Reflect Emmanuel is a series of Advent meditations on Emmanuel, our God with us
December 10, 2013Lisa Stepanski, Ph.D., Professor of English
Ask anyone who knows me-I am seldom at a loss for words. Early on, my third grade teacher summed up my defining characteristic with this matter-of-fact assessment: "Lisa, you talk too much." In today's first reading the prophet Isaiah repeats the phrase "cry out" five times-an urgent reminder that words are powerful tools for building God's kingdom-and vindication, perhaps, of my own lifelong love of talk.
After all, an English professor's voice is her bread and butter. My profession demands that I spend much of my day crying out-in other words, lecturing, explaining, discussing, questioning, advising, admonishing and most importantly, counseling students to use their own voices to good effect in their writing.
So after years of talking-twenty-six of them to long-suffering students-well, let's just say I'm a natural.
What doesn't come naturally is silence and listening. Scripture says that God is found not in the wind, earthquake, or fire but rather in the whisper (1 Kings 19). Yet to hear that whisper above the chatter of our media culture is not easy. For many years now, I assign an "e fast" in all my classes: students "fast" for twenty-four hours from all electronic devices and media. Anxious at first about the emptiness that seems to await them, they discover instead that far from being a vacuum, silence is "the element in which great things fashion themselves together" (Thomas Carlyle)-a kind of crucible for thinking and a welcome antidote to the racket of daily life.
My e fast takes place every morning when in silence, I pray the daily office. After thirty minutes, I get off my couch somehow mysteriously fortified. Only then, after time spent quietly listening, am I ready to cry out with purpose and meaning. Only then, like the prophet Isaiah, can I use my voice to proclaim.