Sunday, September 6, 2009

Missing Silence

Over the years I have worked in a wide variety of churches, and I admit that I am a bundle of contradictions when it comes to worship. I love traditional Quaker worship (about as traditional as it gets!) and I love emergant worship aimed at those who can't deal with traditional. You see, I want it all! Anyone who knows me understands how important music is to me, and I love all types of worship music. I can understand what the psalmist meant when he wrote "make a joyful noise to the Lord" because to me they are all joyful noises! I love classic hymns like It Is Well With My Soul, Come Thou Fount, Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee and Amazing Grace. I love the gospel bluegrass style of When The Roll Is Called Up Yonder and I Saw the Light. I love great modern songs like Awesome God, Shout To the Lord, Thy Word and Where Justice Rolls Down. And I love to rock out with the newest praise and worship stuff from people like Chris Tomlin, David Crowder and Starfield. The opening chords to No One Like You from Crowder lights a fine in my soul. I loved leading music in church, at youth groups and at Quaker Lake. Music moves me and is an important part of my worship experience. Music helps provide the passion in worship.

I also love a good sermon. To be taught new insights into scripture, to be inspired, to be moved by the spoken word is an important part of the worship experience. Listening to Matthew Hartsfield on a Sunday morning or Tony Campolo anytime can really rattle my cage. I also love when pastors choose to communicate in different ways- through drama, video and other creative forms. I love leaving a service feeling inspired and challenged in my walk with Christ.

Marilyn, Will and I currently attend a church where they do the above things exceptionally well. Van Dyke Church has a variety of great music and pastors who deliver solid messages with style and creativity. But once again this morning I discovered the one thing they don't do well, the one thing very few churches do well anymore. They are missing silence.

Growing up at New Garden Friends Meeting (and continuing later at Springfield) we learned how to "do" silence. Each week there was a 15-25 minute period of "open worship" or "Communion after the manner of Friends" during which there was silence. It followed the message, and people would often stand and speak to what God was laying on their hearts about the sermon. But even if no one spoke, it was a much needed time of "being still" before God and listening for the still, small voice. This practice continued through my days at Quaker Lake, where on the Vespers Hill and at the Campfire Circle we would center our thoughts in periods of silence, meditation and prayer. We believed what George Fox, the original Quaker, had said in the 1650's- "There is one, even Christ Jesus, who can speak to my condition." So we listened for Him. Many of the great spiritual moments of my life took place in those periods of total silence.

Now, the silence has been replaced by background noise. This morning we had a time of silent meditation at Van Dyke, but the piano played the entire time. This is the norm at most churches that have "silence." One time at FUMC-Kissimmee, I had preached the Ash Wednesday service, and wanted a period of silent meditation to accompany the implementation of the ashes.  Our Associate Pastor, Rodney, emphasized that while he knew people were not really comfortable with silence, this would be total silence for a few moments. He finished by saying "so as the organ plays, settle into this time of silent meditation." Too funny.

Silence scares people in the church. It is too intimate. What if God is actually trying to speak to me? Do I really want to hear Him? When we open ourselves to the silence and actually listen for God's voice, we join the ranks of the many biblical heroes who listened- and seldom heard what they wanted to hear! So I have to find my times of quiet and solitude with God outside of Church these days. That is not all bad. But still, I feel sorry for those who don't know how amazing silence can be. And I wonder if God is being heard like He should be in our world today.

So give me a Tony Campolo sermon, a Chris Tomlin worship set and a slick video to challenge my mind and my spirit. But please, leave me some to "be still and know that He is God." I do miss the silence...

Because of Jesus,

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