Advent is a time of quiet--the earth is beginning to rest, the days are short and the darkness long, the animals go into hibernation, the birds migrate to warmer climes, and in the church we resist the temptation to head to the mall and instead head to the sanctuary. We light candles, we sing in a minor key, and we practice silence. We listen--to ourselves, to others, to God, to the world around us. We wait. We try to be still while the culture says we need to get a bunch of things done.
I've been thinking about quietness a lot lately. I live alone with two cats, so I have a pretty good amount of silence in my life. I don't think we have enough of it in the church--really, in our Sunday worship, we have no silence at all. We have music, we have talking, we have passing the peace/gossip time, but we don't have silence.
Illinois schools have been mandated to begin each day with a moment of silence. However long the school decides it will be, it is to be a period of the day that is to be passed in silence. Some of my youth said theirs is 15 seconds, some one minute. In any case, the school is quiet. There's no direction given as to what to do with this time. Some call it a "silent reflection"--time to think about what's coming up in the day, to make a list of the homework that needs to be done at lunch, to practice a conversation you want to have between classes, to stew about the playground controversy, whatever. You can pray if you want to but it's not required or even spoken about.
I am sort of a fan of this. I see the value in beginning each day with a few seconds of quiet to think about and prepare for what's ahead. I see the value in forcing silence on a generation that lives in sound. I see the value in practicing being quiet and listening to yourself in a time and place where we are surrounded by music, noise, and talking nearly every minute of every day.
And yet there is uproar. Apparently others do not view this the way I do--they think it's mandated prayer. They see no value in silence, stillness, quiet reflection. I'm not sure what kind of children we want to raise, but I'm fairly certain that we don't want another generation that finds it impossible to sit still or to be quiet with themselves, another generation besides mine that is so uncomfortable with silence they will fill it up with anything they can find--bad music, inane conversation, disgusting displays of ignorance, or whatever happens to be available. I like to think that our children can handle 15-60 seconds of silence. I like to think that our public schools teach kids more than just reading and math but also how to be a person, one who thinks without being told what to think about. Is that so much to ask?
Perhaps I am guilty of blurring a line here, but I just don't think that quiet thinking is the same thing as prayer, and I don't think that encouraging thinking is the same as encouraging prayer, and I don't think that requiring that children learn the value of silence is the same as requiring religious belief. Perhaps I'm wrong, but this is my opinion.