Holding A Silence

Dearest darlings,

Pacing is EVERYTHING in worship.
Remember to think, pray, feel and rehearse your way through your liturgy before you get up there, and I don’t mean just to the pulpit. I mean beginning with your entrance into the sanctuary. I mean the way you take the space before the prayers of the people. I mean your stance, your posture, your groundedness as you BEGIN to speak, not just as you speak.

Content is important, yes, but PRESENCE is more so in these times.
What you are saying about pain, brokenness, violence, grace, loss, sin, gun control, death, destruction, toxic masculinity, the seemingly pointless desire for carnage — yea, it’s helpful. The gesture of one human being who is (supposedly, hopefully) grounded in faith and spiritual practice speaking to the agony of the world is powerful, and your people appreciate it. They wouldn’t want to be the ones having to do what you (we) do week after week.
So yes, definitely craft your sermons and prayers with great care.

But don’t kid yourself that the words are what matter most.
They might.
But if you deliver them with no breath support, no attention to the way you embody what you are saying the message will be lost, or at least greatly diminished.

Silence in the liturgy is NOT just what happens when you shut your pie hole. It is a space that you actually hold for the worshiping community just as a musician holds an attentive space between the notes that are called “rests.” Watch a symphony orchestra conductor sometime. She does not chill out between notes or movements of the piece. Her body is intensely engaged, her baton aloft even and perhaps especially in the rests.
And you must be that way, too. Do not ever drop the energy during the worship service.
Even if you are seated through an anthem or holding a long silence for prayer, you are the High Priest, you are the Hierophant who conducts the flow of energy between the people and the holy in that hour. Never forget that. If people are lighting candles, you are holding your body and attention in such a way as to support their intentions. You are not chilling in your chair and sitting with casually crossed legs or chatting with the organist.

Be present for all of it, even when you’re not the center of attention. From the moment you step out to begin the service until the moment you pronounce the final benediction, you are intensely, beautifully present with full energy engaged.

3 Replies to “Holding A Silence”

  1. The other side of this issue is that people are not often comfortable with silence. I’ve been at services where the congregation was uneasy with the silence. You could almost hear them thinking “when is it going to start up again?” This is a particular challenge.
    [Yes, I have also experienced that. I think part of our job is to help people train that muscle, and even to preach about silence as an important component of spiritual life. People literally don’t know why. Instead of removing the challenge, we need to be spiritual directors who lead them to an understanding of why silence is central to the experience of corporate worship as an art form and a spiritual practice. – PB]

  2. Silence when used well in preaching or liturgy, has allot in common with the use of a rest note in music. The silence is not the absence of the music, but it demands something from those who listen, and from those who perform.

    Silence can communicate emotional gravity. It can serve as punctuation, marking the beginning or end of something. Silence can communicate soaring joy. Silence can surprise. Silence can coax participation from the congregation (try a pause after a question that you deeply intend the congregation to wrestle with).

    As speakers of ministry we need to be intentional about how we deploy silence. The silence demands our attention, as much as the words or music demand our attention. Silence is a powerful tool, with tremendous opportunities for composing public ministry, and the silence has so many potential dance-partners with our words.

    And at yet another level, silence in liturgy (even short spans) helps build a congregation’s capacity for sacred contemplation (be it theistic or non-theistic contemplation). And in a society as messed up with impulsive noise and judgments, we could all stand to grow our capacity to stop and think.

    Thank you so much for this entry on your blog.

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