Gordon Hempton is an acoustic ecologist who collects sounds from around the world. In his interview with Krista Tippett for the podcast, On Being, he defines “real quiet” as presence—not an absence of sounds but an absence of noise. He goes on to remind the listeners how picture-centered our world is but sound is so important that every higher vertebrate species has the ability to hear. The podcast was fascinating since we live in a noise-filled world. I would argue Highland’s worship services have sacred absence of sound in worship every Sunday. These moments of sound-filled silence occur after the singing of hymns, reading of scripture, corporate voicing of prayers, and words from the proclaimer. The silent moments are important. Maybe an example is best now—Highland’s Chorister Choir sang in worship on September 29 and worshipers were invited to wait after the final sung note for their sounds to reach all worshipers’ hearts and minds. It’s probably stating the obvious but it’s not easy keeping children still and waiting for the most subtle sound: ahh… but wait they did and that quiet sound was all they needed to know their gifts of worship to a loving God had been received: sound-filled silence.
I can’t resist another example—Sunday’s anthem to celebrate World Communion was a setting of the well-loved contemporary hymn, For Everyone Born, with text by Shirley Erena Murray, a New Zealand hymn writer. Addie Hotchkiss was our guest cellist for the morning and after hers and the choir’s final note, you could feel the notes traveling to every worshiper and beyond the windows. I think holy breaths were exhaled when hearts were filled. That silence was holy—not an absence of noise.