Learning to be Silent :: Pieter Bruegel the Elder, “The Tower of Babel”

Pieter Brueghel - Tower of Babel.jpg
Pieter Bruegel, De bouw van de toren van Babel; oil on panel; 1563.

Sin and temptation are funny things. They often disguise themselves in respectability and inventiveness that catch us off-guard at the last minute. Genesis 11 tells the story of a community’s effort to construct a great tower at a time when humanity shared common speech. The vision statement for the project was: “Building a tower to heaven to make our name great” (see Genesis 11:4). T-shirts and coffee mugs with the vision statement emblazoned on them were distributed all over town and the project commenced with great zeal. The only problem was that this effort was one more in a string of typical human aims to displace God and put humanity in His place. God will have none of it and stops everything before it reaches conclusion. Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s painting shows the colossal effort involved in this project. The architecture intentionally reflects that of the Roman Colosseum, reminding the viewer that both Rome and Babylon were biblical cities representing prideful humanity’s stance against God. Already in the painting we can see some arches beginning to crumble. The tower’s construction cannot hold together architecturally just as pride in communities and individuals pulls against itself, ending in collapse. We’re told in Genesis that God set out to “confuse their language so they will not understand each other” (11:7). This may sounds harsh until we realize just how disastrously far human brokenness and sin can go when gathered together around collective endeavors. We read about it in our history books and today’s news: war and hatred, greed and emptiness, repression and injustice. The journey of Lent reminds us that this is not only true in history and in the news, but also in us. Lent teaches us to lay our pride down and learn to be quiet–even silent–before God.

The Weekend Wanderer: 29 January 2022

The Weekend Wanderer” is a weekly curated selection of news, stories, resources, and media on the intersection of faith and culture for you to explore through your weekend. Wander through these links however you like and in any order you like. Disclaimer: I do not necessarily agree with all the views expressed within the articles


173811“Mosaic made by freed slave to thank God found in Turkey’s Hatay” – Anadolu Agency in Daily Sabah: “A mosaic made by a freed slave to thank God for his emancipation was unearthed during the excavation at the 6th-century Church of the Holy Apostles in southern Hatay province. The Church of the Holy Apostles was found in an orange grove in the Arpaçiftlik neighborhood by Mehmet Keleş in 2007. After Keleş recognized historical artifacts while planting orange saplings in the grove, archaeological digs were launched in the area. With the disclosure of mosaics, animal figures, stone graves and bone remains, expert teams determined that the area was a church and its name was the Church of the Holy Apostles. While digs continue in the historical church, archaeologists have recently found an area with a mosaic. The mosaic with a peacock figure also features an inscription in which a slave thanked God after being freed.”


joy-ike-007-980x551“Grow Deep, Not Wide: The art of nurturing the life that really is life.” – Joy Ike in Comment: “This summer, while on my porch, I experienced a drive-by shooting for the first time. Germantown, my beloved neighbourhood here in Philadelphia, has probably been like most inner-city neighbourhoods this past year: destitute, depressed, run down, pressure-cooked. I live on a high-traffic street and a block or two from the dividing line of what would be considered ‘safe Germantown’ and ‘unsafe Germantown.’ On one side of my house is my neighbour, who has become a dear friend and a teammate of sorts: we hope together. On the other side is an abandoned house by the corner, and beside that, a street that has become known as the local epicentre of crime and drug dealing. We’ll call it ‘T Street.’ As the COVID-19 pandemic has swept across the world, I’ve watched as the drug culture has slowly turned the bend and crept around my street corner, like a shadow trying to cover more territory. And this is where my pandemic story begins.”


127321“Christians Are Going Back to Church—But Maybe Not the Same One” – Melissa Morgan Kelley in Christianity Today: “Houston Northwest Church suffered heavy damage from Hurricane Harvey in 2017. By the time its flooded facilities were finally rebuilt a couple years ago, the congregation was only back at full capacity for six weeks before services were shut down by the pandemic. As the church endured one setback after another, senior pastor Steve Bezner has seen the flock ebb and flow. ‘About a third of our congregation worshiping in person are new faces,’ he said. His church currently draws 1,600 attendees each week, including several hundred viewing online—not far from its pre-pandemic weekly average of 1,700. Bezner marvels at the number of members who left during the pandemic and the number of new people who have showed up to take their place. ‘It will make you believe in the preservation of the Holy Spirit,’ the Houston pastor said. Member turnover is as common to the life cycle of a church as baptisms, weddings, and funerals. But the pandemic has accelerated people’s comings and goings and has required new strategies to welcome and assimilate new members into the church community.”


CB019074“The Gift of Being Yourself” – David G. Benner in Conversatio: “We all live life searching for that one possible way of being that carries with it the gift of authenticity. We are often most conscious of this search for identity during adolescence, when it takes front stage for most people. At this stage of life, we try on identities like clothing, looking for a style of being that fits with how we want to be seen. But long after adolescence has passed, most adults know the occasional feeling of being a fraud—a sense of not being what they pretend to be, but rather being precisely what they pretend not to be. With a little reflection, most of us can become aware of masks that we first adopted as strategies to avoid feelings of vulnerability, but which have become parts of our social self. Tragically, we settle so easily for pretense and a truly authentic self often seems elusive. There is, however, a way of being for each of us that is as natural and deeply congruent as the life of the tulip. Beneath the roles and masks lies a possibility of a self that is as distinctive as a snowflake. It is an originality that has existed since God first loved us into existence. Our true self-in-Christ is the only self that will support authenticity. It and it alone provides an identity that is eternal.”


sound of metal“Picturing Silence: Stillness in Sound of Metal” – James K. A. Smith in Image: “For me, one of the gifts of contemporary art is precisely its difficulty. A subtle blessing of such art—whether painting or poetry—is that it demands something of me, and above all it demands that I make myself available for contemplation. This is because such art does not yield easily accessible nuggets of sentiment or pleasure. But its difficulty harbors an invitation. In its refusal to be immediately available to surface attention, it suggests that I might attend to my world differently. Rather than just offering emotion or decoration or a ‘statement,’ the best contemporary art asks me to slow the frenetic pace of incessant distraction to pause and dwell. It requires a stillness that already verges on the spiritual. One of the most convicting pictures I’ve seen of such spiritual stillness was Darius Marder’s recent film, Sound of Metal. The film follows the harrowing journey of Ruben, a heavy-metal drummer who experiences catastrophic hearing loss as a young man. What is unique about the movie is its sonic environment, the way the soundtrack invites us in and out of Ruben’s own point of—not view, but hearing. The opening scene is an overwhelming, alienating wall of sound. Four minutes in, you’ll be wondering if you can stay much longer. Then, in scenes from the next morning, the world’s quiet pleasures are a chorus: the crisp, gentle tinkling of cutlery; the drip of a coffee maker; rustling sheets upon waking and the gentle intimacy of a kiss.”


smarphone dump“The people deciding to ditch their smartphones” – Suzanne Bearne at the BBC: “In a world where many of us are glued to our smartphones, Dulcie Cowling is something of an anomaly – she has ditched hers. The 36-year-old decided at the end of last year that getting rid of her handset would improve her mental health. So, over Christmas she told her family and friends that she was switching to an old Nokia phone that could only make and receive calls and text messages. She recalls that one of the pivotal moments that led to her decision was a day at the park with her two boys, aged six and three: “I was on my mobile at a playground with the kids and I looked up and every single parent – there was up to 20 – were looking at their phones, just scrolling away,” she says. “I thought ‘when did this happen?’. Everyone is missing out on real life. I don’t think you get to your death bed and think you should have spent more time on Twitter, or reading articles online.” Ms Cowling, who is a creative director at London-based advertising agency Hell Yeah!, adds that the idea to abandon her smartphone had built up during the Covid lockdowns.”


Music: Nick Cave and Warren Ellis, “The Road,” The Road Original Film Score

The Weekend Wanderer: 8 January 2022

The Weekend Wanderer” is a weekly curated selection of news, stories, resources, and media on the intersection of faith and culture for you to explore through your weekend. Wander through these links however you like and in any order you like. Disclaimer: I do not necessarily agree with all the views expressed within the articles


63737“The Danger of Preaching Without Jesus” – Pete Scazzero at Preaching Today: “To preach and teach in the name of Jesus is one of the greatest privileges in the world. What makes it particularly dangerous, however, is how easy it is to preach for Jesus without Jesus. I know this only too well. I was in my early years as a Christian when I first came to grips with the sad truth that God appeared to use prominent Christian leaders whose relationship with Jesus was either nonexistent or seriously underdeveloped. It was a discovery that left me confused and disoriented. Yet, after decades in ministry, I am no longer so confused. Why? Because I have experienced to some degree what it’s like to be one of those leaders. I have prepared and preached sermons without thinking about or spending time with Jesus. I know the experience of doing good things that helped a lot of people while being too busy in my own whirlwind of leadership worries to be intimately connected to Jesus.”


St Basil the Great“Naked We Came: From the sermon ‘I Will Tear Down My Barns,’ on Luke 12:16–21” – St. Basil the Great in Comment: “‘But whom do I treat unjustly,’ you say, ‘by keeping what is my own?’ Tell me, what is your own? What did you bring into this life? From where did you receive it? It is as if someone were to take the first seat in the theater, then bar everyone else from attending, so that one person alone enjoys what is offered for the benefit of all in common—this is what the rich do. They seize common goods before others have the opportunity, then claim them as their own by right of preemption. For if we all took only what was necessary to satisfy our own needs, giving the rest to those who lack, no one would be rich, so no one would be poor, and no one would be in need. Did you not come forth naked from the womb, and will you not return naked to the earth? Where then did you obtain your belongings? If you say that you acquired them by chance, then you deny God since you neither recognize your Creator, nor are you grateful to the One who gave these things to you.”


silence-in-worship“A worship practice Zoom can’t replicate” – Chris Palmer in The Christian Century: “I’m a relatively new pastor, and most of my clerical life—all but two months—has been spent in the grip of the COVID pandemic. I’ve spent more time than I care to admit trying to mitigate the suspicions of corporate bodies in physical space. Are you sure this will give people six feet of distance? Looking at the numbers, should we delay the sacrament again this week? These past months have also revealed the fragile core of the church’s life together. The nation has moved through cultural upheaval that demands the intimacy of proximity, and yet it has been nearly impossible to gather together. I’ve seen cruel words in emails that I never believed Christians could write. I’ve heard pastors, the progenitors of flourishing ministries, detail their excitement thinking about a career change. It’s hard to imagine that there’s no connection between the physical distance and the disenchantment of our time. Much of our nation’s religious practice has migrated online. Facebook has been partnering with a variety of denominations, including my own, to develop digi­tal spaces for online worshipers. How are we being formed by these technologies? What do they make possible, and what do they make impossible? While many have debated the blessings and woes of digital worship, few have discussed the role of silence. Silence cuts against the grain of disembodied online chatter. A shared, instructive silence is one thing I’m convinced that Zoom cannot facilitate, not even with the mute button.”


hill_complex_render_2“Unearthing the Truth: A Zimbabwean archaeologist reimagines the story of a momentous African civilisation” – In The Economist: “in its prime, from around 1200 to 1550, Great Zimbabwe was home to about 10,000 people. The state covered 1,779 acres, more than twice the area of New York’s Central Park. unesco, the un’s cultural body, declared it a world heritage site in 1986. At independence in 1980 Robert Mugabe renamed Rhodesia Zimbabwe (roughly “house of stone”) after the site. Yet it is far less visited, or understood, than Machu Picchu, say, or Egypt’s pyramids. One scholar has made it his life’s work to show how Great Zimbabwe was the foremost example of a precolonial sub-Saharan African state. Shadreck Chirikure was born in 1978, some 60km from Great Zimbabwe in Gutu, a town in eastern Zimbabwe. At school he learned little about the site. His first visit was as a student, aged 22. He has since made up for lost time. A renowned archaeologist, Mr Chirikure is a professor at the University of Cape Town and the University of Oxford. He has worked across Africa. But he is always drawn back home.”


Pope Francis - pets“Opting for pets over children is selfish and ‘takes away our humanity,’ says Pope Francis” – Joshua Berlinger at CNN: “Pope Francis has criticized couples who choose to have pets instead of children as selfish, arguing that their decision to forgo parenthood leads to a loss of ‘humanity’ and is a detriment to civilization. The Pope made the comments Wednesday while speaking to a general audience about Saint Joseph, Jesus’ earthly father. Francis was lauding Joseph’s decision to bring up Jesus as ‘among the highest forms of love’ when he veered into the topic of adoption and orphaned children today. He then turned his focus on couples that opt for animals instead of children. ‘We see that people do not want to have children, or just one and no more. And many, many couples do not have children because they do not want to, or they have just one — but they have two dogs, two cats … Yes, dogs and cats take the place of children,’ the Pope said.”


ridley-8-scaled“In ‘Wild Design,’ Vintage Illustrations Expose the Patterns and Shapes Behind All Life on Earth” – Grace Ebert at Colossal: “Focusing on the patterns and shapes that structure the planet, a new book published by Princeton Architectural Press explores the science behind a trove of organically occurring forms. Wild Design: Nature’s Architects by author Kimberly Ridley pairs dozens of vintage illustrations—spot the work of famed German biologist Ernst Haeckel among them—with essays detailing the function of the striking phenomena, from the smallest organisms to the monumental foundations that extend across vast swaths of land. These structures are simultaneously beautiful and crucial to life on Earth and include the sprawling mycelium networks connecting life above and below ground, the papery, hexagonal cells comprising honeycomb, and a spider’s funnel-like web tailored to trap its prey.”


Music: Chris Thile, “Ecclesiastes 2:24,” Laysongs

Your Pulse and Your Breath as Pathways to Prayer

Put two fingers on your neck
and feel your pulse—
the current of blood coursing life
from your heart throughout your body.
You did not think to your heart, “Beat!”,
or to your blood, “Move!”,
and yet here you are:
alive, upright, and living.
Quiet yourself amidst
the dine of the world
and listen to your beating heart.
In every beat, God whispers,
“I love you! I love you!”

Pause and take in a deep breath
followed by a deep breath out.
Feel the air filter up your lungs
as you inhale
and carbon dioxide release
as you exhale.
You did not think to your lungs,
“Take it in! Let it out!”,
but instead you have been breathing
since you awoke and eve while you slept.
As you breathe in and out
rest in the breath of God,
Who made you and sustains you,
Who whispers in each breath,
“You are mine!”

In the Silence, God is Here

The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. (1 Kings 19:11-12)

the wind whips by and I tumble and fall.
the earth shakes and I cannot catch my footing.
the fire flashes the night and I shake in fear.

then…stillness..the LORD
I rise and stand and enter His holy presence,
saying,

“Speak, LORD, for Your Servant
is listening.”
in the silence, He is here.