How silence can help us hear the voice of God

And, behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the LORD; but the LORD was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the LORD was not in the earthquake: And after the earthquake a fire; but the LORD was not in the fire: and after the fire a still, small voice (1 Kings 19:11-12).

Don Ramage

Making room for silence is one of the gifts of our spiritual tradition. When I visit other churches, as much as I appreciate the worship experience, I notice that the sanc- tuary is sometimes filled with noisy chatter before the service. At St. Andrew’s, as in most Episcopal churches, I am grateful to find quiet space for prayer and meditation be- fore the service. We are happy to see each other, but we speak with God first, saving our conversations with each other for the fellowship time after the service. Making room for silence and stillness enables us to hear the voice of the Spirit, for, as Elijah learned in the passage from 1 Kings, the voice is usually a quiet one. We also have, within our service here at St. Andrew’s, a moment of silence when, after the scripture readings, Father Martin rings a bell to call us to gather our wandering thoughts and be present in the moment.

In my work as a teacher, I occasionally teach a course in American culture for international students in which one of the topics is silence and wait time in conversation. We discuss how conversation in some cultures is like a game of bowling, whereas conversation in America can be like a fast-paced game of basketball. A moment of silence in a conversation, time to think before speaking, can be misinterpreted as not having understood the question or not speaking the language. There are church services, too, when worship leaders feel every moment needs to be filled with speaking. As Christians, though, we understand that there are times to be counter-cultural. Worship at St. Andrew’s is one way to get a break from a very noisy world.

In our last vestry meeting, we discussed the question of how, exactly, we might fulfill our mission statement, “To know Christ, and to make Christ known.” We also dis- cussed the possibility of having a part-time curate priest in training here at St. Andrew’s. Along with the exciting possibility of being able to develop in new directions comes the question of discerning in which directions. To find the answers to these questions of dis- cernment, there must be both quiet listening and action to discover by going. I hope that we can all seek the answers to these questions prayerfully and together, supporting each other and listening as a congregation to that still, small voice as we move forward.

Adapted from Don’s article in the June Tartan