Jesus’s cousin, John, was born out of a silence that must have been a new kind of difficult joy.
His dad was a priest and his one big moment in life (or so he thought) had come on Yom Kippur – the Day of Atonement. This is the day when a selected representative, rope around his leg, makes his way into the Holy of Holies, (it’s not just a hyperbolic name for man-space) and says the Name of God. Get this… the Name of God was said to sound like breathing. So, John’s dad – Zechariah – goes before the quintessential Presence of the creator of the universe and has to do one thing – Breathe. He’s practiced breathing his whole life for this one moment.
Something happens to Z that no one saw coming. He enters the space, and says the Name.. and a voice responds. This angel - the scary kind, not the fuzzy kind – is standing there and tells Z, “Your prayers have been answered. You will have a boy and call him John.” Which prayer is that? For the atonement of Israel’s sin? Or that he and his wife could have a child, even in their old age?
Because of who John will be, the answer is: Both.
It’s the child bit that Z has a hard time buying and says as much to the angel. The result of his disbelief is a term of silence – mute, and deaf. He’s told he won’t be able to speak until the child is born.
So, imagine what life was like for Z. He spent the next year in silence. He went home to his wife a month or so later. He has to explain to her what happened… without words.
They eventually, have sex – and he can’t utter a word. Now, not much is spoken during sex, but things are communicated. Can you imagine the kind of trust that must have been involved for his wife Elizabeth? Can you imagine after it was all over and she couldn’t ask, “what are you thinking?” and expect some response? A new level of intimacy for them both… and it came from a silence that was far different than the silence that lingers in most marriages these days. Not to mention that John - "the Voice in the Wilderness" was conceived in silence... hmmm
Not only all this, but then Elizabeth leaves for upwards of four to five months. So, Z is left alone for nearly the remainder of her pregnancy in his silence. What did he learn during all this time? How to be a dad? How to be the father of the prequel to the Messiah? Even though he had been a priest and man sought by God, did he learn how to hear God for the first time in his life?
I've gotta believe that intimacy with himself, God, and as already mentioned, his wife, grew deeper and deeper in a way that he never imagined. He never would have chosen this path but it gave him an intimacy we all ache for ourselves.
Eventually, the silence ended in the loudest way possible – a boy’s crying breath. (Which I might add, some Rabbis say, is the Name of God, the first thing spoken by us because it is breathing.) Well, actually, Z probably didn’t hear the cry, cause he didn’t get the noise back until someone asked him what the child was to be called.
When I first started chewing over all this a few months back what I concluded for myself is that, though I am not sure I want that much silence, I do want that kind of depth and intimacy. And my experience is that it comes with more silence, not less. More listening, not more talking or “sharing.” More breathing…
Everything God told us...which by definition would be everything worth knowing, is contained in the aleph, the letter hovering just between speaking and silence - R. Zohar