*NOTE: I have been on hiatus for the last couple weeks and apologize for forgetting to communicate that on the blog. Also, I skipped over chapter eight, entitled “Contemplation.” My apologies for these two errors. —Todd Leonard
The churches in Butler Bass’ study had come to the recognition that people’s lives were overwhelmed by input and noise and that they didn’t know and/or didn’t take time to process everything they were taking in and reserve time and space for silence and contemplation. These congregations actively worked to incorporate silence into their worship and small group gatherings as well as intentionally taught their parishioners how to develop personal practices of contemplation, often known by the term “spiritual disciplines” as well as, in some cases, taught yoga. They even created space on their campus for people to find focus for contemplation like labyrinths and prayer chapels.
This re-embrace of silence and less distractions flies in the face of our culture at large and even the successful mega-churches that effectively leave no “dead” times in their services and incorporate media to increase the effectiveness of their music and teaching. We are a culture that must have our minds plugged into something that stimulates as many of the five senses as possible at the same time.
This also challenges those churches that place their highest value on disseminating information about God, the bible and morality. Silence is often a low priority in these churches, except for the silence that comes as an audience listens to one person teaching or preaching. In these congregations, silence is often viewed skeptically as at least a waste of time and perhaps even as a gateway to be led astray by the deceptiveness of one’s own mind. The only safe course for one’s mind is to be reading, memorizing or reflecting on scriptures or other approved spiritual literature.
The churches of this book have found that silence is a cherished resource of rejuvenation, centering peace and mental clarity for living a life of love and compassion.
The July 20, 2013 sermon in my series Sabbath Radicals, had a number of quotes on this subject that I’ll include here:
- Silence is the sleep that nourishes wisdom. FRANCIS BACON
- Somewhere we know that without silence words lose their meaning, that without listening speaking no longer heals, that without distance closeness cannot cure. HENRI NOUWEN
- Contemplation is an alternative consciousness that refuses to identify with or feed what are only passing shows. It is the absolute opposite of addiction, consumerism or any egotistic consciousness. RICHARD ROHR
- Silence is the element in which great things fashion themselves together. THOMAS CARLYLE
- When the church is no longer teaching the people how to pray, we could almost say it will have lost its reason for existence. RICHARD ROHR
- Prayer is then not just a formula of words, or a series of desires springing up in the heart—it is the orientation of our whole body, mind and spirit to God in silence, attention, and adoration. All good meditative prayer is a conversion of our entire self to God. THOMAS MERTON
- If you can’t stand to be alone in silence with yourself, why do you inflict yourself on us? CARL JUNG
- It would be well for us to spend a thoughtful hour each day in contemplation of the life of Christ. We should take it point by point and let the imagination grasp each scene, especially the closing ones. ELLEN WHITE
- The mysteries of faith are degraded if they are made into an object of affirmation and negation, when in reality they should be an object of contemplation. SIMONE WEIL
- How hard is it for you to be in silence, separated from electronic and other forms of mental input?
- Would a church become more valuable to you if it intentionally created opportunities either on campus or during certain gatherings where you were invited into a time or space for silence?
- When have you experienced the rejuvenation, centering and clarity of silence? Share your story