Monday, October 10, 2016

Silence is Holy


I spent a goodly portion of this past week at Rochester College for it's annual Streaming Conference. It's always a blessed event, and its just up the road. The focus of conference was worship, which is a topic I am especially interested in. The theme title was "Everybody has a Hungry Heart," which is the title of a Springsteen tune. Jamie Smith spoke about what drives us as human beings. The question then is how does worship help form our desires so that we would desire God, and thus desire what God wants. He suggested that we can't think our way there. Instead, we must develop habits of the heart. 

That was the beginning message, and it carried through as we moved forward, trying to move away from being brains on sticks to fully embodied human beings -- bringing heart and mind together. In the midst of the conversation it was suggested that perhaps the most subversive way of moving toward this reality is to embrace the discipline of silence. 


I did a bit of searching and there's not much said about silence in the Bible, except that enemies would be silenced and that there is silence to be had in death, but little about silence as a posture before God. Though I did find this statement from Habakkuk:

But the Lord is in his holy temple;
    let all the earth keep silence before him!  (Hab. 2:20)

There is also that statement in revelation about there being silence in heaven for half an hour as the Lamb of God opened the seventh seal (Rev. 8:1). While there isn't much biblical guidance on silence, it can have a certain spiritual power. 

It must be admitted that silence is difficult to achieve. I doubt many of us spend much time in silence, beyond sleep. Maybe that's why some of us find it difficult to get to sleep. Silence can open up a whole gamut of voices we don't normally hear.  In daily life, noise is everywhere. As soon as I turn on my computer, I turn on Spotify so I can have music in the background. It's on right now.  We will turn on the TV even if we're not watching it. I listen to the radio when I'm driving (NPR or Sports radio). Noise is part of life.

But if we're to hear God's voice, it would seem necessary to quiet the noise around us. That can be difficult. We're so accustomed to sound and noise that silence can be deafening. And yet, it can be powerful.

Having heard the challenge to incorporate silence into worship, something we rarely do intentionally, I asked our associate minister who was presiding at the Table to invite the congregation into a minute of silence after we took the cup and before we closed with the post-communion prayer.  What happened next was interesting, though I've noticed it in previous attempts.  It takes about 30 seconds or so before people can quiet down. You hear rustling of paper and keys. But after awhile things quiet down. What you might hear is breathing. Yesterday I could hear the traffic outside on Big Beaver and noise elsewhere in the building. As someone remarked of Friday when there's silence in the room you begin to notice that the building is noisy -- not just the people but the building.  

Silence doesn't have production values. It doesn't take a lot of planning. But it's still difficult to achieve, and yet it seems necessary if we're to attend to God's voice.


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