Sunday, February 13, 2011

Bad Connatations About Silence

After reading a blog that posted a comment from another, a light bulb went on in me.  Remember the methods used for discipline at home and in school?  Silence!  I can well recall being sent to my room (where there were neither toys nor TV -- certainly not a computer) and having to spend my time in silence atoning for my youthful sins.  I can also recall the times when in the classroom we would have to sit in silence because somebody talked too much or some other egregious error was committed.  How many of us had to put our heads down on our desks at some point and endure the awkward silence that was coupled with the uncertainty about what was going on?  And, if you are really old like me, you practiced huddling under your desk in case of nuclear attack (another ritual of 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...


Anonymous said...

Maybe the silence should start with you. Your struggles would then be over. If you continue being the one to speak and then expect others to be silent in submission, you are a hypocrite. So take some advice and shut up! SHHHHH!

HB said...

I see nothing offensive or hypocritical in Pastor Peters's post. As a pastor, a vocation in which he is called to teach and admonish (among other things), it would seem to be his duty to speak, thus making him the rightful one to break a silence (or to call for silence at a particular time). Those on the receiving end of this vocation, on the other hand, are called to be hearers - that is to listen and receive the teaching and admonition. Hypocritical would be admonishing the hearers to hear (fulfilling their vocation) while failing to provide what they should attend to. This would be a failure to fulfill the vocation of pastor.

That being said, Pastor, we had a very interesting experience in our congregation last Sunday. Our organist had to leave early, so communion was administered sans the usual hymn. Congregants who were waiting to approach the rail remained quietly and attentively in the pews while the pastor distributed to those at the rail. It was quite beautiful. Dare I say, moreso than normal. Without needing to focus on singing the hymn while others were receiving communion, we could hear, watch, and listen to what transpired at the rail. It made me wish that we would continue to have a silent communion in the future.

Anonymous said...

A few years ago I was home for the holidays and attended church with my parents. I forget what the text was for the homily for that particular Sunday, but I remember it had something to do with silence. At the beginning of the sermon, Pastor Green stood up in the pulpit and just stared at us for 2 minutes exactly. Everyone thought he had either had a stroke, had not prepared a sermon for the day, or was angry. It was a very uncomfortable 2 minutes, and it seemed as though it was much longer than that. The intentional silence on his part was, in fact, the intro for his sermon in which he mentioned many of the same points you spoke of in your blog posting for the day.
I think people today, at least in this country, as so used to the noise of life, technology, and the rushed atmosphere in general, that we are not sure what to do with ourselves when there is peace.

Tim said...

Dear Anonymous,
I, too, find nothing offensive or hypocritical in this post, really I thought it was quite interesting. I think its wrong how some people read a blog or a post, decide they do not like something in said post or blog, and then complain about it or insult the person who wrote it using "anonymous". Most people I know call it "trolling" ". If you have a complaint about a post or a blog then just don't read it.

cassa said...

I don't squirm so much during times of silence as I start to get anxious that the presiding pastor has had a stroke, fainted or is suddenly sick. It would probably be better, especially during the time of silence during the Confession of Sins, that I use the time of quiet for its intended purpose.

What I find odd for myself is the fact that I get unsettled if there is silence during a worship service yet I'll go into my church alone during the week just for the silence.