I have for many years been haunted by the profound and complicated and often convicting poetry of T.S. Eliot’s Ash Wednesday, centering in the fifth stanza of that poem:
If the unheard, unspoken
Word is unspoken, unheard;
Still is the unspoken word, the Word unheard,
The Word without a word, the Word within
The world and for the world;
And the light shone in darkness and
Against the Word the unstilled world still whirled
About the centre of the silent Word.
O my people, what have I done unto thee.
Where shall the word be found, where will the word
Resound? Not here, there is not enough silence
Not on the sea or on the islands, not
On the mainland, in the desert or the rain land,
For those who walk in darkness
Both in the day time and in the night time
The right time and the right place are not here
No place of grace for those who avoid the face
No time to rejoice for those who walk among noise and deny the voice.
And just to say again: “Where shall the word be found, where will the word resound? Not here, there is not enough silence.”
If we think of all of our busyness of life as noise. Our commitments and responsibilities, the appointment book, the e-mail in-box, the unceasing stream of television and radio and movies and sports and entertainments, the mystery novels and the meals in bustling restaurants and all our appetites as noise. As noise. “Where shall the word be found, where will the word resound. Not here, there is not enough silence.”
The invitation to a holy lent we might think of simply as an opportunity to dial down the volume. Psalm 62: For God alone my soul in silence waits. From him comes my salvation. What Jesus says when the disciples wake him up in the boat in the midst of the storm. “Peace, be still.”
Where shall the word be found, where will the word resound? We would each do this in our own way. To look within, to look around. To see if at this point along the journey from the manger to the cross we might pause to explore what it takes to listen for him. To step back even just one step or two from the whirlwind. To skip the seconds at dinner, to turn off the box for an hour, to trade our ordinary dessert for a better one, as in Psalm 19: “how sweet are your words to my taste! They are sweeter than honey to my mouth.”