“Those who love their own noise are impatient of everything else. They constantly defile the silence of the forests and the mountains and the sea. They bore through silent nature in every direction with their machines, for fear that the calm world might accuse them of their own emptiness.” Thomas Merton
We live in a noisy world, don’t we? Noise is like the air we breathe. It is always there, like a constant buzz. It is white noise. Soon the chatter and disruption becomes almost soothing. We don’t even realize how overstimulated our minds have become.
Until we are quiet, even for a moment. And in the pause the silence overwhelms us. We fidget. We want it to stop.
My friend, Chris, who is also our worship leader, often pauses at the end of the final song on Sunday mornings. He waits. He listens. The whole church goes silent.
And you can slowly feel the stress level rise. “What are we supposed to be doing?” “Why the pause?” Sometimes people will even shout out a praise or prayer. Nothing wrong with that…but I wonder if it is sometimes just to break the awkward silence. To bring relief by filling the ominous void of dead space.
But the space isn’t dead. This is where we hear the still, small voice. And if we lean in to the silence, if we persevere through our discomfort, there are all kinds of gifts and invitations that quiet brings.
Noise allows us to divert our attention away from emotions and anxieties that are begging to be felt and heard. When we tune them out, they don’t disappear or even fade away. They lurk. They find residence within us. And they do their best to steal our attention. They present themselves as fear, or anger, or impatience. They cause stress and keep us from being present.
When we enter into silence, we are invited to listen to our hearts. We become aware of all the noise, the disruptions, the worries. And one by one, we hold them before God. We show him ourselves. It is painfully vulnerable, but vulnerability miraculously destroys shame. It allows us to be seen. To be loved.
My favorite part of Lent has become our evening services. Chris and I get to work with John Schreiner on the structure and content. John is an orchestrator. He curates a service. They are beautiful, deep, thoughtful, and quiet. The pace slows. His piano playing is so rich. There is room in the service to listen and hear. It is sacred space.
Every week, I find myself wrestling with some logistical or technical issue immediately before the service starts. I’m sweating a bit. I’m frustrated. But it always comes together just before we start. As I take the microphone and begin, I feel the pace of my heart beating too fast. As I prepare us for a time of contemplation, I am painfully aware of just how badly I need it myself.
These services have been wonderful times of refreshment for me. It usually takes several readings or songs before I feel God’s presence. But when I do…everything in me breathes a sigh of relief. That comforting presence carries with it the assurance that all shall be well.
This last Sunday, our final Lent service for the year, was probably my favorite. As we finished communion, I went up on stage. I paused. And then I closed with a blessing. And no one moved. Seriously. Everyone just sat there.
I had a brief moment of panic. Maybe I wasn’t clear. “You are dismissed.” Still no one moved. And it finally dawned on me…no one wants to leave. When God’s presence falls like that, it is so moving. I could see tears in many people’s eyes. I could see the calm on each face. God is here.
I love that statement of Jacob… “Surely God was here and I knew it not.” Which is why we must pause. Otherwise we miss it.It is why we need moments where all the sound and words have ceased. Where we listen. Where our hearts are seen. By us and by God. I’ve treasured these times where I’ve experienced the quiet presence of God in my Lenten journey this year. To be in that presence is such a wonderful gift.
“In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength.” (Isaiah 30:15)