Sunday, February 13, 2011
Bad Connatations About Silence
SHHHHHHHHH! It is not a nice sound. You hear parents shushing their children in worship and in other places -- making sounds even louder than their children in order to force quiet upon them. Shhhhh is the sound of the hunter sneaking up to do harm to his prey. It is the sound of truth that should not be told. It is also the sound of people who do not want anything to intrude upon the awkwardness of the moment.
When it comes to church, I think of the cry room in my home congregation. It was not where you took a crying child but where you took a child to make him cry. In many cases it was for breaking the rule of silence (except when singing or speaking the parts of the liturgy and hymns). When I progressed to catechism class, I sat in fearful silence for two hours each Saturday, praying that Pastor Durdell would not call upon me and praying that the memory work I had not practiced nearly enough would come out okay.
Silence is often equated as punishment. If not punishment, then at least the uncertain and awkward moments in which the right words are unknown. I think of one of my favorite movies, Moonstruck, and the silence at breakfast when Grandfather breaks down because he so confused or when he looks around and says "Somebody tell a joke" because the awkward silence was more than he could bear. It was literally pregnant with tension. So, if not punishment, then it is generally the uncomfortable silence of a difficult situation in which somebody should say something but nobody knows what to say.
So is it no wonder that we have trouble with silence, with the good silence of the liturgy or the silence left for prayer? When the assisting ministers of my congregation lead the prayers, they stop for silence between the petitions but what seems to them minutes of laborious silence is, in reality, a few seconds. When we do have silence thrust upon us, we are not sure what to do with it. Our ears are so full of sounds that we find it almost unbearable when it is too quiet. The associations of silence in our minds and hearts are punishment or uncomfortable moments, so we want this silence to go away.
As one who struggles to encourage silence in worship, I find it almost a losing battle. Perhaps the benefit of silence has passed to the few and the many wish nothing to do with it. In any case, I have not yet given up but sometimes I get close...