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Friday, January 4, 2013

The Sounds Of Silence, by Chaplain Matthew Holmes

Written by Matthew Holmes, Hospice Chaplain, member at First Trinity, and a pretty neat guy.

Among death’s most painful trials is silence. I had a particularly loud and boisterous patient, Viv, who I saw many times and with whom I enjoyed lively conversations. As is the case with all of my patients as a hospice chaplain, one day I went to Viv’s house and she wasn’t talking anymore. The aggressive form of cancer which had been growing in her body for years without much pain or distress had finally decided to show its hand. This once vibrant and animated woman now lay in bed nearly motionless except for the irregular raising and lowering of her chest with each breath.

Sitting with the dying is something I do often, but somehow sitting with Viv seemed strange to me. Nothing was strange about the situation itself; what was odd in the tragedy playing out before me was not the scenery, nor the show, it was the volume. Her room had always been full of noise, but then it was silent - Viv had lost her voice.

As Viv lay there in that blue hazy space between life and death, I wondered what she would have said. I still don’t know, but I do know Viv’s last action on this earth was letting go and that, in doing so gracefully, she said a lot. She waited for her family to come from all around the country, going weeks without any real food, drink, or conversation. After the last person had come, she finally let herself go. The way her daughter saw it was that in living so long Viv was telling her family how much she loved them, in her release she was saying that there is nothing to fear in death. Even the great silence of the grave can be overcome by simply listening more closely and being open to different forms of communication.

Viv’s story is not unique, many of the dying are able to communicate great and beautiful truths about love, fear, faith, and hope simply in how they die if we pay attention. Scripture reminds us time and time again that it is often the silent whom carry with them the greatest wisdom. Moses, who needed Aaron to communicate for him, was the first to know of Israel’s release from slavery. Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, was unable to speak after finding out the good news that his son would be born. John, the writer of Revelation, was silenced by exile. The first witnesses of Jesus’ miracles are often told by Christ not to speak about what they have seen. Prophets did and continue to go unheard.

Scripture reminds us that that the silent often carry the greatest of insight, and the knowledge of the divine. So it is in our world today, when so many are silenced because of their race, class, social status, or political ideals.

One of the things I love and dread most about a service at First Trinity is the prayers of the people. A seminary worship professor would give us an “F” on the prayers. Often you can’t hear what people are saying, people pray for subjects upon which we are far from agreement, and - let’s face it - they go on for a long time. I must admit that sometimes, not often, but sometimes, I even get bored during the prayers. 

But that seminary professor would be wrong.

By allowing making time for everyone, and listening to everyone’s point of view, we are giving voice to each other: we are giving voice to the silent.

Trinity actually does this a number of ways: in opening our doors to the community, in allowing protesters to sleep on our floors, in sharing stories at God’s closet. To me, giving voice to the silent is one of the great and unique things about Trinity.

Because of this I believe it is out of Trinity and places like it that the Word of God can be heard most clearly in new and powerful ways. I ask that we not forget this great gift and call of our congregation. That we may keep our ears and our hearts open, and wait for the silent to speak.

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