I sometimes feel badly for my son. His 8 year old little boy self has not fully developed a breadth of sound levels yet, and so we tend to have one volume in our house when it comes to him: loud. I can’t imagine the number of times his mother, his sister, and I have collectively told him, “We’re right here. You don’t have to yell.” He’s getting better. Slowly. I am confident that when he is my age, he won’t just speak in loud. He’ll have other options, and he’ll know how to use them.
Of course, I could be wrong. Because it seems to me that these days, grown ups who should know better also tend to have one volume: loud. And they employ it in one mode of speaking: rant. Yes, I’m exaggerating. But at the same time, when it comes to our public discourse, whether we’re talking politicians, media types, or just ordinary folks, it seems like we are yelling at each other a lot. In the “old days”, people used to converse, debate, take time to understand another’s point of view, then try to persuasively argue against it (or, at least, I would like to think so). Now, we seem to do what some people do when they find themselves amidst a group of people whose language they don’t share: we just talk louder. As if somehow, yelling at each other would convince anyone of anything. In fact, yelling just makes other people yell. It makes everybody angry and ill-tempered.
I am tired of being yelled at, and I am tired of living in a culture of rant. I am reminded of the biblical story of Elijah (1 Kings 19:1-15a), who felt very badly treated by the ancient people of Israel, and not much appreciated. He retreated to a cave, where the Spirit of God found him out. When God asked why Elijah was there, Elijah basically went on a rant against the people whom he felt didn’t appreciate either him or God properly. When Elijah had finished his rant, God invited him into the divine presence. Initially, there was a lot of noise: earthquake, fire, wind. But, we are told, God was not in any of these things. Then, after the noise, there was the “sound of sheer silence”. And in that silence, was God.
For us today, perhaps this story is a cautionary one. God is not in the ranting. God is not in the noise that we throw at each other. God is to be found in the sheer silence, as the still small voice that reaches out to us from within that silence. God is not found in the talking, but in the listening. And perhaps that’s where truth, understanding, compassion, and most of all, wisdom are also found.
Enough ranting. Please. Let’s just all be quiet for a while, and listen.