I am pastor of a Baptist congregation in Fort Collins, Colorado, and for the past two plus months, I have been on sabbatical. In addition to pursuing goals of resting, studying and revisioning, I have also attended three conferences, visited several churches, interviewed a handful of pastors, read several meaningful books, and in the process, traveled some ninety-five hundred miles. Another vital part of this time has been the sacred experience of visiting eight major league baseball stadiums from Denver to Kansas City to Atlanta.
Although there have been many highlights in my time away from the daily rigors of pastoring, a bright spot that outshines the rest (maybe even the baseball), was a retreat that my wife and I took in late September to the Windermere Baptist Conference Center, a Baptist camp by the Lake of the Ozarks in south central Missouri. Being at camp brought back distasteful memories of high humidity and all sorts of crawly, creepy and biting bugs. But the visit also brought with it a flood of fond remembrances of our children attending summer church camp there. And the trip gave me the opportunity to reflect, study and do some worship planning.
From the minute that my wife and I drove onto the campgrounds, we were both struck by the beauty and quiet of the camp. We had been to this place before, but in prior trips camp had been in session, so there had been several hundred children all seemingly talking at the same time while running back and forth to swim, trying to borrow money for the Coke machine or staying up half the night. Oh and there were adult leaders and counselors at camp also, all of them likely searching for that energizing cup of coffee while corralling the children, visiting and keeping an eye on the schedule.
My wife and I chose to stay at this camp so that we could enjoy relaxing in a cabin by the lake and because there is no television or strong internet connection. But on this latest trip to Windermere, the camp was especially q-u-i-e-t. It was very restful as it is the nine to ten months out of the year that camp isn’t in session. The silence was only broken by the hum of an air conditioner or the turn of a motor, the song of a bird or insect or the splash of a fish breaking the water.
The quiet was so peaceful that it felt strange to me. And I realized that the rest of my life is not like this. I am more accustomed to having the TV blaring to keep me company…. to dogs barking in the backyard…and to heavy traffic and the radio playing on the way to work. This type of noise seems to be just the tip of the iceberg in my world and I imagine in yours as well.
As I walked by the lake at Windermere and sat in a rocking chair watching the spectacular sunrises and sunsets, I came to appreciate the silence of this place. In fact, I enjoyed the silence so much that I left camp committed to cultivate quiet and leave room for silence in my life. This is because I came away from this experience more convinced that I need quiet time in my life so that I can more readily open myself to God’s spirit and be receptive to his Word and direction for me. In fact, sitting in the quiet, I remembered the story of Elijah in 1 Kings 19. God (with a little help from Elijah) had just defeated the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel and Elijah had them all killed by the sword. When Queen Jezebel heard of this, she said that she was gonna run him through with a sword too. So out of fear for his own life, Elijah flees to Mount Horeb. There, Elijah is on the mountain and God is about to pass by. There is the rush of a mighty wind, but God is not in the wind. Then, there is an earthquake and then a fire, but God is not in either of these. Finally, God comes to Elijah in the stillness and quiet of a gentle whisper.
If I take the time to slow down and realize it, I find that God still comes to us in a hushed whisper to commune with us and speak to us. The sad part is that oftentimes we are too busy and involved in the loudness of our world to notice God’s voice.
Because of the busyness of our world and the fact that our society generally values performance and “doing” over “being”, I realize that it won’t be easy to cultivate a quiet, reflective life won’t be easy. Still, I intend to do so because for me the communion or centeredness that I experience in quiet reflection is life-giving and life-sustaining. And so, the habit is worth developing and keeping. Maybe that will be the case for you too as you seek the sound of silence in your life.