When the word is silent
It is the wisdom of some sages in ages past that silence plays a significant role in the proclamation of the Word. Today, silence is still very relevant in dialogue. Imagine the result of a conversation of two or more people who are talking at the same time. The divine Word (Logos) existed in silence from the beginning and was made manifest when he took flesh and dwelt among us (John 1). Mary, the mother of Jesus lived in silence and solitude pondering the mystery of the incarnation in her heart. Zechariah was unable to speak for the period Elizabeth conceived John the Baptist who later introduced himself as the voice of one that cries in the wilderness to prepare the way of the Lord. Jesus revealed the truth to Pilate in his 'dialogue of silence' during his passion. This frightened Pilate to wash his hands to portray that he was innocent of the blood of Jesus.
A bird that makes too much noise cannot make a durable nest. The empty drum makes the loudest noise. Silence can be golden in this era of noise pollution. Our political world is marked with so much noise of laudable manifestoes and unfulfilled promises. Some electronic media mortgage their normal reportage to cover the events of a political rally and convention. Some of our politicians are more fluent in oratory than Williams Shakespeare and the ancient Athenian Sophists. These oratories very often are self referential in their contents. The bulk of the words, phrases and sentences are couched in 'me, I, myself and mine' thereby presenting themselves to be the nation's 'only' new Moses and Aaron that have the capacity to take the people to the promised land. They claim to have every reason to be voted for in preference to their opponent. Some posters and fliers conspicuously draw attention to their new names such as, 'Change', 'Transformation' and 'uncommon'. Some have structural developments to show for these names while many have nothing to show. I congratulate some political leaders who have put a smile on the faces of their people by providing roads, electricity and water. I pray God to bless them immensely. May they do more by creating job opportunities so that our unemployed graduates and youths may not get employed in the 'kidnapping industry'!
In most of the military coups in Nigeria, the successful soldiers often announced the coming of a new dawn. They were applauded by those who believed in them with high expectations. The soldiers whose coup failed were either executed or jailed for treason. In the present democratic dispensation, some who win elections are welcomed with high hopes and expectations by some people while the enemies relentlessly plan for their failure or elimination. Some who have promised to transform our world spent their tenures only in building personal empires. Invariably, their words to the people are fulfilled only in the campaign microphones and megaphones.
It is natural and normal to expect that religion would enhance a new dawn by calling the believers to solitude and silence so that the leaders among them could ask God for more skills and capacity to make a little sacrifice for others. The desert of the heart is where God waits for those who make themselves available for a divine encounter. Many of our politicians are very religious and depend on God to assist them in their desire to translate their promises into action. I wonder if the perpetual noise from some churches gives this enabling space for them to feel the gentle breeze and hear the voice of God in a still small voice akin to the encounter between God and Prophet Elijah. In some major cities in Nigeria, a church can be sighted in at least every hundred metres apart. Most of these churches put their loud speakers outside for people to hear the Word of God. Very often, there is a high cacophony showcasing sound, which is more of competitive vibrations of some 'men of God' who have their churches in opposite or adjacent locations. The screaming and shouting from some loud speakers can be compared to that of the prophets of Baal whom Elijah requested to shout more in case their god had either travelled or asleep and must be commanded to wake up. The call to prayers and the preaching from some mosques are so audible that even if you do not enter a mosque you can hear the message of peace and submission to Allah.
But permit me to ask! To what extent have these echoes from the religious houses changed the life of Nigerians to worship God better and promote a robust human dignity? With all our 'religious affluence', from where did we import crime, hatred, greed, terrorism, rape, jealousy, vaulting ambition, child abuse, kidnapping and all forms of evil that is ravaging Nigeria? Where did some Nigerians acquire the capacity and courage to abduct some top political and religious leaders for a handsome ransom? Don't you think that we need a retreat that would take us far into the physical desert and the deserts of our hearts to recapture our real selves and destiny? Perhaps we can give a brief recess to all these noise from the political and religious loud speakers that have not succeeded in melting the hardened hearts of some of our citizens. Would life not be better when the Word is silent? The greatest leaders in the world never campaigned with what they could do. They changed their world without a word. They assumed the air of unworthiness. They accepted roles of leadership after much persuasion from those who have confidence in them. These heroes of administration have no time to waste on verbosity. They manifested their capacities in acts of silence, mortification and solitude. You can know a serious person from the content of his or her being. What the cock uses to attract the hen is a deep personal secret. A good woman does not need many words to attract the man of her dream and a good man does not need words to attract a woman for a wife.
Some great saints and martyrs embraced solitude and silence to address the materialism of the secular world. Some saints like Anthony, Pachomius, Benedict, Basil of Caesarea, Martin of Tours, Benedict of Nursia, and some Egyptian monks withdrew into the desert to do penance and pray for the healing and salvation of the world. Francis of Assisi and Padre Pio were Stigmatists who endured pains in union with the sufferings of Jesus Christ for the redemption of the world. Many great political and religious leaders who preferred the comfort and dignity of the people to their personal interest believed that when pain, hunger and all forms of suffering are endured for the sake of the people, the result could be very rewarding in giving joy to the people while not neglecting the fact that this world is not our permanent home. Many world religions like Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Budhism etc., recommend fasting and penance for their followers. Those who are fasting have no time and energy to talk too much. Silence and penance can generate more love, more generosity and more desire to live in peace and harmony. Without silence, our worship can become mere rituals. Jesus calls us to ' be perfect like the heavenly Father who is perfect (Matthew 5, 48). Silence is a cream of perfection that enables a person mean what he or she says. Silence creates the opportunity to consider whether a word can be translated into action. A person who cannot match words with action often looks irresponsible.
Silence is an ascetic discipline which is not an end in itself. The purpose is to love God through His creatures. In silence, the obstacles to love are put under control especially in challenging moments when people are turning against you. The discipline of silence provides a space for politeness and the courage to demonstrate true love in a heroic way like Jesus who proved that 'the greatest way to show love for friends is to die for them' (John 15, 13). Life for an honourable person means renunciation of the ego, conversion and a stability of purpose. Thus the power of silence can change the heart of an enemy who would not like to continue a fight with a person who ignores him and strive to be credible. Silence can transform your word into a healing antidote and liberation. Silence is another dynamic way of making enemies look stupid especially when they are perceived to be fighting a humble and harmless person who is making efforts to be humble like Jesus who though was in the form of God, did not count equality with God (Philippians 2).
• Fr. Omonokhua is the Director of Mission and Dialogue of the Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria, Abuja and Consultor of the Commission for Religious Relations with Muslims (C.R.R.M), Vatican City.