Thursday, June 23, 2011

is there a place for silence in our worship?

On Sunday in the midst of our sung worship we had a wonderful time of silence. These times don’t occur very often but when they do they are moments to cherish. I don’t mean the silence that occurs when a change over is happening or at the end of the meeting. Nor do I mean a time of quiet meditation while the musicians play. This was a time when we just paused in total silence for several minutes just contemplating God. To my mind it was perhaps what the psalmist was meaning when he wrote ‘Be still and know that I am God’.

I might be wrong but I got the impression that this wasn’t planned. We sung with great fervour for a time and then we stopped and went into this time of contemplation. It was great to be silent not rushing onto the next song or contribution. It wasn’t awkward or embarrassing. Certainly I wasn’t wondering about the next thing we were going to do and why it wasn’t happening. I was just caught up with God and longed for that time to continue.

It doesn’t have to be spontaneous to be great. I believe there can be a place for announcing a time of silence when something has been said that would be good to spend some time meditating on. We could even schedule in such a time beforehand. I love these times too. I just wish they were longer and more often. But I can appreciate the feeling that people will lose concentration or think that the next person wasn’t prepared to do what they needed to soon enough. So I can see why after a short time we can feel the need to move on to the next thing.

Times of silence like this are nothing new. We have had them on occasions before. I remember them becoming very frequent for a time in one church I was in many years ago. I have longed for those times to return.

In his book Celebration of Discipline, Richard Foster mentions the discipline of silence. He sees it as important that we spend time alone with God in silence just listening.

Also it has been appreciated in our homegroup when we have had a time of silent reflection and jotted down our thoughts on something before launching into a discussion.

The Big Silence
Last year, I was inspired by The Big Silence on the BBC where people spent days in a monastic retreat in silence. Some of them actually did appear to experience something deeply spiritual. Not long after my little daughter Callie wanted to spend a day in silence. Even though she only managed a couple of hours she enjoyed the challenge.

Silent mediation has always existed in Christian traditions. Protestants have tended to lose this emphasis. Evangelicals and Charismatics have journeyed even further away from this. We forget how little time we allow for reflection. But perhaps silence is returning in a new way.

So let us be open to these moments in our worship, both in our own private devotions and with others. Let us not be embarrassed to pause and not say or do anything except to contemplate God and listen to his voice. Yes, I believe there is an important place for silence in our worship. I trust that we will cherish these moments.

See also: Celebration of Discipline

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