Last Sunday, in worship, I got to experience for the first time our Discipline of Silence. I knew this was something that Barrett would be introducing to us, but I had forgotten to expect it. It brought me right back to St. John’s Abbey in Minnesota, where I spent a week during my sabbatical; right back to my seat in the upper choir praying the hours with the Benedictine monks.
The prayer services at the Abbey are filled by liturgy, a lot of reading and singing of Scripture. As the evening prayer service began on my first day there, one of the monks offered an invocation followed by a hymn. As soon as the hymn was finished and we all sat down, I expected another voice to raise up from among us and begin our liturgy… but there was silence. A long pause. A really long pause. An awkward pause if you’re not expecting it.
I wasn’t meaning to hold my breath but that’s what happens when you’re used to jumping from one thing to another. You parse it out sparingly. Not knowing how much you’re going to need for whatever comes next.
I know I was holding my breath because there came a moment when I really needed to breathe. To exhale so that I could inhale. To release whatever I was holding on to in order to take in what I needed most.
It was then that I remembered. I remembered why I love this place. More than the beautiful lake, the hospitality, 24 hour coffee (with real cream!) and unlimited sparkling water – this is a place where I remember how to breathe. Where the openness of this cavernous sanctuary permeates my soul and free me to be.
And it’s not just the silence at the beginning of the liturgy. It’s the pause between each section, between each stanza. Long, full pauses. It’s the pace of each word. Unrushed. Hearing parts of psalm 94 for the first time. Waiting in silence after the reading from Acts. Waiting …. And waiting. Expectant.
The silence, the space, has value on its own, regardless of what it does or does not “produce” – just as we do. There is presence beyond my own, beyond those around me. Presence that fills the space. That filled me. Each time I was privileged to sit, silently, and be enveloped by it.
It’s easy to think of silence as emptiness; as less than. If we see only empty, we will try to cram it full or long for its ending. But if we rest in the fullness that we do not yet understand, we learn to feel it. To know it. To recognize it as holy ground.
Without the silence, there is no breath. Just a run on sentence of life’s noisy busyness.
I don’t know what your experience of the Discipline of Silence is like. Maybe it still feels a little awkward. Or maybe it is becoming for you everything you never knew you’ve always needed.
Believe in the fullness of silence. Trust that you are on holy ground.
Thank you for the incredible gift of sabbatical. It was so wonderful to have been away and it is so wonderful to be back!
Grace & Peace,