02 May 2008

Silence is golden

I've now visited two different Anglican churches and two different Catholic churches and there's something strikingly different about the atmosphere before the service compared to the atmosphere before the evangelical churches I've been part of.

Walk into your typical evangelical church (especially if its of the more contemporary variety) and this is the norm: People are mingling and walking around waving to people across the room. There's people chatting and catching up with friends. The pastor is likely milling around near the front greeting people or answering a few questions. The praise band might be making some last minute sound checks or getting instruments ready. The details might vary, but the common denominator is a buzz. Chatter. Hubbub. Noise.

Walk into an Anglican or Catholic church and the first thing you notice is the silence. Not just less noisy. I mean, really quiet. And it doesn't matter whether it's a small or large congregation. Just quietness with people kneeling to pray or sit silently and prepare their hearts for worship. Sure, people are greeting each other, hugging necks and shaking hands...outside the building on the church steps or in the courtyard. Once you step into the lobby and walk through the doors to the nave, there's a hush that comes over everyone and they silently take their seats.

Think about this: how many times do you have an opportunity outside of crawling into bed to go to sleep where you're alert and in a conducive setting to just have glorious silence?

Now, I realize that church functions as a place of fellowship with fellow believers. We're called to live this life with God in community with others. So I don't wish to deny the importance of connecting with other Christians at church. But I do have to ask: what is the primary reason we go to church on Sundays? Or better yet, what should be the primary reason?

As important as fellowship and connecting with fellow Christians is, it doesn't hold a candle to the most important reason: to worship God and give him the honor that's He's due. And part of offering proper worship involves taking time to focus on Him and not the hundreds of other things from our everyday life that clamor for our attention. It's examining oneself and considering how the life we lived over the last week lines up with how we know He's calling us to be. It's pondering the blessings and provision that He's given us and cultivating gratitude for it all.

I don't know about you, but I find it terribly hard to concentrate and to do that with at least three conversations on the football game yesterday or the funny thing the kids did this week or the rundown of where she got that new purse and those earrings going on within 5 feet of me.

And I've actually tried. I haven't gotten into this lately because I don't want to be perceived as whining, but we're attending the Methodist church for a while as the new senior pastor is reportedly going to be instituting some changes and bringing in more traditional elements over the next few months and my wife really wanted me to give it a chance. One time I went in to the auditorium before my wife to get us seats because she wanted to stop by the restroom. I knew I had a couple of minutes and decided to pray and prepare my heart for worship. I was concentrating so hard if I believed in ESP I might have moved furniture. But with someone talking on a cell phone on one side and two women laughing and catching up on the other, it was really hard. Another time I went to the "traditional" service alone because the rest of the family was getting over a cold. While there was no cell phone silliness, there was still the milling about and talking that made quiet reflection all but impossible.

Why are we evangelicals so averse to silence? If it's not the big handshake and hug-a-thon at your local Baptist or Methodist church, it's the filling of every quiet moment with music or worst of all, the tendency of my old Pentecostal days to assume that if things fell silent that it was a cue for someone to blurt out a "message" in tongues or a "word from the Lord." It's as if we're scared to death of it getting quiet. We equate quietness with awkwardness or lack of activity. But the truth is, in quietness and stillness often comes some of the most powerful and enriching encounters with the Father. We assume He's going to speak in the rushing wind or some other bombastic, obvious manner and instead He's whispering in a voice that can only be heard when we're quiet and listening.

And surrounding ourselves with constant chatter and background noise isn't helping us hear Him.


Karen said...

Yup, that is something I really noticed and love! It is just so peaceful to go into a Catholic Church and be able to kneel and pray in the quiet.

It was funny, about the time I was just starting to visit the Catholic Church and thinking about it, at my Methodist church there was a sermon series about honoring the Sabbath. We had some "quiet" time in church, bu it was never really quiet, they always had some kind of background music. It always has struck me as strange that even then it wasn't really "being still."

Ragamuffin said...

I don't even mind some VERY soft music playing just so you don't hear every creak and shuffle from the congregation. That's what the Methodist church I grew up in would do at the evening service. They'd open the altar rail for people to come down and pray silently, dim the lights and have the organ very softly playing in the background. It's a great memory I have of that church.

The main thing is that it's peaceful and conducive to prayer and meditation and resting in God's presence. You get virtually none of that in modern evangelical services.