If you had a message to deliver, would you employ a good talker, or a good listener?
When God had a message for Pharaoh of Egypt, he chose Moses, ‘slow of speech and tongue’ who claimed never to have been eloquent. The good talker was Aaron, Moses’ brother. Moses agreed to the task if Aaron would do the speaking for him. But it was Moses who proved faithful to God’s word and purpose. While Moses was listening to God on the mountain, Aaron was pacifying the people by assisting them to worship golden calves.
It is clearly not enough to be good with words. We have to be good with silence. We have to be able to listen.
Elijah remained isolated and resentful through earthquake, wind and fire. But the still, small voice of God brought him trembling to the mouth of the cave. Jonathan Sacks, in his book Radical Then, Radical Now, gives us an insight into the ‘still, small voice’:
- the Hebrew literally means ‘the sound of a slender silence’, - meaning, the voice that we can hear only if we listen.
When God spoke in such a voice, Elijah listened. And then he replied, the same words he had spoken earlier, but this time he knew with certainty that God was listening to him. Hurricanes and earthquakes do not encourage communion, whereas silence does.
Henri Nouwen, in The Way of the Heart, says:
Words can only create communion and thus new life when they embody the silence from which they emerge.
Such words are life-giving. They do not break the silence, they arise out of it.
I remember many years ago being at a church service in a very lively charismatic church, and the leader called for a time of quiet. He invited us to bring our prayer to God, because God was listening. Something was transformed for me in the silence. I was deeply aware that I had God’s attention, and that whatever I said to him he would hear. I don’t remember what I prayed, but I do remember the sense of being in the presence of God listening. Grace upon grace!
As writers we need to be good with words. But tradition maintains it was Moses, not Aaron, who wrote the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible. To be good writers, we also need to be good listeners.
I don’t often respond to the More than Writers blog contributions by leaving comments, but I am frequently touched and inspired, encouraged and impressed, by the words people write. They connect me with others, in the sense that writing is a solitary art but it ‘creates communion’. I’m so glad to be part of it.