the Silence of Ordinary Time

A space large enough to encompass the wonder …from Deacon David
Hello darkness, my old friend,

I’ve come to talk with you again,

Because a vision softly creeping,

Left its seeds while I was sleeping,

And the vision that was planted in my brain

Still remains

Within the sound of silence

 

The last three lines of the first stanza of Simon and Garfunkel’s “Sounds of Silence” contain some of the most provocative thoughts I have ever entertained, especially: “And the vision that was planted in my brain  /  Still remains  /  Within the sound of silence.” Paul Simon seems to have befriended darkness and silence, perhaps because he recognizes there a companion with whom he can talk, as well as the persistence of the seeds of a vision sewn as he slept. This is the sort of poetry that calls for lectio divina—reading the words attentively and with curiosity, again and again—until words come to life and resonate deep within our hearts.

 

These three lines capture the essence of the rhythm of the Church Year. We move from the visionary festivals and solemnities of the first half of the year (Advent-Christmas-Epiphany and Lent-Easter-Easter Time) to the mundane succession of numbered weeks of Ordinary Time, during the second half of the year. To distill the gifts of the first half of the year into their essence, we shift from commemorating expectation and universal gift and seeking, offering, and presence to six months of allowing the glory of the story to silently echo in our minds. We gift ourselves with a “whole half year” when our declarations of faith are simply allowed resonate in our hearts.

 

Why so many words? What is so remarkable about this Ordinary Time? Simply this. Stories and solemnities, spoken lessons and creeds are spirit exercises for our minds. Silence, writing, drawing, and reading or repeating words again and again until they speak within our hearts, are exercises for our souls. Ordinary Time is, after all, the summer and fall of each year, when we take time off for vacations and relaxation and then reengage with school and projects with a new perspective and resolve. Ordinary Time can be the breather and the regrouping when we work out for ourselves in a deeply personal, inner way where we will be the Church and how we will live the Good News in the world.

 

A season of solemnities and sounds followed by a season of reflection and silence is also the way our mothers and fathers in the faith gave us space to let “the vision that was planted in [our brains]” grow and mature. A homily, a book, or a conversation may catch my attention, but like a compact florescent bulb that takes a while to come to full brightness, it takes time just sitting with an idea or a hunch or a dream before the whole light is fully apparent. In fact, silence is perhaps the most powerful practice that allows us to go beyond the confines of language to the glory of spirit that unfolds and reveals truth within us by inner sight.

 

At some point on a person’s faith journey, awareness dawns that our faith has grown larger than the creeds and solemnities of belief and worship that formed us. The “vision that was planted in my brain” is alive and well, but surrounding it and including it is “a vision softly creeping” that is larger than I could have entertained as a child or young adult. Something finer, more subtle, more powerful, and more compelling has grown out of the seeds of faith planted by our parents. And only silence provides a space large enough to encompass the wonder of the new sensibility of the disciple we have become.


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