This is a rambling reflection which has come together in my mind on the year’s darkest day.
In listening to Volume 104 of Mars Hill Audio, I was fascinated by Ken Myers’ interview with Garret Keizer who has written a book called The Unwanted Sound of Everything We Want. It’s a catchy title, and I’m interested in hearing more. (Is that ironic?) In his interview he talks about the effect of noise in our culture as well as spending time providing a helpful definition of it. He reminded me that Milton places a region in hell called Pandemonium. This time of year can be just that. Mr. Myer’s introduction to the conversation is worthy of a listen in its own right, and he mentions a quote by A.W. Tozer taken from a collection of essays, The Root of the Righteous. Tozer comments,
“The accent in the Church today,” says Leonard Ravenhill, the English evangelist, “is not on devotion, but on commotion.” Religious extroversion has been carried to such an extreme in evangelical circles that hardly anyone has the desire, to say nothing of the courage, to question the soundness of it. Externalism has taken over. God now speaks by the wind and the earthquake only; the still small voice can be heard no more. The whole religious machine has become a noisemaker. The adolescent taste which loves the loud horn and the thundering exhaust has gotten into the activities of modern Christians. The old question, “What is the chief end of man?” is now answered, “To dash about the world and add to the din thereof.” And all this is done in the name of Him who did not strive nor cry nor make His voice to be heard in the streets (Mat. 12:18-21).
Tozer’s comments from the 1950’s are even more true today.
At about the same time I heard Myers and Tozer, I began Adam McHugh‘s book, Introverts in the Church. McHugh takes on our current presupposition that extroversion is next to godliness and cites a study in which 97% of those polled believed Jesus was an extrovert though, statistically at least, just over half of humanity are introverts. He goes on to say,
If human perfection, epitomized in the person of Jesus, includes extroversion then a large number of the population will always and irredeemably fall short. This adds a theological component to the already-prevailing cultural prejudice that extroversion is the superior temperament.
All this in my own mind causes me to reflect on which (extrovert/introvert) I am and how I would better serve the church by being who He made me rather than trying to be something else. And, in this season, is there any room midst the parties and productions, for contemplation and preparation in solitude?
At the beginning of the month, I came across this post (H.T. G Veith) on the season of Advent over at First Things Blog entitled, “Let’s Hold Back the Christmas Cheer”. In it Losana Boyd reminds us the the true spirit of that season which leads up to the feast days of Christmas to Epiphany. Boyd writes,
Advent is the great season of preparation for the greatest of all gifts: Christ Himself. But as our culture makes all too obvious, this is also a season of high commercialism. As Fr. George Rutler from Our Saviour Parish in New York City reminds us:
The season of Advent is lyrically beautiful if one is willing to engage the realities it teaches: Death, Judgment, Heaven, and Hell. The alternative is to create a parallel universe partying in a faux Christmas confection of jingle bells, dancing elves, and self-conscious bonhomie, avoiding the Incarnation of God.
Death, Judgment, Heaven and Hell—the themes of the four Sundays in Advent don’t exactly seemed filled with Christmas cheer. Instead, they are sobering, encouraging a state of wakefulness from the distractions of frivolity. Advent has become something truly countercultural–at a time when holiday parties and merry making are at a fever pitch, Advent calls us to remember the passing nature of this world and the eternity that awaits.
During an evening commute I heard this report on NPR here about Brittain’s X-Factor music contest in which a number songs have been submitted in protest of Simon Cowell’s influence on the music industry in the U.K.. One of the bands in contention for this year’s prize has submitted John Cage’s protest song 4 minutes and 33 seconds. You can listen anywhere.
Lastly, and this brings me back to noise and worship and Christmas, I was reminded of a conversation in C.S. Lewis’ The Horse and His Boy between Aslan and the three companions, Hwin, Bree, and Aravis. As Aslan speaks with each, he tells them some about who they are and why events have happened to them. After Aslan leaves, Lewis writes,
Strange to say, they felt no inclination to talk to one another about him after he had gone. The all moved slowly away to different parts of the quiet grass and there paced to and fro, each alone, thinking.
It’s interesting to me that sometimes the most appropriate response to the Word is silence (see: Rev 8:1).
And so, here we are in a season, THE season of preparation, and the spiritual benefit we might derive from it is driven back by all the noise of its production. This season which is to have so much meaning is drained of it’s power just as we are drained of the joy of the news we gather to celebrate. Christmas becomes something to endure, ride out, get through, and finally be done with. It seems to me we’ve turned it on its head, and the feast takes place for a month prior to THE FEAST, and THE DAY becomes the heartbreak hill of this festive marathon rather than the dawning of a new age. And so, we gorge ourselves on hors d’oeuvres and have nothing left for the meal. What should be a season of preparation and anticipation in repentance, quietness, and contemplation, leading us into the joyful news that the King is born, instead gives birth to disappointment, depression, and alienation and all because of the noise of the “holiday” production.
“Imagine a Christmas service where the worshipers come in their holiday finery to find a sanctuary empty of all the glittering decorations, silent of holiday carols. What if this year you cancelled the church decoration committee and the worship committee and called off the extra choir rehearsals and the church school pageant? What if on Christmas Eve people came and sat in the dim pews, and someone stood up and said, 'Something happened here while we were all out at the malls, while we were baking cookies and fretting about whether we bought our brother-in-law the right gift: Christ was born. God is here.'? We wouldn't need the glorious choruses and the harp and the bell choir and the organ. We wouldn't need the tree strung with lights. We wouldn't have to deny that painful dissonance between the promise and hope of Christmas and a world wracked with sin and evil…All of that would seem gaudy and shallow in comparison to the sanctity of that still sanctuary. And we, hushed and awed by something greater and wiser and kinder than we, would kneel of one accord in the stillness. A peace would settle over the planet like a velvet coverlet drawn over a sleeping child. The world would recollect itself and discover itself held in the womb of the Mother of God. We would be filled with all the fullness of God, even as we filled the emptiness of that Savior's heart with ours.” Loretta Ross-Gotta, “To Be Virgin”, taken from Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas.
Such beautiful musings encourage my heart this day…thank you, love!