The sound of silence…

Last weekend was our silent retreat–an event we’ve been facilitating for 11 years. So what is a silent retreat? Just what it says…

We gather together at a church campgrounds in the countryside on Friday night…talk about the weekend schedule and what silence means…then go into silence with a worship. We spend all day Saturday in silence…there are scheduled activities (worship/prayer vigil) that are done in community in silence–but if people feel led/called to spend that time in some other way, that’s okay too. Sunday morning we gather back together…still in silence…have the opportunity to share personally in the Lord’s Supper…then when all who wish to have shared, we gather back together to be brought out of silence with a worship…and then share whatever people choose to share before lunch and leaving.

It’s an oasis of opportunity to spend intentional time with God…in prayer, meditation, worship…

There are a core group of people who look forward to having this quiet time every year. I know I need it in order to refocus and re-center.

And we do connect with each other. There is an incredible amount of communication and connection that takes place without words…

But this year I became aware as well that the sound of silence is not always friendly. We had a young woman at the retreat for whom silence became scary and lonely. She had thought she could handle it, but she needed to come to talk with us about some of her issues…to ask us to pray with/for her.

Silence makes us face ourselves…the issues that we can hold at bay with conversation/work/other activities. Sometimes that’s easier than others. Sometimes it’s scary–because it calls us into new pathways, directions we may not want to go because we don’t know what lies ahead.

I was reminded of some of the words from Simon & Garfunkel’s hit song “The Sound of Silence”…

Hello darkness, my old friend,
I’ve come to talk with you again,
Because a vision softly creeping,
Left its seeds while I was sleeping,
And the vision that was planted in my brain
Still remains
Within the sound of silence.

As the song continues, the sound of silence is not necessarily positive…

But it can be…

The sounds of silence…an opportunity to listen to myself…an opportunity to listen to God.

So what now?

We’ve made it through Lent, Palm Sunday, and Easter. Now what?

What does it mean to live in a post-Easter world? What difference does it make…really?

I’ve wondered sometimes what my reaction would have been had I lived 2000 years ago. Would I have been one of those cowering in the locked room, afraid of both the Romans and the Jews? Would I have had the courage to boldly proclaim my faith in a risen Christ?

I’d like to think that I’d have done the latter. But I don’t know.

I really can’t understand the impact the resurrection had on the lives of those early followers. I do believe in life after death…that this isn’t all there is. I believe that there is a personal God who cares for me. That’s always been a part of who I have understood.

What would it have been like if that had been something totally new? totally unexpected?I can’t imagine the courage it took those early followers to march into the Coliseum, willing to die horribly rather than repudiate their faith. If I’m honest with myself, I don’t know if I could have…would have…

Maybe that’s the reason for the question in the title of this post. What now?

If I truly believe in a risen Jesus, what difference does it make in my life…now? Can I live with the courage of my conviction? I hope so…

Maundy Thursday

We attend a contemporary outreach congregation, and so our Sunday morning services have a pretty standard format we follow so that those who are first-time visitors (or even second- or third-time) can feel comfortable in knowing what to expect.

However, we also have periodic midweek services, and I’m in charge of them. We’ve gone a number of different directions with those…but two that have been standard are our Ash Wednesday service to begin Lent and our Maundy Thursday service as we lead up to Easter.

Because of a number of factors, this year I was running way behind in my planning and preparation. I pulled out the service that we had used last year and realized that there was no way I was going to be able to line up the people to participate in it. So…what to do?

We still wanted/needed a Maundy Thursday service–a Communion service, because of the significance of this day. But I also wanted us to truly understand (as best we can) what it must have felt like for the disciples as they left the upper room that night and moved into the weekend.


This year we gathered quietly…the lights turned down low…our worship setting contained the Communion elements (broken bread and grape juice), two bowls and pitchers, and candles–7 small ones, and 1 large one.

We shared in Communion early in the service, being reminded of how Jesus shared with his disciples. Then we read the story of how Jesus washed his feet, reminding them of their call to be servants…and invited people to come forward to have their hands washed as a symbol of their willingness to be servants.

That’s often where we stop. But this year, we talked about the shadows in the upper room…shadows that were felt but could not be articulated. As the disciples left, they walked into a darkness that seemed to have no ending. We are fortunate in that we know that the ending was in fact a new beginning–but they didn’t.

And so we shared in the story through readings…scriptures of the time in the Garden, the betrayal, trial, the crucifixion. After each scripture was read, one of the small candles was extinguished–until only the large candle was left…and then we quietly sat, listening to the words of “Wondrous love” as the lights were turned down even lower.

“What wondrous love is this, O my soul…
What wondrous love is this that caused the Lord of bliss
To bear the dreadful curse for my soul.

When I was sinking down…
When I was sinking down beneath God’s righteous frown,
Christ laid aside His crown for my soul, for my soul,

 And when from death I’m free, I’ll sing on…
And when from death I’m free, I’ll sing and joyful be;
And through eternity, I’ll sing on.

And then, in the quiet, with the single candle burning in the darkness, we were dismissed with this message of hope…

In the beginning was the one
   who is called the Word.

   The Word was with God
   and was truly God.

From the very beginning
   the Word was with God.

And with this Word,
   God created all things.
   Nothing was made
   without the Word.

Everything that was created
    received its life from him,
   and his life gave light
   to everyone.

The light keeps shining
   in the dark,
   and darkness has never
   put it out.


The healing power of music…

I’ve known how healing music can be…after all, I am a classically trained musician (primarily piano and organ, but also played cello all the way through high school and college).

But I think that somehow that knowledge has tended to be more abstract than ingrained, although there have been periodic exceptions. I remember a time about 11 years ago when I was going through one of those difficult times in my relationship with my denomination, times that I seem to have to cycle through periodically. At a church event, someone asked me a totally innocent question that brought to the fore all the issues that I was dealing with–and I burst into tears. I left the room, walked to a chapel on the campus, and went straight to the piano. I didn’t turn on any lights, because I didn’t want anyone to join me…but I spent the next half hour playing my prayer. There were no words at that point that could express my feelings–but the music did.

Over the last couple of years I’ve been going through another of those difficult times. I wish I could say that it was all one-sided, but the truth is, my reactions haven’t always helped that relationship. Suffice it to say that in some ways there’s been a sense of estrangement…a sense of wondering if the ministry I thought I have to offer was being accepted or if I needed to look for some place else to offer it.

Last night there was a special denominational-wide activity, with our prophet-president addressing the whole church, live and through webcasting. A good friend of mine–our principal organist–who would normally have played was out of town providing ministry, and so I was asked to play. The request was for about 20 minutes of quiet meditative music before the service began, a couple of hymns, and a quiet meditative postlude following.

It was to take place in our Temple, a building that has been closed for some renovations for over a year, and so last night was the first time the Casavant organ in that building would have been heard for many months.

I had practiced for a couple of days last week on the organ–and that was very therapeutic, helping to calm some of the intense emotions I’d been feeling.

But last night provided something else for me as well. The congregation gathered quietly, and I sensed their support as I went to the organ to play. The quietness and calmness of the music brought quietness and calmness to my soul as well. And following that, I’ve received a number of comments in appreciation of the ministry I offered as part of the evening’s event–comments that I realized my soul has been dying to hear.

So maybe it wasn’t just the music…maybe it was the whole package. But I know myself enough to know that about 90% of the healing came through music. I’ve been blessed in the past through the healing power of music…was blessed last night…and know that there will be times in the future when I will be blessed that way as well.

Thanks be to God!