A few years ago there was a series on the BBC called The Monastery. It was one of these ‘reality’ TV shows where several men were invited to come and spend 40 days in a Benedictine monastery in England. Recently I was reading a book about it written by the abbot of that monastery, Abbot Christopher Jamison, and he makes some very interesting points.
One of the things he noticed with the men who lived there was that they were used to being so busy, that they hardly knew what to do when they were suddenly faced with times of just being on their own in silence. They found this very hard to deal with. Most of them turned to their cell phones and spent a huge amount of time on the phone, really to avoid the silence. Why? Perhaps because they could not face the chaos within themselves? The funny thing is that after several days they all began to realise that they were using their phones and radios as an escape and they agreed to give them up for the time they were there.
We are not used to spending much time in silence and it’s no wonder, since there are fewer and fewer places you can go where you will find silence. Even many churches now have music playing during the day, which I think is a great pity. Almost every shop and restaurant you go into has music playing. ‘Well so what’, you might say? ‘There’s no harm in having music.’ Of course there is no harm in having music. It is a wonderful thing. However, when we have next to no silence it can be a problem, because then we can no longer hear what is going on inside ourselves. That means that we will find it much more difficult to hear God speaking to us.
Now I know that many people will say, ‘God never speaks to me,' but the fact is that God is speaking to us all the time, but for the most part we are not listening. We have almost forgotten how to listen. The truth is that every day God has something to say to each of us. God is constantly offering us guidance, help, direction, encouragement, forgiveness, wisdom, insights. But if we are not listening we will not hear it.
How do we listen? We have to start by switching off the radio and TV for at least a certain amount of time, so that we are alone with our thoughts, and even the chaos that we find inside ourselves. There has to be silence to start with and then at least there begins to be room for God’s Spirit to speak to us.
Who could be more important to listen to than God? Who knows all the answers to every single problem we encounter? Who knows the future? Who can guide us along the exact right path, even after we make mistakes?
Think for a minute of all the things you listen to or read each day. News programs, the paper, chat shows, soap operas and hundreds of ads. How many of them inspire you, make you feel enthusiastic for life, encouraged and positive? Very few I would imagine. And yet the One who can offer us everything positive and inspiring is usually the One we ignore.
Today’s Gospel passage recalls a strange event. Jesus took with him his three closest friends: Peter, James and John, the same three that would be with him in the garden of Gethsemane a short time later, the same three who were also with him when he brought the girl known as Jairus’ daughter back to life. And there on the mountain he allowed them to see him in his blinding and terrifying glory. They were very frightened. But the interesting thing is what happened during this experience when they were suddenly covered by a cloud and they heard the voice of God the Father: ‘This is my Son the Beloved. Listen to him.’ Listen to him. Listen to him.
This happened shortly before the passion, where the same three would witness Jesus falling apart in the garden of Gethsemane, sweating blood because of the extreme stress he was going through and then being arrested, tortured and killed. Peter, James and John would need great strength not to despair, and this is one of the reasons why they were allowed this experience. But they were told on the mountain to listen to Jesus. He is the only one they needed to listen to. If they heard what he had to say, they had everything.
Later Peter recalls in one of his letters, that this event really happened. In the second letter of St. Peter (2 Pet 1:17-18) he writes: ‘He was honoured and glorified by God the Father, when a voice came to him from the transcendent Glory, This is my Son, the Beloved; he enjoys my favour. We ourselves heard this voice from heaven when we were with him on the mountain.’ And it obviously had a deep impression on them. God was teaching them that there was only one person they needed to heed in their life and that was Jesus, the Son of God, the revelation of God.
So what is the point? The point is that of all the voices that we hear every day, speaking to us, calling for our attention, there is One voice above all others that should get space. It is really the only one that matters and that is the voice of the Spirit of God, guiding and teaching us. But in order to hear that voice we must begin by making space for it, giving some time to silence and just being alone with our thoughts. That is where the Lord speaks to us.
‘This is my Son the beloved. Listen to him.’