The Christian walk needs these two opposites: sound and silence.
Sound is the activity of life: working, music, caring for rowdy children, running errands. Sound encompasses raucous laughter and brothers dwelling together in unity. In sound, we sing loud praises to the King.
Silence restores. We sleep in silence. Atop a towering mountain overlooking God’s beauty, silence fills our ears. Silence is not simply the absence of sound: it includes the song of birds and wind rushing through trees. It includes whispered voices in a candlelit prayer meeting.
And then there’s noise: television, movies, and Facebook. Noise is excessive or meaningless sound. We can do without noise, though sometimes it’s hard to escape.
I recently walked into the San Luis Obispo mission for the first time. I went outside a regular service, so just a few people sat scattered around the room, praying. No one spoke. I felt that a whisper would seem rude; the atmosphere felt too sacred.
Last week, I attended the Mount Hermon Christian Writer’s Conference, which included a Palm Sunday service. They requested that everyone enter in silence and expectation. At the door, conversations ceased, and we listened to a brilliant organist play hymns: the power of silence even in music.
When the clamoring rapids of the world pass behind us, there in the quiet place we find God.
I contrast this with my beloved family at Everyday church. On a Sunday morning, the sound of music, laughter, and fellowship greets you at the door. A dozen friends run up and embrace you and ask about the week. Even after the service opens, the fellowship doesn’t end until our pastor gets up to speak, when we finally sit down and listen.
I find that we, and what I’ve seen of the Charismatic movement in general, do sound really well. Often, prayer meetings have music playing through a PA system. Love flows in fellowship and family in our small groups. Ministry times include many people receiving prayer simultaneously. A popular way to spend time alone with God is to listen to worship music and “soak.”
Silence is harder. Not absent, mind you: I’ve seen some wonderful moments of silence. Just harder. For instance, we recently hosted an event displaying art of the stations of the cross. Wonderful paintings and displays decorated our sanctuary, and many people who wouldn’t normally come to church passed through our doors. I walked through without speaking and focused on the passion.
Only one problem: out in the lobby, we had refreshments and a warm spot to hang out, and the sounds of laughter and fellowship flowed into the sanctuary. We’re a family who can’t escape the habit of loving and enjoying one another, and unfortunately, that noise clashed with our attempt at silence.
And that’s where we encounter difficulty. In many more traditional settings, someone would have told the people in the lobby to quiet down. I don’t particularly like that kind of policing, myself. It’s hard to tell people, “stop enjoying fellowship so much; you’re ruining our art show!” To steward Jesus’ church is truly a difficult task.
Which church grows you?
I bend towards silence. My faith is that of walking alone in the grass-covered hills in the presence of Jesus, far from other people, and singing Be Thou My Vision. He has a sense of humor to place me in a family where devotion looks like standing blasted by amplified music while a speaker says, “The Spirit is here.”
Though I enjoy periodic visits to missions and mountain retreats, I don’t think I would grow much through actually attending a church like that. I grow far more in a fellowship constitutionally different from my natural bent. I can get silence on my own. I need my family for sound.
When selecting a church, often we look for the one most like us. I personally think that in order to grow, we should find a church which shares our heart but looks very different on the outside.
Sound and silence: the rhythm of the Christian life. In which do you lack, and how can you grow in it?