Friday, August 20, 2010

The Sound of Silence

"For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him.  He only is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken.  On God rests my salvation and my glory; my mighty rock, my refuge is God." Psalm 62:5-7 

It's shockingly quiet around here today, in a way that it hasn't been for much of the week.  There have been lots of extra people that I don't know filling up the dorm rooms, shouting across campus, running up and down the halls, and being obnoxiously loud for the last few days, so it's a blessing to have a little peace and quiet.  (Wow, I sound old.  Next it's going to be "Get offa my lawn!")

Even during the school year when there's just the "normal" amount of people around, it is never quiet.  This building I live in is possibly older than Martin Luther himself, and sound carries extremely well.  The classroom underneath my bedroom has a piano in it, and I can hear every note played.  I'm right next door to the bathroom, so there's that noise. The guys that live on the floor above me are, I don't know, elephants, or something.  Huge, heavy steps, all the time.  Plus, when their girlfriends are over (and I am not the only person to register this complaint), well, let's just say it's the sound of Visions and Expectations being torn to bits...  That and there are always the friendly campus sounds of professors and students talking to one another on the sidewalks between buildings, cars coming and going in the parking lot, little kids running around the grassy areas and playing with their dogs, etc...

Not all of this is bad noise.  I like listening to the piano being played.  When I get up in the morning, I can tell if someone is already in the shower.  Sometimes it's nice just knowing that the guys are upstairs and things are normal.  What is more joyful than hearing little kids running around laughing and playing?  It's great to walk past either of the chapels and hear someone practicing the organ.  I like that there are people around and this place generally feels alive.

But there is never any silence.  Never.  I think about this from time to time, mostly when I'm in church, or when I'm having some sort of emotional or spiritual crisis, or I get entirely overwhelmed and I need the world to just STOP for a few minutes.  We (and here I mean Protestants in general, with the possible exception of the Quakers, Amish, etc...) are very, very bad at silence.  Contemporary American Evangelicalism is particularly bad, it seems, but even us Lutherans are in need of confession and absolution on this point.  As one of the pastors at my church has been known to say, "When it's silent in church, all the Catholics meditate and all the Protestants wonder who missed their cue."  This is most certainly true. 

Think about it.  When was the last time you were in the midst of complete silence?  The 30 seconds you get (maybe) during the Brief Order for Confession?  Maybe, depending on your pastor, the one minute after the sermon?  In your house?  I don't know about you, but when it gets too quiet in my house dorm room, I have the tendency to flip on the TV, pick up the phone, look up some cool videos on YouTube, turn on the radio, etc...Why are we so uncomfortable with silence?  Even those moments when I can tell that I need it to be silent around me, it is so hard to find.  My church at home - and God bless it, I love them - is full of noise.  We have a big, huge, gigantic cross at the front of the sanctuary, and sometimes I like to go sit and look at the cross and pray.  Or run my fingers along the Hebrew and Greek letters carved into the altar and lectern in the chapel.  Or sit on the steps of the chancel and read the Bible.  But there's always music being "piped in" to both the chapel and the worship center.  Granted, the 24/7 Prayer Room is pretty quiet, but it's kind of a one-person-at-a-time sort of place.  Even in churches that aren't big and gigantic, the sanctuary isn't necessarily guaranteed to be a well...sanctuary.  Not that the organist doesn't need to practice, or the facilities people can't mess around with furniture, or the secretary shouldn't go hunt down a lost mitten someone called about, or whatever.  These are the sounds of people who love God going about the daily work they've been called to do.  But do you ever feel like you're missing out on something by not having a place of complete and utter silence?

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