02 July 2008

in the dark silence

A few days ago, I commented on Barbara Brown Taylor’s When God is Silent. My focus was on how our noisy words hinder our prayer. She addresses not being able to hear God’s voice. She presumes that when we can’t hear that voice, it means we aren’t listening. However, she says:

“But even if that is true most of the time, it is not true all of the time. The death of Jesus taught us that. From the moment he came down from the mount of the Transfiguration, the memory of God’s voice was all he had left. He prayed to hear it again in the garden of Gethsemane, but the only voice he heard there was his own. He was arrested, tried, and convicted without so much as a sigh from heaven. From the cross, he pleaded for a word, any word, from the God he could no longer hear. He asked for bread and got a stone. Finally, in the most profound silence of his life, he died, believing himself forsaken by God.”

Maybe she’s exaggerating the point, but if so, it’s not by very much. Do we really believe that Jesus lived a human life? Do we really believe, as the creeds say, that he was truly human? How could he have not experienced the feeling of desolation, of forlornness, that sometimes plagues his brothers and sisters? She continues:

“Will anyone suggest that he simply was not listening? I do not think so. In the silence surrounding his death, Jesus became the best possible companion for those whose prayers are not answered, who would give anything just to hear God call them by name. Him too. He wanted that too, and he did not get it. What he got, instead, was a fathomless silence in which to cry out. Forever after, everyone who has heard him bellow into it has had to wonder: Is that the voice of God?”

Unless Jesus has experienced the deepest depths of despair—unless he’s plummeted to the bottom of the bottomless pit—how could he understand the tears of the tormented? Fortunately for me, this is a theoretical question. I haven’t yet been down that road of shadows. But it’s good to know that someone has preceded me into any dark, forbidding silence that may lurk on the path of life. And it’s not simply a case of being there; it’s a case of showing the way—of lighting the lamp.

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