Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Silence and Listening


I was able to go to the  Monterey Jazz Festival for several years in the early 1970s.  It was a great opportunity to hear amazing jazz artists, wonderful vocalists and up-and-coming performers.  There were five shows spread out over 3 days, winding up with the blues show on Sunday afternoon.

I was relaxing and watching television on the Monday evening following the Jazz Festival and realized that I was not listening to the words in what I was watching -- I was only tuned in to the music.  Three days of listening to great music had changed the way I was hearing things! 

I recalled this experience during the time of quiet waiting in the Friends in Fellowship worship group last Sunday evening.  Brent had raised the question of whether the group should continue.  Some people responded to the question and then we shifted into a time of quiet.

I came to realize that I was there for the silence.  Extended silence changes the way I hear things, in the same way that three days of world-class jazz changed the way I heard things. One of the ways quiet waiting transforms us is that it changes the way we listen.

And to extend the idea--
The significance of any form of worship is in the way it changes the way we hear and see and experience things when we leave that time of worship.  I am blessed by our worship on Sunday mornings, with hymns, a choir, prayers and preaching.  My Quaker understanding is that those outward elements of worship are there to help me discover my relationship to Jesus Christ in new and fresh ways, not as ends in themselves.  Otherwise it is only music and words. 

In the same way silence is not an end in itself, but another opportunity to explore my relationship to Jesus.  I hear the words shared in the silence within a larger context that includes the group, the world and the living presence of Jesus.  And the way I listen is changed.

Bill