It’s comical how often I utter this phrase in my public school elementary music classroom. Silence is something with which we’re just not comfortable as a society. I think it’s a problem of failing to engage with the present; with our current reality. It is at this point that our problem with silence meets with a similar problem of stillness. We live sedentary lifestyles, but cannot be still. We have little meaningful conversation, but cannot be silent. Most of the things children in our society find to engage themselves with is mindless drivel and repetition created to merely fill the space. I confess I remember well the times during my childhood where I could waste away hours upon hours with computer sports games (baseball, of course, was the chief culprit). After the sorts of activities lose their novelty and become rote and repetitive, our senses lose their place in time.
As adults, we have similar problems (although I’m sure there are some among us for whom video games are the chief culprit). We fidget and flail and don’t get anything productive done. Our minds never stray from all the items on our “to-do” lists. The discipline of silence becomes quite essential at this point if we are to be fully engaged people. We need to be able to fully engage in our present moment if we are to have a genuine encounter with the Creator.
Because churches so frequently seek to provide entertainment – pure sensory stimulation – the discipline of silence in corporate worship is a lost art among members of the Body. In fact, sound amplification is continually increased to make up for the dulling of our senses and our need to turn up the assault. It seems appropriate that, since true corporate worship encompasses the entire range of human existence, it is imperative that our services feature the “loudest” of louds and the “softest” of softs. Silence offers congregants the opportunity to place themselves squarely in the middle of the present moment and prepare to meet the King. We must be willing to sacrifice the space in a jam packed order of worship. Neither “contemporary” nor “traditional” corporate settings are without fault in this matter, though contemporary setting presents its own special problems that easily conflict with the presence disciplined, prayerful silence (which, perhaps, I will discuss at a later time).
I appreciate the comments of A. Daniel Frankforter in his book, Stones For Bread: A Critique of Contemporary Worship (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2001), regarding the unfortunate lack of silence in our contemporary Christian situation:
Clergy are reluctant to let silence blossom within their service plans for fear that
their congregations will become bored. When worship is conceived primarily as a
clerical performance and, therefore, an entertainment, silences seem out of place. They
have limited uses in entertainment. Silence interrupts a show’s flow and makes its
audience nervous. It suggests that a performer’s concentration has lapsed or that his
timing is off. On the other hand, when worship is truly a communal activity, silence
feels comfortable. It functions as a sacrament (pg 170).
May we all know the grace of God that can be known through palate-cleansing, prayerful silence.