Silence Please

A Quiet Place

Silence Please
Brian Zahnd

Ours is an angry and vociferous age. We’re constantly subjected to the noise of charged political rhetoric — the wearying din of the culture wars. Too often Sunday morning can be little more than a religious echo of this same noise. But shouldn’t Sunday be a Christian Sabbath, a time to quiet our souls and receive the gift of silence? What if, instead of being another contributor to this clatter, our churches became a shelter from the storm offering respite to shell-shocked souls?

Silence belongs to an earlier age. Ours is an age of noise. With our technological progress has come the din of modernity. With the advent of digital social media has come the white noise of everyone “expressing themselves.” Silence is now a precious commodity, a scarce resource hard to come by. Sure, we can pray anywhere, anytime, but to pray well, to pray in a way that restores the soul, we need to find some quiet places. This is what we find appealing in the holy hush of the cathedral, the sacred stillness of the monastery, the reverent quiet of the woods.

When birdsong and gentle footfall replace the shrill rancor of 24-7 news and the inane blare from five-hundred channels, the soul has a chance to heal. Without some intentional silence the weary soul is a prisoner being slowly worked to death in a merciless gulag of endless noise. The always-posted sign at the entrance of the tourist-attracting cathedrals is perhaps a desperate plea from the soul of modern man — Silence Please.

It’s not just the silence of prayer that is needed — a posture of quietude needs to be adopted by contemporary Christianity, especially in North America. Too much of the most visible presence of Christianity is loud, vociferous, and angry. It bears a closer resemblance to shock-jocks than Saint Francis. And I don’t hesitate to suggest that Francis of Assisi might offer us a better model than Rush of Limbaugh. We don’t need to add more noise to the raging tumult that is America. We have enough of that as it is…and it’s not helping.

A paradigm of protest and a preoccupation with power has given us wrong ideas. When we imagine the kingdom of God coming as a tsunami of irresistible force, we think our public presence needs to be loud, demonstrative, and even combative. This is entirely wrong. Babylon is built by the noisy machinery of war, conquest, and power politics, but not the kingdom of God.

Almost all of Jesus’ kingdom parables are quiet stories. According to Jesus the kingdom of God is like seed being sown, like plants growing, like bread rising. It’s domestic, not militant. It’s like a woman sweeping her house, like a shepherd searching for a lost sheep, like a wayward son coming home at last. It never gets much louder than the music and dancing of a house party.

Because we are obsessed with all things “big” and “powerful” in the conventional sense, we are convinced that to change the world the kingdom of God needs to sound like a deafening construction site — bulldozers and jackhammers. But the kingdom coming isn’t as much like a construction site as a forest growing.

The church is not a special interest group that has to make its demands known. We don’t have to “fight for our rights” anymore than Jesus did. We don’t have to mimic the noise of special-interest anger. We can be an alternative of quietness and trust. The church doesn’t have to make things happen, it can simply be that part of the world that trusts God and lives under the peaceable reign of Christ here and now.

As Yves Congar has said, “The Church is not a special little group, isolated, apart…The Church is the world as believing in Christ.” In a world that surely must grow weary of the harsh blare of ideological anger, the church is to be a haven of quietness and trust, a gentle refuge of peace.

—From Water To Wine, pp. 115–119


P.S. The photo is called A Quiet Place: Tundra, Rocky Mountain National Park and was taken by my friend and professional photographer Erik Stensland. Regarding the photo Erik says,

“Whether we realize it or not, we all need times of solitude and quiet. It is when we finally let go of all the external noises and distractions that we can begin to hear the things that are truly important. There is a world of activity happening deep inside each of us that we rarely connect with, the very core of who we are. In the stillness we not only find out what is happening inside our deepest being, but we also connect with a stillness and peace that goes far deeper than ourselves. This is the main reason that I took up photography, so that I could visit tarns like this to sit, listen and allow myself to be healed and changed in the process.”

If you are ever in Estes Park, Colorado, I highly recommend that you visit Erik’s gallery, Images of RMNP.