The Word that is the Bread of Silence

This phrase, from Paul Hoppe, a Swiss writer who died in 2006, is the starting point for a meditation by Brother François of Taizé on word and silence. He writes “One word is enough to make silence bearable, and can at times fill it completely.” In an era of constant data communication, a veritable din of words – tweets and Facebook updates, messaging and email – this is a striking statement. Br François reflects on how, in reading the Bible, he withdraws into silence. It is an approach to reading the Bible that is mystical and both modern and traditional in its hermeneutic. It is the approach of a person of faith, and yet it seems strikingly radical.

Br Françios identifies four different approaches to reading the Bible drawing on four witnesses.

“First, a phrase from Saint John of the Cross, ‘The Father has spoken only a single word, his Son; now in an eternal silence he never ceases to speak it; it is up to us to listen to it in silence.’” This is paradoxical as the Bible has a multiplicity of words but here Br François suggests the whole of the Bible could not express what God was longing to say, but that in fact that had to be expressed as a Human being.

A second approach he draws from the second epistle of Saint Peter. This does not talk of silence or words, but uses an image: “So we have the prophetic message more fully confirmed. You will do well to be attentive to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. (2 Peter 1:19). This captures the sense of the darkness that perhaps surrounds the human experience and the tiny light that we look to to follow. So it is that Br François looks to the Word as it is a whole way of life that becomes light, something that demands we keep our eyes fixed on it.

Br François’ third witness is St Paul who stresses especially the link between the Scriptures and faith. “…and how from childhood you have known the sacred writings that are able to instruct you for Salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” writes St Paul to one of his closest collaborators (2 Timothy 3:15). If the scriptures give knowledge of salvation, then they do so by giving a taste of it, “The Scriptures allow us to ‘savour’ salvation.”

Through the theme of taste Br François introduces a fourth approach drawing on the German Jewish Philosophy Franz Rosenzweig (d. 1929). Rosenzweig defined the difference between reading the Bible and reading any other book. He said that we learn what is in the other books by reading them but, “When it comes to the Bible, two things are necessary to learn what is there; we have to listen to what it says, and also be attentive to the beating of the human heart. The Bible and the heart say the same thing.”

Br François is interested in how the Bible may be read personally and this is an example of a personal and reflective hermeneutic that is more subtle than interpretation, and is perhaps more profound for it describes the engagement of Faith in God through the text.

For Br François, “Biblical contemplation does not involve some kind of ascent toward timeless truths, but rather abandoning ourselves to the plan of God. Our gaze looks ahead, eager to follow the intentions of his loving will for humanity, intentions that have to be accomplished here on earth and throughout history. Then, while remaining involved with body and soul, we no longer feel that we have to be on top of things and events. The greatness of the Love of God has taught us to give him plenty of room and not to intervene before the time is ripe. It is God’s plan that has to be accomplished as he intends it. Our looking then becomes a waiting, a “contemplative waiting” as Brother Roger used to say.”

Thus in reading the text there is submission and trusting abandonment.

To read Br François’ meditation go to:

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