In the last two weeks I read an online article about Steve Jobs and Elon Musk. Steve Jobs was the founder of Apple while Elon Musk is the founder of Tesla. The article reflects on the fact that both Steve Jobs and Elon Musk display a capacity for sitting in what others might regard as uncomfortable silence. In the flow of a media interview the writer gives examples of how both Steve Jobs and Elon Musk, when asked a difficult question allowed themselves the space to sit in 15 – 20 seconds of silence before answering the interviewer. Now 15-20 seconds of silence doesn't sound like a lot on the face of it, but in most ordinary conversations it would be very rare for two people to allow 15 – 20 seconds of silence. After 10 seconds of silence between two people, many people would begin to feel a sense of discomfort.
The writer suggests that part of the success of Steve Jobs and Elon Musk lies in this ability to sit in the uncomfortable silence and in that space they are able to access a broader perspective, and a wider or deeper intelligence that is normally short-circuited by our compulsive and reactive communication.
Now clearly Elon Musk does not always live in this space because over the past number of years he has shown that he is quite capable of being reactive and of making some rather foolish statements. I don't know a lot about Steve Jobs, but I don't think anyone would classify him as in any way a person of unwavering wisdom, but I do get the sense that there is some truth to the fact that when we create space for space, even if for fairly short periods, we have the opportunity to briefly step outside of our normal compulsive and reactive way of responding to life, and have access to something wider and deeper. A greater intelligence and even wisdom, that resides within us.
I believe that we see that in the passage we read this morning about Jesus. It is a well-known and familiar passage to many. Jesus’ opponents, the Pharisees, who are wanting to catch Jesus out and expose him as the fraud that they believe him to be, drag before him a woman who they had allegedly caught in the very act of adultery. They confront Jesus with the requirements of their Jewish Law – that she should be stoned. If Jesus contradicts their written scriptures, the Word of God, as many would call it today, then they will have a case against him.
How does Jesus respond? He creates a bit of space. He does not immediately react. He enters into what might have felt like an uncomfortable silence for those who had gathered around. Jesus takes his time. He bends down. He begins to write in the sand with his finger. Some people have suggested that he was writing down the names of each of the accusers who had brought the women before him. But it is also quite possible that Jesus was doodling in the sand. The Greek word “graphó” can be translated as either write or draw.
With all these mindfulness colouring in books that have been sold in the last 5 years or so, it is has become more common knowledge that doodling and drawing have a powerful ability to change our head-space.
As Jesus bends down to draw or doodle in the sand, he creates space for himself so that he doesn't respond reactively. And in doing so, he begins to access a deeper wisdom and a deeper intelligence.
Kakichi Kadowaki, a Christian priest, who also studied and practised Zen meditation writes that in this story, we see the Zen-Mind of Christ. In fact, it was a Zen monk who told him how deeply moved he was when he first read this passage. He added: ‘Don't you think we can infer from this incident in the Bible that Jesus had the same experience that we have in Zen?”
Kadowaki continues: “Certainly, a person who reads this passage with a silenced heart will perceive that the Christ pictured there radiates a peace and lucidity that could be called Zen-like. Something about him resembles the ancient Zen masters.
Kadowaki writes that in this passage, like a Zen Master who is presented with a Zen Koan, which is a frustrating spiritual riddle, Jesus is presented with a difficult problem that that cannot be solved intellectually. Solving the problem, Jesus uses an unexpected action, he bends down and responds with silence. Thirdly, out of the silence, Jesus begins to speak with a remarkable clarity. Although replying in simple language, Jesus leads his questioners to self-introspection. His simple clear words produce greater clarity and impact than a long exhaustive discussion could ever have done. And lastly, Jesus transcends the dualistic thinking of the Pharisees and Scribes of whether to punish or not to punish. Going beyond punishment and non-punishment, Jesus takes a stand of a higher dimension. He accesses a mind of higher wisdom.
Kadowaki writes that at a point in his life, (probably in the 1960s) at the height of university campus unrest, he had an experience of being surrounded by 10 or so angry left-wing students, who made him a target of their vehement questioning. Carried away by the violent emotions characteristic of youth, the angry youths showered him with cutting questions. Reflecting on that situation he says that every time he reads John 8 about the woman caught in adultery, that oppressive and dangerous situation on the university campus would come back to him. Wasn’t that the situation that Christ was placed in when faced with the angry, vehement questioning of the Scribes and Pharisees.
In such a case, the ordinary person writes Kadowaki, is thrown off balance and cannot respond appropriately. But in the story, Jesus never loses his tranquillity. Not only that, by his silence, he calms the violent emotions of his opponents so that in the end, it is they who are now off balance and on the wrong foot.
Reflecting on the Zen-like silence and wisdom of Christ, Kadowaki concludes that silence speaks. In the silence, wisdom is accessed, embodied and communicated by Jesus. The silence of Jesus is not just a head silence, it is an embodied silence, as Jesus non-reactively bends down, creates space and begins to doodle in the sand. In Jesus actions, we see that it is not only the silence that speaks, but also the body that speaks. Jesus is not only at one with the stillness, he is also at one with his body, completely at ease within himself, even in the midst of a tense confrontation with his enemies. Calm, poised, at ease.
True spirituality does not divorce us from our bodies, or cause us to see our bodies as enemies, but enables us to be completely at ease within our bodies with mind and body working together as one.
These truths are not new. Steve Jobs and Elon Musk have only been tapping into a wisdom that goes back into our ancient past as humanity. Even in the Old Testament we see an intuition of this teaching that Jesus seems to embody with completeness and fullness.
In the book of Proverbs we read:
Proverbs 15:1 A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.
Proverbs 17:28 Even a fool, when he keeps silent, is considered wise; When he closes his lips, he is considered prudent.
Ecclesiastes 3:7 A time to tear apart and a time to sew together; A time to be silent and a time to speak.
And so, when life is crowding angrily in on you, may you, like Jesus, pause, create space, bend over, doodle in the sand for a moment, and access in that stillness, a mind of greater wisdom and compassion, than the mind that would want to react without pause and without thought, the mind of grace and truth (John 1:17), that Paul refers to as ‘The Mind of Christ”. Amen.