Today we had three distinctly different services--the 8.30 alternative service, which was all about the theme "listen" and included a guided meditation that invited us to experience Elijah's story (instead of a sermon), the 9.30 Taize service, with its standard singing and silence M.O., and the traditional 11.00 service with a sermon about silence (bizarre, and you can read it in the post below this one)--including more than two minutes of actual silence! That's right, Presbyterians can in fact be quiet. I was extremely impressed with the level of silence achieved by the 50 people in the sanctuary--it was really, really quiet. So different from our usual deal.
I have become more comfortable with silence over the past several years. There was a time when I tried to fill every silence with words--I am a wordy extrovert, after all. But I've learned to just sit in the quiet, to leave anxiety about what to say next behind. Some of that probably has to do with living alone with no TV! Some probably has to do with living in a country where I didn't speak the language very well and couldn't go out on my own, at least not usually...and where in spite of all that there was still no silence. The cars, music, people, animals, buses, bike-bread vendors, and mosquitos kept the noise level high during pretty much my entire Egypt experience.
My Iona experience was not characterized by a ton of silence either--working there is not going on retreat, it's living in community (and that's not often quiet!). But in the Abbey church is the place I first learned that quiet times can go by surprisingly quickly. Sunday evening worship there is quiet--there are prayers at the beginning, then 15 minutes of silence in the near-darkness, then a blessing, and that's it. I used to take my watch off and put it in my pocket so I wouldn't check it constantly, and I found that 15 minutes sometimes felt like the 2 minutes we had this morning--not nearly enough time to clear the clutter in my brain and just relax and listen.
I live by myself, I once again have no TV, my neighborhood is pretty quiet (usual sounds: birds.), and I get to practice silence in my house every day. But today's silent times in church, surrounded by my community, were different. Even though I was "in charge" and even though I had to watch the clock, the quiet was profound and wonderful. I hope others thought so too.
And now, back to your regularly scheduled programming (in my case, reading and dreaming of travel...).