Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Faith Works 3-21-15

Faith Works 3-21-15

Jeff Gill


Why silence?



Of all the things I could offer to explain under the heading of "why?" in worship, I think silence may be the most challenging.


Partly because I'm a speaker, a preacher, a storyteller at heart.


Partly because we live in a world with very little silence in it. Sounds, stirrings, buzzings, hummings, beeps and tweets: sound is everywhere.


There are, as Paul & Art would suggest, "sounds of silence" – wind in evergreens, the crunch of snow on a cold, moonlit night, cicadas in the summertime. They are background noise without weight or pressure or insistence.


And there are quiet noises that can drive you mad. Dripping faucets, sniffling loved ones, high pitched screeching.


In worship, there are usually words and music. Some churches have liturgical bells, others have handbells; there may be a pipe organ, a piano, a Clavinova, or just a pitch pipe. There can be beautiful soloists, practiced choirs, full-throated congregations (if you doubt that last, talk to the Welsh).


From beginning to end, whether you have a praise band and carefully thought-out bridge music, or Great Aunt Hattie on an out-of-tune piano, the pacing and placement of music is important to the experience of turning our faces and lifting our hearts to the Lord in thanksgiving. You don't want ALL the music in a lump, then nothing but talking (or vice versa).


Likewise, the speech that goes into a gathering for prayer and praise has to be constructively laid out. There's impromptu prayer, formal statements of faith or devotion, sermons that may be from a manuscript or as much sung and shouted as they are said.


All of which takes us back to silence. The silences between parts of worship can be too long, or too short. Within a sermon or a song, pauses, rests, silence is a gift. Like most gifts, you can't just spend all your time on Christmas morning unwrapping presents.


The big exception is among the Society of Friends, also known as Quakers. I have a huge warm place in my heart for Quakers: they were part of my family history deep in my mother's side, likely shaping me in ways I'm not fully aware of; Lafayette (IN) Friends Meeting "adopted" me at a crucial point in my college career, with a scholarship that carried me over a rough patch from which I might well have turned around at.


Some of my first preaching outside of my home church, to relative strangers, was at Farmer's Institute, what's called a "programmed" Friends meeting outside of West Lafayette, and Phil Gulley was a student at my seminary about the same time I was, who has gotten a delightful series of novels out of ministry among programmed Friends.


Those latter are in contrast to the classic "unprogrammed" meeting, where Quakers meet in worship with nothing but silence, and the leading of the Holy Spirit. Someone may be moved to speak, or not. It's not a bad thing if for forty minutes or more no one says a word. If you've never experienced silent worship, you've missed out.


And programmed Friends, along with many other Christian traditions, will have a time of silence. It might be a minute, it might be longer. And I've been at public events where "a moment of silence" was announced, and the period couldn't have made it to ten seconds.


For personal use or for corporate worship, silence can be as much a gift to God as a powerful soprano solo or a preached message from the Gospels. And for a busy, buzzing, battered world, silence can be the gift God would have us give each other, so that we can listen for that "still, small voice."


A musician I was reading online said about his art that "Music is the artful arrangement of carefully chosen interruptions to the silence." Worship and prayer may be much the same, and may our interruptions improve on the silence.


Which may be harder than you think.



Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; tell him your horizon marker at or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Notes From My Knapsack 3-19-15

Notes From My Knapsack 3-19-15

Jeff Gill


A Body in the Well (pt. 4)



"That's Caleb Munro."


It actually may have been more than one man who said that, all at the same time. Hezekiah Mirk realized that all of the men standing around the body were looking at it with varying degrees of both amazement and recognition.


Heads nodded. Indeed, that was the distorted but tragically recognizable face on the body which had just been pulled clear of the well. Mirk, the newcomer to the village, still had trouble with some of the names he dealt with most days. This fellow's name was not one he had heard before.


Responding to a puzzled look, Job Case said "Munro was one of the men who marched to the relief of Fort Meigs from Granville two years ago. When Gen. Hull unaccountably surrendered his army before Detroit, and our own unit with him in the collapse of his command, many of us ended up paroled off by the British in different directions. Most of us made it home, one way or another, within a few months, but Caleb . . ."


Hezekiah could tell there was a bit more story than was being shared in that trailing end of the narrative, but he was still catching his breath having climbed down a sixty foot well and back up again cradling a corpse, and was in no mood to be patient.


"This means he's of the village, but has he any people to claim this body, or to press his cause?"


The pause, not long, was eloquent. This was a man with a complicated history, indeed.


One man towards the back of the group, one of the Averys, said "His wife might have something to say, had she not declared him dead already."


Case looked back over his shoulder disapprovingly. "She'd not heard a word from him for over a year, and everyone else returned. We all affirmed her request to have Munro declared dead, so that she might…"


"Might what?" asked Mirk after a decent delay.


"Might marry again and have a man in the house to plow the fields and bring in the crops," said Stuart Seever without rancor. "Judson Williams was widowed himself that year, and they were compatible."


"So the return of Caleb Munro might not have been good news for either her or her…new husband?"


"He was a hard man. Not unmourned, so to speak, but not missed by many, either." This from a man Mirk could not recall even having met before, apparently from further on up the Pataskala valley. But the other townsmen nodded slightly, enough to indicate agreement if not enthusiasm in the assent.


Mirk turned to Case, and asked "Shall we go to the former Mrs. Munro and bring her the news directly, welcome or not?"


"We should. I know not how she will receive it, or Mr. Williams. They…"


The cause for the discomfort suddenly came to Mirk. There surely had not been enough time for the court in Lancaster to formally declare this man dead, so the connection between the widow (twice-over?) and the widower was not what Massachusetts morality would call a "regular" one. In common-law their circumstances were regular enough, back in New England let alone here on the frontier of 1815, but the church-going expectations of these Congregationalist settlers was still straight-laced enough to give discomfort.


"Sooner said, more the mercy," suggested Mirk; Case nodded a grim agreement. They walked back towards the village, leaving a small circle of men looking at that corpse now brought to the light of day, from the depths of both a well, and from a history whose outlines Hezekiah Mirk was only just coming to understand.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; tell him what you'd like to learn about Granville history at, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.