• John G. Stackhouse, Jr.

And Now It's Time to Be Quiet

After all the excitement generated by my last two posts, it’s time for something completely different. One correspondent sent along the following note:

“What about the disappearance of the musical language of silence? It seems to me that a problematic aspect of our modern context is over-stimulation and a resulting loss of the language of silence, which I believe is part of what has robbed much music—and the spoken word—of their power. I lead contemplative services which include a lot of music, but I feel the silence which is practised as part of that service makes it so much more powerful. It’s a sign of the times when two minutes of real silence is experienced as threatening.”

I remember taking communion in small Plymouth (Christian) Brethren churches, and how much silence there often was. Nothing but silence, sometimes for five or even ten minutes at a time, in between someone spontaneously standing up to pray, or to give out a hymn number for us to sing, or to preach briefly (or sometimes not so briefly) from a passage of Scripture.

Silence . . . in which one could daydream, yes, or notice other people’s sense of fashion, or try to catch the eye of the cute girl across the room, or actually pray. Muse. Meditate. All the things we mostly didn’t do in the relentless busyness of life.

In most churches I have been in since—and I’ve been in most brands of Protestant churches and a few Catholic ones along the way–silence is rare indeed, and I miss it. People come chatting into the sanctuary while an organ plays or a worship band tunes up or someone does a sound check. The service proceeds with no silence at all except for a little “dead air” between segments. Even communion seems to need “filling in” with some music. When a preacher actually asks us to pause for a moment to reflect on the sermon, it’s extraordinary–and even then some worship leaders or organists feel obliged to “heighten” the moment with some dreamy music in the background.

So where can we be truly, fully quiet anymore? Where can we let the swirling sediments of our psyches settle down to let the Spirit shine clearly into our lives?

Church would be a good place for that.

And having made that suggestion, I’ll just be still for a while now…

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