Shut your Ears, Hold your Tongue

Wednesday, May 7, 2014 – 3 Easter, Year Two

[Go to Mission St Clare for an online version of the Daily Office including today’s scripture readings.]

Today’s Readings for the Daily Office:

Psalms 38 (morning) // 119:25-48 (evening)

Exodus 19:16-25

Colossians 1:15-23

Matthew 3:13-17

Our Psalmist this morning is coping with an onslaught of destructive voices. Many of us may face a similar chorus from time to time, or on a daily basis. These voices can come from several sources: a fear-based theology, an inner critic, a verbal abuser. It can be very difficult to liberate our souls from the downward spiral that these voices send us into.

All of these external and internalized voices are assaulting the Psalmist at once. First, the Psalmist has absorbed messages that his own suffering comes from God’s punishing anger. As the Psalmist says to God, “your arrows have already pierced me, and your hand presses hard upon me. There is no health in my flesh, because of your indignation.” The Psalmist believes that a lack of physical and emotional health must be an affliction from God.

The Psalmist has also learn to speak to himself with the voice of self-recrimination. He blames his suffering on himself: “My wounds stink and fester by reason of my foolishness.” His unbearable circumstances are of his own making: “my iniquities overwhelm me; like a heavy burden they are too much for me to bear.” He has to carry the full weight of all of his struggles because he feels he has brought them entirely on himself.

Finally, the Psalmist hears the voices of judgment and entrapment from his so-called friends and neighbors. Some of them recoil and keep their distance from the Psalmist in his suffering, which probably speaks volumes about their attitude toward him. Others “who strive to hurt me speak of my ruin and plot treachery all the day long.” Their voices conspire against him.

Although Psalmists usually respond to the voices of divine punishment, self-reproach, and persecution through poetry and music, the Psalmist this morning offers another solution: utter silence. The Psalmist stops the assault of negative voices by closing off his ears and by declining to engage in verbal battle. As he declares, “I am like the deaf who do not hear, like those who are mute and do not open their mouth. I have become like one who does not hear and from whose mouth comes no defense.”

The Psalmist chooses to observe a silence that is a true gift from God. Sometimes, our spiritual practices of silence just give free reign to the internal voices that distract or even try to destroy us. In some cases, a practice of silence can be frightening or dangerous.

But even if we can’t always find the time or the safety to meditate in silence, perhaps we can pray for this silence of which the Psalmist speaks. This silence shuts our ears to the negative and hostile voices that emerge within and around us. This silence restrains our tongues from defensive or unproductive encounters with aggressive debaters or slanderers.

The Psalmist explains why he seeks this silence of ear and tongue: “For in you, O Lord, have I fixed my hope; you will answer me, O Lord my God.” The direct conversation of prayer is, for the Psalmist, the only way out of the clamor. The Psalms invite all of us to quieten our ears, to soften our tongues, and to open our hearts and souls to real communication with God today.

Lora Walsh blogs about taking risks and seeking grace at A Daily Scandal. She serves as curate of Grace Episcopal Church in Siloam Springs and as director of the Ark Fellows, an Episcopal Service Corps program sponsored by St. Paul’s in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

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