“Be still, and know that I am God.” Psalm 46: 10
You may have participated in an exercise with this verse, whittling it down.
Be still and know that I am God
Be still and know
Silence is a faith practice. We live in a noisy world, and a fast-paced world. It is acoustically noisy. It is also visually noisy, if we can combine the senses like that. The current political season is but one manifestation of our society’s absence of silence, as candidates shout over one another, interrupting, yelling to be the loudest voice in the room. We need silence.
Often we engage in conversations like ping pong matches—lobbing comments back and forth as fast as we can. Whether it is a chance encounter in the grocery store, a heart-to-heart with a good friend, or a serious debate—we fill the space with words. And we can miss what happens when there is silence.
Our order for worship includes silence. And yet in most congregations, if the silence is more than about 5 seconds, people become uneasy. We don’t know what to do with “dead air.” We fidget. So that refreshing, holy part of the liturgy gets sacrificed because of our discomfort.
We need silence. We need it as individuals. We need it as communities of faith. We need it as a society. We need silence for reflection. We need silence for contemplation. We need silence in order to be able to hear others, to hear God.
Quakers know about silence. Quaker meetings are long periods of silence, broken only when someone in the meeting feels called on to speak. Silence is the norm; speaking is the exception. In our gatherings, it is the opposite. Speaking is the norm, silence the exception.
What do Quakers do during the silence? They listen for the Spirit. Oh, I’m sure that not everybody stays focused the entire time. I’m sure some people are thinking about other things, just as Lutherans sitting in pews during a sermon have been known from time to time to be thinking about other things.
Have you tried to keep silence for a sustained period of time? Not talking isn’t the real challenge. The real challenge is emptying your mind, slowing down, clearing out the internal chatter as well as the external noise. The real challenge is setting aside your agenda, letting go of your racing thoughts, your great ideas, your big questions, and waiting.
Quakers know that they can sit for a whole meeting and never hear the murmuring of the Spirit. Keeping silent does not guarantee that the voice of God will fill that space. Mother Theresa, in her reflections published after her death, wrote of the terrible silence she felt because she did not hear from God.
When Elijah was on Mount Horeb, he experienced all kinds of epic events that might have been God’s way of communicating. The mountain split and crashed, but God was not in the mountain. The earth split, but God was not in the earthquake. A fire raged, but God was not in the wildfire. And there was “sheer silence.” And God spoke, into the deep silence. (I Kings 19:ll ff).
“Be still, and know that I am God.”
Jessica Crist, Bishop
Bishop Jessica Crist
Bishop of the Montana Synod of the ELCA