I almost got my theology assignment read before class today. As I skated along, I read:
“…introduces the silence of the Invisible Other in a profound way, as a silence not indicative of indifference to the authority imposed from without, but a silence hiding an often violent voice.”
—Diane N. Capitani, “The Poor, the Marginalized, the Colonized: Losing Paradise for Ruether’s Suffering Christ” as collected in Voices of Feminist Liberation, ed. Silverman, von der Horst, and Bauman
Silence of indifference: I’m very familiar with that. As a quick and perceptive child, I frequently used that tactic in school—teachers thought I was compliant because I didn’t point out to them how [ridiculous | pointless | whathaveyou] the request was. It worked well for me in my tech-life, too. There are plenty of souls in tech who adore arguing (why is that?) even when the matter has no larger stakes. We would reach a place in our meeting where my persuasion and collaboration hadn’t borne fruit, where I knew I was not going along with the other, and (just as important) where no organizational force was going to enforce the other’s dicta. Easiest, then, to simply shut up until the meeting ends: all done!
Silence of violence, now. That’s a strong and dark dynamic that feels very true. I think I got glimpses of this during kid-life. Which might sound dismissive, but I don’t mean it to be. Small persons (or at least my small persons) have adult-sized emotions compressed into their small rounded frames, and then have way fewer tools to handle them with. Boxes of nitroglycerine with only a hammer and a screwdriver to open themselves up with. If you are small, and don’t want to explode, silence may feel like the only option despite the brewing darkness inside. Change “small” to “lacking social power,” and it scales up to adulthood very quickly.
Notice that none of this is a silence of assent, or complicity—which is weird, because assent is everyone’s default assumption in the face of silence. “It must be OK if no one says anything! If they didn’t like it, they’d complain!”
Then there’s the silent treatment, which is a different silence of violence because it’s a silence of shredding relationship. The tatters are left like tapes (like ribbons) to keep each other tied together, so the violence can be felt with each step and tug. It may be the same silence that happens in spaces of mansplaining and he-peating…? That would be interesting, but I’m not working that out today. There are other silences I want to chase down.
It’s Thursday, and Easter’s on Sunday. It’s the Thursday of Christ’s mandates (Maundy Thursday), when we commemorate a Passover meal that changed into Christian eucharist. Tomorrow we commemorate the state torture and execution of our treasured rescuer (Savior). And then there’s Saturday, as well.
In the stories of the time from Jesus’s arrest until his death, he has few words. He becomes more and more silent as the events wear on. But it’s never seemed like a silence of indifference to me, nor a silence of brewing violence (!). And certainly not the silence of agreement that some, even within the stories, attribute to him. I think of it… how? Silence because words are superfluous, silence that gathers power and energy behind it. The silence of an Olympic athlete before a race: all inward, focused on the outcome to come, walking through each movement needed to arrive there.
And then we who are here have a silent Saturday. We don’t hear the race unfurling.
Some of my friends and my colleagues point toward the importance of our Saturday silence as both a proper time of grieving (loss is loss and honoring that is wise), and a worthwhile time of suspension. Waiting is its own discipline, and has life-giving lessons even if—or particularly because?—our culture avoids it so relentlessly. If Saturday silence tugs at you, please give it room and honor.
At the same time, I’ve been singing a different silence in my head. Mm-mm-mm-mmm, silent.