The One Thing That Silences Heaven

I’ve read the book several times.
I’ve even taken an entire seminary class on it.
That helped, actually.
That helped me to see the book as a whole,
instead of a bunch of crazy-making pieces;
as a dramatic re-telling of God’s story,
of incarnation, salvation, faithfulness in the journey,
hope for the future.

Still.

It’s a tough nut to crack,
filled as it is with highly visual language,
pictures of strange creatures, horrendous battles,
frightening predictions.

So when it showed up in the lectionary for this Eastertide season,
and when Pastor Jon chose to use those texts
for the preaching series,
I will admit to a few moments of freak-out.
“Oh, no!” I thought. “Not THAT.”

I’m talking about the book of REVELATION,
that frequently misinterpreted, over-analyzed, deeply profound
collection of visions from John, the teacher, as his life neared its end.
To tell you the truth, I was dreading it a little.

Little did I know.

This has been a dynamite series, rich with meaning and encouragement.
Our Director of Worship Arts took up Jon’s challenge to write a song
for each week in the series;
our chancel artists have outdone themselves with altar pieces,
and Jon (and Anna, our intern this year)
have preached the word with power.

From Revelation.

Each week’s text has been centered around a worship scene in heaven,
worship — the true theme of this book.
The magnificent songs that fill these passages are
ones that have been written and re-written over the centuries,
enriching worship services from Orthodox to Pentecostal,
and most certainly enlivening our worship, week by week this Eastertide.

This week’s text was particularly powerful — please read it below the picture.

 “When he opened the seventh seal,
there was silence in heaven for about half an hour.
And I saw the seven angels who stand before God,
and seven trumpets were given to them.
Another angel, who had a golden censer, came and stood at the altar.
He was given much incense to offer, with the prayers of all God’s people,
on the golden altar before the throne.
The smoke of the incense,
together with the prayers of God’s people, 
went up before God from the angel’s hand.
Then the angel took the censer,
filled it with fire from the altar,
and hurled it on the earth;
and there came peals of thunder, rumblings,
flashes of lightning and an earthquake.” — Revelation 8:1-5

Did you catch that?
“There was silence in heaven. . .
for about half an hour.”

Silence. In heaven.

And what is that makes all the noise in heaven come to a halt?

The prayers of God’s people are being offered on the altar.
The prayers of God’s people.

Rising like incense, heaven is silenced as the people of God
offer their prayers, their words of thanks and praise,
their, ‘Help, ‘Thanks’, ‘Wow,’ as Anne Lamott has put it recently.

EVERYTHING AND EVERYONE IN HEAVEN IS QUIET WHEN WE PRAY.

 This is a picture I want to keep in my mind’s eye, day in and day out.
This is a vision that is important for us to grab,
to savor,
to hang onto
when it feels like all the silence
is on THIS end of the prayer equation.

The big take-away from this picture is this:

NEVER DOUBT FOR A MOMENT THAT YOUR GROANS AND SIGHS
ARE HEARD IN THE HEAVENLY REALMS. 

NEVER.

All of heaven quiets for our cries.

And then, after the hearing:

those words, those sighs, those groans,
THOSE PRAYERS. . .
are thrown right back down onto the earth.
Do you see what happens?

“. . . and there came peals of thunder, rumblings, 
flashes of lightning and an earthquake.”

As John enters into this vision, he actually sees our prayers —
ascending like incense, and then descending with power.

There are dangerous things going on when we pray, my friends.
Dangerous, wondrous, life-changing things.
The ways of the world are upset, the dynamic,
ever-fluid partnership that God Almighty has established with
the people of God is alive and well and making a difference.

MAKING A DIFFERENCE. 

So why, then, do we spend so little time in prayer?
Why do we more often choose to spin our wheels,
to worry,
to busy ourselves
with whatever we think it
is God ‘needs’ us to do
in order to change this world of ours?

Why is prayer so often a last-order resort
rather than our first thought?
Do we feel like we’re taking an illegal escape route of some sort?
Do we think there’s something magical about it all?
Are we afraid to take the risk of believing
that the God of the Universe
invites us into the work of creation,
the plan of salvation,
the transformational work of redemption?

Or maybe we worry too much about being ‘nice,’ and polite,
politically correct and proper when we pray.
Maybe we need to remember the psalms of lament,
the cries of dereliction,
the heartfelt pleas of those who suffer
that are woven throughout scripture.
Maybe we need to shout down heaven’s doors when despair hits us hard.
Maybe we need to keep on pounding and pounding on the gate,
like the widow who refuses to stop pleading her case.

Maybe we don’t believe that prayer makes any difference at all.

Ah. But it does. It does.

Not always the difference we hope for,
maybe not even very often the difference we hope for.
But maybe, just maybe,
that’s not the point.

Maybe the point is that prayer is the greatest school of all,
prayer is how we learn and grow and understand.
Prayer is the cauldron in which the work of the Spirit gets done in us,
and then through us, in the worlds we inhabit, day after day after day.
Maybe the prayers that we offer to God are then flung back into our very souls
as fire and lightning and earthquake . . .
changing us from the inside out.

Maybe prayer is where the truest transformation takes place.

And maybe, just maybe,
the deepest experience of prayer begins to happen,
when we, too, learn to be silent.
To stop.
To pay attention.
To offer just one word, or two,
to sit in the presence of God,
in the anteroom of heaven itself,
and become prayer.

Our very selves, offered on the altar, and then flung back to earth,
slivers of shimmering reflected glory,
living out that deepest, wildest, most profound prayer of them all:

THY WILL BE DONE, ON EARTH AS IT IS IN HEAVEN.

AMEN.

Joining with Jennifer and Emily and Ann tonight.


 

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Comments

  1. Oh my. To become prayer… in the silence…transformed on earth as it is in heaven… how wonderful. This is a gift to me, Diana.

    p.s. I finally saw your comments to me and responded… don’t know why I didn’t see that you had stopped by!

    • And apparently, I forgot to subscribe to comments so I haven’t seen that reply yet. (maybe it will make its way into my inbox soon. . . ) Thanks for coming by, Pat. I’m glad it spoke to your heart. Because I happen to love your heart.

  2. Oh, how I’ve come to love the book of Revelation as well. The Revelation of Jesus Christ…the descriptions of Him within its pages are life changing.

    I’m right after you at Emily’s, and so happy that I am. I loved this post.

    I truly, truly enjoyed meeting you at Jumping Tandem. The communion service impacted me in a deep way. Thank you so much.

    • Thanks so much, Elizabeth. It was a privilege to lead that service and I’m glad that the Spirit touched something deep in you during that time. Appreciate your stopping by here!

  3. This is so powerful Diana – life-changing. The more I learn of prayer, the more there is to learn. I love the thought of the power and depth of silence.

  4. you don’t know how i needed this, Diana. my family is going through so much right now and i have lamented at my inability to find more than groans and tears and one-word-at-a-time to toss ceiling-ward. i have rested in the knowledge that others hold us up, but this:
    “To offer just one word, or two,
    to sit in the presence of God,
    in the anteroom of heaven itself,
    and become prayer.”
    THIS – i am taking with me. taking it in deep.
    {thank you.}

    • Kelli – hear this, please: when you’re in the midst of the struggle, the pain, prayers are often without words. Sighs and groans are all that is required. And then lean into the spoken and silent prayers of others — they will help carry you through. I’ve been where you are, with such worry and concern and sadness over the suffering of those I love – and Silence was often all I could muster. And sometimes the written words of others are really, really helpful, too. The BCP, the New Zealand Prayer Book and the one I quoted from at JT – Celtic Daily Prayer — these are all rich resources when you cannot find the words. Praying for you as you help carry your dear one.

  5. Ok, this is just awesome, Diana. I think I need to bookmark it – because you know how much I struggle with prayer. I especially love that last bit, about stopping, being, becoming the prayer. That is beautiful. That I love.

    Speaking of prayer, I met with Amy, Helen and Lelia yesterday at Amy’s house, and while the rain came pouring down, we sat on her couches, with candles lit, and prayed over the prayers written during the retreat – prayers of thanksgiving, prayers of supplication. Thank YOU, lovely, lovely lady, for typing all those up. I brought some home with me, too, to pray over as the week goes on.

    • Oh, Michelle, what a lovely thing to do!! So glad you told me about it. I’ve been learning more and more that prayer is much less about our words than it is our posture, our openness, our willingness and our honesty. Whenever I read that someones spends hours in prayer, I generally assume that they are NOT talking that whole time!! That’s why I love centering prayer so much – it is truly life-changing. But I’ll tell you, it never gets any easier for me. Monkey mind gone wild!!

    • Michelle, You said so much of what I wanted to say.

      Diana, Gorgeous. Always. Thank you for mentoring us again and again out here on the big ol Internets.

      • Thank YOU, Jennifer, for the always-wise and lovely words you spread around this place. Thanks for stopping by and commenting, my friend.

  6. This I am going to print out and save and meditate on and revisit again and again. Such heart stopping revelation here and such profound imagery.
    Thank you. Just thank you.

    • You’re so welcome, Holly. And thank Pastor Jon Lemmond, too, who started me down this road of images and thoughts. Good preaching does that, you know?

  7. Sitting here in silence.

  8. I knew I loved the sound of silence, but THIS? WOW!

    The power of prayer silences heaven. I’m savoring this new-to-me revelation. How powerful is this image from John!! Thank you for sharing, teaching, and encouraging. Always.

  9. Revelation is the first book I ever studied in depth–over nine months. I illustrated the whole book on a roll of butcher paper. But I’ve never looked at it like this.

    With Nancy. I am stunned and stilled.

  10. Thank you, Diana. I am living this of which you speak right now. Someday, I will be able to return the favor.

    • I know you are, Megan. And I hold your sweet face in silence quite frequently during the day. God knows and hears. . .

  11. Wow! Diana, this is perfectly divine. And after all the times I’ve read through Revelations, I never saw (or remember) that half our of silence. If that doesn’t emphasize the power of prayer, I don’t know what it would be. Thank you for this beautiful liturgy of worship.

    “There are dangerous things going on when we pray, my friends.
    Dangerous, wondrous, life-changing things.”

    Amen.

    • Thanks, Patricia. I’d never noticed it before, either. It has been such fun working with Jon these last three months – he’s a fine teacher/preacher and loves to talk it all through, too. Glad these words spoke to your heart.

  12. Wow. Thank you for this. Really!

  13. This is so, so good, Diana. I’d never thought about several of these aspects of that passage before–the prayers coming back down as lightning and thunder, for instance…or that we ourselves become prayer. Like Jennifer said, you are such a good teacher. I’m thankful that you continue to speak truth here, and other places, so that I–and others–can continue to learn from you. 🙂

    BTW, I stubbed it here for our THC readers: http://www.thehighcalling.org/hcb-community/faith/community-post-one-thing-silences-heaven

  14. Well. It took me until today to get here, but today was the day I most needed to see these wise, beautiful, loving words.

    Diana, you are a gift. And you minister to me so. Thank you. Bless you. I love you.

  15. You are like my soul momma. I soaked this in with my parched heart. Thank you so much for speaking truth. I’m so lucky to have you in my life.

  16. So, yesterday, when H and I drove home from Michigan, we listened to the book of Revelation on CD. I plan to write about that experience some day — on the blog, or in my journal. Honestly? It was frustrating, and I realized I read and hear that book through cloudy lenses, inadvertently passed down to me by some eccentric family members. I am slowly working my way through my reaction to listening to Revelation, and what you’ve written here is helpful. Thank you, as always.

    • Wow, Dee. After the kind of week you’ve had, I’m sure Revelation would NOT have been on the top of my go-to list for listening enjoyment! I have studied it, and I appreciated the sermons in Jon’s recent series very much, but still….it’s, as I said, a tough nut. Thinking about you as you continue down this road of grief and business. . . because it seems the two cannot be separated.

  17. I’m so very late to this post, and yet I’m finding it exactly when I most need it.

    Normally I value silence. It nourishes me… stills and quiets the heart. But when I desire to talk to God and specific words won’t come, I’m tempted to panic. Then I cling to the verse that says, “For the LORD searches every heart and understands every motive behind the thoughts.” (1 Chronicles 28:9)

    Thank you, Diana.

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