Saturday, March 6, 2010

Silence may be kept

Have you ever noticed the brief rubric before the “Confession of Sin” in The Book of Common Prayer?

Silence may be kept.

You will find that rubric in several places. In Lent, I begin my weekday Morning Prayer with the “Confession of Sin” found on page 79; after the introductory words (“Let us confess our sins…”) is placed this rubric:

Silence may be kept.

You will notice the same rubric about silence in the Sunday morning confession found on page 330 (Rite I) or page 360 (Rite II). Often in church services we whiz right through that silence and get on with the confession because, after all, we have business to do, places to go, and we want to get on with it.

Silence may be kept.

The other morning I had an insight during that moment of keeping the silence, and I want to share it with you. The insight, though not particularly new, has something to do with the silence itself.

Silence may be kept.

The purpose of the silence is for personal reflection and confession. If only for only a few seconds, it is a time to take a deep breath, and take stock. What is it that I need to confess? The confession that follows is something different, it is a corporate confession beginning “…we confess…” That is a confession about all us together.

But the short time of silence before the corporate confession is for personal confession. It is a time for you, and you alone with your God. No one else. That time of silence is a gift to you. It is your confession.

Silence may be kept.

The other morning I paused in the silence and I realized I’ve been whizzing through the silences in life lately. I’ve been rushing to the next appointment or responding to the latest email or getting to the next meeting. And in all of that rush, I have not taken the time to notice God in the ordinary, in the places and people around me. That realization in my time of silence became my confession for the day.

What came next in my confession was the realization that my not noticing the Holy in my day makes my prayers dry and lifeless. My prayers become a word machine, and my desire to have a Lenten discipline becomes idolatry. I end up worshipping the words and the discipline, and God becomes confined to pages in a book. Without realizing it, I’ve tried to put limits on my experience of God, and if ever there was a sin, that one is it.

With confession should come repentance (or, as Rite I poetically calls it, “hearty repentance”). My promise of repentance is to pause and notice God in my day, to put life in my prayers by looking for God not just on a page but in life all around me.

And with repentance comes forgiveness, which at its most basic, is reunifying with God. The promise of such forgiveness is mine, and yours, before we ask. Yet the experience of forgiveness takes noticing (and time in the silence).

As I say, none of this is particularly new or profound – many other people more eloquent than I have written books on this theme. But for me, the other morning, it was in the Silence may be kept that I rediscovered that insight. Thankfully, there will be other moments when Silence may be kept that I will learn this once again. I pray you may also.

Painting by Claude Monnet, 1906

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