By Daniel Thomas, Church Musician
In our ever-increasingly frenetic world, silence has become a precious commodity. People now speak of “me time” as if it’s a reward for making it through their daily toils and tribulations. Parents bemoan the loss of a quiet evening at home as their kids practice jumping from the coffee table onto the sofa. And yet, we continue to assail ourselves with constant connection and communication - television, radio, and certainly the internet and social media. All of these hours that we stuff chock-full of friend-stalking, celebrity-bashing, and falling down the rabbit hole of web site comment sections - these could just as easily be filled with silence, with quietude, with - gasp! - meditation.
One of the unfortunate byproducts of this constant social motion is that people are now uncomfortable with silence, particularly in public situations. When a group of people share a quiet moment, it only lasts a brief interval before the nervous shifting and coughing begins - and nowhere is this more apparent than in worship. More and more, congregations struggle when asked to sit, to reflect, to be calm, to be silent - and even when we are silent, more than likely the voices in our heads continue to prattle - thinking about a million other things, planning, worrying, arguing with ourselves - even the prayers and lamentations in our heads take away from the silence and the calm.
"For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him.”
Our Lenten liturgy this year features music from the Taizé Community in France. Founded in the mid-20th century, this monastic community gathers people from across both Catholic and Protestant traditions and focuses on living in the spirit of kindness, simplicity, and reconciliation. As their traditions have spread throughout the world, one of their most enduring practices is the use of beautiful but highly simplistic and repetitive music. This music is meant to bring a meditative calm to the congregation - this is best explained on their web site:
"Singing is one of the most essential elements of worship. Short songs, repeated again and again, give it a meditative character. Using just a few words they express a basic reality of faith, quickly grasped by the mind. As the words are sung over many times, this reality gradually penetrates the whole being. Meditative singing thus becomes a way of listening to God. It allows everyone to take part in a time of prayer together and to remain together in attentive waiting on God, without having to fix the length of time too exactly.”
We have also incorporated repetitive bell tones in place of some sung liturgical sections - these are also meant to create space for silent reflection and meditation. Since we know that this is new and potentially uncomfortable for some people, we have eased into this practice by still incorporating “traditional” hymnody in the worship. But starting this week, we will have a full service of meditative, repeated music. It is our hope that our congregation will embrace these fleeting moments to live in the silence - and to connect with each other, and with God - without saying a word.
Christ the Good Shepherd
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