Taking a Break for a While

February 5, 2012

The church I grew up in always had the same quote printed in the order of service every Sunday:

“I like the silent church before the service begins, better than any preaching.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

In that congregation, it truly was silent in the main chapel before service, until that silence was broken by a professional musician playing a grand pipe organ. The music was its own kind of silence. For me, it served not to fill an empty space but to help quiet the buzzing of my mind that had begun to rebel against my command to just be in the moment for those quiet minutes on Sunday morning.

Of course, that congregation was blessed with a large building. If I didn’t want to sit in the quiet of the sanctuary, I could and often did wander to different areas. I’d make conversation with anyone who was in the lady’s room. I’d spend a great deal of time in the kitchen with my mother when she was readying for her turn at coffee hour. And I would listen to the conversation she shared with her friends who might come in the back door through the kitchen before making their way the room of quiet pews.

When I first started attending another church in college, I was a little shocked by the difference. This was much smaller church, both in building size and membership. The minister and regulars would often talk right in the sanctuary before service. On the Sundays that were well-attended that area would buzz with conversation at a volume that could have perhaps drowned out a pipe organ, had there been one in that building.

But, I still had my silence. The other difference between those two congregations was that my childhood church of the silent chapel was a mere five minute drive away from home, in the same town. The church I attended in college was the closest “real” church, but it was over an hour drive away from my campus. When I moved off campus, I not only drove an hour there and back each Sunday, I actually crossed a state border to get there. So, I still had an hour of something like quiet before service. Though my decade-old car would groan and whine as we went over river and mountain on the way to church, and the radio was almost always on a fairly high decibel, the outside world was silenced for a while each Sunday.

Those silences gave me what I needed once a week. They were part and parcel of all the other good parts of church: the intellectually stimulating sermons, the companionship of people who I cared for and respected, the reward of being part of social justice programs.

Lately, I’ve been craving the silence more than any other part of what I’ve been missing from church. I’ve also been thinking about a quote from another writer I admire, though he is more recent than Emerson and not a UU:

“Life isn’t a support system for art. It’s the other way around.” -Stephen King

Replace “religion” for “art” and I can see that for years, even before starting this blog, I’ve been making a mistake. Far too often, I’ve been living my life like I’ve been on a hunt for something to write a sermon or blog about. That doesn’t leave much room for actually living. It instantly puts moments that should be lived under the microscope so that they can be dissected by writing. I don’t want to live that way.

I’ve also had to shelve several thoughts or stories that came to me because I wasn’t ready to put them out on the Internet. Some things I still need to process in deeper privacy.

So, I’m taking the next step in my journey toward whatever spirituality I’m heading toward. I’m putting the blog on hold for the indefinite future, though I’ll still be writing. I’ll be writing of a much broader scope than would fit in this admittedly large umbrella I gave myself of “what’s a uu to do?”

This UU will be spending more time enjoying the silence, rather than being panicked by it because I have to be writing something, or doing something, or at least worrying about something. This UU will still be practicing her faith and I know I’ll still be learning something new about what it means to be a Unitarian-Universalist every day. The difference is, I’ll be allowing my religion to be a source of inspiration and to help me appreciate my life, rather than using my life as something to draw from to appreciate my religion.

I may blog here again if it feels right. But, for now, I’ll just say go in peace and appreciate the silence.