25 feb 2016: the case for quiet

As I write this, I’m in the midst of final preparations for the community forum with Bernie Sanders here at Woodside. Not my preparations so much as everyone else’s. Campaign staff, events organizers, sound guys, reporters, several kinds of law enforcement people, a bunch of congregation members trying to be helpful. There’s a din above which my own thoughts seem unable to rise. And here’s what I know today: even beautiful noises can disquiet the spirit. 

I’m thinking about this today, partly because of the noise, but partly because it is Lent. 

You may have noticed that we’ve intentionally toned down our worship for a few weeks. Quiet music on the piano, fewer hymns, no postlude. But also no alleluias. Less boisterous sermons. We passed the peace two Sundays, to remind us that we’re a community, but now we’re putting that away for the remainder of Lent, in favor of a quieter, reflective time. 

Because even beautiful noises can disquiet the spirit. 

Something else different has been happening at Woodside lately. Folks have begun applauding after musical pieces. And some of you have wondered why I don’t join in. 

One key reason, as you all know, is that, for me, music is part of worship, same as reading and preaching and lighting candles and passing offering plates. It is not performance, like a recital, but part of the whole of worship. And the German Lutheran congregation that raised me frowned on that. We simply didn’t applaud. Except occasionally for something reeeeaaaallly special. Or something the children did. I break that long-ingrained rule from time to time. But mostly I appreciate the music quietly. 

The other key reason, though, is about Lent. In these weeks, we’ve asked our musicians to provide a reflective interlude after the sermon, a way to help us ponder the message, begin to formulate our prayers, consider our humanity. The music has been balm for my spirit, but the applause can burst in, in its own disquieting way. Applause feels like alleluias for the hands, and this is a season when we put those away. 

Call me a purist, a buzzkill, whatever. And don’t feel obligated to do it my way. But I wonder, just in these weeks of Lent, if applause might be disquieting to others, too. Sometimes I just need silence. 

There’s one more reason, too… 

In a few weeks, we’ll get to Palm Sunday. That day begins with a great deal of joy and noise – 

rhythm instruments, a parade, singing. But then, worship takes a turn. By the time we get to the message, a Readers’ Theatre (directed by Jeff Springgay), the tone will have changed considerably. That time will end with the death and burial of Jesus, and will toss us headlong into the events of Holy Week: our Agape Meal on Maundy Thursday and the Tenebrae Service on Good Friday. Then, an eerily quiet Saturday in which to reflect on our dead brother, Jesus. A Readers’ Theatre begins all that. We like to applaud at theatre stuff; but this seems more like a “sit quietly” kind of thing. A “let heavy reality wash over us” kind of thing. 

I’m not really a purist. But sitting in my office while all around me are Secret Service and scanning machines, people gathering and the high energy of a somewhat political event, I’m reminded of the need for quiet. The beautiful sound of silence. 

It’s a journey, certainly, this spiritual stuff. A hectic, disconcerting, challenging, busy journey. I love that Lent gives us a very short season away from the noise. I hope you find it renewing. 

With you on the journey, with you in the quiet,