Dear Pope Francis,
I’ve had the song “You are mine” by David Haas stuck in my head all weekend. It wasn’t sung at mass and I haven’t sung it or listened to it until tonight when I went looking for it on YouTube so I could link it today.
I’ve especially been ruminating on the first line. “I will come to you in the silence.” There was very little time for silence this weekend. Lauren came to visit and I had a great time introducing her to another friend of mine, going to mass at my home parish with them both, and eating dinner with a priest I altar served for growing up and another priest my Dad is friends with.
It was good to visit and spend time with everyone, and I was very glad my friend invited Lauren and I to join her for the church service at the non-denominational Christian church she goes to most Sunday evenings. I was happy to see the place where she’s been fed for the last year and to have the opportunity to talk about the experience there. I can see a desire to spread the gospel and I’m glad they’re trying to create a space which makes God accessible for young adults.
But there were no times of silence.
There was ample time for people to socialize and greet each other, and a praise and worship band who performed some beautiful music as part of the service. But the space inside the church, the place I would normally expect to be a sanctuary and respite from the noise and the busyness outside, the space I would go to if I craved an opportunity to meditate; this space was just as loud and busy as everywhere else before and after the service.
The same was true at my home parish this weekend. It was First Communion Sunday for one of the parish schools, so we had a lot of guests at mass. The church echoed with the dull roar of a few hundred people all talking quietly to one another until mass started.
It made me wonder how we can find the balance between being welcoming and using the spaces we have as much as possible and protecting areas of the church as sacred spaces of serene, sometimes sleepy silence.
When I went to New York for an anti-poverty conference with the UN two years ago, I found myself begging the pastor at a church in Times Square to show me someplace where I could have just five minutes of quiet with God. It was my fifth day in New York City and I was physically, spiritually and emotionally drained from the pace of the city that never sleeps.
The pastor obliged, and was kind enough to sit and pray with me in the kitchen above their sanctuary, but she seemed confused as to why I would be so desperate for quiet to be with God.
We live in a culture where silence is seen as unnatural. We think it is awkward to be with another human and not speaking, not filling the space with music or television. We call these silences awkward, even though there is nothing awkward about them until someone remarks on the silence and makes those who enjoy it feel guilty for wanting it to last.
Noticing this pattern of craving silence in my life got me thinking about when I can count on finding it, and what makes a spoken prayer that breaks the silence different from a spoken prayer said in communion with the rest of the congregation
I think the key difference is the opportunity for God to respond. When we are busy filling the silence with words and songs, there’s less chance of us being able to hear God’s whisper of response.
When we break the silence with a spoken prayer, as soon as we finish saying our piece, the silence returns. If we are meditating on intentions for friends and family and a verse from scripture comes to mind, we are in a space where we can open the Bible and read the passage without disturbing the quiet.
We understand the Bible as the living word of God, and I think it’s easier for those words to touch our minds, our lips, and our hearts when our ears are not being assaulted with the cacophony of urban life.
For those who like me, crave quiet to be with God I recommend attending adoration and becoming accustomed to either staying up very late or rising very early.
Appreciating the silence,