Quodlibet

The Weight of Silence

by S. M. Hutchens

Lately a surprising letter has appeared from the estate of Nancy Reagan. It was written by her husband Ronald to his dying father-in-law, expressing deep concern for the man's soul, telling him of his own instantaneous healing from painful stomach ulcers, for which he gives glory to Christ as his Lord and healer, and urging the atheist physician to put his trust in the One that he himself had come to know and serve.

The surprise is not that the president was saying something complimentary about God, which he and other politicians are, or at least were, expected to do, and which when spoken in the public arena are rightly subject to a discount measurable by the rule of their deeds. It was that here is a letter written privately to a dying friend for whose soul he is deeply concerned, which might very well earn him no more than scorn from its receiver, and for which he could certainly expect no accolades from those who value religion in political leaders. It turns out that Ronald Reagan was a serious Christian who did not wear his heart upon his sleeve. He is not alone in this.

For me, the most significant lines from the Chronicles of Narnia are something I have never heard anyone comment upon. The children (I forget which ones) had just come away from an encounter with Aslan, and instead of talking endlessly about his glories and doing the equivalent of building a tabernacle to him on the spot, were quiet and reflective. Many of us were raised in traditions where it is expected that we do the opposite—after an encounter with God to yack endlessly about it for his greater glory, to "testify" or bear witness or perform other religious acts in his honor and, of course, for the good of others. That one should keep silence, or be very selective about whom one speaks to about it afterwards, is not encouraged, since no good promotional material should be wasted. It is not acknowledged that meditative silence is a perfectly proper response, or that there are any swine before whom pearls should not be cast when one does decide to speak.

Many quiet Christians are judged defective by the noisier, busier, -higher-achieving sorts. The story of Mary and Martha of Bethany continues into our day. One is busy with much serving, which is not necessarily bad, but the higher calling, the "better part" is sitting quietly and meditating on the words of the Lord, the implication being that from the silences of the reticent issue greater deeds, as from a plow deeper-set.

S. M. Hutchens is a senior editor.


more on politics from the online archives

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32.2—March/April 2019

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