During Lent I’ve been re-reading the synoptic gospels, and have been struck with special force by all the times Jesus performs a miracle of healing and then tells the person, “Don’t tell anyone.”
Just this morning, I read Luke’s version of the Jairus story, in which Jairus begs Jesus to come heal his daughter, only to find when they get to the house that she has already died. Undaunted, Jesus takes the girl by the hand and tells her, “My child, get up”—and she does. Then, while her parents are still gob-smacked with astonishment, he “ordered them not to tell anyone what had happened.” (Luke 8:56, NIV)
This sort of thing happens again and again. To the leper, the blind man, the deaf-mute, even the crowds, he says, “Don’t tell anyone.”
Why? Why would he not want them to tell the grand and glorious thing God has done for them? Why would he not want them to shout it from the rooftops? As a writer whose stock-in-trade has been testifying to the work God has done in me, these stories draw me up short. Is Jesus asking me to be silent? To not tell of the good work he has wrought in me?
We live in a culture that clamors and shouts, a culture in which silence is eschewed and hiddenness is suspect. We want everything—and we mean everything—out in the open, talked about, analyzed, dissected. This is not wholly bad; indeed the impulse springs from a recognition that foul things fester in darkness and can only be healed or expunged by bringing them to the light. Ugly secrets have power that is dispelled when those secrets are spoken.
Darkness and silence are necessary conditions for growth.
But in some cases, perhaps more cases than we are willing to admit, darkness and silence are the necessary conditions for growth. Babies grow in the darkness of the womb. Seeds grow in the darkness of the soil. For a seed, it is light, not darkness, that destroys.
Light and speech are dangerous—even deadly. This is true of light that shines on evil deeds, of words that proclaim them for what they are: in exposing them, light and speech destroy their power.
But it is also true of light that shines on the silent motions of the soul in relation to God. By bringing these movements of the soul out into the light to examine and articulate them, we often destroy their power. With our probing and dissecting we cut the umbilical cord that binds us to God. And then we wonder why we feel lost and alone, unmoored and afraid.
We have forgotten that silence and hiddenness are necessary for the growth of the soul. How could it be otherwise? God Himself is silent and hidden—silent as light and hidden as air. He is the All Who always is all everywhere, content to move through the world incognito and largely ignored, touching us with His blessing and presence. When we finally see that blessing and presence—when it is large and unmistakable as it was for Jairus and his wife, for the leper, the blind man—of course we want to shout about it. But Jesus says, “Don’t tell anyone.”
In issuing this command, perhaps Jesus was inviting those he healed to imitate his mother who silently pondered the marvels and mysteries of which she was a part. Eventually she did speak of them—else we would not know of them. But for many years she was silent, watching and praying in the silence of her heart, seeking understanding and wisdom.
Perhaps Jesus was inviting those he healed to sit in silence and wonder awhile, to let the marvelous thing that had been granted them sink deep into the soil of their souls, to weave itself into the fabric of their being.
To shout about it too soon may have been like ripping a seed out of the soil to see if its roots are growing. Just as we cannot hear God when we clamor, for He speaks in a still, small voice, the voice of a silent whisper beneath all sound, perhaps also we cannot see Him when we fling wide the doors of our souls and shine the flashlights of our curiosity about The Ways He Is Meeting Us up and down the walls and over the floors.
Perhaps we would do better to “stay in our cell” as the Desert Fathers counseled the monks. “For your cell,” they said, “will teach you everything.” It was not so much the cell that taught the monks as the silence of the cell and the encounter with God in that silence.
As a writer, I find this a challenging paradox. I am called to silence, and I am called to words. I am even called to write words about God’s dealings with me, those Ways He Is Meeting Me. Both callings come from the same God. How can this be? Like Mary, I must ponder these things in the silence of my heart. Because I live in a culture where we (and I include myself in this) are quick to speak and to bare our souls, I must be prayerful and discerning about whether and when I write, and about what.
There are no hard-and-fast rules. Jesus did not order everyone not to speak of their healing. In the same story as Jairus’s daughter is the story of the woman with the issue of blood. Jesus would not let her slip away unnoticed into the crowd but invited, even insisted, that she speak of her healing before everyone. Knowing when we are to speak out, like the woman healed of her issue of blood, and when we are to keep quiet, like Jairus and his wife, requires discernment. And discernment requires silence. It requires hiddenness. It requires that we stay in our cell for a bit and listen: what would you have me say, Lord? What would you have me do?
Regardless of whether I am in any given moment Jairus or the woman healed of her bleeding, God is still present in my life, still active, still bearing witness to Himself. Jairus’s daughter was a living, breathing testimony to the power of God. The leper’s healed skin, the blind man’s sight, the mute man’s speech—all testified to the work God had done in them, without their ever saying a word about it.
When we are rooted and grounded in God, when the deep silence of the Logos is the soil in which we grow, the words we write cannot help but be imbued with the presence of God—even if we do not name Him.
And the opposite is also true: without that upwelling of the silent Logos, we speak in vain; our words become a clanging symbol, full of noise that signifies nothing. But when we live and move and have our being in God, when we cleave to the silence of our cells and listen attentively to His still small voice, the words we speak out of that silence will be full and rich with the hidden presence of God.
Our featured image here is used with kind permission from Julie Jablonski for The Cultivating Project.
K.C. Ireton is the author of The Circle of Seasons: Meeting God in the Church Year and Cracking Up: A Postpartum Faith Crisis. An avid reader, she is especially fond of old books and home-schools her four children so that she can spend her days reading and learning all sorts of interesting things. K.C. is pleased as punch to be writing for The Cultivating Project!