There’s always that one person in the group… the one who says what everyone’s thinking.
Throughout my life, that person, many times, has been me. And let me tell you, while many enjoy that they don’t have to be the one to expose truth, they will also oftentimes throw that person who does the truth-telling under the bus in a heartbeat when push comes to shove if they are challenged. I’ve had this experience far too many times in my life. Sometimes it’s been exhilarating to be “justified,” but other times it’s been downright thankless and ended in desolation and being shunned… and when the truth would one day be brought to light, and I was right, I was long forgotten.
I was that one kid out of all the cousins who would ask the question “you apparently weren’t supposed to ask.” I was that one mom in the home school group (back when we homeschooled) who called out the self professed leader at the time for telling us we’d all go to hell if our daughters wore jeans and “caused” her boys to sin. I was the one who said “Oh my gosh, this is shocking and horrible!” at my women’s prayer meeting that dark morning when the horrific allegations of Regnum Christi’s founder were revealed for all. I was the one who quietly challenged the practice of harmful slander and corruption within a group in a Latin Mass parish I was attending. I was the one who spoke up for our little farm town when the Big Guys came in to steal from the poor and simple folks and liquidate their assets under their noses. I was the one who fought for the little school our kids were attending when the Denver Board of the Huge and Powerful Education wanted to shut it down because the families were too “poor.”
I was always that one who said “but the emperor has no clothes!”
And most of the time, I was told: “Shhhhh. Shal, be silent. You are over reacting. This is no big deal. Just go with the flow. Who are you? You aren’t old enough, experienced enough, smart enough…. shhhhhhhhh…….”
And among secular groups, this didn’t surprise me as much, though the battles were difficult.
It was within the Church where I was most deeply wounded. So many times I would speak the truth, but in the end I would suddenly find I was alone, with no back up, friends who had encouraged me but decided they’d rather not say anything in order to appease those “more powerful people”….And while it hurt at times when I lost friends over speaking the truth, the deepest feelings of betrayal came at the silence of those who allowed the mistreatment. Those in charge. Those who could have stepped in.
And life would move on around me, without anyone ever desiring to reconcile… they “moved on,” as if they didn’t leave bloody corpses on the road behind them. The silence was so loud that I found I longed for a response, a reaction, anything to even allow for the fact that I am a flesh and blood human; Yell at me! Argue with me! Anything! Anything?
Silence stabbed me.
The slithery “hushhhhh” from what felt like the coldest air conditioned conference room in the penthouse of a corporate church, it stabbed me. It made me doubt myself. It made me come to the conclusion that it wasn’t worth speaking up anymore.
I started developing a silence of my own.
Sometimes my silence has been a peaceful one, a wise one, a prayerful one. But other times, my silence has been a shell-shocked reaction to not wanting to be judged and “hushed” again. Sometimes my silence has been fearful, exhausted, hopeless, weary; looking around and deciding that it wasn’t worth it to speak up and have too many people shut me down, and too many who know me say nothing, or quote me a patronizing message like “it’s not as bad as you think so just wait and…. (The Sun’ll come out, tomorrow… tomorrow!!!)”
One time, the silence in the face of injustice had become so profound and seemingly unending that I could hear the voice of God telling us to move across country, telling us we had fought the battles we were meant to fight, telling us our mission, while deeply painful at times and wonderful at others, was over in that part of the country.
It was time to move and to breathe with an “additional lung,” as we were lacking in spiritual oxygen…
St. John Paul the Great, in all his wisdom, had talked of the East and the West as the two lungs of the Church. And interestingly, long before these current scandals were revealed, I had come to the conclusion that I needed to know that the Church had heart, and that the heart was warm and beating loudly. This is how we found the East….
It occurred to me this morning, as I meditated painfully on the past two weeks’ events in the Church, that Christ was silent in front of the Pharisees, in front of Herod…. but He was zealous and spoke up loudly for those who were victims, those who were innocent, the children, the women, the simple men of faith. He challenged the corrupt leaders boldly within their own temple. He knocked over tables and talked to them of millstones… and while in my personal life I like to think of Him as my gentle Savior, the truth is that He is a consuming fire. A passionate and jealous God. While He is in the silent breath of wind for the faithful, He is in the mighty storm and the fire and brimstone for the corrupt and the evil-hearted.
And He was crucified for it.
There is an unholy silence, yes…. but there is another, a Holy Silence, which breathes a much more challenging question into the ears and heart of our very being:
Are we willing to be crucified for the Truth?
I look around at my walls of my room, which slowly gather more and more icons. They are there, windows to heaven, and they are Silent. But they do not hide or cover up evil or encourage abuse and corruption…. rather, they are the type of Silence that exposes Truth. When I gaze at them, I find that they seem to contain the words I can’t find, the answers with no explanation, the mystery where there is peace beyond understanding.
I believe we should cast aside unholy silence. If something is real, something is visible to us, if something is on our hearts and we are speaking without personal agenda, we should speak up. I believe we should be open to another’s pain or experience, and not shut them out when they are vulnerable and at a loss. Unholy silence only perpetuates evil and causes betrayal and despair among the faithful.
But that in itself is not enough.
For myself, I am noticing that I need more Holy Silence in my life. Even as I write this, I chuckle at the sound of five (or more) children running around… I am rarely in a place where there is “physical silence.” But I don’t mean “quiet”…. I believe we can maintain an interior Holy Silence, no matter what our state of life may be… Taking in what we see around us and gazing at the face of Christ in our hearts… taking our anguish to Him and not letting ourselves be pulled into the undertow of mass panic. Of course, this is easier said than done. But I’m going to try!
There are many, many words written, and many continue in a perpetual posting and commenting and reiterating and arguing and questioning over the current state of the Church. Therefore, I feel that perhaps the Holy Silence and authority in the faces of the saints say infinitely more than mere words. So let’s fill cyberspace as well as our homes and workplaces with holy images! Because, while an unholy silence has indeed stabbed us, Holy Silence stabs BACK with a sword. The sword of Truth.
And all that is good and holy wins in the end.
Love and blessings,
*Icon above, Softener of Evil Hearts, credit to A Reader’s Guide to Orthodox Icons