With each new year people often look to new obligations and practices in their personal, spiritual and meditation activity. These are often connected to diet plans, exercise plans, habit-changing practices along with many others.
One of the emphases with liturgical renewal in the 90’s was the practice of silent meditation. One of the first observations for the student of the Book of Alternative Services (BAS) is the emphasis on silence. These silence suggestions are printed in red.
One of the problems we all have in this period of history is silence. We all have problems with silence. If you are leading worship, you quickly discover how uncomfortable we are with this practice of silence. On the average, in less than 30 seconds you begin to hear the “shuffle” breaking silence.
We intentionally build in silence in three parts of the liturgy.
The first is the Prayers of the People. After each petition silence was suggested prior to the prayer.
This is followed by the Confession. Each week there is the invitation to make our confession. The idea is we would take time for silence for personal reflection. I like to think of it as my personal time with the Lord during public worship.
The third, (started a few years ago at St. John’s): observing silenceduring the reception of the sacrament.
There are, as I understand it, three possibilities for the liturgy at this time. One. Would be to begin singing a hymn(s) as the first people approach the altar. The second would be to begin after the people on the Epistle side have received. Then there is a third, as has been the practice the past two or three years, when all have received and during the ablutions.
This preamble is an opportunity for us to consider the philosophy behind silent meditation. The first would be to find peace within the busy world we in which we live. Often it is in silence we find our true self. (How well I remember attending my first silent retreat in seminary.) Some would say regular practice of silent meditation will reduce your blood pressure, your anxiety, and a general improvement in your overall health. That would be true if you are comfortable with silence. If you have ever had an MRI, you will have quickly discovered just how comfortable you are with silence and finding stillness in your life. We will not talk about claustrophobia!!!!!
One of true gifts of silent meditation, as we cultivate it, is to find peace within ourselves. What we discover is just how connected we are with the world around us; for the Christian, the discovery of the silent presence of our Lord in our lives.
Professional spiritual directors have a variety of recommendations for the practice of spiritual silence. Most of these reflect upon finding space and posture in the presence of self. It is recommended one should be well rested, or sleep may take over. Another recommendation (which I always appreciated when on college retreats in the Benedictine Abbey), is that one should be well nourished.
One simple rule is to have a focus such as artwork. We are exceptionally gifted at St. John’s in the excess of artwork in our midst. We have the windows, the banners, the frontals. Some people finding a selection of scripture helpful or opening their hymn book to a hymn. Personally, I often suggest people to read over a hymn with which they are not familiar.
In the public setting, as in group silent retreat, it is recommended that one be deeply conscious of the needs of others in the practice of silent meditation.
Silent meditation is a true gift. In keeping with the Anglican position on the sacraments, the same I believe, applies to silence in worship: all may, some should, but none must.