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Sun, Sep 09, 2018

Deafening Silence

Silence is a doorway into the Divine.
Series:July - December 2018
Duration:15 mins 3 secs
Sermon  Sunday 9 September 2018
 
Lessons  James 2: 1 – 10, 14 – 17          St Mark 7: 24 – 37
  
Prayer of Illumination
 
Let us pray.
 
Through sacrament and word, silence and music, bless our meditations.   Above all, may we be at one with You:  You in us and us in You.   Amen.
 
Jesus journeyed from the Gentile region of Tyre by way of Sidon towards the Sea of Galilee.    As He made His way, a man was brought to Him; a man who was deaf and had a speech impediment.   Those who brought the man begged Jesus that He might lay His hand on him.   Jesus took the man aside to a private place where they could be alone, sheltered from the crowd.   Once alone, Jesus put His fingers in the ears of the man, spat and touched the man’s tongue.   Then, looking up to heaven, Jesus sighed and said, ‘Ephphatha’, which means ‘Be opened’.   In that moment, the man’s ears were opened, his tongue released and, for the first time, he spoke clearly.   The writer of the Gospel concludes this story of Jesus:  ‘He even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak’.   To our ears, this is a strange, if not superstitious, story.   It smacks of magic and sorcery.   We will be rewarded if we delve deeper than the surface meaning.  
 
However, let me begin with some context.   Let us return for a moment to the ancient world and what it meant to be deaf or without the gift of distinct speech.   Oral debate and dialogue were central features of both Greek and Jewish society.   Within ancient Judaism, through speech and discussion, the Torah, Torah from the mouth, was passed from one generation to the next.   Language was the hallmark of human achievement but to be deaf in the ancient world, to be deaf without speech, meant stupidity.  
 
Following Aristotle, ancient Judaism also believed that people who were deaf had an inability to reason; they could not be educated.   Excluded from so much of society, so much of life, exiled in a silent world, those who were deaf, the deaf-mute, were categorised with those who were mentally ill.   The deaf man, it seemed, lacked cognitive ability and moral reasoning.   In the Gentile region of Tyre near Sidon, in a land permeated by Greek thought, a deaf man was brought to Jesus.   Are we capable of truly imagining the man’s intolerable isolation, stigmatization and shame; what it meant to be deaf in those days?    On one interpretive level, this is an incredible story of the most profound inclusion.   The Gospel does not record tears in the man’s eyes but, if we have any empathy at all, we see them there.
 
If we engage with the story as faith narrative, as richly crafted mythology, what do we find?   Jesus put His fingers into the man’s ears.   In the Book of Exodus, it was the finger of God which brought the plague of gnats to persuade Pharaoh to release the Hebrew people.   Later, on Mount Sinai, Moses was given the tablets of stone inscribed with the covenant written by the finger of God.   In Scripture, the finger of God is a metaphor of God’s power.  
 
In this spiritual writing, in the story of Jesus and the deaf man, we eavesdrop on an intimate, personal encounter.   This story is more than a chance meeting, a one-off physical healing.   This is about you and me, about our isolation, our aloneness, and our intimate encounter with the Sacred, our meeting with Jesus.   In public services, we enjoy worship together but on our own spiritual journey, on the inner journey, we meet Jesus alone.   If we allow ourselves to go to that private space, that place away from the crowd, we too will meet the Christ.   We too will experience the Presence.
 
It was in the world of silence that the man encountered Jesus.   We are to use the story metaphorically; interpret it for ourselves.   The Augustinian friar Benignus O’Rourke tells the story of a woman in the Orthodox tradition who had gone to her priest to ask for help with prayer.   She complained that in all her years of praying she had never felt the presence of God.   The priest told her to pray in the morning after breakfast.   He said that she should place in one corner an icon of Jesus on a table with a small lamp or candle beside it.   She should have her chair with its back to the rest of the room.   He told her to enjoy the peace of the room and have her knitting to hand.   Some time later, the woman told the priest of sitting in her room, the clock ticking and everything feeling so still.   She said she had to remind herself to knit before the face of God.   As she knitted, she became more and more aware of the silence.   She said:
 
[After a while,] the needles hit the armrest of my
chair…..I had not need of straining myself.   Then I
perceived that this silence was not simply an absence
of noise, but that the silence had substance.   It was
not an absence of something but a presence of
something.   The silence had a density, a richness,
and it began to pervade me.   The silence around began
to come and meet the silence in me.
 
This is the spiritual truth, the priceless treasure, in the story of the deaf man with Jesus.   In the silence he was touched by Jesus; the man felt the indescribable power of Presence.    St Benedict said that we are to listen with ‘the ear of the heart’.   With spiritual imagination, this story is about discovering Christ with in us, on our own journey, in our protected silence.  
 
We find the same truth in Sufism, in the mystical tradition of Islam:
 
If you wish to find what you are looking for,
 remove that which hides your heart.
 
In Hinduism, we read of the path within:
 
Deluded, the musk deer searches everywhere
for the origin of the fragrance,
without realizing it lies within himself…..
If you wish to find your home,
look within.
If you wish to find the Lord,
seek Him within yourselves.
This is true wisdom.
 
The Taoist writes:
 
If you want the treasure,
don’t look for it outside of yourself.
You already carry it within,
so why not use it without restraint?
 
In one late Egyptian manuscript, found some centuries after the Biblical canon was closed, we hear Jesus say:
 
The Kingdom is within you, and whoever knows
oneself will find it.   All those who find the kingdom
will know that they are heirs of the Father.   Know
that you are in God and God is in you.
 
To the deaf man, Jesus said, ‘Ephphatha’, which means, ‘Be opened’.   The appellation Buddha comes from the verb budh, which means to wake up, to understand, to know what is happening in a very deep way.   This is what Jesus said to the man in his silent world, to us in our in our times of sacred silence:  be open, wake up, understand, and know what is happening, appreciate life in a very deep way.   We are to let the Mystery, the Eternal Emptiness, fill us with shalom, with inexpressible peace.  
 
Peter Russell, who began his intellectual life as an atheist and scientist, has grown to see the harmony between science and religion, and the spiritual unity deep within the world’s great faith traditions.   Russell writes:
 
Reducing mental activity, one can arrive at a point
where all verbal thinking ceases.  At this level of 
consciousness, one discovers a much deeper, all-
pervasive peace.   Some call it bliss, others joy or
serenity; but all agree that the pleasures of everyday
life pale in comparison to this profound feeling of
inner well-being.
 
Another quality that is found in this inner quiet is
love….It is pure love, love without an object.  It is
‘being in love’ in a new sense; one’s whole being is
bathed in love.   [We discover] ‘the peace of God that
passeth all understanding’…..an all-pervading love.
 
Each of us is at a different stage of the inner journey.   We are to be open, at one with the Holy One.   In the 14th century, the mystic Meister Eckhart, intoxicated with the Spirit, said in a sermon, ‘God and I are One’.   Eckhart was brought before Pope John XXII and told to recant such heresy.   In history, others have suffered a worse fate.   The tenth-century Islamic mystic al-Hallãj was crucified for using language that claimed an identity, oneness, with God.   Yet, oneness, unity, communion, each of us in God and God in us:  that is the whole point of religion; that is the point of life.
 
Amen.
 
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MYSTICISM & THE ABRAHAMIC FAITHS - LECTURE

Mayfield Salisbury Church Memorials 1914-1918

Photos
Memorials

Including every individual name.
  • Because God is both knowable and unknowable the tension of the symbol, the multilayers of the myth and the openness of the poetic are all vital to our desire to celebrate the Mystery to whom we relate and in whom we have our being.
    Mark Oakley

  • You must love him as he is: neither God, nor spirit, nor image; even more, the One without commingling, pure, luminous ...

    Meister Eckhart

  • The purpose of our life is God's glory. However lowly a life is, that is what makes it great.
    Oscar Romero

  • Faith may justify bigotry or fanaticism, as Church history tragically witnesses. It needs a safeguard. If it is not animated as it were by the greatest of the theological virtues (love), faith can become defective.
    Thomas Norris

  • Dry not, dry not, your tears of love eternal! Only to eyes that fail to weep does this world seem so dull and dead. Dry not, dry not, those long, sad tears of love.
    Johann von Goette

  • The post modern paradigm manifests itself as a unity which preserves diversity and diversity which strives after unity.
    David Bosch

  • There is only one assertion that requires no evidence. Children are a sacred trust...Unless we care properly for our children, we shall never build a better world.
    'A Good Childhood’ The Children’s Society

  • These are only hints and guesses, hints followed by guesses; and the rest is prayer.
    'The Dry Salvages' T.S.Eliot

  • According to strict truth, God is incomprehensible, and incapable of being measured.
    Origen

  • Myth is a story about the way things never were, but always are.
    Thomas Mann

  • In the darkness ...The child of your love - and now become as the most hated one - the one You have thrown away as unwanted - unloved ..... The darkness is so dark .... I have no faith.
    Mother Teresa

  • I love the Bible. I owe my faith and my life to the Bible and its liberating message. It is in the Bible that I first met Jesus ... I too am included in God's embrace.
    Gene Robinson

  • It is this great absence that is like a presence, that compels me to address it without hope of a reply ....
    R.S. Thomas

  • Faith is not a proud self-consistent philosophy. It involves maintaining oneself between contradictions that can't be solved by analysis. It is therefore a living response to the grace of God as revealed in fragile lives.
    Mark Oakley

  • Any religion which does not say that God is hidden is not true.
    Blaise Pascal

  • The contemporary Church is losing aspects of its wide and generous memory and therefore condemning itself to become a 'swimming pool Church' - one that has all the noise coming from the shallow end.
    Mark Oakley

  • For all your doctrinal headaches take Paradox.
    Mark Oakley

  • The true vision and the true knowledge of what we seek consists precisely in not seeing, in an awareness that our goal transcends all knowledge and is everywhere cut off from us by the darkness of incomprehensibility.
    St Gregory of Nyssa

  • Death, death be hanged, the Lord has promised me that I shall live. This I believe!
    Martin Luther

  • We feel that even when all possible scientific questions have been answered, the problems of life have not been put to rest.
    Wittgenstein

  • Religion is the flight of the alone to the Alone.
    Plotinus

  • Stupid clergymen appeal quite directly to a Bible passage directly understood ....
    Soren Kirkegaard

  • What is the point of the arts of reading and criticism as long as the ecclesiastical interpretation of the Bible, Protestant as well as Catholic, is cultivated as ever?
    Friedrich Nietzsche

  • A figure like Ecclesiast, rugged and luminous, chants in the dark a text that is the answer, although obscure.
    Wallace Stevens

  • Myth is the poetry of the soul.
    Sara Maitland

  • Our loss of the ability to think mythically, poetically, allegorically, creatively, theologically, and artfully is a greater threat to our religious experience than anything good scientists have to report ...
    Sara Maitland

  • In general, Zen attitude is that words and truth are incompatible, or at least that no words can capture truth.
    Douglas Hofstadter

  • 'God' is a one word poem
    Rowan Williams

  • What is today? Today is eternity.
    Meister Eckhart

  • Apprehend God in all things, for God is in all things.
    Meister Eckhart

  • The most powerful hunger we have, mostly suppressed and misdirected, is the hunger for God.
    Miroslav Volf

  • We frequently judge that things are as we wish them to be, for through personal feeling true perspective is easily lost.
    Thomas a Kempis

  • Faith is the bird that feels the light and sings when the dawn is still dark.
    Rabindranath Tagore

  • God is the beyond in our midst.
    Dietrich Bonhoeffer

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