Mary Alice Freeman cannot hear. She leaned forward, seeing the lips on the carolers moving, the young men’s feet tapping to the beat, a child angel standing up front lifting her arms at the close of the song. But she could not hear the heart-felt mixed melodies of talented and tone deaf crooners side by side, attempting to break the silent nights at the Lakeshore Retirement center.
I sat with her after the caroling, the two of us quietly communing. I reached carefully for one of her hands, and held it in both of mine, stroking the wrinkled skin, and smooth palms. Before I could control myself, my head was on her shoulder, and we sat there, mending each other in silence. Me longing for my Mother’s touch, her for the embrace of a daughter never born.
Sometimes my communing with the Lord is like this. Silence on both of our parts, but His presence soothing the inner places of ache I hesitatingly reveal.
Silent nights are not unique to my own experience. Between the writing of Malachi and Matthew, heaven was silent for 400 years. There were no prophets, no meetings on high mountains with booming voices writing on stones, no still small voice.
Times of silence before great appearings seems to be the rhythm of heaven. That 400 year silence was broken by the voices of the first carolers singing “Gloria, in Excelsis Deo”, “Emmanuel, God with us!”.
Other periods of distinct silence marked the season of Jesus come to earth. Thirty years of silence before His ministry. A silent night in the garden before His crucifixion, and then three days of silence before the resurrection.
I think I have sometimes equated “silence” with “abandonment”. The moments that echo with nothing seem so lonely. My monologues feel unheard. My letters of supplication seem to collect, unopened. And in my most desperate times, I wonder kneeling, do I cry alone?
But there is no way I could believe that when Jesus prayed in the garden, the silence from heaven indicated disregard or desertion on God’s part. Or that God relinquished desire for his people for 400 years. Or that when the Psalmist or I beg for Him to speak He simply turns his back in indifference.
Mary Alice Freeman was not abandoned. My Mother has not abandoned me by going home to be with the Lord. Tonight, her fur cape hugs me almost like she did. Perhaps it is an extension of her arms to me on a silent night.
A taciturn heaven can be pregnant with Presence. And the silence is, like in Revelatioan after the seventh seal was broken, a certain hush before the trumpets.
In the near last words of Malachi before the 400 years of silence, it says “The Father heard”, and that those who thought on His name were written in His book of remembrance.
No, silence has not meant abandonment. He has collected my heart and words in golden bowls and they sit ever in His presence.
I am listening. My ear is pressed to the door and I’m listening. And anticipating the trumpets after the silence. God speaks in soul stirring interruptions, sometimes in the form of a new and unlikely friend.
Just before I left Mary Alice that night, she pulled my face to her lips and whispered in my ear, “I think we could be friends.”
Indeed, isn’t that what God has done at Christmas? He sent His son to rescue a lost creation, pulls our hearts close to Him, and offers the invitation of fellowship, family, belonging. “I think we could be friends...”
What tidings of great news. What comfort and joy. What a lovely way to break the silence.