I never really thought of doctor Suess’s Grinch character as a prophet for the modern church I was reminded of one of his greatest annoyances in life; the noise of Whoville. In the classic tale that is immortalized every holiday season the Grinch exclaims with great frustration a phrase that I wonder if God utters about us at times.
All the noise, noise, noise, noise!
If there’s one thing I hate…all the noise, noise, noise, noise!
And they’ll shriek, squeak, and squeal racing round on their wheels,
Then dance with jin-tinglers tied onto their heels!”
“They’ll blow their flu-flubers, they’ll bang their tar-tinkers,
They’ll blow their hoo-hoovers, they’ll bang their gar-dinkers!
They’ll beat their trum-tookers, they’ll slam their sloo-slunkers!
They’ll beat their blum-blookers, they’ll wham their hoo-whunkers!”
Another even more prophetic voice comes to us in Thomas Merton’s spiritual classic, Contemplative Prayer. In this amazing little book on prayer, Merton offers a wealth of guidance on prayer, teaching that a meditative prayer life should be sought out by all believers, not to escape the world, but so that positive change can be directed back into the world. Early in chapter two, while Merton writes of “a wordless total surrender of the heart in silence”. As insightful as Merton’s writing here is, possibly my favorite part of the book is a quote that Merton includes by a Syrian Monk names Isaac of Niniveh.
“Every man who delights in a multitude of words, even though he says admirable things, is empty within. If you love truth, be a lover of silence. Silence like the sunlight will illuminate you in God and will deliver you from the phantoms of ignorance. Silence will unite you to God himself….
More than all things love silence: it brings you a fruit that tongue cannot describe. In the beginning we have to force ourselves to be silent. But then there is born something that draws us to silence. May God give you an experience of this “something” that is born of silence. If only you practice this, untold light will dawn on you in consequence…after a while a certain sweetness is born in the heart of this exercise and the body is drawn almost by force to remain in silence.”
I have found this quote to be true in my life, yet I still tend to run from the quiet moments. I’m not sure that many of our churches will last this next decade, let alone this next century, if we don’t somehow learn to recapture the art of silence in our communal and individual lives. It’s not just a problem in the loud, sensory overload of sights and sounds in the youthful modern worship movement. It is perhaps even more of problem in traditional organ driven, southern Gospel loving, older crowds as well, where times are prayer are always filled with someone talking. How Satan hates silence, how tragic that we gladly handed over the keys of the kingdom, along with its power and glory, to the well-crafted sounds of the modern and postmodern culture with its technically excellent, over-emotional-but often-devoid-of-spirit music, complete with impressive audio visual technology. As wonderful and helpful as those things can be, we must somehow recapture silence in our worship (and in our individual lives), or we may forfeit hearing from God Himself in order to simply hear about God.