In an age of fast motion, where everyone seems to be hurrying to the next event, scanning their smartphone, or cramming yet another hour of work into an already short day, making time for silence and rest is perhaps valued more than ever. This can be achieved in any number of intentional ways, and for the Christian, it often means taking a silent retreat, away at a monastery. In other words, it means getting away from the busyness of life. Yet in the day to day routine of ordinary life, it is much harder to settle into peace and quiet–that is, to invite it in to what seems to be pure chaos. It is far easier to build carefully scheduled “quiet time” into a busy schedule as some sort of getaway rather than in the here and now.
The encroachment of the incessant whirl of life into the sphere of spirituality seems never more evident than before the beginning of liturgies. This seems to be an often-disregarded point. Sunday morning has become yet another circus of events, with multiple services, coffee hours (plural!), Sunday school, and adult fora, to name only a few events. This inevitably means that clergy, musicians, choirs, and other liturgical ministers are flying into the sacristy at the eleventh hour just in time to throw on their vestments, make sure their hair is in place, and process into the nave for what is supposed to be a solemn (important, not somber!) occasion of worship on the Lord’s Day. But is this really all that we can do as faithful Christians?
I’d like to suggest something that seems simple and straightforward but that is usually more difficult to implement than first appears: praying before worship. Of course, in most parishes, brief prayers are uttered in the sacristy or at the back of the nave prior to the opening hymn. But I’m talking about something a little more involved. What about five (even three) minutes of enforced, absolute silence in the sacristy or back of the church prior to the opening procession. This means no flying about, no last-minute conversations. Yes, any kind of prayer, however brief, is laudable. But I believe a serious cultivated period of silence to still mind, body, and spirit before entering into worship of God is essential. One would hardly run into an important job interview flustered, out of breath, and unfocused. Why should we be different with our encounter with God on the Lord’s Day?
True, emergencies crop up. Pastoral situations arise. Life is not always neat and tidy. But I believe that an intentional effort on the part of liturgical leaders to cultivate a regular period of intentional silence, meditation, and prayerful concentration on the liturgy that lies ahead would infuse the Church’s worship with a depth, grace, and infectious prayerfulness that worshippers would be hard-pressed not to feel. So, let’s put our priorities in order on Sunday morning right before worship. Let’s remember what it’s all about. Let’s pray.
Kyle Babin is an Administrative Assistant for the Center for Liturgy and Music.