of His miracles, retold His parables, and made His teachings come back to life. Today we have a movement within the Church known as “Red Letter Christians.” These Red Letter Christians get their name from the day when Bible publishers printed the words in the Bible that were attributed to Jesus in red. I believe that those words should once again become the heart of our teaching.

Fellowship – This means that all Christians were a part of a community that shared in the common commitment of the good news of Christ. By sharing all things, they took this concept a little further than we can in our world. We may not be able to live in community, but we are called to be a community. A community shares, loves, supports and lifts one another up in all ways possible. If the Church neglects the concept of community, it ultimately fails. Today’s Church must take community seriously.

Breaking of Bread – Scholars and theologians are not completely on the same page on this issue, but the end result is the same. People who eat together, sacramentally or by sharing a meal, feel a great bond to one another. My own view is that the early Church practiced Communion every time they met. In was through that common bread and cup that they gained great strength. As a Church of today we should not neglect the fellowship of the table sacramentally or otherwise.

Prayers – The early Church prayed. They prayed as an act worship and not just for the things they wanted or needed. Prayer was a regular part of their day whether they were assembled together or not. Prayer has to become more than it is in the Church of today. The practice of mental prayer, silence and sacred reading are a “must do” for the Church if we are to see greater vitality.

That is a fourfold formula for the revitalization of the Church. Nothing new is expounded at all: it is a simple call back to the foundational purpose and work of the Church. Victory is not found it the new, but in the birth documents of our Church.


Filed under Apostles, Church, Evangelism

Prejudice and Silence

Moses the prophet, Russian icon from first qua...

Another day when a council was being held in Scetis, the Fathers treated Moses with contempt in order to test him, saying, ‘Why does this black man come among us?’ When he heard this he kept silence.  When the council was dismissed, they said to him, ‘Abba, did that not grieve you at all? ‘He said to them, ‘I was grieved, but I kept silence.’


—-Sayings of the Desert

The question was posed: “Why does this black man come among us?” Admittedly,it never occurred to me that race would be an issue in the very early church, but here it is right in front of us. For centuries man has struggled with the difficulty of becoming an accepting and open church. There are so many among us who cannot get past some very old and unjustified prejudices. That aside, let us learn from Abba Moses. Sometimes this pain is best handled in silence. In our “fix it” world, we are all to quick to protest if we feel  our treatment is unfair, but the father bears it in silence, and in that silence victory is won. In this silence the voice of God is heard. Remember that next time you feel unfairly treated, and let God speak to you.

Leave a comment

Filed under Desert Fathers