Tag Archives: holy silence

Holy Silence and Candy Crush

One of my New Year’s Not-Exactly-Resolutions this year was to work on building quiet into my daily schedule.  Focused quiet, where I’m meditating on a Scripture or inspiring thought, maybe praying, maybe listening, maybe all of the above, but definitely being quiet.  I still think that’s important, but I have a feeling I should expand my original goal a little.

As I write, my daughter is upstairs in her room writing another chapter of her modern twist on a fairy tale.  (The last time I checked in, the princess was rescuing the prince and wasn’t sure if she actually wanted to go out with him at all.)  My son is lying on the couch icing his knee from an injury he got at Boy Scouts this morning, and reading J. R. R. Tolkien’s “The Two Towers.”  I’ve been drinking a cup of tea and enjoying a rare non-working Saturday afternoon at home.  I’ve been alternately catching up on a favorite blog and playing Candy Crush, which isn’t your standard Bible study fare.

It’s not thought-provoking Biblical exegesis or anything like it.  The blog I’m reading makes me laugh and think, but it’s not like I’m plowing through Spurgeon’s sermons or a commentary on the Petrine epistles.  I’m not praying (other than a quick word sent upward if something pops up in my news feed that I think God should have a little friendly reminder about).  I’m not searching my soul, but I really could use another one of those striped/wrapped candy combos, because this level is kicking my butt.

Is this what the Friends tradition would generally consider “holy silence”, that quiet stillness that centers on listening for the voice of God?  Nope.  Do I need it?  Heck yeah.

I can’t even remember the last non-midnight time that both children were quiet, I wasn’t answering work emails, and there was no music playing or Netflix running somewhere in the house.  Earlier this afternoon I sat at my kitchen table, looked out at the soft grey sky and occasional raindrops, wrapped both hands (both! the other hand wasn’t taking notes or clicking a mouse or pushing buttons on the washing machine!) around my mug of tea, and … did nothing.  NOTHING.  I looked out the window and noticed that there’s kind of a neat reflection of the porch railing across the wet boards of the porch floor, and heard my kitchen clock ticking, and enjoyed my warm tea, and that was it.

Maybe it’s not REAL study time, with notebooks and interlinear translations and highlighters.  But I think God lives in those quiet, domestic moments, and I’m going to see about finding a few more of them.

Jesus is My Fishing Buddy

If your childhood religious experience is anything like mine, the words “Sunday morning sermon” bring up images of a pulpit, a congregation, and a pastor or priest speaking from a prepared text.  If you grew up in a church with frequent missionary guest speakers, you may also remember squirming in the seats with your friends and watching the minutes tick past noon and into overtime.  There seemed to be something about spending a few decades in South America (where the congregation was unlikely to be wearing digital watches) that gave our guests a hazy recollection of North American concepts like the ladies imprisoned in the nursery, a roast in the oven at home, or kickoff time for the ball game.

No one would have dared interrupt them, though – the sermon was sacrosanct, or at least its continuity was.  Nobody would have interrupted ANYBODY behind the pulpit (or the music stand, if it was a Sunday night).  That kind of interaction was reserved for Wednesday night Bible study.  Even then, participants in the discussion tended to be the same people, with occasional brave words spoken by quieter adults or the rare teenager.

This, then, is why I nearly dropped my Bible the first time I sat in the wooden pew of my Quaker church and heard a church member casually interrupt the sermon with a related comment.  What was he doing?!  He was talking!  In church!  During the sermon!  Did I need to worry about stray lightning bolts?

No, as it turned out – the Quaker tradition of “that of God”, the belief that each person has in themselves some essential spark that is from God, is simply alive and well at my church.  Sure, the pastor preaches, but that doesn’t mean that somebody else might not have a darn good idea.  And that could be anybody else, regardless of gender, age, speaking ability, or education – they take that “everybody” part seriously.  So if a listener has a relevant thought, they raise their hand (or not) and toss a new idea into the ring.  It’s fascinating, liberating, and to my Baptist sensibilities, it’s the slightest bit rebellious.

I love it.

In a traditional Sunday morning sermon where the pastor speaks and the congregation listens, “What is Jesus to you?” is understood to be a rhetorical question.  The pastor would list a few things that Jesus might be, and then answer the question with a sermon on the nature and person of Christ.  But when my pastor asked this question, he actually wanted an answer, and he wasn’t going to start preaching again until we answered it.

The first answers were exactly what you’d expect from a group of seasoned Christians, and nearly everyone in the congregation tossed out an idea or two.  Jesus is my friend.  My hope.  My salvation.  My Lord.  My redeemer.  You could hear the wheels turning as people thought through the Psalms and came up with a few more.  Jesus is my Rock.  My deliverer.  My shield.  My shepherd.  We cast our minds to the New Testament.  Jesus is my Savior.  My intercessor.  My light.  My king.  Words were flying now, and they kept coming.  My joy.  My peace.  My teacher.  My rescuer.  My fishing buddy.

Wait, what?

Yep – it came from the quiet-spoken man over on the left – Jesus is my fishing buddy.  I heard a few chuckles, and I admit I smiled too.  And then I stopped, and I thought about it, and my soul said, YES.  

Sure, He’s my salvation and my hope and my peace.  He is my rock, my shield and (clap) my deliverer, my fortress and my strength.  (OK, so maybe not everybody knows that camp song, but I can’t say “rock” and “shield” without clapping.)  Jesus is all those things, and those things make great singalong tunes.  But I want Jesus to be my fishing buddy too, even though I don’t know how to fish.

I love the image of this taciturn Friend out on the lake in his boat, apparently alone, but actually in constant companionship with his God.  I can’t even call it praying, because you don’t pray to your fishing buddy – you just talk to him.  Or not.  Depends on if you’re in the mood for talking, or if you just want to hang out for a while.

I want that.  I want Jesus to ride around in the passenger seat of my grungy Civic, where I will not have to apologize for all the library books on the front seat because He’s just that good of a friend.  I want Him to sprawl out in the chair next to my sewing machine when I’m on a tear finishing summer jammies for the kids, just because He feels like being around me – we might talk a little, or He might chill out and read whatever novel He’s into right now, just enjoying being with His kid for a while.  When I decide I’m done with my work for the day and I go out on the porch to look at the sunset, I want Him to be there saying “Wow” right next to me.

I think that if Jesus is part of my everyday life like that, it will make Him easier to find in the holy silence of Sunday morning’s open worship.  If I’ve been listening to Him all week, I’ll be more likely to hear Him on Sundays.  Maybe it will make Sunday feel a little less set apart, but maybe, I think, I hope, it will end up making every day holy.

God Between the Notes

One of my favorite things about the Quaker tradition is the high value it places on silence.  Active silence, waiting silence, not just a passive stillness, is a recurring theme in Quaker writings and meetings.  “Be still and know” is one way of putting it.  I also like the more direct version:  “Shut up and listen.”

This evening I went to hear two of my musical colleagues in concert, a tenor and a pianist who are both unbelievably good at what they do.  The music, as expected, was stunning.  What surprised me tonight, though, was the quiet moments between all the sturm und drang of the poetry and wild Late Romantic harmonies flying through the air.

My friend, the tenor, has a lovely soaring voice that can carry with apparent ease over an orchestra.  My former teacher, the pianist, is barely taller than I am, but he can wrestle huge and powerful sounds out of the marvelous Steinway in the university’s main performance hall.  All of that big and wonderful sound was in evidence tonight, but there were also many instances of quietness and stillness that were somehow even more compelling.

Listening to that astounding voice fading into near-silence, but still floating high above the barely-there tones of the piano, the divine seems not so far away.  People often use terms like “magical” to describe this kind of music, but tonight it occurred to me that “holy” is at least as true.  I sat there, barely breathing, as the pianist’s hands hovered over the keys, reaching down to delicately draw each note from the instrument and drop it into the echoing silence.

I think God lives in those echoes.  We make our human noise, and we make it as best we can, and then in that silent, listening stillness, we hear our voices and the work of our hands come back to us, both less and more than they were when we sent them out.

The musical term for a silence within the music is a “rest”.  God lives in the rests, as much as in the music, if I can just hold still long enough to hear him.

Shhhh.

Silent.

Quiet.

Still.

Peaceful.

Not synonyms, although there is quite a bit of overlap to their meanings.  I am finding that not-talking is not the same as quiet, and that silence is no guarantee of stillness.

I come from a rich tradition of words – beautifully crafted, mentally stimulating, deeply expressive words.  Words to explain, to clarify, to enlighten, but also words to shape, to influence, to steer.  Sometimes words that obscure, words that camouflage, words that sanitize.  And when the evangelical movement is having a bad week, its strength is its weakness, and this facility with words becomes weaponized – barbs and rebuttals and shotgun blasts of language that leave gaping holes in targets and observers alike.

Let me be clear – I don’t want to cut myself off from this tradition.  As long as I have mental capacity and breath in my body, that breath will be voiced in words that make sense.  I simply am not wired for “God is good, God is great, Hallelujah (repeat 47 times)” – I am wired for words.

I think, though, that I might do well to take a cue from my musical life, where the rests are nearly as important as the notes.  If there is no silence, the notes quickly become a barrage of noise.  The quiet passages are necessary for the loud ones to be appreciated, and the softer melodies have beauty all their own.

I need this quiet.  I have come from so many years of noise – church services where I am cowed into unresponsiveness because of the deliberately constant noise.  (God forbid there be “dead air” on a Sunday morning.)  My “quiet times”, not too surprisingly, have come to reflect this constant motion, and my prayers and reading are so full of words that there is no space left for listening.

I want to find out what is in the silences, and perhaps more importantly, what is not.  I need stillness more than I need words sometimes.  Now if only I can get myself to stop talking…

Holy Scrub-brush, Batman!

When I first started looking into the Friends tradition, the concept of sacramental living made immediate sense to me.  Even as a child, I had a sense of lingering holiness about everyday things like trees and fields and books, although I couldn’t possibly have articulated what I felt.

Making laundry a prayer seems obvious, if I just remind myself.  The folding and sorting can be a quiet, domestic form of worship.  The feel of the cloth is soothing under my hands, and the rhythm of folding becomes a liturgy of socks and shirts.

Balancing the checkbook takes a little more thought, but I can find God there too.  The numbers and logic are satisfying, and it’s not a huge leap to imagine that God must find an exponentially greater satisfaction in the ordered rhythms of molecules and planetary systems.

Even driving can be its own meditation (as long as I pay attention to the road, of course).  I am learning the welcome discipline of shutting off the litany of work-related concerns, and replacing it with a conscious gratitude for the trees and fields and open sky on my way to work.

That said … if anybody figures out how to sacramentally scour burned rice out of the bottom of a pot, come on over to my house.  I will give you a scrub-brush and let you meditate the hell out of my pots and pans.

Timing Is Everything

So I’m thinking maybe holy silence and driving aren’t very compatible.  I know some people seem to be able to do it, but so far my experience is that warm sun, long easy drive, low-level road noise, and meditative thought add up to changing lanes by accident.

Practice makes perfect, but I think I’ll practice at home in my rocking chair instead of the front seat of my car!