Of Silence and Honking Geese

It starts around this time every year here in our little respite on Lake Berkeley.  I am awakened to the cacophonous sound of the Canada Geese honking just outside of my window.  A whole gaggle of them.  And their numbers seem to grow exponentially every day.  I know in the midst of their early morning tidings that their raucous honking is evidence that Spring is on its way. I also know that it is hard to keep sleeping with all that noise just outside of my window.  And the honking doesn’t stop at sunrise, it periodically returns throughout the day as the geese come and go.  I think sometimes that they leave only to gather reinforcements so they can honk more loudly!

Have you ever had that feeling that there is so much going on around you that you can ‘t even hear yourself think? Today is Ash Wednesday, a day that the church sets aside for for silence, for reflection, for penitence, for confession, for repentance.

It is an interesting time of year to demand silence.  Everything else around us is bursting forth with noisy signs of life.  It is not just the geese, but the songbirds and the squirrels, too.  Even the wind and weather want to get in on the fun with their gusts and storms.

And in the midst of all that energy, we take a day to sit in stillness. We take a day to remember that we are dust, and to dust we shall return. In the gift of our own silence, we take a day to hear the geese, and the birds, and the squirrels.  To hear the storms and the wind.  To hear the streams and the rivers and the oceans.  We take a day to remember that we are formed from the same stuff as all these things.

In the second chapter of Genesis, we hear of God forming humans from humus; dirt people from the dirt.  Ash Wednesday is the time we remember our calling to humility, to recognize that we humans are one part of an entire creation that God called very good.

Ash Wednesday is a time where humans are reminded that we need to take the time to be silent.  And in that silence, we need to listen.  And in our silence, it is possible that the first sound we hear is God’s voice saying, “Be still and know that I am God.”  God first tells us, “Take comfort in the sure knowledge that being God is my job, not yours. Your first job is to receive my love and my grace.”  Winston Churchill was not the first with the sentiment of “Keep Calm and Carry On”!  We can go boldly into the world knowing that God is God and we are not.

I have been re-reading Stephen Covey’s book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.  I think we could all learn quite a bit from following Covey’s lead.  One of the habits that we Americans seem to have forgotten how to do is Seek first to understand…then to be understood.  It is interesting that if you put that into a Christian context where we are told to “Seek ye first the kingdom of God,” it would lead one to believe that maybe the kingdom of God has more than a little to do with understanding others!

Our public discourse has become something akin to the honking of the geese under my window, a bunch of one way shouting matches.  There are a lot people yelling all at once, “Let me tell you what I think!” All this honking is not steeped in humility but rather seems hell-bent on humiliation.

This year for Lent, I’ve decided to listen.  I’m going to try really hard to listen without thinking about my own response.  I’m going to ask questions.  I’m going to continue to share my ideas, my hopes, my concerns and my fears here on my blog, but I need for you to talk back.  I need to know what your hopes are.  I need to know what concerns you.  I need to know what your fears are. And I promise to listen and to seek to understand. And when I don’t understand.  I will simply say, “I don’t understand. Please help me understand.”

Growing up, my dad tried time and again to help my sister with her math homework.  On more than one occasion, the session would end with my dad throwing the pencil across the room in exasperation. To his credit, my sister did once tell her math teacher that she “did not do word problems.” It was an uphill climb, both ways, from the start!

As a homeschooling mom, I’ve worked diligently to educate two very different children. Math was not a problem for the first.  He seemed to naturally understand the most complex problems.  But the second, well, we’ve worked our way through tears during her lessons on more than one occasion.  What I have found with my daughter is that I have to get creative.  I have to think more deeply before I speak.  I have to find multiple ways of engaging the subject. I have learned that the tears mean, “I don’t understand.  Help me to understand.” And in that way, tears can be a good thing.  I’m pretty sure that if I simply called her a whiner and ignored her, she would never understand math.  And the same goes for us.  Until we stop calling each other names like “whiner” and “hater” and truly listen to one another, seeking to understand one another, healthy change will be a monumental struggle.

Listening is an act of faith.  It is a way of saying that even though I don’t understand you, I trust God to heal the brokenness between us.  I have faith.  Help me to trust. I believe.  Help my unbelief. I don’t understand. Help me to understand.

I will leave you today with the Lutheran Book of Worship’s petitions for the Ash Wednesday confession. I will be praying these words every day during Lent as a reminder of my call to humbly listen and to understand all the complex needs of every single, intricate part of creation.  Will you join me?

Most holy and merciful God,

We confess to you and to one another, and before the whole company of heaven, that we have sinned by our fault , by our own fault, by our most grievous fault, in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done and by what we have left undone.

We have not loved you with our whole heart, and mind, and strength.  We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.  We have not forgiven others as we have been forgiven.

We have shut our ears to your call to serve as Christ served us.  We have not been true to the mind of Christ.  We have grieved your Holy Spirit.

Our past unfaithfulness, the pride, envy, hypocrisy, and apathy that have infected our lives, we confess to you.

Our self-indulgent appetites and ways, and our exploitation of other people, we confess to you.

Our negligence in prayer and worship, and our failure to share the faith that is in us, we confess to you.

Our neglect of human need and suffering, and our indifference to injustice and cruelty, we confess to you.

Our false judgments, our uncharitable thoughts toward our neighbors, and our prejudice and contempt toward those who differ from us, we confess to you.

Our waste and pollution of your creation, and our lack of concern for those who come after us, we confess to you. 

Restore us, O God, and let your anger depart from us.

Hear us, O God, for your mercy is great.

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