|The Presence in the Midst|
FYI- very few Quakers still dress this way :)
This morning at 9:30 Marilyn, our friend Lisa and I (Will is sick ) plan to worship at our home church along with nearly 1000 others. There will be loud music from a killer band, exciting use of giant video screens and a video wall, and a sermon that comes with the usual promise from our pastor of "the most important one I've ever given." And it will be excellent- they most always are. There will be excitement, energy and plenty of noise as we worship God together. I look forward to being there.
Last Sunday morning I was in NC where a group of us visited a small Quaker Meeting pastored by an old friend. Even with the 5 of us there were less than 40 in attendance. There was no praise team, just a choir and a piano. There were no video screens or any other technology besides one microphone. There was no hoopla, no hyperbole and no frills whatsoever. At the appointed hour, worship began. And it began in silence. I was so excited.
Silence is as scary thing in the modern church and in modern culture. Long "pauses" without noise make people uncomfortable. I remember once at the UMC I served in Kissimmee, FL an Associate Pastor going on and on about how we were going to have brief period of absolute silence to quiet our hearts and clear our minds. He repeated this over and over as he instructed us until finishing with these words: "And now, as the organ plays, we will pause for a moment of complete silence." We just don't do silence very well anymore. In worship last Sunday, there were periods of silence in between each of the elements of the service. I laughed to myself thinking that in most churches today people would have been sitting in their pews wondering, "Who messed up? What should be happening now?" There are fewer and fewer Quakers who have an appreciation for silence. Where silence is still a part of worship, it is often tolerated rather than embraced. People no longer understand the power of the quiet moment. But there is great power if you truly grasp the WHY of silence in worship.
Silence in worship is not about being quiet, it's about expectantly waiting. We allow the presence of God to fill the room in a very real way when we wait on it. We allow the Holy Spirit space to move in us when we center our hearts and minds on the things of God rather than the troubles of the day. We take the time to allow the scriptures, the message, the music and the Holy Spirit within us to speak into our hearts- and sometimes give us a message to share. A vibrant Friends Meeting that uses periods of silence in worship rarely has "silent worship." Last Sunday was no exception. People wait expectantly, and often numerous members of the congregation will rise and speak messages of faith, hope and love. So many times in the days of my youth those messages were much deeper and much more important than anything the pastor had to say. And I can tell you first hand of finding myself on my feet and speaking during periods of open worship with no real memory of standing up. When the Spirit says move, you move. And then you settle back into waiting. Because God always more for us if we take the time to wait on it.
I love worshipping at my church. The music, the technology and the high levels of excitement often move me and let us all express our praises to God and our love for Jesus. But we miss so much when we are afraid of silence. There is an intimacy in those moments that cannot be replicated by any other element in worship. I have my silent times by myself during the week and they are wonderful. But in my experience there is very little that equals the power of the gathered body of Christ waiting expectantly to feel the presence in our midst. It is my prayer today that the modern church would rediscover the power of silence in worship. Even if we have to do it "as the guitar plays..." Be still and know.
Because of Jesus,