Silence and the Non-Productive Self

In my book The Slavery of Death, which I consider to be the most significant book I've ever written, I describe, borrowing from David Kelsey, what I call "the eccentric identity." I contrast the eccentric identity, borrowing from Arthur McGill, with "the identity of possession."

Quickly and simply, an identity of possession is rooted in earning or performing for our identity--our worth, value and significance. The eccentric identity, by contrast, is an identity given to us as grace and gift.

Last semester, in my Psychology and Christianity class, I was talking with my students about the practice of silence, and I made a connection with the eccentric identity. Many of my students don't get the practice of silence. They feel stupid and awkward just sitting there quietly. What, they ask, am I supposed to be doing?

And the answer is...nothing. And that's the point. Caught up as we are in pursuing the identity of possession, we believe that we must be doing something, producing something, for our lives and our very selves to have meaning, worth, and value.

Silence, by contrast, challenges that assumption. Silence, I told my students, is learning to hold the self before God in a non-productive posture. Because when I do that, the idolatry of productivity and performance--I am valuable to God and others because of my talents and achievements--is faced and relinquished. And in that newly opened space I can come to experience my non-productive self as valued and loved by God.

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