Voice and Silence in the Gospel of Mark: Deep Calls to Deep Midyear Retreat

On a weekend in Advent, preaching fellows from Deep Calls to Deep, a VTS-sponsored program to nurture preaching passion, and participants in Backstory Preaching, a program for the formation of preachers, gathered to explore th Gospel of Mark. The workshop was led by Cynthia Kittredge, Dean and President of Seminary of the Southwest, and Professor of New Testament, and Ruthanna Hooke, Associate Professor of Homiletics, Associate Dean of Chapel, and Director of Deep Calls to Deep at Virginia Theological Seminary.

We gathered at Seminary of the Southwest for a daylong workshop, exploring themes of voice and silence in the Gospel of Mark. The workshop’s goal was to give the participants a sense of the whole Gospel of Mark, so that we can draw on this knowledge when preaching Mark this coming liturgical year. We wanted to get the text into our bodies and our bodies into the text, to discover the connection between the voices of Mark’s Gospel and our own voices, and to develop a communal telling of the Gospel by the end of the day.

Themes of voice and silence weave through Mark’s Gospel. The Gospel begins with a “voice crying in the wilderness,” and ends with the women at the tomb, who were commanded to “go and tell” of Jesus’ resurrection, but “said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” In between these opening and closing voices/silences, we hear the voice of God, demons, those seeking healing, those challenging Jesus, and Jesus’ cry of dereliction from the cross. Voice is often accompanied by movement—demons convulsing, a woman touching Jesus’ cloak, supplicants falling at his feet, the storm raging and then being stilled at a word from Jesus. Voice is defined broadly in Mark, since some of the most crucial “proclamations” are wordless, such as the woman anointing Jesus in Bethany. Moreover, each story in Mark, and the Gospel as a whole, demands to be heard and proclaimed on three levels—personal, social, and cosmic. And although the ending of the Gospel says that the women said nothing about Jesus’ resurrection, there are stories throughout the Gospel of people being raised up: Peter’s mother-in-law, Jairus’s daughter, blind Bartimaeus. Instead of ending in silence, then, the Gospel points us back to Galilee, where Jesus’ resurrection has been proclaimed and enacted all along.

We explored these and other key texts from Mark throughout the day, using voice and movement exercises to engage the text. We wrote poems on a significant movement found in our texts. Eventually, we put all of the texts together and told them to each other, each storyteller employing the listeners to become part of the story. As the story wove together, Mark’s Gospel resonated through us and moved among us. Hearing and feeling this text afresh summoned us preachers to ask ourselves: what is the cost of speaking, and what is the cost of being silent? What does it take for us to claim and speak with our true voice? Since every use of voice, and every silence, has personal, social, and cosmic implications, how do the voices of Mark’s Gospel call upon us to proclaim Jesus’ life, death and resurretion in our own time?
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