The Silent Song We Need To Hear

Music has its own “music.” There are the notes written on a page, and the notes played by an intstrument. It is a particular quality of instruments, however, that they not only play a certain note, but that “note” itself plays other “notes.” In general, these other notes are called, “overtones.” When ‘Middle C’ is played on a piano, every other ‘C’ on the keyboard will vibrate gently in harmonic sympathy. Indeed, other related notes will sound, yet more faintly. Thus ‘Middle C’ is rarely just itself. It is a cascade, a mix of sounds. That mix will be one thing if it is a piano that is being heard. Other instruments have their own harmonic logic. An entire orchestra is something else beyond.

I had heard classical music from my childhood. Small piano pieces taught snippets of Bach and Mozart (learned on our ancient, out-of-tune, instrument). Symphonies entered my awareness in my teen years, listening to albums my mother bought at the grocery store (yep, they sold them at the grocery store, along with cheap knock-off encyclopedias). I was well into my 20’s before I ever heard a full orchestra, complete with strings, live. It was as if I had only ever heard artificial music. The “real” thing had a vibrance and soilidity like nothing else. I did not know that the orchestra, in its physical presence, offered an experience of sound that simply cannot be replicated.

There is something of the same phenomenon in the proper teaching and presentation of the gospel. I think that most people have only ever, at best, heard a small, tinny, recording of the gospel, made on a scratchy record, played back with the smallest of speakers. It is the “music” of the gospel only in the most attenuated sense. It may be argued that the “notes” are present, but this is the most minimal account possible of its fullness. Sadder still, much of what passes for “quoting the Fathers,” resembles non-musicians sitting around an isolated bit of music, written on a page, arguing about its meaning. They do not sing it. They do not sing it in a choir. They “read” it. The result is inadequate.

Frequently, the Fathers are never read in their entirety, much less in their context. The fullness of that context is an inherent part of what Orthodoxy means when it says “tradition.” Christ did not hand down a few notes to His Apostles. He handed down the whole of the Song, and taught them how to sing. In many respects, we can see this to be the case as we look at the whole tale of the Apostlic lives. The “Song” was played in the instrument of humanity, displayed as the symphony that is the living Church.

St. Ignatius, writing in the early 2nd century, said:”He who possesses in truth the word of Jesus can hear even its silence.”  (Ephesians, XV,2). Vladimir Lossky described the “silence” as Tradition itself.

The faculty of hearing the silence of Jesus, atributed by St. Ignatius to those who in truth possess His word, echoes the reiterated appeal of Christ to His hearers: “He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.” The words of revelation have then a margin of silence which cannot be picked up by the ears of those who are outside. St. Basil moves in the same direction when he says, in his passage on the traditions: “There is also a form of silence, namely the obscurity used by the Scripture, in order to make it difficult to gain understanding of the teachings, for the profit of readers.” This silence of the Scriptures could not be detached from them: it is transmitted by the Church with the words of the revelation, as the very condition of their reception. If it could be opposed to the words (always on the horizontal plane, where they express the revealed Truth), this silence which accompanies the words implies no kind of insufficiency or lack of fulness of the revelation, nor the necessity to add to it anything whatever. It signifies that the revealed mystery, to be truly received as fulness, demands a conversion towards the vertical plane, in order that one may be able to “comprehend with all the saints” not only what is the “breadth and length” of the Revelation, but also its “depth” and its height.” (Eph. 3,18) Vladimir Lossky, “Tradition and Traditions”

This broad context, the living fullness of the “sound” of the gospel, is but one element of the Tradition. A second element, likely of equal importance, is the ability of the listener to “hear” that fullness. St. Ignatius summarized this as “possessing in truth the word of Jesus.” Doubtless, the operative phrase is “in truth.”

Christ said (in what is a great example of a verse whose first half is almost never quoted):

“If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

The truth comes as a living experience in which we abide. This reveals, at its heart, the nature of the Church. The Church is the community of the continual-abiding in the teaching of Christ. Its truth is revealed only in that continual abiding. In large measure, the continual-abiding of the Church is manifest in its liturgical life, and in the practices that embody that life.

It is of note, for example, that the Nicene Creed is introduced in the Liturgy by the Deacon’s admonition: “Let us love one another, that with one mind we may confess!” It is arguably the case that the Creed cannot be “confessed” unless we love one another. There is no ecclesiastical expression that can supercede this requirement of love. St. John says:

We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers.(1 John 3:14)

This “love of the brothers” is a mode of existence, the proper expression of the resurrection of Christ. Every heresy, every schism, every false-teaching, is first preceded by a failure of love. This is always the first and greatest crisis of the Church. It is a deep sadness that various occasions that reveal divisions of various sorts are often treated as an isolated matter, discussed apart from the abiding crisis of failing love.

By the same token, our own growth in the faith, the journey into the knowledge of God, can only be undertaken as a journey into love itself. St. John reminds us that “he who does not love does not know God, for God is love” (1John 4:8). This is the fullness of the Tradition and the most difficult thing to acquire.

Quite often, we hurry to obtain those things that are easiest. Reading books, surfing the net, stringing together quotes, and such, are child’s play. There is no true labor involved. Many people imagine that an interlinear Bible allows them to read Greek. We have many similar tricks that fool us into thinking that we know what we do not know. As often as not, these activities are weaponized in the on-going arguments of modernity.

Only the knowledge of God matters. The knowledge of God cannot be acquired apart from love. Everything within the heart that stands against His love is a wall that creates ignorance. The “silence” of love fills every word of Jesus, and it is their life. It is the song of all creation, the Wisdom that has made them all.



About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a priest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present and the Glory to God podcast series.



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46 responses to “The Silent Song We Need To Hear”

  1. Janette Reget Avatar
    Janette Reget

    The very best way to begin the day. As I read this, I was reminded of C.S. Lewis’ “The Magician’s Nephew”. Aslan created the world and all living things through song. Those who believed could hear the song and the music, but those who did not believe only heard noise and growling.

  2. Randall Avatar

    Wonderful! It makes me remember a recent discussion with other Tolkien fans of ‘Ainulindalë’. Fullness and silence are two realities always ignored in modernity.

  3. Dean Avatar

    Thank you for this “note,” Fr. Stephen. A community college near where I live has the second half only of the verse, “…you shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free,” which was written on the library facade in the 1920’s.
    Father, in thinking about what you wrote, perhaps a Christian without hearing could respond to what you write about music and “the sound of silence.”
    Some of what you have written here is summed up by the apostle Paul…”addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart, always and for everything giving thanks in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God the Father.”
    I’m sure that growing up in an evangelical church I only heard a few clunking sounds of the gospel. Yet they were enough to stir the strings of my heart and set me on what would be a lifelong quest to eventually hear the gospel in its symphonic fullness in the Orthodox Church. Its sound reverberates in my heart at every liturgy filling it, at times, with joy unspeakable.

  4. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    For me the life of the Lord is revealed in death. Only in death has the hardness of my heart been penetrated so that I can hear. Even then it is but a few notes — the hint of a melody that is so beautiful it brings me to tears: of joy, sorrow and repentance.

    Then the words come welling up but still a faint echo: Christ is Risen!

  5. Seraphima Avatar

    Thank you for this writing, and for the deep understanding that informs your writings. I woke up this morning thinking in the dark that the only thing that I had ever really wanted was to be able to love the ones I’m with, and to be loved in return, and that all the rest was not that important. Unfortunately, the world does not appear to be invested in this as life’s work, including some churches I have attended, and I often feel alone with the challenge of trying to live in unconditional love, which can involve deep sorrow when unrequited and I was sad this morning. It was a surprise to read your piece right after, confirming that unconditional love is the essence of the path, and providing support that I really needed today that this is the main thing. I love the pursuit of knowledge, but love is the most important.

    I compose church music, and often reflect on the way creation expresses song and silence. The universe is constructed from vibrations of all types, light, sound, particles moving, and the harmonic progression is the mathematical expression of the structure. I once learned that a black hole actually makes a sound, and it is a very, very low B-flat, which I find wonderful (B-flat being a favorite key of mine) – the deepest abyss in the universe actually sings, sound and silence mixed together; the universe apparently sings its tune. I like to think this is one of the ways that the energies of God are expressed in creation. As a musician, creating new music is a way of connecting to this in some small way, and more often than not, love arrives enmeshed with a new melody. I feel I have not found the melody for a new piece if the feeling of love does not go along with it. Composing is an act of love to me, more than anything, as well as playing with the intricacies of the harmonic progression.

    I once presented some of my music, and a deaf artist friend attended. She was not able to hear anything, but she said later that she could feel the vibrations of the music through the floor. She later painted her vision of what she had “heard” in wall-size paintings, and gave me postcards of the series of compositions she had painted, which are among my most treasured possessions. The paintings to me are expressions of light and abyss, the experience of God really, and are a type of icon based on lived experience. There’s no substitute for tuning in to the vibrations of love in the universe, and one can be deaf and still “hear” them and share them.

  6. James Isaac Avatar
    James Isaac

    Michael, your comment brings to mind this wondrous passage from Olivier Clement’s The Roots of Christian Mysticism, in which he explicates this inherent relation between love and death:

    “It has always been recognized, from the ancient myths down to Freud himself, that love and death, eros and thanatos, are inseparable. In Mary’s virginal motherhood, her fruitful virginity, we see transcendence intervening to snatch love out of the hands of death, and so fulfilling in embryo the expectation of humanity and of the cosmos, and setting in motion the universal transfiguration. We are born to die. Jesus is born to live a life without shadow and without limit, and to communicate this life to others. If he suffers and dies he does it willingly, in order to change death, in whatever shape it comes, into an approach to life.

    “Gregory Nazianzen shows us the God-made-flesh assuming in a practical way all the weaknesses of our finite condition: temptation, hunger, thirst, fatigue, supplication, tears, mourning, the slavery that reduces us to a chattel, the cross, the tomb, hell; not because of some masochistic desire for pain (nothing could be more foreign to the Fathers’ way of thinking) but in each case to correct and heal our nature, to set free our desires blocked by the multiplicity of needs, to overcome separation and death, and through the cross to transform the brokenness of creation into a spring of living water.

    “‘He took our flesh and our flesh became God, since it is united with God and forms a single entity with him. For the higher perfection dominated, resulting in my becoming God as fully as he became man … Here below he is without a father; on high he is without a mother: both these states belong to divinity … He was wrapped in swaddling clothes, but when he rose from the tomb he laid aside the shroud … ‘He had no form or comeliness’ (Isaiah 53.2), but on the mountain he shone with a splendour more dazzling than the sun – the foretaste of his future glory. As man he was baptized, but as God he washed away our sins. He had no need of purification, but he wished to sanctify the waters. As man he was tempted, but as God he triumphed, and he exhorts us to be confident because he has ‘overcome the world’ (John 16.33). He was hungry, but he fed thousands and he is ‘the living bread which came down from heaven’ (John 6.51). He was thirsty, but he cried, ‘If any one thirst, let him come to me and drink,’ and he promised that believers should become springs of living water (John 7.37f.). He knew weariness, but he is rest for ‘all who labour and are heavy laden’ (Matthew 11.28). He prays, but he answers prayers. He weeps, but wipes away tears. He asks where Lazarus has been laid, for he is man; but he raises him to life, for he is God. He is sold, dirt cheap, for thirty pieces of silver, but he redeems the world, at great cost, with his own blood … He was weak and wounded, but he cures all infirmity and all weakness. He was nailed to the wood and lifted up, but he restores us by the tree of life … He dies, but he brings to life, and by his own death destroys death. He is buried, but he rises again. He descends into hell, but rescues the souls imprisoned there. ‘
    Gregory Nazianzen Third Theological Oration, 19-20 (PG 36, 537-8)”

  7. Brandon Avatar

    Father – thank you. I know you’ve written before about the “Confusion of Loves”, and also people like DBH have written about disordered desire/love. But it seems to me like in today’s culture there needs to be a deeper discernment of true love in order to depart
    properly into the ‘journey of the knowledge of God’. I would aliken distortions of love to distortions of the true God (which could be argued to be the same thing perhaps), in that we may be cutting ourselves off from the fullness (though forgive me because even the littlest bit of Christ or love is worthy of praise and thanksgiving).

    As an example, Bob Goff is a popular writer with a book called Love Does which at least has a Christian POV. But I can think of the non-Christians in the culture who “preach love” with no connection to Christ. Is there a good guide that you know of to lead from that kind of love to the love of Christ in His fullness? I know St. Maximus has like 400 chapters on the topic. Because Goff makes it seem like love is all you need – which on some level is true – but I see it being left in nebulous form most of the time and of course not leading everyone to the Orthodox Church.


  8. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    James Isaac: all that you say and much more.

  9. Jordan Avatar

    I learned to read music growing up, and how to improvise off a chord sheet as an adult. What’s interesting to me is how disconnected these two things are in my brain. When I read music I have no idea what I am playing the way I do when I improvise. Which is an illustration that it’s possible to “know theology” without really understanding it. A theologian might be like a lawyer busily filling a brief, not realizing that he is the one being named in it.
    At the same time, both ways of playing music are paths through which I have come to love music. Probably because that was my parents intention – that our souls would be enriched through music. So we learned about the composers, and listened to classical music quite often. We didn’t just practice piano, it was a practice (in the McIntyrean sense). Without religion, it was a good substitute.

  10. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    For some strange reason, my piano teachers (up to age 15, I think), always included theory in our lessons. It helped later when I began to learn improvisation, playing in rock/jazz bands. Recently, I watched some jazz instruction videos and realized that my theory was woefully stunted by comparison to the full genius of modern jazz.

    But, my wife (who directs choir) had no theory training in her piano years. She’s studying and learning as the years go by. It’s interesting to me how helpful it actually is. Simply to know tonic/subdominant/dominant chords, for example.

    Improvising with other musicians, at certain points in my life, has been an experience of ecstasy, only matched in worship and prayer.

  11. Byron Avatar

    Father, one book I have read–and come back to re-read–is Night’s Bright Darkness by Sally Read. It is actually her journey from atheism to Catholicism but she touches very strongly on points that you make here, although she focuses on poetry (she is a poet, after all) more so than music. It is a good book and a quick read at 147 pages. I had just decided to read it again when you wrote this post. An excerpt:

    Both of us [she and her daughter] were seeing that everything was connected in the ladder of being…and I was seeing how the Church…is like a poem: step outside the meter, the rhyme scheme, the scansion, the range of metaphor, and you lose its life.

    …In “The Spirit of the Liturgy”, I found evidence for my sense of the Mass being the ultimate poem. It also confirmed in me that to get close to Christ I had to let him into me–not solely through mental prayers and actions, but by physically taking him into my body. There is nothing empty in God’s poetry: nothing is mere metaphor.

  12. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    “Nothing is mere metaphor.” Yes.

  13. Chase Avatar

    Enjoyed this one. Made me think of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”:
    I’d heard there was a secret chord
    That David played and it pleased the Lord […]
    Well, it goes like this
    The fourth, the fifth, the minor fall, the major lift
    The baffled king composing Hallelujah […]
    Fr. Stephen…. I’m interested in Orthodoxy and would love to chat with you about it sometime.

  14. Esmee La Fleur Avatar
    Esmee La Fleur

    Truly, love IS the only thing that matters.

  15. Michael Avatar

    May I ask, given the themes of several of our recent posts, whether you are playing/listening to more music in your retirement years? The analogies you are making are deeply meaningful. Thank you.

  16. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Not listening to more music. But working on “listening” to the music a lot. My wife is half of a team of two that directs the choir at our Church. There has been no COVID break for them. But, in the morning, she is singing when I wake up. Usually, she is still singing when we go to bed. When she sings, all is well. So, I pray for her to keep singing. For myself, I don’t sing nearly enough.

  17. Owen Kelly Avatar
    Owen Kelly

    When asked his opinion about the various expressions of Christianity, I heard Jordan Peterson once say that Western Christians tend to be rationalistic, while the Orthodox take a different tack. The Orthodox Church says, “Take up your damn cross and stumble uphill toward the city of God” (my paraphrase, his expletive). Such a profound observation of Christ’s central calling: a mode of existence. The ancient chorus of Creed, Cross and brotherly love is often separated in our post-Enlightenment world. May we give ourselves to that “true labor” you mentioned, Father, realizing the sweet sound of “tradition” as love grows daily. It’s an uphill battle, for me.

  18. Marjorie Avatar

    Seraphima, thank you for your beautiful reflection. I once stood close to the big pipes of a great organ when Bach was being played. I felt drawn into the vibration as much as the music. To the Glory of God.

  19. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Sometimes when I’m having difficulty and struggling, I listen to the chants of the choir of Valaam. I find that it helps. It’s in Slavonic, which I don’t know, but the words with the music enter my soul and bring balm. It is true, how we listen is crucial. Also crucial is hearing these sounds in person, in Liturgy. Indeed that has been one of the struggles with the pandemic.

    Here is a youtube link to the music. (BTW an e-recording is also sold in the Ancient Faith store):

  20. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I think the pandemic has been quite revealing about human experience. For one, it reveals that digital communication is inadequate and that actual face-to-face (unmasked) is utterly essential in many ways. Extreme times can require “survival” techniques, but survival is not the same as thriving. In order to thrive and live in a healthy manner, we need to be fully human.

    We have to recognize as well that our digitalized world, which we choose to live in even without the pandemic, is making our existence “thinner.”

    One of the first things that I lost this year was the many “bookings” that had for speaking engagements. Most of them were replaced with Zoom – but I missed the whole experience of travel, of meeting people, of interacting face-to-face. It nurtures me. I have felt starved in many ways.

  21. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    We have to recognize as well that our digitalized world, which we choose to live in even without the pandemic, is making our existence “thinner.”

    This is so true, Father. This is something I’m trying to assess and change in my life, if possible, God willing.

  22. Byron Avatar

    Working from home has negatively affected this for me. Instead of getting away from the digital nature of the world (I no longer have a TV and have a “dumb” phone), I now have to be in front of the computer, at home, for the majority of the day. That has an effect. I can no longer just “get away” from it in my home, as much as I want to.

  23. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Hmmm…. Being a bit of a troglodyte as thin as the digital world may be it is much broader than I would have otherwise. Indeed, having further opportunity to meet some digital people in real life has made them even more real.
    Of course, I am totally unable to do “the Liturgy on Zoom”.

    Somethings absolutely require people to be with other people in the presence of the Lord.

  24. Seraphima Avatar

    Marjorie – Yes, I have had that experience, too. I used to play the organ, passably hopefully, in non-Orthodox churches before becoming Orthodox. I loved playing Bach on a pipe organ, when the pipes were surrounding three sides of the organ. The sound just vibrates all around, and one’s whole body and mind just become part of the music. The musician becomes one of the pipes, in a way, through which the music and inspiration of the music passes out to the listeners. This became one of my go to metaphors for how to be a musician, or just a human being, to try to clear out all of the chaff and dust, and be an open pipe for the music to flow through, and vibrate with the energy of the music and the universe and God with one’s whole self involved. Even if I was ill when I started playing, playing Bach preludes and postludes, and the hymns generally, was elevating, and often healing in an unexpected way. Bodily complaints tended to fall away, and the sanctuary looked brighter than it did before playing and I always left services with joy. When I am sad or distressed, or just not thinking clearly, I like to play Bach, and the condition I started with goes away and I can move on. Bach is my main teacher compositionally (and he was a great businessperson, too), and when I am stuck in my composing work, I often turn to a Bach piece, really any piece of his, and often find I become unstuck, even though he was working in a different key, a different form, or a different quality. He said that he never composed anything unless it was to the Glory of God. (I think Handel said the same thing, even in his supposedly “secular” music, which I find nicely subversive. Nobody has to know we are doing everything to the glory of God!) And he also knew how to take the music to the world, both in terms of his business sense and his wonderful talents, which included improvising a postlude every Sunday, often in five parts, something that I can not really even comprehend being able to do. There is much to aspire to here. The great thing about living this way, or trying to, at least, is that it is never old, never boring, always challenging, and always life-giving, no matter what else is going on, and a worthy way to live one’s life. I really feel that we are all musicians in God’s universe in one way or another, although many of us are discouraged at the outset, both in singing or playing music, as well as many other activities. I especially like to work with “tone deaf” singers, as they are the most enthusiastic when they find out they are not really tone deaf at all, and when they get how to tune in to the vibrations in the melody, and once having found that out, go from strength to strength musically. This is all metaphor for me.

  25. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    We cannot attend a liturgy electronically. It requires our presence. “Watching” the Liturgy remotely as, at best, some consolation (for some), but it simply does not satisfy. It is like substituting a “Platonic relationship” for a marriage.

  26. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I’ve often marveled at an organist’s experience in which both hands and both feet are playing (thinking perhaps of one of Bach’s fugues). But that the whole body is engaged in this marvelous feat of coordination that rises in transcendent beauty is – I suspect – perhaps the greatest musical experience possible – or certainly one without compare.

    I play a few instruments (though without mastery of any). It helps me imagine such a thing – but only from a distance. I once had an organist at a parish I served (Anglican) who worked with a couple of tone deaf boys and taught them to sing on pitch. I had never seen that before – and saw it as one of the greatest possible gifts. I would he had taught my mother!

  27. Ook Avatar

    Former musician here. While reading your post the word “communion” also came to mind, and yes, you can’t have communion via Zoom or by listening to recordings, even if the sound quality of your audiofile system is second to none.

  28. Christina Avatar

    I miss faces, everywhere

  29. Jordan Avatar

    I had similar experiences with music theory growing up, and that has fueled my on-going enjoyment of music. Less so my siblings. One of the things I’ve learned is that theory does not equal stasis. Theory serves music, rather than the other way around.
    There are also many great songs that provide interesting studies in music theory, unbeknownst to the person who wrote them, which highlights the intuitive, personal connection with music. One example I just noticed recently is “Fire and Rain” by James Taylor. The song is in the key of F, but spends most of the time in C and G minor, which highlight the desperation and yearning of the song.

  30. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I think of the experience with my folk guitar. As strings age, their capacity to respond in overtones and such is reduced. They no longer “ring.” Restringing produces something that cannot be easily described – but is part of the freshness and “live” quality that we prize. This is another analogy for the ersatz world of modernity.

  31. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Christina, we humans have the ability to show our faces through our masks. There is an intake woman at a small local hospital who does it. Twice now my wife and I have been there and she was so genuinely warm and welcoming it was as if the mask did not exist.

  32. Dean Avatar

    Christina and Michael,
    Not only do masks hide faces, but with one on I, myself, feel hidden from others.
    “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face.” Most of us will never see Christ face to face in this life, yet that day will come. However, at present we do see Him, and even others, dimly. So, I think I understand what you both are saying. Frustration at not fully seeing all the nuances of the unmasked face, yet in some able to see that glow of goodness, warmth and love through and around the mask. These effulgences of grace cannot be hidden.

  33. Drewster2000 Avatar

    Fr. Stephen,

    There are moments when I wish this blog had the option to “like” comments. Yours from November 24, 2020 at 4:03 pm is one of those times. Digital communication can facilitate survival, but not the thriving of life. So so true.

  34. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Dean, et al
    I am slowly (and quite painstakingly) working on a book that is framed around the topic of shame. Part of its difficulty is that I have to engage and bring in some clinical stuff – but I’m not a scientist – so I’ll be informing my readers and then directing them elsewhere. But I’m also doing what scientists do not do – and that is the theological reflection that should accompany all of this.

    Shame (like almost all the emotions) is primarily registered in the face. We cannot “see” what another is saying from text alone (hence emoji’s – what a sad substitute!). There is a “communion” event that occurs – or can occur – in face-to-face engagement. The most profound is probably the encounter between an infant and a nursing mother. It is certainly the most foundational.

    When that “communion” is broken, we experience it as shame. Sometimes mild, sometimes intense. It is simply the unavoidable case that across our culture at present, we are all experiencing a small degree of shame as we go out in public masked. I recognize and accept the health protections and am not in the least interested in entertaining arguments to the contrary. But, it comes at a cost, psychologically and emotionally. One aspect of this is that the whole culture of the world will come through this on the other side with a sort of mild case of COVID PTSD.

    For myself, I am simply remembering, day-to-day, how vital our face-to-face contact is – and to at least make “eye contact” with others whenever possible (we need the whole face – but the eyes are profoundly necessary). I speak to strangers more often as well – using the voice as a face substitute. Whenever possible, I try to express some kind of solidarity with others – to increase our bond of communion.

    In the deepest analysis, communion with others is about love. That is the essence of the bond between nursing mother and nursing infant. It is also, interesting, at the deep heart of every therapy involved in healing shame. Every one.

    All of this, interestingly, increases my faith and acceptance of the authenticity of the Shroud of Turin. It seems more than reasonable, even necessary, to me that the God who became man would leave us His face. The icons, of course, bear this in a profound manner. But I have come to deeply face that “picture” of His crucified face as a sweet gift to us all. Masked by the shroud – it changed the shroud.

  35. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Father, I have been, most of my life, a reserved person in contact with others often seeking in my younger years to disappear in crowds and in public. I find that now I am moved to just the opposite–endeavoring to make contact with others. Such an attitude seems to be the default for the hospital lady.

    Yes, faces are important, but one thing I learned when I was in theater is that one’s energy and intent communicate. In fact, one of the best directors I ever worked under had only one direction; “Play the intent!” When an actor was not doing well, she would challenge them, demanding of them “What’s your intent!?”

    Shame both confuses and submerges proper intent I think. I think now is the perfect time to allow the joy of the Lord be our intent. There is no shame there no matter the depth of our sins. It is possible to communicate fully wearing a mask. No reason to court or allow PTSD. (It may happen but we do not have to share in it)

    This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it! You taught me that Father. It is finally sinking in by God’s grace.

    The foundation lies in repentance AND acceptance of the living presence of our Lord, Jesus Christ. He is closer than hands and feet. So close that it is easy to miss Him.

  36. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    It is common, in reading about shame, to see discussions about the “masks” of shame. Shame cuts us off from communion with others, but also cuts us off from communion with our selves – so that we develop something of a “false self” – created to protect us from our own shame and being shamed by others. We need safety of a sort in order to share the depths (even to ourselves).

    That becomes possible in Christ – and is also the gift that love from others makes possible. I take this to be why the admonition to “bear a little shame” is important – it’s only as we reveal that reality that we can see it for ourselves, and see beyond and beneath it, to what lies most hidden. That most “hidden” of all things is, in fact, the true self, created in the image and likeness of Christ. It is the ultimate authenticity – the true intent of our heart hidden even from ourselves.

    “When He appears, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.” When we see Christ as He is (and only then), we will also see ourselves as we are. He is the mirror of the soul’s true Logos. Rather, we are to mirror Him.

  37. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Father, you say: “That most “hidden” of all things is, in fact, the true self, created in the image and likeness of Christ. It is the ultimate authenticity – the true intent of our heart hidden even from ourselves.”

    Indeed. I think however that if we will we can actually begin to show a bit more of that hidden reality of ourselves to ourselves and others because we are wearing a mask. It is not unlike some incredibly damaged and shamed people manage to reveal deeply true aspects of what it means to be human because they are “acting a part”.

    With us, it need not be “a part” but we have permission to reveal more of who we are because of the mask than we might have otherwise, or feel we have otherwise.

    It is part of The Cross, I think. And yes we bear a little shame in the process, our own and a small, small part of the shame of others as well.

    Just a thought.

    May the joy of our Lord be with you in all things and bless you abundantly.

  38. Andrew in BG Avatar
    Andrew in BG

    Your article has immediately c encouraged me to go some time to the local orchestra, preferably for a performance from classical repertoire (not the pop/rock variations they frequently perform to stay in business). I am bereft of that experience. You testify, convincingly, that having that experience of “real music” is a step up from getting the music on headphones or speakers. I believe you.

  39. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    “Live” is so much better that ( and this surprised me) the first time I was invited to go to the opera (way not my genre) I loved it. I would gladly listen to the opera if it were live. On the radio, no way in the world.

  40. Ziton Avatar

    Thank you Father. You have such a knack for talking about so many of the things that have interested (understatement) me for so long, and then expressing thoughts about them so well, of course with new insights to boot. You may remember that talk I posted a link to a few months ago (can’t remember when) from Jeremy Begbie. Your talk and his sing very well together. I was thinking re the silences and harmonics piece of his insight that for a harmonic on a higher piano string to sound, the the relevant key needs both not to be playing in its own right, and the dampener needs to be off so that it is free to let the vibrations from the lower key set it off. That has just struck me as an interesting way of thinking about silence – and for that matter one of the true meanings of freedom.

    As I was reading the comments on digital stuff – and Bach – I thought that really, the internet has been far from all bad. One of the things I have found remarkable is all the genuinely useful and creative stuff people manage to put up on YouTube (apart from the many excellent talks by and interviews with Fr Stephen that are there of course :-)). One such thing is the way some people have put up visual settings of pieces of music, which I actually find to be eye opening (sorry about the pun). For example, here is Bach’s little fugue in g minor (a true cut gem of a talking-with-God masterwork, even if in the end I prefer the great g minor), with all the differing voices presented visually. It’s fascinating in itself, and in the context of this article to see how the voices speak and stop and intertwine and play off each other all the while creating a wonderful polyphonic synthesis.

    And here is the same piece being played in real life, very satisfyingly which shows differently what is involved in bringing something like this. On that score, I can’t help but think that real life music is rather Trinitarian. There are the ideas from the composer, coded in notes. But it also needs a performer to bring it to life, and it can be brought to life in different ways, with different freedoms. And then there is a medium – the instruments, the air (oh, does the dominant image for the Holy Spirit have anything to do with that? :-)). And then there is the listener, who’s mode and choices of involvement are significant in what happens and what it means. (I am sort of thinking about the Hospitality of Abraham icon here where the table has that kind of open side that the viewer is sort of being invited to participate in the meal.) Maybe one way of thinking about salvation is actually hearing the music and becoming more and more part of it, where as the opposite of salvation is maybe becoming more and more deaf and finally letting the music stop??

    Sorry if that was all a bit meandery. Thinkin’ out loud again.

  41. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I think the internet is actually wonderful and a great gift. The trouble is that like all “things” it “sings” best when it is rightly used. When rightly used it is almost miraculous. But when we begin to misuse it, it becomes a sort of Tower of Babel – the archetype of all misused technology.

    Our ability to access information, for example, is wonderful – but it never seems to be as wonderful as being in a great library. When I was in grad school at Duke – (pre-internet) – it was always amazing in that pretty much anything I could need in my research – articles, journals, books, etc., could be found there. I think it had the 3rd best theological library in the country. Of course, the internet changes it – but something has been lost. For one, it’s just not that much fun anymore.

    When I was in college, my best friend and I had several locations where there were booksellers who specialized in old books. One was way out in the middle of nowhere. We would make a Saturday of it. I couldn’t buy everything I saw (I was a college student). But I would buy 19th century editions of classical texts (because they were terribly expensive as new things – even when you could find them). I found an 1821 edition of Sophocles’ complete plays, leather bound, with linen pages that had never been “cut.” What a treasure!

    When things are easy, they cease to be treasures after a fashion. I think that too much is like that today. Someone puts in a couple of words in a google page, and out pops a long list of patristic quotes used in an argument with someone who came by his knowledge the old-fashioned way – and the guy with the nimble google fingers thinks he’s smart… Those sort of occasional conversations (thank God not so often anymore) are sad Babel-events.

    The Church’s tradition, I think, is mostly acquired the old-fashioned way – with prayer – with lots of services – with lots of silence and pondering – and a paragraph read here and there.

    So, my wife and I were in this restaurant and there was a guitar play/singer of sorts. He plays a few lines, then, he seems to be playing something while the thing he just played is repeating. I’d never heard of a “loop” machine before or seen it in action. Before long, he’s a one man band, complete with a rhythm section. I thought about the 3 guys I played with in a bar (more like a dive) when I was in college. Nothing magical – or digital – but way more fun than playing with a drum machine and a looper. No magic in the digital – too predictable – and boring.

    One of my kid’s gave me a loop machine for my birthday. I’m trying to learn how to use it – but it will not see public use. 🙂

    That’s my meandery.

  42. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Happy Thanksgiving

  43. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Dear readers of Fr Stephen’s blog, happy Thanksgiving!

    Protopresbyter Alexander Schmemann, the late Dean of Saint Vladimir’s Seminary, celebrated the Divine Liturgy for the last time on Thanksgiving Day 1983. Two weeks later, on December 13, he fell asleep in the Lord. As is well known, Father Alexander had devoted his entire life to teaching, writing and preaching about the Eucharist—the Greek word eucharist means thanksgiving. At the conclusion of the Liturgy, Father Alexander took from his pocket a short written sermon, in the form of a prayer, which he proceeded to read. This was uncharacteristic of Father Alexander, since he never wrote his liturgical homilies, but delivered them extemporaneously. These were his words, which proved to be the last ever spoken by him from the ambo in church, yet which resound as clearly today, 35 years later, as they did the day they were spoken.

    Thank You, O Lord!

    Everyone capable of thanksgiving is capable of salvation and eternal joy.

    Thank You, O Lord, for having accepted this Eucharist, which we offered to the Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and which filled our hearts with the joy, peace and righteousness of the Holy Spirit.

    Thank You, O Lord, for having revealed Yourself unto us and given us the foretaste of Your Kingdom.

    Thank You, O Lord, for having united us to one another in serving You and Your Holy Church.

    Thank You, O Lord, for having helped us to overcome all difficulties, tensions, passions, temptations and restored peace, mutual love and joy in sharing the communion of the Holy Spirit.

    Thank You, O Lord, for the sufferings You bestowed upon us, for they are purifying us from selfishness and reminding us of the “one thing needed;” Your eternal Kingdom.

    Thank You, O Lord, for having given us this country where we are free to worship You.

    Thank You, O Lord, for this school, where the name of God is proclaimed.

    Thank You, O Lord, for our families: husbands, wives and, especially, children who teach us how to celebrate Your holy Name in joy, movement and holy noise.

    Thank You, O Lord, for everyone and everything.

    Great are You, O Lord, and marvelous are Your deeds, and no word is sufficient to celebrate Your miracles.

    Lord, it is good to be here! Amen!

  44. Dean Avatar

    Dear Dee,
    Thank you so very much for these words from Fr. Schmemann.
    What a way to end this day of thanksgiving!

  45. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Not only on Pascha should we sing: This is the day of Ressurection for Christ is Risen from the dead, trampling down death by death and upon those in the tombs bestowing life.

  46. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Indeed Michael.

    And Dean, may God grant you and your wife many blessings in this time of “winter lent”.

    Memory eternal, Archbishop David of Sitka and Alaska. His was a wide ranging life of inspiration, touching many peoples’ lives.

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