Thursday, September 9, 2010

All is Quiet on the Western Front

Things seem to have become quiet on many of the blogs that I follow (mine included). There has not been a private word with directions that has been passed along to those of us who blog. But it is interesting to see this collective quiet.

There is an American fear of quiet. We tend to get worried when people seem to suddenly stop speaking. We fear that anger, or perhaps something worse, is brewing under the surface. As parents we can often get quite concerned when our children's usual flamboyant character becomes retrospective and mute. As a group we tend to prefer people to stay engaged in conversation, expressing every nuance of their feelings and thoughts. It makes us feel safer I think. But it doesn't need to be so. One of my greatest joys in life is sitting beside my wife. We don't necessarily have to talk or be engaged in the same activity (we usually read different sorts of books). The simple experience of being in her presence is, to me who am quite biased in this regard, peaceful joy. We see this among those who have been married for many, many years as they sit together on a park bench, talk walks or just sit in the front parlor together.

I think we have come to a moment of what perhaps ought to be peaceful quiet. We have been living something like the Mass in our lives of late. The first part of the Mass is not even at the church. As Fr. Schmemann correctly points out our hurried little activities at home are the beginnings of a procession into the mystery of Christ. We rise, say some prayers, clean ourselves, get dressed into nice clothes, round up our children (which is ofttimes a struggle to convince them to move beyond a snails pace), and finally get into the car. We arrive at church, greeting the ushers at the door and make our way to our familiar pew to quietly say some more prayers. The bell sounds out from the sacristy and we stand as the moment begins with the wind rushing into the pipes of the organ. The entire Mass of the catechumen we enter a conversation between God and those who have begun a pilgrimage into the inner sanctum.

I have in mind that we have been living in this sort of busy activity and conversation for about a year now. Speculations, hurts, anxieties, dreams, hopes and fears have all been expressed. We have heard of the burdens that others carry and have prayed for them, carrying those people in our hearts. We have found some new members of our family and rejoiced in so doing. And yet, I think that perhaps we have exhausted the first steam of our "worldly cares" and are now ready to lay it aside.

We have come to the offertory. We have entered the beginning of the magnificent silent period wherein it is no longer we who are the narrators, but Christ who is acting and so our voices begin to fall quiet as we strain through that silence to hear the muted whispers of Christ. The traditional silent Canon of the Mass teaches us--should we care to see it--that silence after conversation is the moment in which Christ works. The offertory is upon us, but not yet the Sacrifice, the "institution". And even after the moment which many have been waiting for finally arrives, quiet will remain for a little longer until that time as we are called to receive the great Mystery.

I think we live in a pregnant pause wherein Christ is pulling all things together that we might finally and completely receive all that he has been offering for us. This will be the answer to all of our prayers and concerns, our hurts and anxieties which we have been making known to him through each other. This quiet is a profoundly active and creative one. It is not a void, but an expectation and hope.

It ought to be no surprise of course. We are all Christians and this is how our blessed Lord has ever acted with us. He calls and waits. He listens. He stoops to us and hears our cry, and lifts our feet out of the mire and the clay and set them high upon the rock. What a blessed time we have finally reached, and I can almost hear the simple ringing of the singular small altar bell telling us that we are entering the moment of mystery, the moment of the Church, the Body of Christ, wherein all things are fulfilled.


  1. Father, I think this is a very lovely reflection. A hallmark of my lived Anglo-Catholic experience is silence. Those little periods of quiet before and after mass, after the sermon, and during the canon of the mass seem to say as much if not more than the words. The same for benediction and the stations. I recently attended a TLM, and was struck by the quiet there also. It is much more introspective and transcendent.

    The waiting for the implementation of the Apostolic Constitution is something I did not expect. Or, even if I vaguely understood that this would take time, I did not appreciate the psychological aspects of the waiting. I think that it does us a service. There is plenty of time for this all to come to a head, people to do their worst, other people to start to heal and regroup, and come to a decision. Many of us have been hurt in this process, and betrayed by those whom we thought we could trust. It has been an eye-opening experience, and taught me a valuable lesson about the nature of the church.

  2. I have been quite struck by what seems to have been a necessary period of discussion that brought out a lot of baggage and hurts, and that this seems to have been necessary to allow healing. Those of us who came from Anglo Catholic parishes have carried for a long time a sense of hurt, of having been lied to when we found that we were actually quite a minority. The vision was then fractured into many different splinters (and perhaps it always existed in many various forms from the beginning). Part of the healing that is needed, I think, is for this to come out like poison from a wound.

    The quiet is a healing. Both the rancor and the quiet have been necessary. I am very much moved by that heavy quiet that is a hallmark of Western spirituality. It is one of the things with which Easterners are completely uncomfortable, but which I find is absolutely essential for our growth in Christ.

    This has also taught me quite a bit about pastoral care, just as it has taught you about the nature of the Church. I've come to realize that sometimes one must allow the lid to come off so that there can be healing. It's a directed thing though because all along there has been a common goal. Surely this is just as true in pastoral life as it is in larger ecclesial life. At least that's my suspicion.

  3. 'I am very much moved by that heavy quiet that is a hallmark of Western spirituality. It is one of the things with which Easterners are completely uncomfortable, but which I find is absolutely essential for our growth in Christ.'
    Really Father? Maybe it's just the Antiochians. I was involved with the Russian Tradition and found the silence deafening many times at the Divine Liturgy and especially Vespers. Maybe it's just me shutting everyone and everything out. Interesting.

  4. I do think that quiet marks Western spirituality far more than it does Eastern… at least liturgically. That has been reinforced to me time and again through parishioners and other priests.