Thursday, September 27, 2012

Monk Habits for Everyday People

At a certain point during our weekly worship gathering, I get to stand up and lead our church in a modified version of the prayers of the people. We always begin this movement of worship with silence and then confession. The silence lasts somewhere around fifteen seconds, although I always shoot for thirty. As little and insignificant as that may seem, it's intentional; and because it's a part of the liturgy of worship it's deep with meaning.

Chapter three of Dennis Okholm's book, Monk Habits for Everyday People, is called "Learning to Listen." (Read my first post here.)

Silence is not just about not talking. In fact, Benedict never urged for total silence. The restraint of speech was a matter of hospitality. Because they all lived together in a monastic community, silence was encouraged over an excessive amount of talking. Thus, one should speak only when words were necessary. Of course, this begs the question as to how one knows when words are and are not necessary. This is partly why this community practiced intentional times of silence. If you never stop talking then you are not able to know when is the right time to be silent. By practicing silence we learn when to speak and when not to speak. Of course, when they spoke intentionally it was in the form prayer, specifically reading the Psalms. This says a lot about how we learn to speak as Christians. When you begin to follow Jesus, you are just not able to speak maturely about Him. You have to learn how to speak and the Psalms, for example, can train us in this. Consider that Paul spent fourteen years after his conversion learning before he spoke in any sort of public and authoritative way. This should make us pause.

Okholm quotes Michael Casey on this, a point speaks to North American cultures situation of just utter noise. "Talk restricts our capactiy to listen, it banishes mindfulness and opens the door to distraction and escapism. Talking too much often convinces us of the correctness of our own conclusions and leads some into thinking they are wise. IT can be a subtle exercise in arrogance and superiority. Often patters of dependence, manipulation, and dominance are established and maintained by the medium of speech."

In case you're ever wondering, this is why we take time to be silent in worship. Too much is riding on the church's capacity to know when to speak and when to be silent, as well as how to speak and how to be silent.


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