CS Lewis, JRR Tolkein, and Silence

During the pandemic, I focused on re-reading CS Lewis' the Space Trilogy and The Chronicles of Narnia (some know this by The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe but there are seven books in the series) and also The Hobbit, by JRR Tolkein. We know both authors, and especially CS Lewis, as "Christian authors."

I am struck by the keen environmental awareness of both authors long before "environmentalism." Both authors specifically advocate for protecting trees, forests, and natural areas as a function of Good. Both also talk openly and frequently of silence and quiet as a positive environmental state and part of a Good world (with noise being pollution and part of evil).

CS Lewis' Space Trilogy explores Christianity and Christian thought through allegory. When describing the pre-Fall, Eden state, Lewis remarks positively on the quiet and silence present. Later, in the third book in the trilogy, Lewis cites the noise and mayhem (along with destruction of trees) as a key part of  the diabolical forces threatening Ransom's home and Christianity. To Lewis, in the Space Trilogy, noise appears as a diabolical creation. Quiet and silence are Godly and Good.

CS Lewis repeats this view in The Chronicles of Narnia. Throughout the series, Lewis associates  silence and quiet with Aslan (and thus allegorical Christianity). In fact, repeated allusions to Aslan's Country or Aslan's Mountain incorporate silence and peace. The Place Between Worlds is quiet (Book 1). The End of the Earth is silent and peaceful (Book 4). Aslan's Mountain is quiet (Book 6). While Aslan can roar, Lewis conveys the peace that Aslan represents as synonymous with quiet and silence. Reading these texts for references to silence and quiet, the reader remains struck and how often Lewis mentions this theme.

[Also see Lewis' The Screwtape Letters where Lewis specifically and directly states that noise is a function of diabolical forces.]

While perhaps less overtly Christian in his writings, JRR Tolkein's The Hobbit likewise repeats environmental themes (especially trees) but also closely associates noise with evil forces. The orcs make noise. Hobbits move silently and appreciate the quiet of the Shire. (Later, in the Lord of the Rings series, Frodo's returns to face a Shire beset by evil forces represented by destruction of trees, fouling of the air, polluting of water, and making noise. Mordor likewise exhibits these characteristics--contrasted with Rivendell or Elvish lands that are typically quiet.).

Both Lewis and Tolkein plainly, and correctly, associate noise with Evil and quiet/silence with Good. I am struck each time that I read these works at how much insight Lewis and Tolkien share on the importance of silence and quiet.

 

Emergence Magazine Offers Screening of Upstream Movie for Limited Time

QuietChurch people may appreciate the newly released short film: Upstream. Upstream follows the River Dee in Highland Scotland using entirely aerial filmmaking. The imagery, music, and sparse narration are hauntingly peaceful and contemplative. Shot in black-and-white, the viewer can almost feel the shocking cold, taste the pristine water, and understand a small part of Scotland.

Emergence Magazine makes the short film available for a short time in December 2020 (so watch now). About 30 minutes in length but potentially life-touching.

Adapting QuietChurch to Online Worship During the COVID-19 Pandemic

QuietChurch represents active worship. Growing quiet and focusing on worship takes practice and work. Thus, worshippers at QuietChurch are engaged.

Dietrich Bonhoffer notes, "this is why even our silence before God takes practice and work....[silence provides] the presence of Eternity, allow it to speak, question it, and thereby look deep within and far beyond oneself... One might have a few verses of the Bible to read, but it is best to freely allow the soul to take its own way to ... the homeland in which it finds peace."—Meditating On the Word.

QuietChurch originally began as a worship service in a traditional church-type sanctuary. However, rather than a typical service with greetings, sermon(s), closely-programmed-worship, and music, QuietChurch worshipers gather in silence and worship collectively in that silence. Typically, worshipers may focus on a series of prompts—perhaps a scripture passage, perhaps a time of year, perhaps a vignette, perhaps the words of a hymn. Others welcome the apparent simplicity of collective quiet.

Then the pandemic hit.

QuietChurch adapted by providing, as with many churches, an online gathering format. Rather than a formal sanctuary, QuietChurch worshippers gather-where-they-are. Many still collectively pray and contemplate the optional "prompts." But the online format is even less structured than the in-person worship experience.

So, far, worshippers like the online, quiet worship format.  And QuietChurch seems to work well even in a virtual or online format because silent worship, as Bonhoffer suggests, represents active worship needing practice and work. QuietChurch is not worshippers just sitting around in silence, but worshippers in active worship seeking a Presence, the Eternity that Bonhoffer cites, and a collective experience of a discipline-of-silence.

Don't like "regular" church because it is too loud, unfocused, too programmed, too disorienting, too passive, or seems too much like secular society? Then QuietChurch might be for you. Start your own QuietChurch program at your spiritual home or join the online QuietChurch programs (see the Calendar).

December 2020 QuietChurch Quiet Online Worship Set

QuietChurch plans to host two QuietChurch online quiet worship sessions on

The worship sessions are online, free, and open to all. Just join us online via Jitsi (a community driven online platform, no annoying registrations or accounts needed).

The December 7, 2020, session occurs during the traditional Advent Season—a time of spiritual expectant waiting. The December 21, 2020, occurs during Winter Solstice and Advent—waiting and the longest night of the year.

As the fields grow barren, winter sets in (at least in the northern hemisphere), cardinals stand out on the bare tree limbs, warm gloves go on, darkness presses, and the sometimes frantic Christmas rush descends, this time of year, seems particularly appropriate to gather in simple, quiet, reverent worship.

Join us.

What Is This QuietChurch?

QuietChurch provides a collective worship time but in absolute quiet. We gather (online now) and quietly pray, reflect, meditate, read, or just sit in silent worship. Each session provides some OPTIONAL prompts for possible meditation or thought. But, you may follow the path that you are led on during that collective time as well. We just commit to quiet worship during the time.

QuietChurch sessions are open to all. No dogma. No special passwords or handshakes. No specific faith background (or any faith background at all). No sermons. No music. Just come as you are in quiet reverence.

Read more about QuietChurch.

Thanksgiving 2020 QuietChurch Online Worship

QuietChurch plans a Thanksgiving-themed, online, QuietChurch on Monday, November 23, 2020, from 7:00PM EST to 8:00PM. The online-only worship uses the Jitsi.org Online Conferencing Platform (similar to ZOOM). QuietChurch is open to all spiritual seekers.

QuietChurch focuses on gathering in Reverent Quiet and silence to worship. Worshipers typically silently read, pray, meditate, or just sit in silent stillness during the worship time.  (No sermon. No dogma. No music. No noise. Just quiet.)

Jitsi Online Conferencing Link

Join the meeting:
https://meet.jit.si/QuietChurchNov23Thanksgiving

To join by phone instead, tap this: +1.512.647.1431,,4040045697#

Looking for a different dial-in number?
See meeting dial-in numbers: https://meet.jit.si/static/dialInInfo.html?room=QuietChurchNov23Thanksgiving

If also dialing-in through a room phone, join without connecting to audio: https://meet.jit.si/QuietChurchNov23Thanksgiving#config.startSilent=true

Worship Prompts—Thanksgiving 2020

These are optional queries or prompts that may be helpful starting places for some.

Habakkuk 3:17-19

Though the cherry trees don’t blossom
and the strawberries don’t ripen,
Though the apples are worm-eaten
and the wheat fields stunted,
Though the sheep pens are sheepless
and the cattle barns empty,
I’m singing joyful praise to God.
I’m turning cartwheels of joy to my Savior God.
Counting on God’s Rule to prevail,
I take heart and gain strength.
I run like a deer.
I feel like I’m king of the mountain!

For the Beauty of the Earth

1 For the beauty of the earth,
For the glory of the skies,
For the love which from our birth
Over and around us lies,

Refrain:
Lord of all, to thee we raise
This our hymn of grateful praise.

2 For the wonder of each hour
Of the day and of the night,
Hill and vale, and tree and flower,
Sun and moon, and stars of light, [Refrain]

3 For the joy of human love,
Brother, sister, parent, child,
Friends on earth, and friends above,
For all gentle thoughts and mild, [Refrain]

4 For each perfect gift of thine
To our race so freely given,
For thy constant love divine
Peace on earth and joy in heaven, [Refrain]

Quiet Worship…Quiet Adds to the Worship Experience

QuietChurch focuses worship in collective quiet...worshippers gathering and seeking a spiritual encounter in the Reverent Quiet.

I, unfortunately, sometimes describe QuietChurch by emphasizing the comparative absences such as:

  • no sermon,
  • no preaching,
  • no hymns or music performances,
  • no amplifiers,
  • no slide shows,
  • no disruptions, or
  • no awkward slap-the-back-and-pump-the-palm greeting time.

Yet, I do QuietChurch an injustice by focusing on what is apparently "not there" when describing a QuietChurch worship experience.

Quiet Profoundly Adds to Worship

Quiet and silence (Reverent Quiet) add to a worship experience. Perhaps especially to those who don't-like-church or who find the rote motions of church wanting, Reverent Quiet might fill-in that which is missing, for some, in other worship modes.

Quiet and Silence Are Important Things In Themselves

Quiet and silence are things in themselves. And important things. Quiet and silence add to our environment and add to worship because quiet and silence are of God. For example, see Revelation 8:1 (silence in Heaven upon opening of the 7th Seal) or the quintessential, 1 Kings 19:11-14 (God speaks in the whisper after the clamor).

Quiet and Silence Not Absence but Presence

The point here is that quiet and silence are not the absence of something, as sometimes viewed secularly (and even that is inaccurate), but the presence of something—and something of ultimate importance, God.

When accurately viewed as adding-to worship, QuietChurch takes on a new importance. Certainly, QuietChurch does not entirely replace other forms of worship, and I do not assert that QuietChurch is better-than other forms of worship. Neither is necessarily accurate or Biblically supported.

But I do assert that omitting quiet and silence as worship opportunities removes something vital from our spiritual sanctuaries and from our worship experiences—and perhaps the omission even removes a part of each of us from God.

 

Friends General Conference Offering New eRetreat Courses in Spring 2020

The Friends General Conference (Quaker) offers two, new, eRetreat programs starting in April 2020. I have participated in two of the eRetreats in the past, and the eRetreats are excellent (they include part study, part community sharing via online fora, and usually a virtual online meeting once per week). The programs are open to all faiths and are welcoming to all.

eRetreat 1: What Canst Thou Say? - Spiritual Inquiry Grounded in Worship Sharing (April 11 to May 30)

Sign-up...

A new twist to the eRetreat format, What Canst Thou Say will foster spiritual community through a focus on worship sharing around the Bible and the Quaker tradition, using passages from texts by Friends (and others) and the Bible verses that informed them.

What Canst Thou Say meets weekly on Saturdays starting April 11th from 4:00pm to 6:00pm Central via Zoom for worship, worship sharing, and spiritual exploration. Friends and spiritual sojourners Mark Wutka and Mary Linda McKinney will facilitate our sessions each week. (NOTE: I have participated in a past course with Mary Linda and Mark and both are good facilitators.)

eRetreat 2: Living into Wholeness: Quaker Commitment to Honoring That of God in Everyone (April 12 to May 11)

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A Spiritual Deepening eRetreat  exploring and practicing 1) what it means to live into Beloved Community, 2) the ways we are called to recognize patterns of marginalization and exclusion and to act toward justice, and 3) tools for transforming and vitalizing our meetings and communities.

The Living into Wholeness eRetreat runs from April 12 - May 11, 2020. Weekly Community Building video calls are scheduled for Mondays at 7pm Eastern / 4pm Pacific / 1pm Hawaii, starting April 13, for five weeks. Michele Shields of Honolulu Friends Meeting will be the facilitator for this eRetreat. (Note: I have participated in another eRetreat offered by Michele. She has a good presence and actively participates in the programs.)

QuietChurch Moving to Jitsi.org for Virtual Meetings

I usually prefer an open-source solution to challenges. Future online, virtual meetings will now use the the open-source, Jitsi.org Meeting App. Jitsi provides video meeting conferencing capabilities, shared screens, and chat. Look for a Jitsi Meeting in the future.

Reflections on the 1980s and COVID-19

Just before the COVID-19 tsunami hit the United States, I spent a restless and sleepless night with general disquiet. Normally, I like the night for the quiet and peace that it usually brings. While many faith traditions seem to associate the night with Darkness or Evil, I find peace in the night. The Bible also speaks favorably of the stars and the night. So, I enjoy the night (albeit with some trepidation due to the nagging association with evil.)

On that sleepless night, I watched two movies: The China Syndrome (1979) and then The Day After (1983). Both still haunt me and launched me into several weeks of deep melancholy as yet another contemporary disaster unfolds around us in COVID-19.

Despite the melancholy, each movie offers some hope. The China Syndrome addressed the near-meltdown of a fictional, nuclear power plant set in California. The movie illustrates, through an excellent performance by Jack Lemon, the tragedy of corporate-greed (perhaps redundant terms), government ineptitude, and a cover-up that placed the fictional community at-risk.

United States Department of Energy - http://ma.mbe.doe.gov/me70/history/photos.htm Copyright status: Identified on DOE page as "DOE photo", i.e. not copyrighted.
Three Mile Island Disaster Source: Wikipedia. Government DOE source.

I lived through the Three Mile Island nuclear disaster and lived not too far from the plant. At the time, the projected radioactive plumes assuming an explosion would have affected our home. I recall vividly the fear, uncertainty, terror, and worry—fear and terror as you perceive through quiet voices from adults. I recall, even as a child, WGAL news (Dick Hocksworth and Bill Saylor?) anxiously reporting about a potential hydrogen bubble in the containment building, a possible explosion, and a subsequent nuclear meltdown. (Our naïve perception of the situation was that the equivalent of a nuclear explosion would occur.) I remember classmates at school suddenly disappearing as their families fled. I remember the raw fear and worry of parents and grandparents. I remember talk about fleeing to our family-cabin in southern Virginia. I remember whispers of the China Syndrome. (The movie, was released just a few weeks before the nuclear disaster at Three Mile Island.)

The Day After appeared as a television movie in 1983. I recall watching parts of it surreptitiously even as a youth. I recall, as a elementary and then middle school student, the persistent and genuine fear of sudden, nuclear annihilation. I recall thinking at night, for years, about my childish plans to survive. I thought that 30-minutes seemed a long-time then—about the time that it would take for nuclear warheads to arrive. While we never had duck-and-cover drills at school that I recall, we did regularly talk about nuclear war. President Reagan talked often of the threat of the USSR.

Seeing The Day After, today, brought even more horror for me. Perhaps with adulthood comes a different understanding of the magnitude of the dread of such events. No food. No medical care. Vigilante "justice." Quarantine. I don't think I have ever watched a movie more tragic, disturbing, or likely, accurate. Society largely collapsed the day after. Only post-human shells remained walking and living, for a time. The movie closes by offering a short paragraph suggesting that the movie likely underplays the outcome.

I do not recommend either movie—not because they are not well done but because they likely will leave deep wounds and long-standing scars on the psyche. But coincidentally, each movie, for me, offered a morbid, disturbing, and unexpected, quiet hope for today.

COVID-19 dominates the news. Fear, uncertainty, horror, empty store shelves, changed schedules, death, and unsettled anticipation of a changed future loom. But, we got through Three Mile Island (and Chernobyl and Fukishima). Thankfully, we have not (yet) experienced global, thermonuclear war.

So, what does this have to do with quiet worship? God can speak in the quiet provided by these apparent disasters and troubled times.

A hurricane wind ripped through the mountains and shattered the rocks before God, but God wasn’t to be found in the wind; after the wind an earthquake, but God wasn’t in the earthquake; and after the earthquake fire, but God wasn’t in the fire; and after the fire a gentle and quiet whisper.

When Elijah heard the quiet voice, he muffled his face with his great cloak, went to the mouth of the cave, and stood there. A quiet voice asked, “So Elijah, now tell me, what are you doing here?” Elijah said it again, “I’ve been working my heart out for God, the God-of-the-Angel-Armies, because the people of Israel have abandoned your covenant, destroyed your places of worship, and murdered your prophets. I’m the only one left, and now they’re trying to kill me.” 1 Kings 19:11-14 (The Message)

Even amidst the figurative maelstrom that we are experiencing, and will likely continue to experience, growing quiet to listen to God, even in the face of a noisy clamor of "news" about COVID-19, may be a way to calm our hearts and our minds. We cannot lose sight of the power of the Source-of-All-Quiet, both external and internal—but also eternal.

So, grow quiet. Listen even in these fearful times. Perhaps God is ready to speak.

Quiet Forest Photos–Spring 2020

For many, March 2020 means COVID-19: fear, anxiety, isolation, and worry. Many remain quarantined in homes deprived of nature.

Yet, quiet worship offers some solace. And quiet worship with views of nature may offer even more solace. For those who cannot get-outside, quietly ponder each photo during your daily, quiet worship. Enjoy. Hope.

An Early-Spring Forest Quietly Awaits

2020-March A Forest Waiting

Longevity and Perseverance

A Mossy Rock

A Chipmunk's View of New Beginnings from Quiet Rest

A Chipmunk's Home

 

Spring-Hope Springs

Crocuses and Snow Drops Emerge March 2020