Alive and Active
Most people desire to be “alive” and “active.” In fact, the Word of God is described as such:
“The Word of God is something alive and active: it cuts like any double-edged sword but more finely. It can slip through the place where the soul is divided from the spirit, or joints from the marrow. It can judge the secret emotions and thoughts” (Hebrews 4:12).
The Word of God has the capacity, the power and the grace to help us be alive and active.
The proposition is stupendous: God actually speaks to us. It is an extraordinary claim by any stretch of the imagination. And the Church, in her wisdom, says that God speaks in human language:
“In order to reveal himself to us, in the condescension of his goodness, God speaks to us in human words” (CCC 101).
On the one hand, to accept that God speaks is an act of faith. On the other hand, to accept that God speaks in human language is a call to utilise our human resources of body, soul and spirit.
The Word of God is essentially a narrative of how God interacts with us. From the Book of Genesis to the Book of Revelation, the Bible presents the story – narrative – of God’s entry into history and, as a consequence, of his encounter with us.
But the narrative takes on a plethora of forms. The Word of God is history, poetry, satire, parody, songs and psalms, metaphor, symbol, etc. When we read or hear the Word of God proclaimed, we must use our intelligence and feelings to understand these forms, otherwise we simply won’t get it.
For instance, when in Genesis 1 we hear that God says, “Let there be light,” we understand that God is speaking of the light of faith. For it is on the fourth day that God creates the physical light of the sun and moon. Genesis 1 is poetic, not scientific or historical. Failure to comprehend this reality will lead to profound confusion. The Word of God will not be intelligible or effective.
Double Edged Sword
But having understood the human language of the bible, we can now experience the capacity, power and grace of the Word of God. When God speaks, things change – we change. The Word of God is alive and active. It has all the power and incision of a double edged sword – but with one difference. The incision is not destructive, but creative. The sword cuts finely.
There is a principal in theology which must be mentioned here. When nature is powerful, she is destructive, but when God is powerful, he is exceedingly gentle. So the claim in Hebrews is that the Word of God is able to enter us precisely where we are divided, both spiritually and physically. Think indecisiveness to a commitment. Think exhaustion at the end of a day’s work. The Word of God cuts finely at all times, but especially in times of need.
Silence and Stillness
God does indeed speak. The light of faith assures us of this truth. But will God be heard? Might we have drowned God out in our busy, noisy, frenetic, febrile world? Have we created a culture where we can no longer hear what God has to say?
Psalm 46 issues forth the challenge and promise:
“Be still and know that I am God.”
St. John of the Cross (1542-1591) claimed that God’s first language is silence. Thus the promise is that if we become silent and still then we shall hear God’s voice, come to know and love God. The promise is stupendous, yet real.
The challenge is to pay the small and simple price of a few moments of silence and stillness each day. If we rouse ourselves to accept the challenge, then promise becomes reality. Irresistible you’d have to say!
The simple act of prayer is threefold – almost indistinguishable in its unfolding. First, find a few minutes each day when silence prevails, which leads to stillness of body, soul and spirit. Second, read the daily Gospel and let God speak to you.
St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) was once asked how long we should pray. He responded that there is no set time, since one should pray until desire is aroused within. By this he meant desire for God, desire for holiness – maturity, both human and Christian – and desire for service of one’s neighbour. This third element – desire – is a work of the Holy Spirit:
“The Spirit too comes to help us in our weakness. For when we cannot choose words in order to pray properly, the Spirit himself expresses our plea in a way that could never be put into words” (Romans 8).
In this way we become a people who are “alive” and “active” – to God, to ourselves, to others.