Silence

I recently stumbled on an article that was published some time ago by the Harvard Review.  The title, The Busier You are the More You Need Quiet Time, sums up the article, .

The authors seem to think they have found some new truth that no one else has realized: We need quiet time.  Interestingly enough, it is new, at least to the culture we live in today. These authors have “discovered” something that Christians have known for centuries.  Silence is good for you.

We need silence in our busy lives.  We live in a culture where there is pressure to do more and be more.  This means we are always busy and we tend to have less time for ourselves, less time to be still, and less time to just be.

Some of us find the idea of silence hard to fathom.  We think that there would be no way for us to be able to spend some time alone and be silent, even if we wanted to be silent.  The struggles of life make it hard to think that there would be time in our busy schedules to even pencil in silence for 10 minutes. psa 62

Others of us, think that carving out time to be silent would be a dream.  We know we are tired and know that we need something to energize us.  But we don’t know what exactly would help our tired bodies and souls.

Silence offers a retreat from too much artificial sound.  Traffic and machinery noise marks our culture and often is oppressive not only for our physical and emotional health but for our spirits as well.  The incessant chatter of advertising hype and program sounds on radio and television add to the static. Music, which can soothe the soul , unfortunately, is often distorted into a noisy and manipulative marketing tool.  In a world overstuffed with noise, persuasive speech, even sermons and prayers, can bounce back from our ears like repetitive advertisements–becoming clanging cymbals, signifying nothing.

One way to practice silence (and solitude) is to be quiet in a quiet place for some time. Perhaps you take a walk on a nature trail or sit beside a lake or a creek. Or a quiet spot in a park or your backyard may work well. Even a secluded chair inside your house may work — as long as all your communication and media devices are turned off!  It can start off small, with a few minutes, and then gradually get longer and you learn just be still in the moment.

The point of our time in silence is to do nothing.  The point of our time in silence is not to make anything happen.

In silence we’re learning to stop doing, stop producing, stop pleasing people, stop entertaining ourselves, stop obsessing — stop doing anything except to simply be our naked self before God and be found by God.

In Christ,

Travis Segar – Pastoral Intern

 

copyright © 2019, Holy Trinity Lutheran Church

Thoughts and Prayers

Large chunks of Nebraska, Iowa are under water. We offer our thoughts and prayers. The people of New Zealand are still reeling in the wake of a mass murder of Muslim citizens by a hate-filled man who held to the evil, blasphemous ideas of white supremacy. We offer our thoughts and prayers. As a congregation, we are preparing to lay to rest two members of the community and we offer their families and loved ones our thoughts and prayers.

Some condemn offering “thoughts and prayers”  as wishful thinking, others as a way to avoid actually doing something about a problem. Even pastors and religious leaders have been suspicious of offering “thoughts and prayers” in the face of school shootings, natural disasters and the chaos of each day.

It is true that we often offer “thoughts and prayers” when we don’t know what else to say, maybe even with no intention of actually praying. That’s really a lie, not a prayer. We may offer up a quick, “Lord, help them” or a “thank God I’m not having to face that struggle” and call it good. I call that a “drive-by” prayer. I am guilty of such prayer more often than I like to admit, I think.thoughts and prayers cartoon

Sometimes, a situation is just flat-out horrible or painful and we have no power to do a thing about it. So, we offer “thoughts and prayers.” Maybe because we desperately want to do something – anything – so we can not feel so helpless. But maybe, just maybe, it’s because when we feel helpless we appeal to a God who can do what we can’t. When “thoughts and prayers” are condemned for expressing helplessness, I tend to think that it is precisely what we should be doing.

When “thoughts and prayers” are dismissed as meaningless, I think it is because most of us misunderstand prayer — even pastors and the pious. Thinking that God and Amazon have much in common (they don’t) we make our order and then complain about the service when our wise request is not delivered as ordered. We end up thinking like author Nicholas Sparks, in Three Weeks With My Brother “I don’t pray because it doesn’t work. Prayer doesn’t fix anything. Bad things happen anyway.” Bitterness and unbelief follow. When I find myself annoyed by yet another offer of “thoughts and prayers” I have to ask myself if somehow I have lost faith in a God who answers them – somehow, someway.

If we think that offering prayer is mostly about changing, cajoling, or manipulating God to pay attention to something we think that the Ground of All Being and Existence has somehow missed, then we have misunderstood the purpose of prayer and our relationship to God. Prayer is not a magical ritual that brings about miracles. It is certainly far more than making myself feel pious or better about things.

Soren Kierkegaard said, “The function of prayer is not to influence God, but rather to change the nature of the one who prays.”  When I say, “I will pray for you,” what I should be offering is to enter God’s presence with you and your struggles on my heart and on my lips; to open myself to care for you as God does. Prayer for another should never be done without a great deal of seriousness, for in prayer – true prayer – God will call, challenge and change us to be the answer to prayer.  Eugene Peterson says it this way: “The task is not to get God to do something I think needs done, but to become aware of what God is doing so that I can participate in it.”

Ultimately, prayer is not words, but silence. Yes, we have prayers that we say, all the time. Jesus gave his disciples (and us) the Lord’s Prayer, which is certainly words. Yet, the purpose of the words is to place us in God’s presence with God’s will and desire in our hearts. Jesus prayed that the cup of crucifixion be taken from him, but then centered himself squarely in God’s will. The words point us to a silence that opens up to God’s presence for God’s sake alone. Eugene Peterson says it this way: “Prayer is the way we work our way out of the comfortable but cramped world of self and into the spacious world of God.”

“Thoughts and prayers” understood as a movement into the presence of God with an open heart, mind, and agenda is to allow that open places to be filled with God. It is not impotent, nor does it replace action. It leads to it. No action of ours can be grounded in God without prayer. Peterson again: A changed world begins with us … and a changed us begins when we pray.

“Thoughts and prayers” offered in the experience of helplessness, to establish a connection with others who suffer, done in the manner and name of Christ, transforms us. “Prayer is not asking. It is a longing of the soul. It is daily admission of one’s weakness. It is better in prayer to have a heart without words than words without a heart.” ― Mahatma Gandhi

Pax Christi – Pastor Tim Olson

 

copyright © 2019, Holy Trinity Lutheran Church