Saturday, April 16, 2011

Silence Blog Post at Living Lutheran

My latest blog post is up here at the Living Lutheran site.  In the post, I talk about our increasingly amplified world, my experiences with silence at a monastery, and why religious traditions stress silence.

I am aware that churches walk a fine line between too much amplification and not enough--and then, there's always the glitches with the sound system which can lead to amusing/frustrating/annoying experiences.  I was at a non-Lutheran church once which was having such issues with the sound system that the pastor did an exorcism of the sound system right in the middle of the service.  I couldn't tell whether the pastor was serious or not:  it wasn't a church that I associate with exorcisms.  The intriguing thing:  the sound system behaved for the rest of the service.

At a Lutheran church I belonged to years ago, we experimented with a contemplative evening service followed by potluck dinner.  I loved the dimmer sanctuary and the extra candles.  I loved reading/hearing a Bible passage and sitting with it.  No explication, no sermon on it, just the Word sinking into our bones.  It was hard to get everybody on board.  People wanted to talk.  I suspect that if we had continued beyond the Advent season, we might have gotten people used to the process.  Or maybe the people who couldn't get comfortable with silence would have stopped coming.

I know that it's hard for churches to get the amplification just right.  Even the non-hearing impaired often need some amplification.  And then there are those of us who get jangled at all this stimuli.

I'm intrigued by modern/post-modern/emergent churches who use ambient sound and projected images and songs with words going on at the same time.  I haven't experienced the extreme end of that, but I have been to churches with big screens and pictures.  One church projected the hymn we were singing, complete with bouncing ball:  hymn karaoke!  Many churches with projection systems can't resist beaming pictures to the screen.  I've often hated the pictures on the screen and got distracted by wondering who chose such awful photos.  If I wanted to be subjected to a horrible PowerPoint presentation, I'd go to the American workplace.

I think about the monasteries I've seen and their austere, yet beautiful, chapels. When I go to Mepkin Abbey, I'm always intrigued by the way the worship space changes from service to service, with flowers and candles and statues and framed art.  I wish that I lived close enough to see how the space changes with the liturgical seasons.

I have a friend who converted from the Church of England to become a Quaker.  I'd love to attend her church, just to see what it's like.  Even monasteries aren't as committed to silence as the Quakers.

I'm not one of those bloggers who has all the answers and is only too happy to share them with you.  I'm a woman who has experimented a lot with worship, including not going, and has yet to find a completely perfect option.  I suspect there is no perfect option.  Even having more options means that we spread ourselves ever more thinly as a worshipping congregation.

Perhaps we have a contemplative service (one per season?  one per month?).  Perhaps we build more silence into the service.  Perhaps I build more silence into my daily life so I'm not so jangled.  Perhaps we commit to silence before the worship.  If our churches have unused spaces, maybe we could recreate them into small, silent chapels.

1 comment:

Wendy said...

We have weekly quiet night services during Advent and Lent. As you said, readings and chants with no meditation, explication, sermonizing. In Lent, followed by supper--in Advent not. I wish my schedule had allowed me to get to more of them.

We discussed use of power point at our church once (so far we don't do it) and I brought up the fact that I find many of the images distracting and too much pushing a particular idea of something rather than allowing me to create my own. I don't think we need MORE stimulation. Really.