October 21, 2017

Slow Church Week 3: The Contemplative Church

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Slow Church Week 3
The Contemplative Church

Wonder is the only adequate launching pad for exploring a spirituality of creation, keeping us open-eyed, expectant, alive to life that is always more than we can account for, that always exceeds our calculations, that is always beyond anything we can make.

– Eugene Peterson
Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places

* * *

The second course offered us in Slow Church: Cultivating Community in the Patient Way of Jesus is a hearty one that requires taking our time, chewing slowly, savoring each bite, considering the complex textures and tastes before us on our plates. Part two is about the ecology of Slow Church. Chris Smith and John Pattison here describe what they mean by that:

slow church bookGod who is triune — three distinct persons and yet a united whole — created many distinct forms, living and nonliving, that are united in an interconnected whole we call creation. . . .

. . . Not only is creation an interdependent whole, all of creation has already been reconciled in the death, burial, resurrection and ascension of Christ. Even now, God is at work orchestrating the fulfillment of this reconciliation. “In [Christ,]” the apostle Paul says, “all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible . . . all things have been created through him and for him. . . . And through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether in heaven or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of the cross” (Col. 1:16, 20).

. . . As the people of God we locate ourselves in the ecological story of God reconciling an interconnected creation.

– p. 101f

The chapters in this second section of Slow Church brought to my mind the ancient rule of the monastics, perhaps best known through St. Benedict’s Rule: ora et labora — prayer and labor. This part of the book encourages us to contemplate deep mysteries and important themes which dwell at the heart of God’s created and redeemed world and to act on them with faith, simplicity, and integrity, both as individuals and as communities.

  • They call us to ponder what shalom means, the wholeness God intends for all creation through the redeeming work of Christ.
  • They challenge us to embrace our daily work as vocation, the privilege of cooperating with God in his work of healing and repairing the world.
  • They invite us to participate in Sabbath, to enter God’s rest in Christ and practice the ethics of “abundance, self-restraint, and solidarity” (p. 141).

In other words, Smith and Pattison are calling congregations of Christ-followers to slow down in order that we may become a contemplative church, taking the time to listen to the Spirit and one another, taking the time to consider our lives and what we are creating with them, and taking the time to rest, while relishing God’s goodness, relinquishing control, and enjoying God’s gifts.

Needless to say, “contemplative” does not describe the character of many churches. Nor do the particular themes of this section make it to the top of a lot of churches’ mission and vision statements.

  • Our congregations often contribute to the fragmentation of life and human relationships rather than to promoting shalom.
  • Christians’ daily work is often downplayed as a necessary evil rather than as a means of God showing his love to the world in the “ordinary” contributions we make through the labor of our hands.
  • Sabbath rest has been pushed out by a cultural attitude that “prides itself on busyness, scorns leisure as laziness and boasts that we’ll sleep when we’re dead” (p. 141).

How might this contemplative spirit emphasizing shalom, vocation, and Sabbath work out in practice in a congregation?

First, it seems to me that shalom will only become a raison d’être in our congregations when we begin to practice hospitality to those in our communities who are different than we are, ecumenicity toward other Christian traditions, joining with them in mutual conversation and ministry, and when we steadfastly refuse to promote divisive ideas such as partisan political positions but encourage and facilitate ongoing interactions among people of different viewpoints with an emphasis on trying to seek the common good. If shalom is all about bringing a fragmented world back to wholeness, then how can we continue to withdraw and remain aloof from those with whom we disagree?

Second, we can only give more honor to our daily vocations if we stop emphasizing “church work” over “the work of the church” in the world. The Lutheran church I’ve attended, for example, has in past years devoted an entire month every year to honoring what people do in their daily work. It becomes part of the liturgy and teaching for four Sundays. We invite people from our community — teachers, firefighters, police, business owners, etc. — to come to our services that we might recognize their contributions and thank God for them. We pray for them and for everyone in his or her work and then we are sent out to be the “masks of God” in our world each day.

Third, the word “Sabbath” means “to cease,” “to stop.” There is no other way to experience Sabbath than to stop working. Period. Total time out. Congregations, pastors, please find the imagination to incorporate this in your church “program.” Give the gift of time and space to people to do nothing but rest and enjoy God’s gifts. No agenda. No mission. Relinquish pride and control — God will work without us for awhile. Reflect on radical grace — In reality, none of us has ever earned a thing; it has all been a gift.

The world is busy, distracted. Life is fast and focused on production. A world on the move, and where are we going?

Shouldn’t the church be offering something different?

* * *

Slow Church: Cultivating Community in the Patient Way of Jesus
C. Christopher Smith and John Pattison
IVP Books (May 6, 2014)

Previous posts:

Part One: The Convivial Church

Part Two: The Neighborhood Church

Comments

  1. Robert F says:

    ” God will work without us for awhile.”

    Instead of having to work against the mess we make almost all the time.

  2. Robert F says:

    I think contemplative church is a great idea. But I’m not sure many others in the pews would agree. When people steadfastly continue their chattering just before the service begins every week, despite the announcement on the front page of the bulletin in bold typeface wherein people are asked to observe prayerful silence in the moments before the liturgy starts, I have to believe it’s because they want to continue the incessant chatter in church that exists in the rest of their lives.

    • As a former pastor, I understand this. I remember a time when I tried to have people leave a Good Friday service in silence. You’d have thought I’d asked them to murder babies.

      Like any other change, this will require patience and long suffering.

      • Richard Hershberger says:

        Have you tried the traditional Maundy Thursday service? The liturgy doesn’t end, continuing through Good Friday to Holy Saturday. At my church the door to the sacristry is behind the alter and pulpit (the latter of which is a massive piece of architecture above and behind the altar–very uncharacteristic of a Lutheran church). The Maundy Thursday service ends with the stripping of the altar, and the clergy, assistant, acolytes, whatever simply walking out the back in silence. This is always a bit startling to the congregation, even though we do it every year. People just stand for a few minutes before gradually making their way out the back. The absence of closure is quite striking, which is of course the point.

        • Radagast says:

          .. a very special time of the year for me, especially if I get a chance to attend the tannebre (sp?) service on Good Friday evening (psalms, Gospel redings, candle’s being extinguished, ending with the tomb closing)….

          • I attended my first tannebre this year (previously worked nights, so I couldn’t attend). It was amazing. At the end, the pastor slammed the book – like a gunshot – and then the vestments were carried out in silence. It was very moving and contemplative.

      • Murder babies ; I’m crackin up over here.

      • Our church is pretty bad for chatter, but on Good Friday, we raise the bar. Everybody exits in silence, and it is heavy. We also incorporate the “heavy silence” into Ash Wednesday and the occasional Evening Prayer service. But I agree: to obtain a meditative silence before the regular weekly communion service will take intentional strategy and hard work. I’ve noticed that occasionally a very soft prelude can actually quiet people down. Louder fanfares most certainly do not.

        Here’s my idea/suggestion: Try it for Lent. Make a big announcement that for the next 6 worship services, we will gather with meditative silence, and come Easter you can go back to your joyfully noisy chatter. …and then make sure the musicians provide suitable mood music/preludes that are conducive to meditation. And put the announcement in the bulletin, the newsletter, at announcement time, on the video projection announcements loop, in the church weekly email, with regular faxes and text messages to all members.

        That just MIGHT do the trick!

    • I’ve been asked to play a little ‘instrumental’ to incite people to quieten down and engage contemplation before a service starts. They generally just talk louder.

      I did, just once, plonk both arms down hard on the keyboard. Stopped them dead, but probably not contemplating anything other than my mental health 🙂

      • Robert F says:

        The problem with using music to get people quiet and attentive is that people often don’t really seem to listen closely to music, either, so you were using something they often ignore to get them to attend to a silence they almost always ignore.

    • Pop Christianity, with its never-ending noise about its consumable god, has led us to believe that our words and notions about God are of supreme importance. It has made the church into a noisy orchestra without harmony and fearful of silence. But humble silence offers us a liberation from the noise and the opportunity to experience the wonder of God and his grace anew. Silence allows us the space to contemplate the vastness of the cosmos and the God beyond them. Silence can shatter the trivialized deity that has occupied our imaginations, and provide God the canvas to begin a new composition in our souls.

      Skye Jethani

      http://us2.campaign-archive1.com/?u=87188c8737bc50c1a2fb8e2c9&id=8fe65f2cf8&e=92aadaa3f3

  3. “I remember a time when I tried to have people leave a Good Friday service in silence. You’d have thought I’d asked them to murder babies.”

    God forbid we ask folks to be considerate of others and show any reverence.

    People. They (we) just want what they want.

  4. Patricia says:

    In my circles, contemplative is a close cousin of mysticism and this is highly suspect . . .

    I long for a return to reverence in the sanctuary. There was a time when people observed a respectful silence – how contemplative it was is anyone’s guess. Now if it’s not on the big screen, there is someone hawking an upcoming event/program or other service opportunity etc.

    I once heard Henri Nouwen talk about the importance of silence (as well as solitude) – these can be practiced almost anywhere (except the church house). Personally, I have found that when I am intentional about being still before the LORD, I come away from this time refreshed and blessed.

    • “In my circles, contemplative is a close cousin of mysticism and this is highly suspect . . . ”

      Indeed, and in most circles, including this one, which is ironic considering that this place calls itself a monastery. I do see progress her tho, slow but sure. Allied to this is the mistrust of the introvert temperament which excludes something like half the population as somehow malformed.

      • Robert F says:

        Very true.

        Too bad people don’t seem to recognize that there are different types of mysticism; some mysticism Christians should be wary of, just like some prayer in general, but other mysticism is nothing but the deepening and fruition of authentic Christian prayer.

        • What kinds of mysticism should we be wary of?

          • Robert F says:

            Esoteric mysticism; pantheistic mysticism; Hermetic mysticism; any mysticism that unfolds in a framework in which Jesus Christ is not the center.

            The experience that people have in mysticism is not monolithic across different religions. Like any other human experience, mystical experience is not only conditioned by our interpretations, but actually arises out of the ground and in the context of previously held beliefs, and language systems. The words that the mystic uses to describe her experience the morning after are in fact an inextricable part of that experience, otherwise the mystic would not only not be able to say anything at all about her experience (not even that words can’t express it adequately), but would not even have any memory of having had the experience, because memory is bound to words, to language, to expression.

            At the center of any Christian mysticism is always the name “Jesus Christ,” and both the actual experience and the expression of Christian mystical experience necessarily lead to a language flowing from, centering in, and returning to Jesus Christ.

          • Robert F says:

            I know it’s been fashionable to talk about how mysticism is a common, universal experience at the core of every great religion, so that the further in you go, the more similar religions are, but it just ain’t so. Mystical experience is either connected with some particular and specific form of expression, or its amnesia; and since it is connected to expression, it invariably and inevitably can not be strained out from expression into the generic. To the degree that it’s inexpressible, it is inexpressible in the same way that any human experience is, only at a higher pitch, and in this case what that means, as in the rest of human experience, is that the the one experiencing it lacks the means to express it in a way that is adequate to her total experience, not that there is nothing she can say about it that is faithful to the experience.

          • Robert F says:

            Wittgenstein famously said: Whereof one does not know, thereof one should not speak. He might also have said: Whereof one can not speak, thereof one does not know. Both statement are necessarily true of all human experience, including mysticism, always remembering that of no human experience is it necessary to express it exhaustively in order to express it truthfully.

          • Robert F says:

            And always remembering that mystics routinely use paradox and poetry and silence to express, not leave unexpressed, their mystical experience. When they say that they are unable express their experience adequately, they are expressing and communicating something true about their experience, something they remember about it, and therefore something that they have expressed to themselves about it. Silences are part of language, and part of expression.

          • Robert F, are you a fan of Susan Howatch? That Wittgenstein quote shows up in the opening scene of her novel Mystical Paths, which is, you might guess, about mysticism in the church (Anglican, at least).

          • Robert F says:

            Ted, although I’m not what you would necessarily call a fan of Howatch, I did read all the books of the Starbridge Series, including Mystical Paths, back in the mid-1990’s, just after being received into the Episcopal Church. They make good reads, although I think of them more as a variation of the mystery genre, in which Christian mysticism serves as the region in which a kind of religious who-dun-it unfolds, rather than as serious fictional explorations of Christian mysticism. Also, Howatch’s mystical musings always seemed to me to be crypto-Jungian, and I have a strong antipathy for anything redolent of Jung.

          • Robert, you went over my head with the crypto-Jungian part. You sound like a character in a Howatch novel. 🙂

          • Robert F says:

            Ted, in real life I usually sound much more like the unnamed main character and narrator in Dostoevsky’s Notes from Underground…

    • I definitely resonate with the lack of reverence bit. And it is absent everywhere in culture.

  5. David Cornwell says:

    The church I attend, regularly recognizes work, especially teachers, childcare workers, and healers of various sorts.

    Partisan political differences are difficult for me to deal with, but am trying. For many years I considered myself a political conservative. But that was before American conservatism became radicalized. Now, I suppose, consider myself to be a moderate progressive, but a pragmatic one. However political talk has become so polarizing, that often its better for a Christian to avoid it. Ideas can still be discussed if approached from other angles i.e. our love of neighbor and those in need, especially when particular and specific needs are addressed.

    Both political parties are beholden to the “principalities and powers.” Money and greed run throughout the entire system like a metastasized cancer.

    What really bothers me are churches that do almost open campaigning from the pulpit. This can happen in both liberal and conservative churches. This, to me, is to pimp out the gospel, diluting the good news down something that is not good and which can resemble propaganda.

    • I’m British but I have an American friend who’s moved here recently who used to work for the Democratic party and had a hard time in some Church circles because of this. I love America but I don’t understand this and it bothers me.

      • David Cornwell says:

        Paul, I don’t understand America anymore! The polarization is crazy and it seems no end in sight.

      • I do believe this happens in churches that rely on the law…to make us better.

        They do not understand (IMO) the gospel. And that the gospel has NOTHING to do with politics.

        And that liberals and conservatives can freely worship together in a church where there are NO political gospels.

        Thanks be to God that my pastor understands this.

        • David Cornwell says:

          the gospel has NOTHING to do with politics.

          Must respectively disagree Steve, We live in this very political world even as followers of Jesus. But I won’t argue beyond this point about it.

          • I think the gospel is a-political, and yet, Jesus has a calling on our life. As Wright famously said, “If Jesus is Lord, Caesar is not.” So while the gospel is apolitical, Christianity cannot help but be at least counter-cultural, that is to say, political.

      • Paul, the aversion to Democrats in many churches revolves around one word: abortion. The Democratic Party aims to preserve the current right to choose; the Republican Party (officially at least) is against that. David Cornwell is right, it’s very polarized, even to the point of calling the Democrats baby-killers. And many Christians ask themselves how anyone who supports the Democratic Party could truly be a Christian. So it’s not merely polarization, it’s demonization.

    • I have come to refer to my political pigeonhole as “Radical Centrism.”

      I am in the extreme middle.

      • That’s great.

        It’s also great for Christians to be on the far left…or the far right.

        But the preachers ought never let the gospel get mixed up with any of it.

        The only time my pastor brings politics into his sermon is to put a pox on all their houses, when it comes to the work of Christ for sinners.

        • Robert F says:

          Are there limits to this? Where would your pastor have stood when Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Confessing Church were condemning Hitler and the Nazis, and saying that any Christian in Germany who knowingly separated himself from the Confessing Church thereby separated himself from salvation?

          There is a sense in which their effort to free the churches from the control of the Nazi state, that is, from political control of a fascist party, forced them into a very political stance, but there were Christians in Germany, and not all of them of the Nazi-fied German Christian Church, who condemned Bonhoeffer and the Confessing Church for “politicizing the Gospel.”

          • Good point.

            Not sure if we ought ever say who is, and who is not a Christian.

            I mean, there were Christians in the Roman Legions. The Nazis of their day.

          • Robert F says:

            I’m not sure you answered my question, or understood the gist of what I was saying.

            Oh, never mind….

          • I tend to think of the Gospel as trans-political, in that it calls us to a political reality above and beyond that expressed in this world: namely, the eternal reign of Jesus Christ, of which all earthly kingdoms are a poor and pale imitation. Since I believe that the Kingdom of God comes through the Word and Sacraments and not by the sword, I generally oppose the church’s involvement in political action.

            In my opinion, the church has to draw the line in situations where love for neighbor requires the use of defensive force; a power that the church does not have. If the government is the aggressor and is harming civilians, the church should speak out against the government. This would apply to all cases of genocide as well as to cases like abortion (if you believe abortion to be the taking of a human life).

            The only other exception I can see is a case in which the church was being forced by the government to perform actions contrary to Scripture, in which case the church should protest the legislation and refuse to obey if it is enacted.

          • Robert F says:

            “The only other exception I can see is a case in which the church was being forced by the government to perform actions contrary to Scripture, in which case the church should protest the legislation and refuse to obey if it is enacted.”

            During WWII, Hitler pushed hard for all leaders of the churches to sign on to what essentially was a loyalty oath, pledging full support for Hitler as the rightful ruler of the German Volk. The German Christans, the religious sycophants of Hitler and Naziism, rejected the Old Testament, and anything in the New Testament that they deemed to be Jewish, excising huge swaths of Scripture as Jewish adulterations and corruptions of God’s revelation, re-casting Jesus as a blue eyed Aryan, etc., etc., etc. So, the criticisms of the Confessing Church started in very theological rather than political concerns, but precisely because they resisted the political appropriation of Christianity in Germany by the Nazis, their protest inevitably had a strong political dimension, marking off sacred boundaries beyond which they insisted the state had no right to go, no matter what the state had to say about it.

            Now I’ve really gone far afield from the subject of the post, though I did start with the idea about the divisive politicizing of the Church…Apologies….

  6. Radagast says:

    Silence is a gift… but it is also viewed differently depending where you are in life. It is probably almost impossible to get younger adults to sit still and adding silence to the mix can become tortuous for some. I absolutely love silence as I see little of it, and my most memorable retreat was a silent retreat. But this is a learned thing. I was introduced to silence through Eucharistic Adoration, sitting in front of the exposed Eucharist. I also find great solace in going into a church and just sitting in the presence of God.

    Reading some of the great mystic literature like the Cloud of Unknowing also helped to prepare me for Contemplation, the emptying of oneself in the Presence of God. But… this type of thought is really for the maturing Christian, the Christian who wants to go deeper in their faith. It’s harder for the masses who do not have a reference.

    One way maybe to prepare for this is silence during a portion of the service. High Liturgical churches are probably built better for this, otherwise the silence, instead of contemplative becomes nervous and awkward. I once attended a Lord’s Supper service at an LCMS… between the pastor explaining every little thing (apparently this was not done on a regular basis), to the allowing of congregants to go feed themselves during the service at the bake sale going on in what I would term the vestibule, all silence (and reverence for that matter) was lost.

    So in a nutshell, it may be something only a subset are ready for (or at least the one’s that want to take it seriously).

    • By far the worst thing about my church is the way the Communion queue is seen as another opportunity to chat with friends whilst the worship band plays in the background. No wonder most of you guys have left evangelicalism. :/

  7. The contemplative mindset practised by writers like Eugene Peterson has been like an oasis for me.

    My whole life within evangelicalism was either about being doctrinally right and arguing over propositions with very little heart and a lot of self-righteousness or about experiences and getting high on Jesus with next to no mind or scriptural content. And until this day those two mindsets persist.

    I am SO tired of it. It wearies my bones and my spirit

    I have managed a bit better balance within the Anglican stream, but sometime still pushing toward the mind too much.

    • David Cornwell says:

      “It wearies my bones and my spirit”

      Awfully good description. And so the need for Sabbath.

    • Danielle says:

      “My whole life within evangelicalism was either about being doctrinally right and arguing over propositions with very little heart and a lot of self-righteousness or about experiences and getting high on Jesus with next to no mind or scriptural content. And until this day those two mindsets persist.”

      It will continue to persist. These twin impulses are so strong in evangelicalism’s DNA, that it would take a lot of evolution for anything else to be heard over their combined clammor. The impulses are in many ways odd bedfellows, the first borrowing the intellectual gravitas of calvinism and the other the emotional intensity of pietism. But they are similar insofar as both want to demand one’s entire attention, continuously. One has to find space, and then ignore the constant pressure to be more serious. The result is that maintaining the ability to rest or be contemplate can itself become a effort! The first strain’s love of argument and precision almost has the ingredients needed to prize reflection and intellectual rigor (and it sometimes does), but the demand for ideological purity and to enlist ongoing “war” for the “worldview” against various enemies is always pushing against that goal. The pietistic strain speaks to the heart, but it is always demanding exertion and expression and confidence. It can be both strangely vacuous and utterly ruthless at the same time.

      “I am SO tired of it. It wearies my bones and my spirit.”

      It sure does.

      About million years ago in pop culture time (the mid-1990s), my youth group went to an event called “Catch the Wave.” That metaphor says it all: you can either keep your balance on top of raw force of the water, or you can go under.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        “Catch the Wave” — direct knockoff of an ad slogan of the Eighties.

        Did they have M-M-M-M-Max Headroom as emcee?

      • Danielle, very insightful analysis.

      • Danielle:
        Some good insight there!

        I find the contemplative stream a nice medium. God is real and acts, but we can and need to engage the mind.

        Thanks for your thoughts.

      • Jacob C says:

        That idea about contemplation being allowed only up to a point is telling. It is okay to contemplate a bit if in so doing you are able to refine some argument about the Bible (usually an argument about some very minor, technical detail). Usually the whole point of thought is to refine some point about how the Bible is “literally” true about some minor detail or other. So if your contemplation allows you to take some minor detail from the Bible, fashion this detail into a weapon and hit someone over the head with it, great! On the other hand, if your contemplation involves being quiet and thinking about what is depicted in a stained-glass window, or being in awe of some great music, that might be seen as bordering on idolatry. You should think only enough to make a new weapon, and immediately go out and attack the enemy, whoever that is. The idea of contemplation as its own goal or contemplation as worship might seem a little foreign.

  8. Rick Ro. says:

    The “Contemplative Church.” Hmm…I’m gonna have to mull on that for a while…

    • Cute.

      There’s a chapter in Thomas Merton’s book New Seeds of Contemplation written just for you! Maybe more than one chapter. 🙂

  9. Christiane says:

    I have seen fundamentalist evangelicals be very reserved about any kind of ‘contemplation’ but at the same time, they are enthralled by writers like JRR Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. I wonder if they realize that some very beautiful passages from those writers describe acts of contemplation and are not offensive to them?

    One that I especially recall is this reflection on good versus evil from Tolkien:
    ““There, peeping among the cloud-wrack above a dark tor high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was a light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach.”

    It is possible that without silent worship and contemplative examples, fundamentalists don’t have a frame of reference for contemplative worship or reflection . . . but they do have the Psalms. I have tried to recommend for them to read the Psalms of the morning at the beginning of their day, as an introductory form of quiet prayer and contemplation. It is important to them to be ‘biblical’ and to ‘stay in the Word’, so the Psalms are an appropriate source for their quiet moments.

    Strangely, there are folks who don’t slow down to think about the important things until they get knocked on their keesters (sp?) with grief or with health problems that overwhelm. So they don’t know the calming influence of contemplative worship in their lives to use as a resource when the storms hit. I find this very sad.

    • Radagast says:

      Christiane,

      There have been times when I have practiced the Liturgy of the Hours as part of my day, it seems the psalms would meet me where I stood at that moment so to speak. I would definitely leave grounded for the day no matter how crazy the day was going to be. Come to think of it, it might be time to do that again….

    • Danielle says:

      You are my hero for the day for sharing the quote from Tolkien. It is one of my favorites.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      Aside: The popularity of C.S. Lewis and Tolkien in Evangelicalism is in large part, I believe, to the fact that they both wrote almost entirely sexless literature. There is barely a hint of even a tryst in their writings; the characters are all sexually sober in the extreme. And what they wrote is also good – this is a truly rare combination.

      I used to find it mostly ironic that they loved Tolkien so much – having myself found him before I found Evangelicalism – in spite of his being an devote Catholic. When they despise Romans. Even the Lutherans [barely Evangelical] in the rural town of my youth muttered about the Catholics.

      Now in adulthood I find it most ironic that they admire him so much when his literature bears an almost pervasive grief, even the landscape is colored with sorrow. Hope is real – but thin and heard from afar – in Tolkien, doubly so in his most popular writings. Beauty is passing away in Tolkien’s world, as it slides into a long winter; not even heroic sacrificial victory will avoid the winter. Such a feeling expressed by a parishoner would be anathema in Evangelical circles; it would be interpreted as a weakness of faith.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        Christians always freak out if there’s anything remotely to do with sex. It’s like they can’t get past it.

        Long ago I concluded that Christians are just as sexually messed up as everyone else, they just show it differently. (“Thou Shalt Not” freakouts instead of “Yeah Yeah Yeah”.)

    • Reagan would have spelled it “keister.”

      • Christiane, there’s another description of evil in the Rings Trilogy that was memorable. Smeagol (Gollum) becomes angry at the morning light in his eyes, and he snarls at the sun and reaches his arm up to shake his fist at it. Although the sun is a created object, this act was the equivalent of blasphemy.

  10. I am going to take the opposite view here. I do understand where people are coming from but different strokes for different folks.

    Jesus is alive! On Sunday I want to celebrate that.

    Plus, there is the whole horizonal dimension of our Christian Faith. Going to “Church” is also about connecting with his church. Yes, I am the annoying guy you will find going around the sanctuary touching base with people before the service, finding out how their week had been, etc.

    Now, we do set aside a pre-service prayer room, and regularly enourage people to use it.

    I should also add that once the service has started, conversation is a no-no, and that includes standing in a communion line.

    Psalm 100
    A psalm. For giving grateful praise.

    1 Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.
    2 Worship the Lord with gladness;
    come before him with joyful songs.
    3 Know that the Lord is God.
    It is he who made us, and we are his[a];
    we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.

    4 Enter his gates with thanksgiving
    and his courts with praise;
    give thanks to him and praise his name.
    5 For the Lord is good and his love endures forever;
    his faithfulness continues through all generations.

    • I’m actually OK with that, Mike. The post really isn’t about silence and reverence in worship services as much as it is about churches being intentional about providing opportunities for contemplation and reflection, prayer and rest, so that we might think more deeply, experience a sense of wonder about what God has done in creation and redemption more fully, and free people to fully give themselves to their daily work knowing that they are doing God’s work for the life of the world. This can be applied in different ways in different congregations and at different times.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        …experience a sense of wonder about what God has done in creation and redemption more fully…

        “Sensawunda” is also the appeal of classic SF & Fantasy. (At least until the New Wave tried to turn SF into High Literature and in the process acquired most of High Lit’s bad habits.)

      • Thanks Mike,

        I think the comments were relevant, but somewhat tangentical to the post. Some people are looking for quiet reflection on Sunday, and it is a valid desire. I also recognize that I need to build more contemplative times into my own life.

    • Michael,
      Great point. Sorry my post fell on the heels of yours. Not intended as a counterpoint. To everything there is a time and a season and no contemplative worth their salt is going to be dour all the time. If he or she is they have completely missed the boat. Sing a new song…

    • Radagast says:

      OK Mike… so YOUR that guy…. actually sometimes I’m that guy too – just puts a little more human in the Mass/service.

  11. There is a very uneasy feeling attendant with silence. It’s like being in the dark. Obviously though, that’s the point. It is going into the cloud. All the mystics have gone into the silence where comfortable parameters break down. It is an invitation to see with new eyes and peer into mysteries unseen but it carries an inherent danger, for the weak minded or weak willed, to go off the rails, sometimes stepping into insanity. One must have the strength to find and hold on to one’s SELF (Christ in you the hope of glory) while simultaneously losing one’s self (lower case-ego/persona). Surgery goes on there and it can be quite traumatic. Look at the number of prisoners who quickly lose all psychological props, all semblance of sanity when placed in isolatiobn. In fact prolonged isolation is considered inhumane. Of course what we are discussing ian imposed silence but one that is entered into voluntarily and with purpose. Nonetheless, I’m guessing some who’ve travelled this path have become our most elaborate heretics, invariably coming up with ways to subtly avoid the cross, while others have become the seers, the intuitors, the true feminine aspect necessary for rounding and softening the hard edges of simple academic assent to a collection of scripts. They fill the gaps and add shading and richness, all undergirded by, in the words of Bruce Cockburn, “the silence at the heart of things; where all true meetings come to be.”

    • One of my favourite B.C. songs. One of the many profound ones he wrote around the time of his divorce. “Rose above the sky” for the uninformed.

  12. Radagast says:

    As said before – silence is not for everybody. But at times it is appropriate and can be very effective at crucial times, like after communion or after the Homily or Sermon, if the one delivering it moves from the pulpit and sits for a few moments to let things sink in.

  13. We are experimenting with a new program.

    We have an elder walk up and down with a large bamboo cane looking for parishioners that might be engaged in chit-chat.

  14. Living on Long Island, I semi-regularly pop into Manhattan, where there is a cathedral practically on every block. I rarely pass one without popping in. When inside one of those majestic spaces, the silence is thick, and caviler noise just seems so out of place.

    I understand that many churches do not have the kind of architecture budget to produce the “cathedral effect” which could encourage a more contemplative mindset among their worshipers. But I do not think it is just an effect of the architectures: Rather, the design of these buildings reveals a hidden reality. It pains me so to see so much church frenzy so dogmatically bent on silencing this reality. When we are in the presence of something holy, it is time to place our hand over our mouth. Perhaps the blame lies with the seeker sensitive movement, which sought to make God so friendly and accessible, or the “personal relationship with Jesus” philosophy which reduces the sum total of Christian orthodoxy to an imaginary buddy. But we must not lose the divine amidst the mundane of media blips and small talk. I just can’t help but think that what happens in worship is far to important to resemble any ordinary community group.

    Jesus promises us a peace beyond understanding. Would you ever know this from the tone of our gatherings?