A time for silence

One of the critical weaknesses of the evangelical tradition, in my opinion, is that it has no appreciation for silence. Evangelical teachers talk, talk, talk, and never know when to shut up.  I expect it comes from their emphasis on the Word. It’s like silence is some kind of sacrilege.

Yet the Word itself speaks of silence.

Ecclesiastes 3 says,

“There is a time for everything … a time to be silent and a time to speak.”

Habakkuk 2 says,

“But the LORD is in his holy temple; let all the earth be silent before him.”

Revelation 8 says,

“When he opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour.”

Have you ever experienced silence used powerfully in worship?

7 thoughts on “A time for silence

  1. My only very spotty religious background as a child growing up was Quaker with the silent meetings. I ended up going to two Quaker high schools and as an adult when in between churches I will go to Quaker meetings. The silence is always powerful to me. I can feel God’s presence. I have found it disconcerting in the church that no one ever stops talking but have kind of gotten used to it.

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  2. Quakers are a rarity in Australia. Closest gathering is in the Blue Mountains, about an hour to hour and a half from here. See http://bluemountainsquakers.blogspot.com/
    A good friend of mine self-identifies as a Quaker though, similar to how I do as an Anabaptist, even though we both attend a Baptist church. Closest thing we can find. But they have no idea of silence, not like the Quakers, so we’re black sheep in that respect.

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  3. Well, at the moment, Andrew and I are contemplating moving out to Quakers Hill!
    Aside from that, the silence idea reminded me of a time when I experienced something very powerful. Several years ago, a colleague and I had been asked to dance one of our choreographies at a prayer meeting, but somehow our pre-event communications had gotten a bit scrambled which resulted in neither of us bringing the music CD for the piece. We decided we would go ahead and do it without the music which added a very remarkable dimension to the presentation.
    Since then, I have tried to remain sensitive to occasions where silence may be the best accompaniment for creative movement art.
    Silence is not always most profitably accompanied by stillness… although often they are great partners!
    Anybody else experienced something similar?

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  4. Last year I attended Greenbelt in the UK – 23000 people from all walks of life and all varieties of faith journeys, and yet, the single most persuavive thing I experienced was moments of quietude and silence. I attended my first Quaker meeting there and for a life-long Baptist the silence was confronting as it was deep and meaningful and worshipful. I kept gravitating to quiet and deep (for me) contemplative worship while there and regret that I still haven’t managed to get into the habit of a minute’s silence a day. Us evangelical have no idea of what to do with quiet. We just want to fill it.

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  5. Back in the 1990’s at a Catholic youth retreat centre owned by Palloti College for about 9 years a small group of us used to meet for an hour in prayer together every week on Fridays.
    This was a multi-traditional backgrounded group – 2 Catholics, a God’s Squad guy, a few Uniting Church workers, myself and various others.
    Sometimes we would just light up a candle and sit, and open up ouselves to whatever direction we believed the Holy Spirit wished to take us. Often someone would share a text, or a reflection, sometimes a prayer issue to mull over and pray about. But a lot of the talking was kept to a minimum, although there was freedom to pray vocally, sing a Psalm or share a song, or share a thought if we believed God was inspiring us to do so.
    There was an emphasis on waiting on the Lord, contemplative silence, meditation at times, enjoying God’s creation – the place we were in was some of the most beautiful mountainous terrain in this country of ours.
    At times we would just enjoy being with eachother, appreciating eachother, being the Church together, eating something generally home-baked together, sharing the bread and wine on occasions together.
    Friends would drop in like Christian musician Andy Sorrenson, a friend of Mick McIvor another musician who ran the retreat centre.
    There was an appreciation of `inscape’ – of who we are in Christ however diverse we are in `being’ the Body of Christ. There was communitas. These were times of just being who were and being mutually accepted as we came, a strong sense of humility and dignity, a sense of awe and enjoyment of just being there together with Christ, and in seeing Christ in each other in many different ways, of relaxing, of sharing visions and dreams, of appreciating the creative artwork (handiwork if you like) of God expressed through ourselves and through the other.
    When we did pray vocally, it was often for the people who make up Jesus’s wider Church, especially in terms of genuinely loving one another as in Jesus’s prayer that they might be one, even as He and the Father are one, and things to do with practically working in mission toegther. All of us were also proactively involved throughout the week in fostering dialogue and unity towards missional collaboration between the 18 or so churches in the Upper Yarra Valley, as well as just mouthing prayers about it.
    But one of the things I most liked about it was that the emphasis was not on functionalism as a Church – just seeing Church as a means to do, do, do etc. But more on `being’ the Church together and accepting the reality and richness of different people whom Christ brings together as “Church”. Spiritual maturity can be seen in people who are quite different from eachother, choosing intentionally to work relationally with each, growing to negotiate respectfully with eachother with a view toward moving ahead “in Christ” together as a healthy missional community.
    That takes being prepared to shut our religious mouths at times and deciding to intentionally wait together on that “still, sweet, silent voice of the Holy Spirit” which no doubt you’ve probably heard someone talk about before. We wait together to hear first from Christ’s voice, before jumping off and rousing on eachother from our only vocally expressed theological prejudices. We wait and hear from God, as well as to be silent and listen, to be aware using all our senses as necessary to `listen’ and to accept – to really see and hear the other. That often can occur effectively in times of intentional and prayerful contemplative silence together.
    At times in those one hour meetings it felt like sitting there with Jesus when he retreated into the mountains for what might well have often been mixtures of spoken and silent prayer and meditation. What a privilege it was to just be there. And to `be’ there “with” others in spiritual unity and communitas.

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