silence between the notes

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“And when all the crowd that came to see the crucifixion saw what had happened, they went home in deep sorrow.” (Luke 23:48, NLT)

Silence. Bereavement. Shattered hope. Despair. Regret. These comprise the hours following the death and burial of Jesus. Like a rift in a musical score, there was a sudden, despondent gap, an emptiness, as Jesus relinquished his spirit and died.

Grief. How often do we experience it? I myself have been shamefully unable to completely focus on the death of Jesus. I’ve been distracted by the sunshine, by friends, by books, by my checklists, by that great distractor: the Internet. (And here I am, blogging. Sigh. Praise God for his mercy…) This year, for the first time, I realized that this day of wretched grief and despair for the disciples coincided with the Sabbath. They could not temper their grief with the distraction of work or obligations. They couldn’t resort to an auto-pilot mode of carrying on with the daily chores of life. I would have been an utter wreck.

And so they were given time to grieve, which is not something we always give ourselves.

I am thankful to be connected with a community that gives me time and space to remember the death of Christ. I was so busy with my own life that I was late to my church’s Good Friday service. I felt the loss of those minutes, because the rest of the service was a solemn, beautiful remembrance of the death of Christ and a time of mourning our refusal to die to ourselves and live in Christ. (I hope to write about the readings of that service in a later post; they were powerful and should be shared.)

In the death of Christ, and also in some of my own experiences with loss, grief and silence have been bound together. Christ died, and the crowds went home. Grief and then silence. And silence can begat grief; there is pain in the loss of a friendship, a severed relationship, or (especially) the inability to hear from God. I find it deeply ironic that C.S. Lewis is so often quoted for the famous line, “God whispers to us in our pleasures…but shouts in our pains” (from The Problem of Pain). This he wrote in 1940. His writings two decades later have a different tone, and I identify infinitely more with these 1961 contemplations known as A Grief Observed:

Meanwhile, where is God?…When you are happy, so happy that you have no sense of needing Him, so happy that you are tempted to feel His claims upon you as an interruption, if you remember yourself and turn to him with gratitude and praise, you will be — or so it feels — welcomed with open arms. But go to Him when your need is desperate, when all other help is in vain, and what do you find? A door slammed in your face, and a sound of bolting and double bolting on the inside. After that, silence. You may as well turn away. The longer you wait, the more emphatic the silence will become. There are no lights in the windows. It might be an empty house. Was it ever inhabited? It seemed so once. And that seeming was as strong as this. What can this mean? Why is He so present a commander in our time of prosperity and so very absent a help in time of trouble? (Lewis, C.S. A Grief Observed. Harper Collins Publishers, 2001. Pg. 5-6.)

When Christ was perishing upon the cross, he cried out to the Father, asking, “Why have you forsaken me?” Silence. Absence. The crowds went home after Jesus died, and then the story skips to the resurrection. There is no Sabbath narrative. It is empty. Silent. And in our own lives, we walk through valleys of the Shadow of Death. And somehow, in his beautiful, sovereign way of doing things, God uses and redeems those periods of silence and solitude. Don’t ask me how. There have been times in my life when I would have given anything for God to break the silence. It’s that rift in the musical score. Miles Davis is attributed (and I cannot cite the source) with giving the following advice: “Think of a note, then don’t play it.” I guess that sometimes the song is as much about the silences as it is about the notes played.

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