Monday, January 4, 2016

The Art of Silence before the Mystery - a reflection for Epiphany

They fell down and worshiped - 

A reflection I wrote for church but which I decided not to present.....

The art of silence before the mystery -

I want to suggest a creative art which you may discover brings life into focus.  Some of you here may have uncovered this treasure and some of you may be connoisseurs having tasted the flavours of this art. It can be sophisticated or simple and it requires no equipment.

It's an art form that I teach. This year I was asked to teach at a city centre for people experiencing homelessness and marginalisation and I have a group of older people who are experiencing forms of homelessness. Many of them feel pain, stress, anxiety and grief and while the art form that I teach is not a magic wand it does enable some of them to find the way and to find a better nights sleep or to go to the supermarket without having an anxiety attack.

What is this art form? It comes by many names but I will simply call it the art of silence. I will call it the art of being present and paying attention. It is an art because the world in which we live is training us to be distracted and amused to death. I call it the art of silence before mystery.

'They fell down and worshiped'. You know the story perhaps too well to notice just how subversive it seeks to be. It's a story that invites us to take part. There is no mention of three Magi, no mention of camels no mention of a manger. The house in Bethlehem could be any house including yours or mine.

I see these seekers who have looked up and seen the star and asked 'where and why' as wise as Socrates. He wandered ancient Athens asking supposedly knowledgeable people as well as artisans and army generals where and why and came to the conclusion that wisdom consisting as knowing how little he knew and that while a person could define the questions eventually when it came to discussions of love, death or courage words would give out. Then the art of silence in the mystery begins.

I teach my students simply to practice being present to breathing, to their body, to their thoughts and to observe these as if they were watching over a tiny new born baby. Distractions will arise along the path but it's all about following the star of silence until the seeker arrives at a sense of being at home with silence and learns to fine tune making choices that serve them.

Notice in the story the three gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Gold needs no explanation, incense offered to the gods or Roman Emperor, and myrrh to embalm the body of a ruler. I suggest to you that these are to one extent or another the burdens we carry. The gold of possessions that we can use to define us, the frankincense of status and what others think of us, the desire to be 'on trend' and the myrrh which is the fear and avoidance of our death and the knowledge that within a few years we will be all but forgotten. The art of silence helps us to release our often tight grip on these things, to become more detached and to discover the real treasure. All the best things in life after all are not things but qualities. This is the real subversion that the art of silence in the mystery brings.

I see the wise seekers simply being and sitting in the presence of the child watching and waiting, paying attention conscious that they are in the presence of great mystery. Earlier today I sat with a member of this community in intensive care keeping them company, holding their hand. What can be more precious than this silent a compliment. These fragile moments come and go. Only a breath holds us this side of life.

Silence in the presence of the Mystery of it all can be a single conscious breath, a sip of coffee, an hour on the meditation cushion, worship in church anything that takes us deeper into the amazement and appreciation that opens our heart wider.

The art of silence being in the presence of the mystery is at the heart of all authentic philosophies and religions. Sadly often we have given the impression to the wider world that you have to rush around busy the whole time and feel endlessly guilty. To me the essence of faith is silent contemplation and then doing a few things to try and make the world slightly more bearable.

To my conclusion. You don't have to believe in God to practice the art of silence, you don't have to know lots of things and you don't need other people. Teachers only point the way and sometimes those you think are wise are not wise at all.

The star is your question 'where' and 'why'. Try it, simply be present to the mystery. The mystery of your aliveness, the mystery of love, the mystery of the universe, the mystery of suffering, the weird  strangeness of your conscious existence. Why not make the most of this beautiful art of silence in the presence.

Our lives are like the blink of an eye compared to a star. Why waste these precious moments. The art of silence, being still before the mystery and strangeness calls to each of us. Find the space, lose your busyness, notice the ways you distract yourself?

The mystery of our dream as we gaze on the Christ child the symbol of beauty, truth and goodness - the Eternal Wisdom of the universe.

 May we return home by another path and begin to live differently moment by unfolding moment. The star now is within leading us further up and further in beyond the words, beyond our Herod like desire to control, releasing us to live moment by moment in the silent presence of mystery.