Wednesday, March 09, 2005

The Power of Silence in Small Things

Isaiah 28:10-11 (King James Version)

“10For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little:
11For with stammering lips and another tongue will he speak to this people.”

One of the striking things I find in the silence of the Flint Hills is that the overwhelming power of the vast seas of tallgrass brings my own smallness into focus. There in the silence I sense that I am, like the prairie, a blade of grass in a sea of grass. As I cast my gaze, seeing that in this setting that I’m only one blade among many, I marvel at the words of the prophet who saw man in much the same way. I see myself and my journey mirrored there, comparing my own smallness to the vast expanse surrounding me.

These ancient hills have become like medicine to my soul. Any time I become enamored with my own wisdom, any time I falsely come to believe that I have learned all that I need to learn, any time I come to believe that I’m more a teacher than a student of life, I realize that a morning surveying the tallgrass is in order.

Although these forays are only occasional, they have become treasured journeys. These ancient hills have become like medicine to my soul, a place to see clearly that the universe does not revolve around me, that in addition to the sea of grass around me there are also vast seas of humanity that need Divine attention. It’s this sense of my own smallness that allows me to even draw closer to my Maker, to see that even my low estate I’m deeply loved and known. While I know that I cannot claim His exclusive attention I also see that He has more than enough love for me and all of His creation.

I spent some time today looking back at some of the things I’ve seen in my life. For some reason an encounter I once had with a young man in Kansas City came to mind. He was only twenty-two or twenty-three. Yet, despite his age he was an “evangelist.” He’d come to the church I was attending to bring us his vision. And a grand vision it was. He was going to New Jersey to “set it straight.” “God’s given me New Jersey,” he declared.

Now, having since lived in New Jersey I can say unequivocally that the Garden State is in dire need of Divine assistance. But I somehow sensed that this latter day Abraham had missed something along the way. In his youth and zeal he’d made himself bigger than the task before him. That’s pretty unhealthy stuff, for him and for the needy folks in New Jersey.

That was nearly thirty years ago now. New Jersey is as needy as it was then.

I’ve often wondered what became of that young man. Has God given him another state to conquer? New York? California? Maybe even Kansas? We need help here too. If he came I’d be glad to take him on a morning walk through these wonderful hills. Perhaps there he too could come in touch with his own smallness and then become equal to the task. Perhaps there he could ask the Psalmist’s question or think the Psalmist’s profound thoughts:

Psalm 8:3-5 (King James Version)

“3When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained;
4What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him?
5For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour.”

It’s in acknowledging our own smallness that we often find power to live in a world that is inundated with too much of man’s inflated sense of his own greatness and power. The great lesson I learn from these beautiful hills is that in the same way He gives power to the faint He also gives it to the small.

While I’d love to be able to transport anyone who reads this essay to the hills I’ve come to love, I realize that I can’t. But I hope that I’ve encouraged you to search your heart to find your smallness and the small things in life that are so valuable.

To that end I’m going to close with the lyrics to a song from Van Morrison’s “Hymns to the Silence.” The setting for these wonderful words was Belfast. In hearing them again today I realize that Morrison captured the essence of the power in silence and small things, in much the same way the Kansas Flint Hills do for me.

I hope that you, too, wherever you are, can find that wonderful, powerful place:

On Hyndford Street

Take me back, take me way, way, way back
Where you could feel the silence at half past eleven
On long summer nights
As the wireless played Radio Luxembourg
And the voices whispered across Beechie River
In the quietness as we sank into restful slumber in the silence
And carried on dreaming, in God
And walks up Cherry Valley from North Road Bridge, railway line
On sunny summer afternoons
Picking apples from the side of the tracks
That spilled over from the gardens of the houses on Cyprus Avenue
Watching the moth catcher working the floodlights in the evenings
And meeting down by the pylons
Playing round Mrs. Kelly's lamp
Going out to Holywood on the bus
And walking from the end of the lines to the seaside
Stopping at Fusco's for ice creamIn the days before rock 'n' roll
Hyndford Street, Abetta Parade
Sunday six-bells, and in between the silence there was conversation
And laughter, and music and singing, and shivers up the back of the neck
And tuning in to Luxembourg late at night
And jazz and blues records during the day
Also Debussy on the third programme
Early mornings when contemplation was best
Going up the Castlereagh hills
And the cregagh glens in summer and coming back
To Hyndford Street, feeling wondrous and lit up inside
With a sense of everlasting life
Over and over againAnd voices echoing late at night over Beechie River
And it's always being now, and it's always being now
It's always now
Can you feel the silence?
On Hyndford Street where you could feel the silence
At half past eleven on long summer nights
As the wireless played Radio Luxembourg
And the voices whispered across Beechie River
And in the quietness we sank into restful slumber in silence
And carried on dreaming in God.

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