Did You Hear the One About… 40 Days with Cartoon Church
Day 10 – Saturday after 1st Sunday of LentFrom the Scriptures:
The Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him!
When the Lamb opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour.
…and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. 13 When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him that said, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’
1 Kings 19.12-13
When I was in the Sixth Form at the Royal Hospital School near Ipswich the Head of English, a devout Roman Catholic, felt it would be a good idea for us to listen to a debate between a Franciscan from the RC friary at nearby East Bergholt and an Anglican monk from the Community of the Resurrection in Mirfield. During the debate they disagreed vehemently with each other about the Roman Catholic teaching on contraception and, rather than heatedly arguing they both chose keep a stony silence. It was then that I asked our teacher, almost innocently, if what was happening between them was what was known as a pregnant silence?
I did not then have any idea as to the impact both of those communities would later have on my life. I trained to be a priest at a college founded by the Community of the Resurrection and am a member of the Third Order of the Society of St Francis, but I did receive an insight into how powerfully silence can speak.
The ‘liturgical pause’, which can so often be an embarrassed silence followed by the shuffling of papers and someone being nudged in the ribs, is indeed a space for words and hearing a voice other than our own. In one of the Eucharistic Prayers in The Church of England, this phrase says it all about the rich fullness of ‘empty’ silence;
From the beginning you have created all things
and all your works echo the silent music of your praise.
In the fullness of time you made us in your image, the crown of all creation.
You give us breath and speech, that with angels and archangels
and all the powers of heaven we may find a voice to sing your praise
It is in our very nature as part of creation to ‘echo the silent music of [God’s] praise’. And it is that praise in the midst of silence which brings us to a place where we ‘find a voice to sing [God’s] praise’.
If we do not begin with the silence of God’s creative power we are indulging in nothing more than a meandering of words in search of meaning.
Though I know the need to listen to the voice of the One Who Loves us Best in silence, especially when God’s people gather, too often I find myself imagining how I can make worship ‘flow’ a little better. I catch myself being irritated each time the lesson reader is indeed on a ‘particularly gruelling journey to the lectern’. I plot ways of ‘tightening up’ our ritual so that people will not have a reason to look at their watches if the service creeps past the allotted length of time. I own up to inwardly groaning when particular names are on the intercessions rota, and in my mind start planning ‘emergency’ prayers to use when once again they forget that their name is on the list.
My attitude to ‘empty’ silence is a rather sad state of affairs. All too easily it can be seen as a nuisance instead of an opportunity to listen for God’s voice. I seem to prefer to hear my own words and so am not able to see in the ’emptiness’ of silence how rich and pregnant it is with the Word of our Beloved.
And as I do that – as we do that – we miss an opportunity to be ‘born again’ and find our praises to be empty and our prayers go unanswered.
Bless to us, O God
the moon that is above us,
the earth that is beneath us,
the friends who are around us,
your image deep within us.
The Iona Community
- Practice using the ‘awkward emptiness’ in times of worship as times of deeper communion with the One Who Loves us Best. A simple method is to close your eyes whenever waiting for the next thing to happen in the service.
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Prayers are from the collection ‘Praying with the World Church’ compiled by USPG.
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Scripture quotations are copyright © New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright 1989, 1995, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
These Reflections, ‘Did You Hear the One About…’ are copyright © Andrew Dotchin 2017