Posted by: Melissa Bane Sevier | February 10, 2015

Learning when to be quiet

Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. Then Peter said to Jesus, ‘Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.’ He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!’ Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus.
As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead. So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what this rising from the dead could mean. [from Mark 9]

If a strong extrovert is one who speaks in order to clarify his thinking, then that is what Peter was. I can hardly judge him, because we all do this from time to time: we say something and realize even as the words are coming out of our mouths that the idea we’re forming isn’t quite what we’d hoped.

Many scholars have long believed that the writer of this particular gospel got much of his information from Peter, which makes the stories that feature him even more interesting. Peter’s not reluctant to have said to his interviewer: “I was scared out of my mind, but I thought somebody had to say something, so I told him we could build some shrines or something. Even while I was saying it, I knew it sounded stupid. Jesus was kind enough not to comment…”

As I said, I think we all can relate. We talk too soon and too much, when sometimes we just need to let the silence stand a little longer. We’re afraid, like Peter, or we’re anxious or rushed or impatient or even uncaring.

When someone wants to discuss a concern, we should offer an ear rather than jumping in with advice. When there’s a conflict, taking sides early on without lots of listening can short-circuit the process or contribute to driving the parties farther apart. When someone disagrees with us, instead of forming our arguments while they are speaking, we ought to hear carefully both what they are saying and imagine what may deeper values lie behind the issues in both the other’s perspective and ours.

Maybe Peter and the others learned something. Once he stopped talking, they had an incredible spiritual experience, certainly not one he’d planned in the constructing-of-shrines scenario. On the way down the mountain Jesus told them not to tell anyone what they’d seen—not yet. And “they kept the matter to themselves” even though they had many unresolved questions.

We don’t have to have all the answers. When we are still, we make ourselves open to new experiences, to learning from others, to input from the Spirit.

We just need to close our mouths and open our hearts and minds.

© Melissa Bane Sevier, 2015



  1. Knowing that we don’t always have to have the answers is so liberating. The opportunities this realization offers for communication with God and others open so many doors that might otherwise be closed. One of my mom’s favorite scriptures: Psalm 46:10: Be still, and know that I am God. In our sometimes chaotic, frenetic, always plugged-in, wired world, this just might be an answer. Thanks, Melissa.

  2. Thank you, Penny.

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