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Sunday, July 18, 2010

Straining to Hear...Nothing

In one of the books I am reading for tomorrow's class, the author frequently brings up the value of silence in a church service. (Liturgical Theology, Simon Chan) I had to chuckle a bit when I thought about this, because it seems like at our church everyone starts to get nervous if there is silence for more than 2 seconds! But how can I blame them? I feel the same way! I immediately wonder, "what's going on? Why is no one talking? Am I forgetting something?"

Let's admit it- in general, we are not comfortable with silence. In our iTunes, Zune, Bluetooth world, we don't know what do with it. Silence feels so out of place it is actually deafening. We rush to fill the silence with something, anything that keeps our brains in tune.

As I embark on two weeks of study, I find myself in a unique place. Away from the office, the kids, and all my routines, I am confronted with a great deal of silence. I have already experienced more of it in one night than I can recall in any recent week. (or month) And so, realizing that this silence may be common in the next two weeks, I am trying to give in to it and allow it to have a formative effect in my life.

Have you ever done the science experiment where you stir up sediment in a jar of water? As long as you keep the water agitating, all the particles spin around and the water is cloudy and dark. Only when you allow the water to stop spinning do the pieces of sand and rock begin to filter to the bottom and once again, in silence, the water becomes clear. You can see what before was only a mist. I think this can be the value of silence in our lives. We are so busy that everything spins around and the good, the bad, and the ugly of our lives are just one big blur. But in silence, we agree to let everything stop spinning. We wait for it all to sift to the bottom of our heart (or soul) and we can evaluate what belongs and what does not. In silence, we gain clarity.

I think this is why Jesus so often went away by himself to pray. The gospels say that Jesus often sought out solitude. Why would someone who had such a clear sense of purpose in life need any solitude or silence? Because Jesus knew that in silence, God could continue to make clear the next step.

So, for the rest of this month, I am attempting to enjoy silence. This will not be easy for my over-active, fill-up-every-inch brain, but I will try. And Lord willing, I will tell you how it goes!

How about you? What role does silence play in your life? Can you be comfortable in it? If so, tell us how you got there!

Peace on you and your journey-


Anonymous said...

Nick - I love what you had to say about making a place for silence. Practicing being with silence in order to be aware of God's Presence with/in me right now . . . it's one of the spiritual disciplines I'm working hard to incorporate in my daily life, and, as Henri Nouwen, says, "It's not easy."
Thank you for sharing your experience of it. I would love to see more "moments of silence" incorporated into our gatherings, even though it's hard on us to have to be still. I'm finding silence more precious every day, as I try to be aware of God being right beside me all my waking hours. I've stopped turning on the radio in the car, and Pandora music on my computer in the office. Suddenly, I have all this time in conversation with God (prayer) that I didn't have before, because I was creating "white noise".

We missed you yesterday in service. It was a beautiful time - God's Presence was evident.

Prayers for your experience at Bethel.

Mary Hagle

Anonymous said...

As someone who is either constantly talking or thinking or listening to music, I really NEED to find silence. I haven't done that in a long while. I'm not sure extended periods of silence are what most people are looking for when they go to church. For the worship night, sure, but for Sunday...I dunno. Maybe a minute or so for people to get their hearts and minds focused on what they are about to hear, but more than that and most people are going to be looking around at everyone else wondering if they can be done yet :D This is, of course, just my lame and humble opinion.

I am going to try to find time this week (at least once) to be still and quiet. I look forward to learning what you hear in your quiet times.

Pastor Nick said...


Don't worry too much- my focus right now is developing a personal practice of silence. If and when we incorporate something at church, it will take some time, and probably some teaching, to do it well. Most of us are in the same boat with you- sitting in silence, especially in a group, for a long period of time is not something we look forward to!

Don & Jen said...

I agree with you. Here are just a couple ideas from an educational point of view. Routinely teachers are encouraged to wait at least three seconds before allowing kids to raise their hands. This "think time" is very valuable, especially for the kids who are slower processers (although just as intellectually capable).

Another saying that I really like is "it takes a lot of slow to grow." This educator reminds us that when we are always on the go, we don't have time to reflect, digest, and re-evaluate our cognitive structures.

I think both of these concepts apply in church and in our private spiritual lives as well. If God is saying something to us and we need to reflect on how that challenges our current attitudes or beliefs, we need "think time" to accomplish that. Physiologically our brains look different when we are being active and when we are meditating on something. It actually benefits our learning when we slow down! That's my two cents! Silence is golden.