It really is remarkable how much can be communicated in a moment of silence. I recall a few weeks ago when a significant announcement was made regarding a core family of our church and the silence that ensued as we heard the news spoke volumes in terms of the incredible value this family is to the body as a whole. It gave me pause to consider how my own life has been impacted by them and gave me hope for what will continue in due time.
I recall other moments of silence in church when I was quite young. A somewhat common experience in certain Pentecostal churches is what’s often know as a “Holy Hush” that may happen during a time of worship and prayer. The music stops, nearly all noise ceases, and a tangible Presence is felt by all. The only sounds one hears are the creakings of the building and the small, reverent whispers of “Oh, God…” “Thank you, Jesus…” “Holy, Holy, Holy…” etc. Something happens in those moments that cannot be described, but it doesn’t take much faith to know that something real is going on in that moment. When the moment is over, there’s a kind of sigh that follows: a satisfaction in the goodness of God, a longing for when we shall see Him face to face.
My own journey with silence has been a steady process for about a year and a half now, and what I love about it is the fact that I’ve begun to see elements of silence begin to appear at Southlands. I can’t describe how grateful I was when an intentional time of silence was made during the last One33 meeting (our corporate prayer gathering) we had. There’s something special about experiencing silence in community that makes it a very different experience from individual silence. Both are important, and they complement each other in beautiful ways.
There have been moments at the Fullerton community, too, where time has been made for waiting on God and listening for what He has. While not given the name “silence”, it’s nonetheless one of the most important elements thereof. It’s largely what silence is for: stopping the noise or “static” and just listening. Perhaps God says (or seems to say) nothing, or perhaps what is said cannot be articulated (“groanings too deep for words”), but I’m certain that silence is never wasted. I know silence can be uncomfortable at times, but I think the closest relationships are the ones where you can sit in silence together and let that be enough.
As we’ve been going through the Gospel Primer, one of the things that has stuck out to me the most was a tiny little paragraph in the Story of God section (2.2): “Then there were 400 years of silence between God and his people.” Of all the things to include in a two-page overview of the Bible, this little piece was included and in a rather conspicuous way. It caught me by surprise, especially because of its isolation from any other words or explanation.
There are things I would have included in the story that the author did not. There were things the author included that I would not have. Honestly, I think this is one of the latter. And more honestly, I think I would have been wrong. The fact that this sentence caught my attention seems proof of that. Perhaps it reminds me of when I experienced the silence of God myself and the pain I went through in that time. Perhaps it reminds me of the times I still experience his silence. At the very least, it tells me that God is not afraid of silence and perhaps I don’t have to be either.
I’m not really sure what I’m trying to say here. I suppose one thing I’m saying is that silence can mean a lot of different things to different people and at different times. This is perhaps one of the most important reasons for why experiencing silence in community is important. Shared silence has a depth and a safety that is hard to find when you’re experiencing it alone or in a community that has no place for it in their understanding of God and prayer.
Of course, I can’t really say much on silence without mentioning Martin Scorsese’s Silence (based on a book of the same name by Shusaku Endo). If you’ve never experienced the silence of God before, go see Silence. You may not like it, you may not agree with it, you may not even experience such silence (I mean as a general thing, I’m certainly hoping you don’t experience any of the persecution that accompanied the silence!), but it will give you a glimpse into what that experience feels like for some.
I guess all I’m really saying is that silence is a form of communication as much as language is; indeed, it is its own language. We speak to God through silence (whether as a discipline of prayer or in our “silent treatment”; I know, I’ve tried); God also speaks to us through silence (sometimes as comfort, sometimes as discipline, always in love). I love that silence is becoming a part of Southlands’ expression of worship and I hope that it is something we can grow into more. I invite you to join in with the times of silence, even if you find them uncomfortable. God may have something for you that words could not say.