In my early days of religious life, we didn’t talk much. Occasionally at meals, each evening for the hour after dinner, as necessary in our college classes…but silence was the order of the day, so that we could be “recollected” – always mindful of God. There were degrees of silence as well. During the nine o’clock hour at night we observed “strict silence” as we were preparing for bed and from 10:00PM to morning prayers we entered into the “Grand Silence” which was total and profound, where God was our only companion. Even then, however, should there be an emergency (a real and serious emergency like the “call an ambulance” type) we were dispensed from what seemed the most hard and fast rule.
The gospel for this morning (MK 2:23-28) calls for that same kind of discernment. One of the laws of the Sabbath, the day of the week commemorating God’s rest after the work of creating, was a proscription against picking grain on that day. Obviously the point was to refrain from usual labor for one day a week. But the Pharisees, ever the sticklers for the rules, remonstrated with Jesus who, it seemed to them, never paid attention. The response could have been a simple “They were hungry” but Jesus gave a broader lesson in his explanation. “The Sabbath,” he said, “was made for [man], not [man] for the Sabbath.” That sounds like the rationale for “breaking grand silence” and is clearly logical.
My sense of what has happened over these many years, however, in our culture where stores are open “24-7” and workplaces sustain three shifts of eight hours, is a gradual loss of silence and the meaning of Sabbath. On many days I meet people in whom I experience a growing hunger for some sort of return. Where might we find the silence that we seek – and when? Church or temple is a start…but turning inward, taking a deep breath or two that encompasses the vast reaches of our consciousness, might be just the thing to begin again to find God in the silence, not just on one day of the week but always. “God is closer to us than we are to ourselves,” St. Augustine said. Why not close our eyes and rest in that presence?