Preaching for Adolescents:
Entering Into the Silence
Location: Abbey of Gethsemani
Age Group: Late High School / Early College
Event: Day of Silence (preaching for the beginning of the day)
Scripture: 1Kings -13
What do you hear? Most days the answer would be the TV, radio, traffic, teachers, parents, friends… noise; but not today. Today you will be listening to the sounds of silence. There is a saying here at the abbey, ‘silence is spoken here.’ This is more than just a catchy phrase, it is a way of life, and it is this way of life that you are being invited into today. But what, you may ask, is the point of being silent? Is it a chance to relax and take a break from all the stress of everyday life, stress that is characterized by an abundance of noise pollution? That sense of relaxation is part of the meaning behind a day of silence but if that were it these monks would soon get tired of their quiet lifestyle. No, there is much more depth to the silence than simply relaxing. Within the silence we hear the voice of God. That’s right; we are here to listen for the voice of God. This is not nearly as dramatic as it sounds because God does not typically speak to us in monumental ways like a voice from the sky or from a burning bush. God tends to speak to us in more subtle ways, ways that are easily missed underneath the noise of our daily lives. Just as in the case of Elijah: the great wind, the earthquake, and the fire effectively drowned out the voice of God which was only heard in the “sheer silence” that came last. Today we are going to try and listen beyond all of the chaos that fills our lives and listen for the voice of God.
We are not the only ones called to go off by ourselves and pray in the silence. Christ too often left the chaos of his everyday life of ministry to pray alone or with his closest followers. It was through this private prayer that he was able to remain in communion with the Father even when he was out amongst the people and the noise of daily life. God calls us to be Christ for others but to achieve that we must do as Christ did, and that is to pray. We all have high hopes for the future. Hope that our lives may make a difference for others, but here we are focusing on our own private prayer lives. The two are not disconnected. Strength and guidance in ministry comes from time spent in prayer and conversation with God.
There may be those among us who have practiced prayer styles that challenge them to enter into periods of silence and within that silence hold conversations with God. At the same time there may be those who have experienced that kind of prayer in the past but have gotten out of the routine of entering into those moments of silence; and then there are those who have never had such an experience and may be thinking that the idea of talking to God is either impossible or crazy. No matter which group you would place yourself in you should know that there is always room for spiritual growth in your life because God is always inviting us to enter into deeper communion. You should, however, not expect huge movements in your spiritual life to take place in a single day. A spiritual breakthrough may take place today, but if you expect it you will try and force it, and if you force it God will have trouble being heard.
So, we know that God is trying to communicate with us in the silence that soon awaits us, but does that mean we are to sit there and try and block any thoughts from our mind waiting for the voice of God to tune in? Not exactly, that would almost be like waiting for God to speak to you from a burning bush, not impossible but a bit more unlikely. A more productive use of your time here would be to develop a trust that God wants to talk to you. This means that instead of trying to force all thoughts from your head to make room for God you could trust that God can use those thoughts to communicate to you. Some thoughts, like ‘I wonder what’s for lunch’ may be less fertile ground for God to work compared with higher thoughts and concerns. Are you wondering what to do in a difficult situation with family or friends? Trust that God wants to talk to you about that. Do you have questions about where you life is headed? Trust that God wants to talk to you about that. Don’t worry about holding a conversation on God’s level… that’s impossible, instead ask what God would want to talk about on your level and trust will guide you from there.
What is the basis for this trust? It is an understanding that we are beloved daughters and sons of God. A trust in the fact that we are created, maintained, and desired by God; and all of that simply means that God not only wants to, but is capable of talking to you. As you practice this trust you will find that you can more easily recognize the voice of God and differentiate that voice from your own voice. For now, however, focus on entering into that trust and see where God takes you.