I left Saint John’s Abbey a week ago. It’s the strangest thing: I really miss the monastery. I miss the silence. I miss the rhythm of worship – both the daily interruption of it and the exceptionally slow pace of it. I catch myself humming some of the tunes that I learned there – they sing the Lord’s Prayer in a way I’ve never heard before; they chant the psalms in ways I’ve never learned before. Once those phrases get inside your head, they seem to stick around for a while. This brush with the Benedictines has left its mark on me.
Things seems louder right now — louder and faster. To be in such quiet for eleven days was delicious. In his Rule, Saint Benedict cautioned again “unnecessary speech.” He says that “anyone who is forever chattering shall not escape sin.” I cannot deny it. When I look upon the times that I have done the most damage to those I love and care about, it is when I was ‘forever chattering.’
“How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! And the tongue is a fire.”
Silence, it turns out, is very healing for me. I trust that Saint Benedict is right: if I keep my mouth shut, I am far less likely to sin.
We arrived in Bay View, Michigan in time to be in worship on Sunday morning. It was good to sing next to my father-in-law who, at the age of almost 86, still has a beautiful tenor voice. When the Scarrows line up to worship the Lord, they do it in four-part harmony. But with the monastic chants of the psalms still singing within me, Divine Worship felt like a race to the finish. Everything was fast – the reading of scripture, the delivery of the sermon, the pace of worship — and with the exception of the Prayers of the People, there was no time for silence at all.
The truth is, the pacing of worship was probably as it would have been back in my own congregation. Nowadays, we preachers are schooled to believe that silence is the enemy; silence is dead time — time when we lose our congregations’ attention; time when we lose momentum and energy in worship. This is the generation raised on Sesame Street we are told – and we’ve got to learn to move worship along in tiny sound-bite-sized pieces.
Eleven days isn’t a long time. But it did make – what I hope will be – a lasting impression on me. I hope my time at the Abbey will continue to remind me of the importance of silence. I hope I will remember that savoring the Word of God slowly can lead to profoundly nourishing worship. And I hope I remember that, if the Benedictines have been worshiping this way for 1500 years, they might have gotten a few things right by now.