October 22, 2017

Come to the Quiet

Yet in our busy, noisy, overstimulating mission field of the world, it is one of the church’s high callings to give the gift of silence, of greater spaciousness to make room for contemplative encounters with the means of grace, so that the Spirit may most freely do the works of salvation to form us in faith.

– Jonathan Linman, Holy Conversation

* * *

The world and our lives are noisy and overstimulating — yes, that is clear. We know this. We feel this.

What gift does the church have to give to such a world, to such lives?

It seems that, for many churches, the gifts they think they must offer entail more noise, more stimulation, more activity, perhaps even more stress.

Why do we do this?

Are there truly sound reasons for imagining that the best ways of introducing people to Jesus must involve competing with our culture’s busyness, frenetic pace, pumped-up volume, and manic multitasking?

What, instead, if our invitation was, “Come to the quiet”?

I remember a lesson a wise coach once taught me about getting the attention of a group of noisy, rambunctious kids. One’s natural instinct is to raise your voice higher and higher, to try to outdo them in volume, to yell and scream and demand that they shut up and listen. Instead, this man learned that a whisper usually did the trick better. He would make a motion to let his players know he had something to say, and then he would start addressing them in a low, calm voice. One by one, they would quiet down and shush each other so that they could hear what he was trying to tell them.

What if we did that instead?

What if the Lord is not in the earthquake, wind, or fire? What if: “After the fire, there was a sound. Thin. Quiet.” (1Kings 19:12, CEB)? What if moments of stillness are the settings that indicate God is present, ready to to converse with us?

Jesus bids us follow him, walk with him. At a walking pace. With a Friend. Having conversation. Aware of our surroundings. Attentive. Quiet. Personal. Peaceful.

What if our invitation to the world was the same?

“Come, walk with us as we walk with Jesus.”

“Come, sit with us at his feet as we listen and learn and contemplate his words.”

Come, join us at the table for simple food and friendly conversation, for laughter and the pleasure of good company; unrushed, unforced.”

“Come into the sanctuary and spend time alone with God any time you like. Breathe. Light a candle. Watch the light dance and play as it shines through the stained glass. Smell the wood and fabric, saturated with incense. Imagine the saints and angels watching over you. Open a Bible, a hymnal, a prayer book. Listen. Listen. Speak if you must, but try to listen.”

“Come, slow down with us.”

“Come, let’s find the path of peace together.”

“Come, let us learn to do whatever work God calls us to do from hearts that are quiet, from spirits at rest in Jesus.”

“Come to the quiet.”

Imagine. What if…?

Shh.

 

Comments

  1. David Cornwell says:

    Thank you for writing this. The words themselves are so very calming. Here again are reflected the upside down values which have within them the power of the Kingdom. I’m not sure why we are so bent on using the same methods employed by the worlds of capitalism and entertainment to reform and grow the Church.

    I could say a lot more, but it’s bedtime and I have a busy day Monday, especially in the morning. I look forward to reading the discussion this piece invites.

    Thanks Chaplain Mike.

  2. Great post Chaplain Mike, once I was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia I literally could not physically tolerate all the stimulation at my “mega” church. TOO MUCH, TOO MANY people, lights, music, activity, noise etc. Once I was away for some time I was able to look at it more objectively and wondered if we were crazy. Why on earth did we worship that way? The louder the better. And when I finally got into a liturgical church the soothing atmosphere of the sanctuary just embraced me and I basked in the peace. And much to my surprise I found that, over time, each item in the silent sanctuary began to “tell me” the story of Jesus. At first I had a very hard time with the slow, graceful movements of the pastor as he led us in worship. Hurry, hurry, hurry still mocked me. Now I actually look forward to every aspect of being in the service and absorbing the peace. And worship of God just seems to happen so naturally and so genuinely. I have a plaque in my kitchen that says, “Let us be silent that we may hear the whisper of God.” Thank you so much for this post.

  3. Matt Purdum says:

    Recently attended a “peace circle” at an “open” community nearby, we were asked to “pray or meditate silently for 20 minutes.” If we were asked to do this at the last PCUSA I attended (or the Calvary chapel before that, or the SBA church before that) people would get up and walk out. People are paying good money to be entertained and they just aren’t going to tolerate dead air.

    • I resonate with this. As a pastor who used to work in radio, I did all I could to eliminate the dead-air in our gathered worship. I even used the term as it had great connection with me. I think too many of us (and I am now part of Calvary Chapel myself) think that dead-air = dead. Too bad for us. We do not need only quiet, but my sense is we need more quiet as a culture that is other and centered on the King.

      • “Come, slow down with us.” When I began to attend liturgical worship, I first discovered the joy of kairotic time to overcome the prison of filling the clock with white noise and all-too-often, meaningless activity. Robert Banks’ The Tyranny of Time speaks directly to the spiritual poverty in our inability to stand still; valuing speed over substance in a hyper-busy Christianity we hope makes God happy. I love that book and in it, he quotes Kosuke Koyama, “God walks slowly because he is love. Love has its speed…and it is a different speed from the technological speed to which we are accustomed

  4. Josh S Blake says:

    I need this. Quiet is so hard for me. I used to walk in the woods and watch and listen, but these days it’s a laptop, tablet, phone, TV…My work requires much of this, but I have not learned to turn it off and listen.

  5. That Other Jean says:

    Yes! Thank you.

  6. Amen, Chaplain Mike. I just came back from a couple of retreat days at a monastery where silence before the Lord is a way of life… it is truly amazing how clearly the Lord speaks to us when we quiet ourselves and seek Him far from the earthquake, fire, and wind.

  7. I think there is a lot to this. Jesus used to get away and pray.

    But He always came back, to go where the work was needed…amongst the people.

  8. A pastor friend spoke about the amazing difficulty of attempting to quiet one’s mind in a silent time to focus on God. I have experimented this and what is amazing? The random thoughts that trample even in the quiet. No wonder we need to guard our hearts and keep on disciplining my mind so that the transformation may have the fertile ground to grow. Try it sometime and be surprized by the “mind noise” beyond the external. Thank you for this today . . . a treasure to find.

  9. So true. This is one reason why I am continually drawn back into the Catholic church over the course of my life-the quiet reverence scented with the sacred rather than the distraction of constant clamor so prevalent in today’s pep rally churches. Contemplation is a beautiful form of worship and respect where He matters more than the ‘me’s’ that swirl around in my head.

    This post is lovely. Thanks.

  10. I saw the title of this post and removed my iPod just to read what it was. In quiet. I, compared to my life lived in the past, and others around me, live a quiet life. It seems that on my worst days I feel awfully insecure about that fact. A noiser life is a life more educated? A stressed life is a life more prosperous? I do not know! But I am learning, LEARNING (not having arrived) that it IS in the quiet days of this routine, mundane, behind the scenes life I lead, I find Him and His peace. Otherwise I’m just too danged busy to listen to Him, full of my own agenda and the world around me. Even if that busyness is empty busyness, leading all to futility.

  11. Thanks Chaplain Mike,
    Why do we do this? I suspect the disturbing answer is that even in the church we’re afraid to listen.

    • Wow Craig. You ‘ve really got my attention with that thought. Do you think that is why Jesus said, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”?

      • Good question. It at least shows that listening was a problem in Jesus’ time even among God’s people. I don’t know if the ancients were as tempted as we might be to use noise. Perhaps Martha is one of the first to use multi-tasking in order to keep from sitting at our Lord’s feet.

  12. Great post. The website Full Homely Divinity ( http://fullhomelydivinity.org/ ) says that some old English churches have this engraved on their doorways…

    “Enter this door
    As if the floor
    Within were gold,
    And every wall
    of jewels all
    of wealth untold;
    As if a choir
    in robes of fire
    were singing here;
    Nor shout, nor rush,
    But hush….
    For God is here.”

    Isn’t it something how churches try so hard to capture the attention of the world by using worldly means? What if we offered something completely counter-cultural…A quiet place? A place of peace?

    I highly recommend Nouwen’s “Way of the Heart”. He explores silence, solitude, and prayer, framing them from the perspective of Desert Fathers, and gives the reader practical application for today.

  13. I see the same problem in my classes. The students literally can not deal with quiet. At some point someone has to make a noise of some sort.

  14. The quiet is why I like to go to National Parks or forests and get away from civilization. I feel like I get in touch with my soul when there is no sound except an occasional bird.

    • I think this is also why people golf. Except the competitive drive and desire to perfect a skill and be useful is too strong so instead of just walking around in the woods, a silly game was tacked on to it.

  15. Thank you for this post…it needs to go viral….to our churches. It’s just nice to know someone else is saying this besides me.

    When I even mention this subject to fellow believers—wow, get pounded on. Oh well, I’m enjoying my silence.

    Ditto to Adrienne, I have had that quote hanging in my den for years: “Let us be silent that we may hear the whisper of God” Ralph Waldo Emerson