December 28, 2005 / David Fitch

A Call to Silence as the New Year Comes

I have just returned from Russia. One of the things I noticed in Russian culture this past week was its obsession with loud music. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good rock jam as much as the next guy. But early in the morning, as I rise for breakfast, as I offer my day to Christ and all my concerns and praises, I seek some silence. Then I usually spend the first two hours reading, in a MacDonald’s or someplace where the music is muted. Breakfast time for me is a time for quiet. In Russia however, I found the music to be as loud and blaring at 7 a.m. in the morning at a breakfast restaurant as it is at a disco. I wonder if this is not a product of a culture that cannot handle too much silence. We all know of some people who can’t stop talking on their cell phones or who can’t handle time alone on a Saturday night. It is like they are afraid of the silence. Perhaps this fear signals a lack of a grounding in the depths of a transcendent reality that can sustain life in the silence. I was in Russia for way too short a time to make any authoritative pronouncements on why Russia loves loud music at 7 in the morning. But I sensed a deep lostness there and I pray for our missionaries and our Russian believers. In the last 15 years, your time has come! Let us support with all our hearts, minds souls and resources our brothers and sisters ministering in Russia.

But I digress. Back to the topic of silence. I believe silence is a lost art in our evangelical churches. The age of contemporary rock concert worship has seemed to orient our worship always towards stirring up a celebration (which is good). Again, as I have said elsewhere, I love many contemporary worship music styles and we use them at our church. But have we become uncomfortable in silence? In the history of Christianity, there are many different uses of silence in worship. Silence as preparation to hear from God, silence after the reading of Scripture, silence as a time for prayer, silence as a time of quiet and preparation before the Lord’s Supper, confession. I love the way the Taize worship movement has accentuated silence throughout the movement of the worship. At Life on the Vine, after we exchange our greetings, love and commitment to one another in the “peace” … we go into silence. There we are, a small huddled mass of people, just waiting in silence before the Lord before we enter into worship. A psalm is read. The art work points us toward His reality is silence. Nothing need be said. It can be uncomfortable. The little kids sometimes get restless but soon they also have come to get it. There is a sweetness to this silence. Ironically, it is this silence which often prepares the way for celebration in a rock concert fashion later in the service.

As new emergent churches spring up engaging the modern malaise of our day, it seems necessary to me that we recapture in some way the monastic practices of silence in our worship. Likewise, to all of us sojourners in Christ, as the New Year begins, let’s find some space for silence in the next several days as we naturally seek what God would do with us in yet another new year. We can do this because in our silence God is there. There is no vacuum to fear. Here’s hoping, that the next several days will provide the space for God to speak to us all. “Be silent before the Lord God, For the day of the Lord is at hand; the Lord has prepared an offering, he has set apart his guests.” Zeph 1:7