Weekly Worship Thought – Slow Down

I’m finding myself in the middle of one of the busiest seasons of my year. Probably even the last decade. I knew this time was approaching, as all of these events were on my calendar for months in advance. Sometimes the deluge of stuff arriving at the same time sneaks up on you.

I am preparing for our fifth annual TUNE UP worship gathering this Saturday. Around 75 church musicians are coming together for training and networking. I am also preparing video content and workshops for the ELCA Rostered Ministers Gathering that starts next week. And I’m in the middle of an online Greek course at Wartburg. And I’m trying to work ahead at church so I’m not too far behind when I get back late next week.

It is hard to sustain focus with so many things needing attention. It feels like there are lots of little fires burning – and it is hard to remember which ones I need to fan and which ones I need to put out. The most helpful thing for me in a time like this is lists. I have a weekly task list for church that helps me prepare everything needed for a Sunday morning. And I have a punch list for the TUNE UP gathering that I rolled over from the previous year to help me remember all the details that lead to a solid event.

In the midst of working ahead at church I peeked at the first reading for next Sunday (tenth Sunday after Pentecost). It is the story of Elijah seeing God on the mountain. Not the wind. Not the earthquake. Not the fire. It was the silence. God was made known to Elijah in the silence. Not the power and the activity, but the stillness. That is a hopeful story for me this week.

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Weekly Worship Thought – Silence

mv5bmjy3otk0nja2nv5bml5banbnxkftztgwntg3mjc2mdi-_v1_sy1000_cr006401000_al_I saw the film “Silence” last week. The new Martin Scorsese movie is getting a lot of buzz in the religious world. It raises many spiritual elements in a thought-provoking way: faith, doubt, iconography, apostasy, evangelism, and suffering to name a few.

I read the novel by Shusaku Endo (on which the movie is based) about five years ago. One of the most intriguing characters in the novel/movie is Kichijiro. He is the guide that the priests take back to Japan to show them the way. He ends up being the Judas-type character of the story. But the more I think about it, Kichijiro is like the church. As much as we whole-heartedly repent and turn to seek God, we just as earnestly jump back into our old ways. I’m reminded of the line from Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing: “Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, prone to leave the God I love…”

This film has stuck with me. Most movies I see don’t leave much of an impact, but I find myself still reflecting on this one. I recommend it if you get the chance. This is not a popcorn and soda type of movie though. It is sobering and very artistically done.

Silence is Golden

silenceTalking during a movie is rude.

I didn’t pay $10 to hear your story, or your snarky commentary, or your question because you can’t follow the plot. (This rant has now concluded.) That’s why I love watching movies at Alamo Drafthouse. They are zealous in their persecution of movie talkers. They have rules about talking. Rules that they actually back up:

“We have a zero-tolerance policy towards talking and texting during the movie. If you talk or text, you will receive one warning. If it happens again, you will be kicked out without a refund.” (www.drafthouse.com/about)

Silence during a movie is right. What about silence elsewhere? Why is silence sometimes uncomfortable? Why do we feel awkward when a silent lapse occurs during a conversation? Why do we feel the need to fill our daily lives and routines with noise? At the grocery store – earbuds inserted. At the gym – earbuds inserted. At work – earbuds inserted. What is the importance of silence?

We discussed this very subject in a recent Learning Group using the book Worship Matters (Augsburg Fortress 2012): “Consider this page. Without the white space on this page, the black letters and the words they form would not be comprehensible. Similarly, consider music. The rests allow the musical notes to be heard. We believe this to be a foundational reality with God as well. God speaks a word out of silence, and the world is created. Silence is a powerful and important response in moments of awe. Here we are invited to imagine silence as a response to God that is even more profound than our words or songs of prayer and praise.” (p. 62)

I’m reminded of the worship practices of our brothers and sisters in the Quaker/Friends Church. Their worship begins in silence, making room for the Holy Spirit to enter and move. They approach worship with neither a determination to speak nor a determination to remain silent. Patience, rest, and preparation are central in their worship gatherings. I’m also reminded of the way in which Elijah encountered God in 1 Kings 19:

He said, “Go out and stand on the mountain before the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by.” Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him that said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (1 Kings 19:11-13)

Why is it that when we encounter silence during worship, we automatically assume that someone has missed their cue? We get panicky and our palms begin to sweat. If no one is speaking, or singing, or praying during worship, something has obviously gone wrong! Perhaps there is Someone speaking during the silences of worship. If only we had ears to hear it.

Ways to Hear the Word of God in Worship – Silence

Silence has long occupied an important role in both individual and corporate worship. Its presence implies the fulfillment of a biblical admonition: “The Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him” (Hab 2:20). In some current worship practices, however, silence has become all but lost. Many churches whose worship is strongly influenced by revivalist traditions have dispensed with silence as “too liturgical.” Other contemporary
churches from a wide variety of denominational traditions, whose weekly worship practices have been shaped by either the demands of radio and television production or the influence of the television medium, have abandoned silence as a component of corporate worship from the mistaken assumption that it creates “dead time”—either in the broadcast/telecast of the service or in the flow of worship elements. To the contrary, appropriate moments of silence contribute to the rhythm of revelation and response in worship by providing “waiting space” for the revelatory work of God’s Spirit.

Furr, Garry, and Milburn Price. The Dialogue of Worship. Macon, GA: Smyth & Helwys Publishing, 1998, p. 12.