“…There are times when good words are to be left unsaid out of esteem for silence.”
- Holy Rule of St. Benedict
It’s one thing to be silenced, quite another to silence yourself before God.
Too often, in my passion to speak out about the former, I neglect the latter. I want so badly to stop the systematic silencing of women in the Church that I allow myself to grow impatient, angry, unkind.
I get entitled.
I get arrogant.
I get busy, stressed out, and overcommitted.
But I tell myself it’s justified. “I’m not doing it for myself,” I say. “I’m doing this for Christian women everywhere. They need me.”
And this, I see, is the dangerous allure of “evangelical celebrity”: How easy it is for Christians to convince ourselves that our causes/ our ministries/ our “tribes” need us, that we are too important to the movement to bother with things like silence, accountability, rest, patience, and respect for those with whom we disagree. How easy it is to believe that God needs us, that we are justified in acting like spoiled rock stars if we believe that our performances advance the cause of Christ. How easy it is to call a tantrum “passion” or a lack of discipline “creativity.” How easy it is to yell right over the quiet voice of God.
When I feel that pull of evangelical celebrity, there are only two things that draw me back to center:
1) Friends and family who will call me on my crap
2) Structured prayer
And of these two, structured prayer—lectio divina, the daily offices, the Psalms—is perhaps the most effective.
Praying whatever is in my heart and head is good in small doses, but structured prayer is the only way to truly transcend my selfish ego. There is nothing like greeting the morning with a prayer intended to remind you of your own mortality—“Teach me to number my days, that I may gain a heart of wisdom”—to put that deadline or that interview into perspective.
Structured prayer, particularly the offices, reminds me that God is bigger than my cause, bigger than my ministry, bigger than my “tribe,” bigger than me. It reminds me that, today, there are sparrows falling from trees and planets coursing through space, that a great cloud of witnesses has come before me and will come after me, that I have sinned by what I have done and what I have left undone, that all I really need is my daily bread, that, with or without me, the glory of God persists, “as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be.”
It is precisely because they knew how to silence themselves before God that women like Teresa of Avila, Julian of Norwich, and Catherine of Siena were able to have so much influence over the Church in times when women had little voice. If we too are going to be “women of valor,” we must first be willing to be women of silence, women of discipline.
I thought about all of this when I encountered a prayer from Thomas Merton, (which I have altered to include the feminine pronoun):
There must be a time of day
when the woman who makes plans
forgets her plans and acts as if she had no plans at all.
There must be a time of day
when the woman who has to speak falls very silent.
and her mind forms no more propositions,
and she asks herself: Did they have a meaning?
There must be a time when the woman of prayer goes to pray
as if it were the first time in her life
she has ever prayed,
when the woman of resolutions puts her resolutions aside
as if they had all been broken,
and she learns a different wisdom:
distinguishing the sun from the moon,
the stars from the darkness
,the sea from the dray land,
and the night sky from the shoulder of a hill.
It is my prayer for me, and my prayer for you, that together we grow in this “different wisdom.”
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