He got up, rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Silence! Be still!”
The wind ceased, and there was a great calm.
~ Mark 4: 39
I looked at my hand as I pulled it away from where I had placed it. Dozens of tiny granules of red, damp stone clung to my palm. As I wiped my hand on my jeans, I realized I hadn’t expected the stone to be so weathered and eroded. After all, I had only placed my hand on the stone siding of St. Lutwinus church in order to steady myself as I climbed the few steps to reach the doorway. 1 As I entered the church, I was careful to close the door slowly and quietly so that it would not echo in the lofty stone church located at Mettlach, Germany. Moving through the small foyer, I slowly and reverently made my way down the nave of St. Lutwinus church. While certainly more unassuming than many other cathedrals and churches in this area of Europe, it nevertheless is one of my favorite, being made of red stone with white lining, giving it a much more welcoming appearance, both inside and out, then those made of gray stone. As I approached the axis, I settled down into one of the wooden benches, wincing slightly as the pew, in its age, made a creaking noise which, to my ears, sounded louder than it probably was in the stillness of the sanctuary.
Resting for a moment after having browsed the shops down the hill, I allowed the architecture and imagery of the church to direct my thoughts heavenward. As I sat there, I realized that in the midst of a season that is becoming increasingly co-opted by our consumerist culture, which tells us to shop more and which generally causes us to run around like crazy, the invitation of the church to stop and rest reminds me to respond Christ’s command “Silence! Be still!” (Mark 4:39). In the Gospel of Mark, the beginning of chapter 4 starts with Jesus teaching to a large crowd by the sea. After teaching the crowd many things through parables, Jesus recognizes the need for himself and the disciples to find some rest for their souls. So, they board a boat and cross to the other shore. However, a storm soon descends on the sea and the disciples, fearful for their lives, essentially ask the sleeping Jesus to do something. After commanding the storm to be silent and still, he rebukes them for their lack of faith. 2
You see, like the wind and rain which beat down and weathered the exterior of the St. Lutwinus Church that I visited, so too the forces of consumerism and distraction can cause our souls to become weathered and eroded. I find it interesting that in a time of the year where we seek to celebrate the proclamation the heavenly host made to the shepherds – that of “peace on earth to people He favors!” (Luke 2:14) – that we are so busy shopping and visiting and baking and planning that few of us actually find peace during the busy holiday season. However, as Jesus and the disciples sailed to the other side of the lake to find some peace and rest for their souls, so too do we need to set aside some periods of solitude and silence where we can sail away from the crowds in our shopping malls and which find their way into our homes in the form of relatives and inlaws. 3
In this, I find a curious ally in the “New Age” singer Enya. When describing her album, And Winter Came, the well-known Irish artist comments, “The opening piece, ‘And Winter Came’, it sort of sets the mood of autumn going into winter. It’s a time for people to slow down after the summer holdiays and they reminisce, they think a little bit more about life.” 4 Like Enya, I find that Advent is a perfect time to “slow down” and to “reminisce”. It’s a time to find our place and our story in the history of the world in the midst of God’s great and unfolding drama, found in Scripture and which echoes throughout history. But as Christ followers, we can only do this by choosing to expose the lies of culture which encourages us to be busy consumers and to find peace in what we own. Our identity is not in what we own, but as God’s Story reveals, by Whom we are owned.
As my soul was refreshed in the interior of St. Lutwinus Church that day after Thanksgiving, it is my hope that in this Advent season we can find some rest for our souls and to reflect and, in so doing, to rebuild our foundations of stone on the Great Cornerstone, who is Christ. Only then can we fearlessly brave the winds and the waves of materialism without fear of erosion and loss of identity. So may you, dear reader, find the beauty in the invitation “Silence! Be still!”
1 For more on St. Lutwinus Church and Mettlach, Germany go to: <http://www.travel-tidbits.com/tidbits/005275.shtml>.
2 While there are other interpretations of this part of the Gospel story, it would seem that not only can Satan drive us away from our place of identity in Christ by human forces but also by natural ones. I believe that when Christ asks them, “Why are you fearful? Do you still have no faith?” that he is not only referring to their fear of natural death but also to the death of their identity which can only be firmly rooted in Christ. Otherwise, to attempt to find our identity otherwise is to risk it being buffeted about by the approval, or lack thereof, of others/crowds and of the security, or lack thereof, from the “storms” of life.
3 Lest I be misunderstood, I am not suggesting that we become 21st century hermits who stand apart from the celebrations and festivities of Christmas. I believe that there is much good in hosting family and friends in one’s home and in giving gifts to one another – a sign of the ultimate Gift that was given us when Christ came to earth. However, as an evangelical Christian who seeks to relate my faith to all of life, I find myself concerned at the increasing tendency of our consumerist culture to subtly erode the foundations of this important holy day. The whole point in celebrating Christmas on the 25th of December was to co-opt the pagan holidy to the sun god and make it about the “Son God”. To me, it would seem that Western consumer culture is, at times, reversing that process and co-opting Christmas for it’s own ends.
4 To view the whole video, go to: Enya.com, “And Winter Came EPK” <http://www.enya.com/videos.php?vid=enyaepk>. For the record, I am aware that Enya’s music is labeled “New Age”. However, having read the lyrics to most of her songs, I find little that really reflects what is commonly associated with New Age thought. Although there is some concern for lyrics that perhaps place undue emphasis on a form of “humanism” which could imply that she is advocating secular humanism, I would suggest that humanism itself is not at odds with the Christian faith, only a secular humanism which seeks to reject God. However, given that she was raised in the Roman Catholic church, still attends church, has sought to distance herself from the label “New Age”, and has songs that sing specifically about God and Jesus Christ, I am more inclined to state that she is no more into New Age than any other Christian that occasionally confuses their faith with surrounding philosophies and culture. Interestingly, one of her songs, “Athair ar Neamh”, has lyrics that, when translated from Gaelic into English, read “Father in Heaven. God help us. / Father in Heaven. God help me. / My heart my soul my voice / Praise to you, oh God”. <http://www.enya.com/lyrics_tmot.php#2>