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Primordial Silence – Br. Mark Brown

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The Bible speaks in many voices, in many modes: sometimes literally, as if to say “these are the facts”. Sometimes the Bible speaks poetically, that is, in figures of speech and parables and fiction.

Poetic language is open to interpretation, and yet it was Jesus’ preferred mode. And, as it happens, when we profess our faith in the Creed, saying “we believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth…”, “maker” translates ποιητής [poietes]. ποιητής being the Greek word for maker and also for poet. We believe in one God, the poet of heaven and earth.

The Psalms, of course, are poetry. And open to interpretation, especially going from one language into another. The first line of our Psalm today I find particularly fascinating. “For God alone my soul in silence waits.” The prayer book version is a good and very musical translation. The original: ach el-elohim, dumiah nafshi.

The second part I find especially resonant. Dumiah nafshi. Literally it would be “my soul is silence”. Not silent, but silence. So we might translate “surely, before God, my soul is silence itself”.

“Silence itself.” This brings to mind the great silence, the great void preceding creation, the silence into which God spoke. The silence into which God the poet still speaks. We are, then, created out of the void, spoken into the great silence—we are God’s poetry.

Silence is big in monastic spirituality. Not only an acoustical silence, but a silence of the soul, a silence grounded in the great void. There is something about us of a piece with the primordial silence. A silence waiting for God’s speech, for God’s Word. A silence into which poetry may be spoken, that poetry being we ourselves: the poetry of our souls, the poetry of our very bodies.

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17 Comments

  1. David Weller, OSL on July 17, 2016 at 11:10

    I think I understand the value of silence; however, I listen to music most of the day and night, if at low volume at times.

    I recently thought up something on poetry and published it on one of my websites. (It’s the last quote on the page.)

    Music is the light that shines. Poetry is the switch.

    Yes, I’ve been struggling with it; although music can contain poetry, poems can stand alone at the beginning of music. It may be an inspired quote; any thoughts?

  2. Lynne on July 17, 2016 at 09:40

    When I am anxious I try often to think of Br. Curtis’ “Waiting in Advent” sermon of December 2014. Pray for the conversion of anxiety into hope. Today’s word seems to be the counterpart to this.

    For God alone my soul in silence waits;
    truly, my hope is in him.
    He alone is my rock and my salvation,
    my stronghold, so that I shall not be shaken

    Perhaps the way, then, to convert anxiety into hope is to rest and allow my soul to _be_ the silence, awaiting the Word of God.

  3. Harry A. Woggon on July 16, 2016 at 13:36

    Dear Brother: As a poet myself, and an Episcopal priest (retired), I was delighted to receive your poem.
    May your skill as a poet increase, and may your Order continue to flourish Harry A Woggon

  4. Ed Greene on July 16, 2016 at 10:08

    Yay!! A fellow Hebrew and Greek scholar. I greatly enjoy your sermons, Mark. As a regular preacher myself, I appreciate, and am encouraged by, the fine craftsmanship.

  5. Christopher on July 16, 2016 at 08:27

    I find my best time for refllection in the stillness and silence of the early morning as I wake to a new day.
    Silence is golden.

  6. Michael on July 16, 2016 at 08:13

    Very nice Brother Mark. God as poet!!

  7. Poet | The Episcopal Diocese of Louisiana on July 16, 2016 at 00:05

    […] To Read More and to Leave a Comment, Click Here […]

  8. Martha paine on July 28, 2015 at 15:44

    As I was reading your sermon,Br Mark, silence slowly enveloped me like a fog coming o ff the lake. I was suddenly at. Peace and all was still. It brought me back to retreats at DeKoven where the peace and silence encompasses all understanding and The Lord’s presence silently appears.

    • Sarah Cochrane on July 16, 2016 at 07:30

      Br. Brown’s writing of God’s poetry and silence is to me absolutely beautiful and profound. Thank you and blessings Sarah

  9. Jeff schiffmayer on July 27, 2015 at 15:42

    Dear brother, entering the great silence seems to me to describe what Jesus meant when He said, “come to me all you who struggle and are heavily burdened and I will give you rest.” It is the rest of letting go of all that lies behind, both our shame and our success, both of which clamor incessantly for our attention when we are awake and when asleep. Because we live in a moralistic culture this is very hard to do and can be very discouraging unless we live in a strong community of forgiveness where humility before one another and gods infinite mercy fill the atmosphere we breathe daily. Love, jeff schiffmayer

  10. Lloyd on July 27, 2015 at 15:04

    Before listening to your talk, Br. Mark, my mind was very noisy. As I’ve been contemplating in the last few minutes this beautiful poetry of the soul as silence, my mind has grown nearly silent as well. Not silence, but silent.

    It is so wonderful to remember the silence beneath all the bubblings of our minds. It seems like the mind has an automatic respect for it; the mind, remembering the soul as silence, follows suit.

    Thank you.

  11. John Gishe on July 26, 2015 at 23:06

    A beautiful reflection on silence!!…and in a such few words! Of all the SSJE sermons I have read, this is the most elegant…and, I guess, poetic. It lifts me up into God’s presence.

  12. Ruth West on July 26, 2015 at 20:48

    “Be still and know that I am God.” Perhaps it is sometimes hard for Him to hear us and vice versa over the din of our Alleluias. Of course, there are times when we need to lift up our voices in praise to Him. “I called out to Him with my mouth, and his praise was on my tongue.” This was a good sermon. Thank you!

  13. Bryan on July 26, 2015 at 10:16

    I have been thinking about this all morning: our “Maker” is our Poet. I think I have been listening for this for some time. I am not sure if I’d like to use Poet instead of Maker, as much as in addition-mostly because I can not pin down God into one category. For me the role of this new understanding/Word/label for God represents a shift in the use power. I like the soulful, mourning and inspirational role of Poet aware and present to all. It matches my experience of God more so than the all powerful maker that is in charge of all. Thank you.

  14. Jennifer on July 26, 2015 at 09:42

    Simple and beautiful–thank you.

  15. Stuart Pike on July 26, 2015 at 08:44

    Just wow, brother Mark. Thank you.

  16. Anne on July 26, 2015 at 07:31

    RIGHT ON! I love this! Thank you, thank you, thank you, Br. Mark!

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