August 12, 2020

Another Look: Come to the Quiet

Geth Stations

Note from CM: I will be going to The Abbey of Gethsemani in a couple of weeks for a few days of retreat. Having confirmed my reservation today, I was reminded of this simple invitation to silence from August, 2012.

* * *

Yet in our busy, noisy, overstimulating mission field of the world, it is one of the church’s high callings to give the gift of silence, of greater spaciousness to make room for contemplative encounters with the means of grace, so that the Spirit may most freely do the works of salvation to form us in faith.

– Jonathan Linman, Holy Conversation: Spirituality for Worship

The world and our lives are noisy and overstimulating — yes, that is clear. We know this. We feel this.

What gift does the church have to give to such a world, to such lives?

It seems that, for many churches, the gifts they think they must offer entail more noise, more stimulation, more activity, perhaps even more stress.

Why do we do this?

Are there truly sound reasons for imagining that the best ways of introducing people to Jesus must involve competing with our culture’s busyness, frenetic pace, pumped-up volume, and manic multitasking?

What, instead, if our invitation was, “Come to the quiet”?

I remember a lesson a wise coach once taught me about getting the attention of a group of noisy, rambunctious kids. One’s natural instinct is to raise your voice higher and higher, to try to outdo them in volume, to yell and scream and demand that they shut up and listen. Instead, this man learned that a whisper usually did the trick better. He would make a motion to let his players know he had something to say, and then he would start addressing them in a low, calm voice. One by one, they would quiet down and shush each other so that they could hear what he was trying to tell them.

What if we did that instead?

What if the Lord is not in the earthquake, wind, or fire? What if: “After the fire, there was a sound. Thin. Quiet.” (1Kings 19:12, CEB)? What if moments of stillness are the settings that indicate God is present, ready to to converse with us?

Jesus bids us follow him, walk with him. At a walking pace. With a Friend. Having conversation. Aware of our surroundings. Attentive. Quiet. Personal. Peaceful.

Church SilenceWhat if our invitation to the world was the same?

“Come, walk with us as we walk with Jesus.”

“Come, sit with us at his feet as we listen and learn and contemplate his words.”

“Come, join us at the table for simple food and friendly conversation, for laughter and the pleasure of good company; unrushed, unforced.”

“Come into the sanctuary and spend time alone with God any time you like. Breathe. Light a candle. Watch the light dance and play as it shines through the stained glass. Smell the wood and fabric, saturated with incense. Imagine the saints and angels watching over you. Open a Bible, a hymnal, a prayer book. Listen. Listen. Speak if you must, but try to listen.”

“Come, slow down with us.”

“Come, let’s find the path of peace together.”

“Come, let us learn to do whatever work God calls us to do from hearts that are quiet, from spirits at rest in Jesus.”

“Come to the quiet.”

Imagine. What if…?



  1. I love this, Mike. The substance *and* the way you wrote it.

  2. Let’s dissect this rhetoric. If silence is such a great thing, why the urge to do it in groups? In a religious context, isn’t group silence just an attempt to overcome resistance, reinforce conformity, and encourage psychological projection?

    • no, no it is not.

      But it does involve being comfortable in one’s own skin…..I sense some trouble with this in your world.

    • Wexel, you should read more carefully.

      This is not a post about silence per se. It’s about quiet.

    • David Cornwell says

      It stands on its own and does not need dissection. This is not a court of law, and there is no need for a prosecution. The witness is trustworthy is is not known to be one who deceives others. We are not judge and jury here. We can accept the plain sense in which it is offered.

      • For those of us who live noisy, distracting, busy, hurried lives and have also experienced a silent retreat, there is nothing like it to bring one rest, solace and help put our feet firmly on the ground again. My few silent retreats are in my best memories list and went a long way to re-pointing me back to what is important. Life can be full of distractions and can also slowly move our focus off of what ultimately is the best for us spiritually, and when I am off-center its harder for me to focus on others…

        I am envious Chaplain Mike in a good way, hoping you have a restful time where you can be contemplative, discern on those things weighing on your mind, and again become rejuvenated. Before I die I may one day get to this place or Saint Meinreid (spelling) where Michael used to rest…..

    • Again, Wexel, you come, lob a grenade, then run. Instead, share with us YOUR answer, share with us what YOU believe in, rather than undercutting what some of us here believe in.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        Wexel has a one-track mind:

        • I’d forgotten about that little skit. Classic Groucho!

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            Then there’s the classic Groucho that I’d like to see played at every Presidential Inaguration:
            “The last man nearly ruined this place,
            He didn’t know what to do with it —
            If you think this country’s bad off now
            Just wait ’til I get through with it!”

        • How many tracks does your mind have? Let’s see, there’s Furries / My Little Pony, Ayn Rand…

      • There is nothing special about my worldview. I do not go around trying to convert people to what I believe, though I do respond to religious propaganda in ways that may well strike true believers, who are unused to hearing any backtalk from the heathen, as a “grenade.”

        • You mean “firecracker.”

        • >”There is nothing special about my worldview.”

          Except that your worldview appears to be, “I don’t like YOUR worldview, so I will cast stones at it.”

          I interact with atheists and agnostics quite frequently (“heathen” is a term I’d never use), some who are repectful in discussions about varying beliefs and some who aren’t. You still seem averse to describing how you find answers to life’s tough questions, how you find peace in life…you know, the stuff you give us Christians a hard time about because we find those in God and Christ.

        • Let’s see… enjoy visiting a distinctly Christian site, tossing word bombs, and then enjoying your “victimhood”. Buddy, if you have something to honestly ask, or thoughts to share, we are all ears. But showing up just to piddle in our collective Cornflakes doesn’t change anyone or anything. If you are smart, demonstrate it….if you want to be a troll, there are LOTS of places on the internet to go play.

          • To me, *you’re* the trolls. No matter what I write, somebody always wants to know what my religion is.

            You’re on the internet–that makes you fair game. I have no ideology or sectarian identity to promote, and my personal beliefs are none of your business.

            • Wexel, you are welcome here. You challenge us.

              And for everyone: do not let any conversation degenerate into a mutual condemnation society. That will not be tolerated. At some point, I will start moderating and editing/deleting comments. Might be a good time for everyone to get reacquainted with the FAQs.

  3. “Music and silence – how I detest them both! How thankful we should be that ever since our Father entered Hell… no square inch of infernal space and no moment of infernal time has been surrendered to either of those abominable forces, but all has been occupied by Noise – Noise, the grand dynamism, the audible expression of all that is exultant, ruthless, and virile – Noise, which alone defends us from silly qualms, despairing scruples, and impossible desires. We will make the whole universe a noise in the end. *We have already made great strides in this direction as regards the Earth*…” – Screwtape, “The Screwtape Letters”

  4. Nouwen’s “The Way of the Heart” would be a great read for you while on this retreat, CM. You may have already read it, but his thoughts on silence, solitude, and prayer, in the context of the Desert Fathers and Mothers, are tremendous. It’s my favorite Nouwen work. Peace of the Lord be with you…

  5. What if the Lord is not in the earthquake, wind, or fire? What if: “After the fire, there was a sound. Thin. Quiet.” (1Kings 19:12, CEB)?

    A thin, quiet sound. I like that.

    The classic description is from the King James Version, “a still small voice.” The NIV calls it a “gentle whisper.” But I’ve been told that the Hebrew is more like “a voice of silence.” I’ve heard the voice of silence only a few times in my life, but it’s caught my attention far more than any shout.

    • “a voice of silence.” I like that, Ted.

      Have a wonderful time of quiet at the abbey, Chaplain Mike. I would love to go there sometime.

      • It’s funny, I was just in Gethsemani’s website last night, having clicked the link here on iMonk for some strange reason. I was thinking of Jeff, though, not Mike—but close enough.

  6. What a refreshing perspective. Thanks CM

  7. David Cornwell says

    “Come, join us at the table for simple food and friendly conversation, for laughter and the pleasure of good company; unrushed, unforced.”

    I’m glad you bring this into the conversation. To me this is such a neglected part of modern life. We eat on the run, in a hurry, in our cars, and standing up. To join with another person in a conversation, during a meal, is a wonderful gift of God. And it should be part of our lives with each other and our invitation to the world.

    For unless we take such time for each other, even those we do not understand, then we are missing something important.

    Stephen E. Fowl and Luke Timothy Johnson, among others, have written about the importance of friendship and hospitality, not only among our own, but with those we know little about. Hospitality often takes place at meal with others. For here we get to know, discuss, and listen. And in this listening the Spirit of God will be present.

  8. David could you recommend a specific book by either of these two gentleman you reference that expands on your thoughts about hospitality?

    • David Cornwell says

      Stephen E. Fowl’s book is “Engaging Scripture.” And Luke Timothy Johnson’s is “Scripture and Discernment.” Both are discussing how Christian hospitality plays a part in the large scheme of the interpretation of scripture and thus deciding a way forward. As an illustration the process used in Acts 10-15 is described. Hospitality was important here, and as a result the work of the Holy Spirit in working through the process came into play. Without a process like this, we lack the interpretative tools to solve some of the problems facing the Church.

  9. Enjoy your retreat, CM. May it be peaceful, restful and quiet!

  10. Do you want to know how I leanred the value of silence? I was living in Milwaukee in 2003, 2004. I forget which and Harley Davidson was having their 100th anniversary and encouraging people to come to Milwaukee for celebrations. Many of my co-workers flipped at the idea of 50-125,000 (can’t remember exactly) of Harely riders coming from across the country to Milwaukee for a few days and scheduled leave. I thought…how bad could it be? Then it started…of the noise! I heard so many motorcycles constantyl when at work in downtown Milwaukee that I had headaches. I remember going to my apartment in the outskirts of West Allis after the first day and laying in the dark after constant earbreaking noise…and just enjoying the silence. The peace after all the activity was awesome!

    Great post Chaplin Mike…I hope you enjoy your retreat.

  11. CM, that you have been and are going back, that more and more the concept of the contemplative approach to God is accepted here, I am encouraged and heartened by the growth and openness to Spirit I find here. I hope you will be able to share some of what you find. Bless your time at Gethsemani!

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  13. Beautiful. Thank you.

  14. It seems to be a lot easier to learn about a person when both of you are forced to sit in silence. Maybe there is a psychologist here to explain why the brain works this way. I love to go to mass early, and just sit in quiet prayer. It’s nice. Let’s face it, 90% of what we say is simplistic jibberish. I like quiet and hope to get a Zen like rock garden placed by our Church.