Thursday, October 30, 2014

The Sounds of Silence

“Now what ought we to learn before everything else, but to be silent, that we may be able to speak.” —Ambrose

I often think of some lines from an old Simon and Garfunkel ballad: “In the naked light I saw ten thousand people, maybe more. People talking without speaking; people hearing without listening...”

Some folks do talk without speaking, having little or nothing to say and taking forever to say it. As a fishing buddy of mine once observed, “Shallow streams make the most noise,” a delightful turn on the old adage, “Still water runs deep.”

But it seems to me that even more folks hear without listening. Oh, they hear the words, but they fail to silence their own thoughts and really listen.
I think it would be good if we all learned to be silent and still.

Not all silence is good silence, however: There is a smug, self-satisfied silence, the silence of detachment; and there is the silence of timidity and self-consciousness.

Good silence on the other hand is a listening silence, a humble silence. It leads to right hearing, right understanding, right speaking. “A man’s soul is like a deep well,” the proverb says (Proverbs 20:5). It takes a lot of hard listening to get all the way to the bottom.

And while we listen to others, we should also be listening to God and hearing what He wants us to say.

I think of Jesus, scribbling with his finger in the dust while the Pharisees railed on the woman caught in adultery. Was he writing the Ten Commandments as some have suggested? No, I think he was just doodling in the dirt, biding his time, listening for his Father’s voice and asking, “What shall I say to this crowd and this dear woman?” 

His response is still being heard around the world.

David Roper 

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Icarus Revised

In Breughel's Icarus...how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water; and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.

—W.H. Auden

Auden is referring to a painting by Dutch painter, Pieter Brueghel, based on Ovid’s Myth of Icarus, the story of a boy who flew too close to the sun. It hangs in the Museum of Fine Arts in Brussels.


If you look closely, in the lower right hand corner of the painting you can see Icarus with melted wings falling into the sea. Ovid's point was the danger of hubris; Brueghel had another idea.

In Brueghal’s version of the myth, Icarus falls and no one cares. Sailors on their ships, farmers and others are unconcerned, going about their own business, unaware of the calamity unfolding in front of their eyes. All are apathetic in the face of appalling tragedy and heartbreak.

Few of us are aware of the sadness all around us; we go our way inattentive and unmoved, too busy with our own business to respond to human need. Something amazing has happened: "a boy falling out of the sky"—right in front of our eyes—but we have "somewhere to get to and sail calmly by."

You don’t have to go far to uncover tragedy and heartache: a young widow, stricken with loneliness; an anxious parent concerned for a critically ill child; a frightened man awaiting heart surgery; a care-worn checker in a grocery store working at a second or third job to make ends meet; a young boy who's never had enough father; a single mother whose worries have washed her hope away; an old man who inhabits his bleak world alone; a needy soul behind our own front door—all right in front of us. Perhaps we don't have much to give, but we can see beyond what others see to the possibility of mercy, compassion and understanding.

I wonder how many times I've glanced at a grocery clerk, a bank teller, a waitress and failed to see the marks of woe, the drab, cheerless affect, the weary face, the downcast eyes, the mumbled response to my frivolous query, "How are you?" I hear the splash but miss the forsaken sigh, the deep sorrow in their response.  I turn away from the disaster. I feel no tug on my heart; I have somewhere to get to and sail calmly by.

John Newton said on one occasion, "If, as I go home, a child has dropped a halfpenny, and if, by giving another, I can wipe away its tears, I feel I have done something. I should be glad to do greater things, but I will not neglect this." Nor should I.

"Oh, how blessed are those who care," Israel's poet mused (Psalm 41:1). How rare and how happy they are.

David Roper



Saturday, October 4, 2014

The Rugged Road


“He leads me in paths of righteousness...” —Psalm 23:3


Some years ago, a fishing buddy of mine told me about Louie Lake, an alpine lake located high on the north flank of Jug Handle Mountain here in Idaho. Rumor had it that large cutthroat trout lurked up there. He got a pencil and scrap of napkin and drew a map for me. Several weeks later I gassed up my truck and set out to follow his directions.

His map put me on one of the worst roads I’ve ever driven! It was an old logging road that had been bulldozed through the forest and never re-graded. Washouts, fallen timber, runnels, deep ruts and large rocks battered my spine and bent the undercarriage of my truck. It took half a morning to reach my destination and when I finally arrived I asked myself, “Why would a friend send me up a road like that?”

But the lake was magnificent and the fish were indeed large and scrappy! My friend had put me on the right road, one I would have chosen myself and patiently endured had I known what I knew at the end.

Here’s a faithful saying: God leads us in the right path (Psalm 23:3). Some paths are rough and rugged; others tedious and tiresome. Yet when we come to the end of our journey and know what we then will know, we will say, “God’s path was best for me.” 

He chose this path for thee;
Though well he knew sharp thorns would pierce thy feet,
Knew how the brambles would obstruct the way,
Knew all the hidden dangers thou wouldst meet,
Knew how thy faith would falter day by day;
And still the whisper echoed, ‘Yes, I see
This path is best for thee.’

He chose this path for thee;
What needst thou more? This sweeter truth to know,
That all along these strange, bewildering ways,
O’er rocky steeps and where dark rivers flow,
His loving arms will bear thee all the days.
A few steps more, and thou thyself shalt see
This path is best for thee.

David Roper
10.4.14


IT You shall not be afraid of the terror by night, Nor of the arrow that flies by day, A thousand may fall at your side, ten tho...