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I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord; “plans for good and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”

the CULTIVATING

journal

Hidden Presence

April 20, 2019



 

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

comments

  1. Kris Camealy

    April 21st, 2019 at 11:07 am

    Such a good word on listening and trusting the necessary work of God in the silence. Thank you, dear Kimberlee!

  2. K.C. Ireton

    April 22nd, 2019 at 3:58 pm

    Thank you, Kris! I should have known you would resonate with this piece. 🙂 xo.

  3. Terry Gassett

    May 8th, 2019 at 4:24 pm

    “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.”
    Wow! Such a deep, Beautiful Truth! Just thinking (In Silence) about this opens up a deeper understanding of How our Lord works and how he prepares us to share his works. And the article explores so much more. Thank you!

  4. K. C. Ireton

    May 13th, 2019 at 9:59 pm

    You’re very welcome, Terry. Our Lord does prepare us to share His works, and so often that preparation involves silence, letting the work He’s done for us settle deeply into us so that it becomes part of us.

  5. Denise Armstrong

    June 3rd, 2019 at 10:13 pm

    Such a fine piece, Dear K.C.,
    To have such a well-tended soul is my dearest prayer this season. Thank you for the discernment that lay this offering out for the parched to partake of, just in time.
    Denise

  6. K.C. Ireton

    June 19th, 2019 at 3:07 pm

    It’s my prayer, too, Denise–and I’m so glad we are pilgrims together on this journey!

  7. Matthew Clark

    June 22nd, 2019 at 8:59 am

    K.C., this is a hard thing to understand and to learn. Just reading about keeping silence as a life-giving practice seems so counter-intuitive. It’s funny to say, “we should talk more about talking less”, 🙂 but I do want to think more on this.

    I remember a specific season of grief and failure in my life, and I felt obligated to tell everyone. But I learned it was false relief. It was hard to trust the Lord enough to stay quiet with the hurt in his presence.

    Thanks for writing about this. Actually, I’d like to hear more about how you’re thinking on this.

  8. K.C. Ireton

    June 24th, 2019 at 3:46 pm

    Matthew, This is something I’ve been pondering and praying about for several years. I have been in that place you write of, about feeling obligated to tell everyone about the hurt and failure. We have this tendency in our culture (I think especially among Christian writers) to value transparency–and there’s lots that’s good about that–but one of the downsides is that I think we often rush to share, without thinking about whether this right here is something we ought to share, or with whom we ought to share it. Transparency is important, but so is discretion, and it’s the discretion piece that I think we tend to overlook. Partly I think that’s a function of our cultural codependence; we want others to validate our experience, feelings, even our existence!–and while we all need to know we are being seen and heard, we’ve become overly reliant on other people to validate us, instead of relying on God.

    One of the major turning points in my 20-year battle with anxiety was when I finally stopped looking to other people for justification and validation and instead turned to God and focused on believing that I received His justification and commendation. That was something I had to do in the quiet of my “cell,” and it was something that I felt a distinct prohibition against writing about for quite awhile. I see now that by publicly discussing that work, I would have undermined it. I needed to be alone with God, with no one else witnessing what was going on, in order to be healed. That prohibition has been lifted to a certain extent, but it taught me to be more cautious about when and with whom I shared the work God was/is doing in me. When in doubt, I try to err on the side of silence, trusting that God will make it clear to me when the time to speak comes–if it ever does.

    I’m happy to talk more about this (ironic as that might be). Silence is essential, but for writers, so is speech, and I’m still very much learning how they work together, so I welcome others’ wisdom and experience here!

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