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Silence and Shouting
Wednesday 25th July 2018 @ 10:11 am

The public worship of God can be a strange thing.

It can be wild and enthusiastic, energizing and enlightening  – with jumping and singing, moving and swinging.

It can be dreary and dull, depressing and demeaning to God and to us.

It can be silent and still, precious and precarious.

It can be life–changing and liberating, and it can be monotonous and miserable.

I think I’ve experienced it in all those ways over the last eight weeks.




I have been elated by grannies of Pinetown South Africa singing and dancing around a church as if Jesus was coming back through the roof right then and there. No joke. One of my favorite moments from the recent young adult trip to South Africa was during our last church service (the Zulu service, third of three last Sunday morning) where we had no words to join in what was a long liturgically based service. They sung 80% of their liturgy. As we were standing, listening to the singing, being captivated by it but not at–one with it, I looked around at the other Irish present. Every single one of them was lost in it. In the best way. Be in no doubt, white folks in Black churches, can’t really dance. (The jury is out if we can really dance anywhere). But here in this space, where the rhythm enticed us in, and where the singing lifted our souls, these Irish folks were swaying, smiling, adrift in translation, but caught by the Spirit. Young people I did not think I would see getting lost in another culture, allowed themselves to be captured by the flowing cadence of deeply expressive worship.

This was not a one off experience. For several days we were whisked along by the wildfire of African women lifting body and voice in full expression of life and worship.

It was an honor to be in the midst of it.


Several weeks before this I walked through the holiest place in Christian world. The Church of the Holy Sepulture in Jerusalem. Undoubtedly the most precious piece of traditional Christian geography. Literally millions of pilgrims and worshippers flock to it daily to witness the place where it is said Christ was placed in the tomb but didn’t stay too long. I was leading a group of 17 wonderful humans – none of whom had been there before. Some of whom had a deeply religious faith, and most of whom had a beautiful curiosity around faith – a willing to witness what they could, maybe feel what they had not felt before, and definitely live with an openness to mystery of God.

In such a space – a holy, traditional, deeply significant space – it’s hard to not be disappointed.

The ritualistic lines and smells. The bells and bumf that can blockade the Spirit. The negotiating between the various ‘Christian’ traditions as to who can keep order best, and the near antagonism sensed by some monks/friars/fathers toward me as a visitor was not (and never has been for me in this space) conducive to a life–enhancing spiritual experience.


But that was more positive than one experience at The Garden Tomb – a place which I have personally found much meaning and hope in the resurrection over years I’ve been visiting. Yet this time we were met and talked to by an Irish volunteer who expressed his faith, and by association the whole of Christian faith, in ways that were exclusive, demeaning and almost xenophobic. One of our number, of the ‘open to questions of faith, but not Christian’ category was honest enough to almost walk out.

I’m so thankful that a retired Methodist minister from the UK who was part of this peach of traveling wilburys led us in communion outside the tomb in a way that joined each of us to each other and to God in the most gentle and meaningful way. And how did he do it? After he had blessed the elements, he invited us to serve the eucharist to each other – not receive from him. In such an action those in the group who had been unsure to their participation felt themselves an intricate part of the celebration. And they were fed by and fed each other heavenly sacrament. It was a beautiful, honoring, sacred moment. Deep communal humanity. And it came not through ritual or rite, but through invitation and community.


So many other experiences of these last weeks are in my mind and heart – too many to share.


Quiet hours of peaceful walking around Taizé in France. Talking with students on an old stone wall, knowing that these strange Brothers and their simple ways challenge us in profound ways, and call us toward each other and toward God. The food is weak, the accommodation less. But the Spirit is strong in Taizé.


Or in Derry, with smiles breaking out around a church, when as a Methodist President is inducted, a praise band leads the service with a beat, and movement, and toe–tapping, and noise … tuneful noise, people engaged in singing noise … like it was ‘when I grew up’ noise. And yet, soon after comes a slowly sinking heart, at the realization that this is the exception for our conference experience, and too much of our worship together is so deeply rooted that it feels underground.


What am I left with?


Somehow it all sinks in and is part of the mix that calls me forward to a better shared today and tomorrow. The great and the less–than–great. Variance and diversity are never things to be feared – they are beautiful parts of natural ways of life.


Silence and shouting.

Singing and humming.

Striving and stillness.

Sharing and solitude.


They have all been companions for me over the last eight weeks, and they have each, in their own ways, lifted and/or challenged me.


There is just so much to take in.


I ponder what I have to do to keep myself open to the fullness of life’s invitations – and more importantly, I ponder how I can keep striving to invite others into their places of God–encounter that bid them toward fullness of life.


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