Last night we were in the sanctuary at St Andrew’s, with a group of people who are becoming community around the common focus of leading the wider community – both the church community, and those beyond – into God’s presence through worship. Only a few were there because they would be learning songs and rehearsing for leading worship at our gathered time on Sunday morning coming; more were there simply as part of the community, not for a particular task. We began all together, with Jo (my wife) praying, inviting God to speak whatever word we needed to hear.
And then there was silence.
A weighty silence: the sort of silence that happened, in part, because no-one could speak, or play, or sing. An extended silence: at least, by the standards of our day-to-day experience.
After the silence we responded with sung worship, and then I reflected on what had happened:
We are conditioned to be afraid of silence, to fill it with background noise. And we are conditioned to be doing something: to sit there, in silence, not doing anything, can feel like a waste of time that could be more productively spent doing something, anything. Even in leisure we need to be doing something. After all, our time is a precious commodity...
But Jo had prayed, asking God to speak the word we needed to hear, and the silence was his gracious response: his word: his gift to us in that time, in that place. For, we are precious to God, not as a commodity to be stewarded or a machine to be run efficiently, but as a dearly loved child. Life is a gift, and time is also a gift; space is a gift, and the prolonged silence – space and time to be, not do; to have the internal turmoil of the over-stimulated brain stilled, if we will choose not to resist it; to be known and loved because we are, and not earned by our achievement – is a gift, and one that is profoundly healing to heart and mind and body and soul. Silence was not what we had anticipated, not what we had realised we needed, not what we wanted or hoped for: but it was God’s gift, the very thing we needed to receive from him.
After I spoke, there was silence again.
And after the silence, the band started their rehearsal, and the rest of us moved into another room, to share stories of what God was up to in our lives, to share prayer requests, to pray for one another. We began by discussing silence. Some had always disliked, even hated, silence; some had always loved it; or had come to love it. For some the silence God had given us that night was a gift they would treasure; for others, the sort of gift that leaves you at a loss. For all, it was an interruption – welcome or unwelcome – a ‘kairos’ encounter with God...