Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Silence in Heaven


I saw the film "The Seventh Seal" by Ingmar Bergman long before I ever heard the passage about the seventh seal read in church. The Book of Revelation was not publicly read at the mainline congregation I attended as a child. It is strange to think I read words from Revelation in a Swedish film's subtitles before ever reading them from a Bible. During my freshman year of college, I sat in the dark auditorium where "art films" were shown on Friday nights, and watched a knight play chess with Death. The theme of the film was the silence of God in a world ravaged by death. I was in my "death of God" phase, and my young mind imagined the film filled with profound spiritual significance.

Revelation 8:1 says simply, "When he opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour." It is not until we read about this silence that we realize that up to that point Revelation has been filled with noise. If we were actually seeing this divine drama on a stage (as my seminary professor James Blevins said it was intended to be seen in his book "Revelation as Drama"), then we would have been bombarded with loud noises up to this point. Now suddenly the action stops, and there is a half hour of silence, mingled with incense as the silent prayers of God's people ascend to the throne of God (8:3-4).

My prayer life is mostly silence. I also pray with words. I intercede for those I know and love. But words normally come only after a half hour of silence. My "quiet time" is literally a time of silence during which I do nothing but listen to the Spirit. Truth be told, I try and listen to the Spirit. Mostly I listen to the incessant internal dialogue going on in my head.

Even after all these years of maintaining a discipline of contemplative prayer, my mind remains a hurricane of thoughts and feelings. That is actually how I picture my mental state. I visualize my uncontrolled mental gyrations as a whirlwind. Physical aches, people's faces, stray ideas, feelings, and insights whirl around my mind like the debris raised by the Kansas tornado in the Wizard of Oz.

In the midst of this mental storm I make my way gradually to the center. Usually after about twenty minutes I find myself in the eye of the storm. There in the center, I hear the silence of God. It is the silence Job heard in the whirlwind. It is the still small voice that Elijah heard on Horeb. It is the voice of God that Adam and Eve heard in the Garden of Eden. (I am told by those more knowledgeable in ancient languages than I am, that the Hebrew word for the "sound of the Lord" in the garden in Genesis 3:8 actually means a storm.)

The silence of God dwells in the depths of the human soul. It is the abode of the Holy Spirit who indwells my human spirit in the Holy of Holies of this earthly tabernacle of my body. It is a quiet and spacious garden, an interlude in the drama of my life. When I enter this interior garden, then for a half hour I hear the silence of heaven.

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