Saturday, January 5, 2013

On Not Using Words

As I look back over the Twelve Days of Christmas and the season of Advent that preceded it, three things bubble up in my memory as uniquely special. One occurred in a grocery store. After paying my bill, I realized that the customer ahead of me had neatly bagged all my groceries for me. Smiling and waving, she said, "Happy Holidays," and immediately turned to leave. Clearly, anonymity was a big part of the random kindness she wished to deliver to me that day. Delighted, I called out after her to thank her.

The second thing that I am still savoring is the silent, daylong vigil that a local church held to honor and pray for the victims of the Newtown shooting. Scheduled a week after the fact, I had already heard and read and said more than was helpful to me or anyone else in processing the event. The silence was exactly what my soul needed to regain its equilibrium and get back to the spiritual focus of the season, preparing for the birth of the light that shines in darkness without being overcome by the darkness. The silence shared with others helped me to personally move out of the darkness into the light of the coming Christmas season.

And lastly, I was pleased to have been reminded of J.R.R Tolkien's Christian worldview through watching Peter Jackon's "The Hobbit" in all its 3-D magnificence. Prompted by Gandalf, Tolkien's grace-filled wisdom figure, Bilbo accepts the call to leave his happy hobbit hole and undertake his grand and perilous "adventure," simply because he had a home "and the dwarves did not." Bilbo thus makes the life-changing decision (conversion!) to develop and flex his capacity for self-sacrificing love. Need I say that movies with deeply hopeful themes such as this are not exactly plentiful these days?

Reflecting on these three things--a surprise favor from a stranger, a silent vigil, and an entertaining movie delivering Christian values--together points me to Saint Francis' astute advice to "Preach the gospel at all times. If necessary, use words." Although the grocery-bagging stranger was most likely a professing Christian, she did not strain the encounter by trying to rope me into attending her church or seeing the world as she does. Actions speak louder than words: do kindness. The day of the silent vigil, I had become oversaturated with media ruminations about the Newtown tragedy; I simply could not have tolerated any sermonizing. Sometimes silence is the best thing we can "say" in painful situations: let's share more of it. Lastly, stories can teach and inspire in ways that direct discussion cannot. Tolkien's work is all the more powerful for not crossing the line into explicit evangelism. Let's cultivate direct appreciation for the great literature of Christianity. Can you hear C.S. Lewis and Dante calling you?

2013 will be year in which I: 1) Practice random acts of kindness; 2) Find more opportunities for shared silence; and 3) Read and discuss more classics. I'll bet these resolutions will make me--and anyone--a much more attractive witness to faith out in the secular world than anything that is preached or written. But hey! Keep reading the blog, please!

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