Throughout the year, we present an article in the bulletin each week on a variety of topics, written by a member of our Parish staff on a rotating basis.
by Orin Johnson, Director of Music & Liturgy
Truth with Intensity:
John the Baptist is one of the more colorful personae in our scriptures. We’re given in the early chapters of Mark, Luke, and John some insight into his attire, into his diet even, and perhaps into his whole aesthetic. We can even imagine him sharing boldly and loudly his fiery rhetoric — or can we? Look closely: none of the Gospels tell us exactly how he proclaimed his warnings and prophesies, only that he said them.
I often like to imagine the Old Testament prophets, and specifically John the Baptist, not screaming, eyes set ablaze, but speaking with an intensity that can only be found in the softest voice. Many of us have the experience of our parents being angry and yelling at us, but then, when they were next-level really angry, their volume would drop way down, the pace also slowed, and of course we all knew what that meant too.
I’m reminded of the lesson I learned a while back, most useful typically in a rehearsal or classroom setting, which seems appropriate for those of us with any sort of platform from which we are called to speak truth. If folks are being too loud or noisy and not listening to you, sometimes speaking softer is the solution. Whisper. Make people have to be quiet to hear you. As a conductor, if your choir or ensemble isn’t following your tempo, conduct smaller, down to just your pointy-finger keeping time an inch from your chest. Make people watch you, make people pay attention. God wasn’t in the storm or the earthquake; God was in the whispering wind. Jesus was at his most strong when silent in front of the Sanhedrin and Pilate.
In today’s telling of the transfiguration, Jesus gives select apostles — and us — a glimpse of his true self: light of the world, fulfilment of the law and perfect love, the one where justice and mercy meet, the one who is Truth Incarnate. As we ponder divine justice and how our liturgies themselves embody that facet of who God is, we must hold as true that brash voices are needed sometimes, and that sometimes kinder voices are needed. We also are not in any position to dictate to other people how they speak truth, but we can decide for ourselves, in any given context, what manner of speaking the truth might be best received, might best achieve a desired result. Those whose hearts and minds are most in need of change, from our perspective, are often also the folks that we think might need to be spoken most forcefully to — and are also most likely to walk away from pondering the subject matter because they feel they are being yelled at, at the same time. Even when being a voice for the voiceless, one might not want to be as loud as possible. Volume doesn’t make a truth any more true.
Similarly, those who might most need to hear bold and sustained voices of justice and equity ought not tune out the message because it is bold and sustained. It is important for us all to hear and truly understand such voices, perhaps only to recognize and affirm the humanity and dignity that has not always (or rarely) been recognized and affirmed; perhaps someday — or sooner — that’s so we all together are part of building a just world, the reign of God.