Sunday, May 18, 2014

Bigger, louder, better?

The other day I briefly skimmed an article about the world's quietest room. As his closing remarks, the author revealed that the longest man has ever lasted inside the room amounts to a mere hour. I immediately contested the article because surely man could last longer than that - I mean, I probably could stay in there for a week! My slightly big-headed proposition was the result of a week marked by stress, noise and information-overload. Big cities are loud places and in moments of over-sensitisation, when all the noise is competing for your attention, the ordinary becomes draining: The chatter of people echoing the streets. The droning traffic. The ambulances making their way to the nearest hospital. The closing doors of public transport. The construction work outside the office. The soon-to-die computer trying to keep up with simple tasks. The chirping birds. Even the rain banging against your window. True quietness does not exist.

Fast forward to the Sunday of that particular week. I went to church, as always. The band was playing, people were clapping, the pastor was speaking - and there was not a single moment of stillness. Even when we were waiting for the Lord to minister to people, the piano was being played in the background and someone somewhere was talking. It seems to me, that in the purpose-driven lifestyle of people, quietness has become something uncomfortable - something that better be avoided. And churches make no exception. I observe how - more and more so - worship sets are turned into rock concerts, where the sound of the instruments cancels out the voices of the congregation, where colourful lights are wildly circulating around the room, where the quality of performance becomes more important than bringing Him praise. I observe pastors speaking louder and louder, almost screaming, to emphasise the importance of a point made. I observe how the congregation is encouraged to respond back to the things said with a happy "Hallelujah" instead of quietly pondering the thought.

Don't get me wrong - it is by no means my intention to bash modern forms of worship or the exclamation of support during the service. I like singing my praises accompanied by a good worship band, I like scripture being projected onto the wall with a nice soothing background, and sometimes I even like saying a "yes" in agreement - I am all in for it. Yet,  I am advocating that we as the church stop competing with this mad lifestyle of stress, noise and impressing people that dominates life outside the church. The Kingdom of God is upside-down and counter-cultural. We do not need to speak louder and be flashy in order to be heard and taken seriously. We really don't.

This Easter, when I went back to Scotland and attended the Easter Sunday service of my old church, I saw that God is most powerful in the quiet. Within seconds of the band playing the first chords of an old hymn, the uniting voices of the congregation grew louder and louder - eventually drowning the sound of the instruments. I remember vividly how the deep humming voices of the men mingled with the chirping voices of the women. I kept thinking this is what Heaven must be like. It was utterly beautiful. And then, when the song finished and people were catching their breath after singing from the top of their lungs, there was a stillness for a split second or two. A brief moment of quietness that bundled up all the contentment and satisfaction there ever was and ever is to come. To me, it was that moment of stillness that was most inviting.

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