Perhaps what we need is less sound and more silence? Part 2

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Last week, I brought up the subject of worship and the idea of incorporating silence into personal and congregational settings and the thought that perhaps what we need is less sound and more silence.

For those who missed it, you can catch up here.

So, now to part 2.

Music is made up of complex frequencies that resonate in our ears and are registered by the brain as pleasurable or distasteful experiences.  It can bring you to a place of peace or stir you up to riot mentality and everything in between.

sound frequencies

What I’m discovering is that music, as beautiful and Godly as it can be, can also be the very thing that stands in the way of an authentic encounter with God himself, the Master Maestro.

And so as much as it is a pleasurable experience to worship alongside thousands of others at a conference, or attend a worship event where you get lost in the incredible moments of resonating frequencies that imbue the most holy of feelings, please take into consideration what you are entering in to first.

Musical Notes Background

Our relationship with God is just that – a relationship.  Music is not the only channel for us to connect with him on.  Music is just that – a channel.  Let’s not build it up into something that it just isn’t.

Okay, now let’s link these things together.

We want to worship in Spirit and in truth.  Yes?  Great.  We want to express our worship using our gifts and talents, and encourage others by providing a beautiful environment. Yes?  Awesome.  And we want to make sure that we don’t miss out on an opportunity to encounter God, regardless of the environment we create. Yes? Wonderful.

Now, let’s imagine that this white space is silence. It’s the space not only between the notes, but between the songs and between our exhortations. It’s the space where we allow our spirits to connect with the Spirit of God.

It’s the space where we give His voice an opportunity to sound out.

 

What if, as we make room for this kind of space, we open the door for deeper and more life changing revelation to enter our lives?  And if this was possible, why do we shy away from such an incredible opportunity?

I believe it’s because we’ve become so accustomed to creating these environments that we’ve taken it upon ourselves to ensure that not a moment is soundless. We panic if there isn’t a smooth flow between two songs because we don’t want to risk breaking the moment.

Really?

Do we consider our fellow worshippers to be so immature as to not be able to handle an interlude of silence? I think that this need to create a continual musical flow is where the ‘lack of silence issue’ stems from.

So then what happens next? We finish up in a deep place and no one knows what to do. We don’t think the time is up yet but we don’t have another song to go to. We can feel the eyes of the pastor or service leader boring down on us and we panic that they’re going to take over and wherever we thought we were going gets lost to the day-to-day running of church life.

So we keep playing. And playing.

photodune-4251281-silence-sSide note: I’m not suggesting that playing is a bad thing. I’ve used this technique plenty of times while waiting to sense where we go next. There is nothing wrong with it and it allows worshippers to spend a few moments in quiet contemplation. It can also create space for inspired readings to be given. It can be a beautiful time in between the songs where we reflect on what we’ve just been singing.

I want us to step further in.

My desire is to see teams enter in to the white space between the sounds. Let God speak in the silence. Not through us. Directly with his people. I want to see congregations being given the time to commune with God in a way that encourages deeper thought, deeper connection and deeper revelation.

I mean no disrespect to my fellow musicians but frankly, I wonder if sometimes we get in the way of what God would like to do and say. We are so busy creating the environment that perhaps we forget that it’s his space and in fact, it’s not us who create the environment at all.

Our job is simply to invite him and honour him. That’s it.

His job, if we let him, is to commune with us.

I realise that this is potentially a huge subject and that I’m in jeopardy of writing a book here so I’ll finish up for now. If all you get from this is one thing, let it be this: learn to become comfortable in the white space when you’re alone with God.

You might just be amazed.

Next week, I’m going to dig just a little deeper and share:

  • My personal experiences with sitting in silence before God
  • Some historical and Biblical context that will help us unpack this a bit further
  • Some practical applications for congregations and individuals who want to try incorporating silence into their worship times

Thanks for reading,

Miriam Miles

What’s been your experience of congregational worship?

What have you personally discovered in those quiet moments?

Please share your thoughts and remember that we are a community of like-minded folk, so church bashing is not on, okay? Okay :)

Perhaps what we need is less sound and more silence? Part 1

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Perhaps what we need is less sound and more silence?

As I was preparing my morning coffee, I came across a new blog I’d like to read. The phrase that really caught my attention today was ‘spiritual white space’ and it got me thinking. The blog author, Bonnie Gray, writes about having white space in our daily lives, like on a canvas, and how important it is to have that in order to balance the colour.

perhaps what we need is less sound and more silence

That then got me thinking about the concept of white space in a musical context and how when one hears a song or melody that reaches in to the very core of your being, it is often one that has a balance between the sound and the silence. There is ‘white space’ on the musical canvas, giving the listener places to rest in.

As this has turned out to be a significantly in-depth topic, I’ve split the posts up so that we can ponder it bit by bit. So stay tuned for part 2 of the conversation over the next week or so.

One of the significant lessons I’ve learned over the years has been about enjoying silence and actually incorporating an amount of silence into my day. Somehow it seems to help me breathe. It’s an odd thing, to write about silence as a musician, as many would assume I would want to speak on how to make a piece of music beautiful and full of vibrant colours but for me, the silence in between the notes is becoming the integral components of a great piece.

However I do meet musicians who don’t like silence at all. In fact, they fidget and squirm at the thought of intentionally incorporating it into a set of songs or even into a piece of music that stands alone.  I find this to be particularly evident in musicians who primarily work in church congregational music.

This leads me then to consider, why it is hard to incorporate silence between the notes?

My personal opinion comes from 28 years of being involved in musical groups, school bands and ensembles, choirs and church worship bands and mostly at an intermediate to semi-professional level, playing and performing in front of groups of 3 to over 1000 people.

From what I’ve observed, musicians want to create sounds. We live for them. The low notes, the high notes, the rhythm and pulse that drives the beat. Constantly pressing in to the emotional component that musical combinations produce.

One thing that really stands out to me, that perhaps is taught as a matter of course in professional surroundings (such as orchestras and mainstream musical circles), is that there is a lack of white space. A lack of capacity to not only enjoy silence, but to incorporate it intentionally. And this seems especially true in church worship music.

Now please don’t get your pitchforks out. I am a huge fan of church worship music. I’ve written a reasonable collection of congregational songs and having led choirs and bands for the past 15 years, but I really believe that in order for this kind of music to take on a new level of spiritual growth, we need to incorporate even more white space in our music.

You may wonder where I am going with this and that’s okay. Let’s journey together and see where this train of thought takes us, shall we?

Church music has been dominated by the rock band style group for well over 10 years. In Australia, the rise of Hillsong in the early 90’s saw a massive tipping point in the culture of congregational music that was accompanied by a significant increase of semi and professional musicians joining bands, inspired by the example set before them by the likes of Geoff Bullock, Darlene Zschech and Reuben Morgan.

Their music rose above the somewhat gray scale attempts to bring congregational music in line with the contemporary mainstream and caught the hearts of multiple generations of frustrated and disillusioned musicians wanting to find their place in church worship and serve with their gifts and talents. It was a magical time to be a teenager and I too was swept up in wanting to be my best as a musician, singer and believer. Finally, I had a sense of purpose and direction to set my musical gifts toward.

Since then we’ve seen a plethora of incredible talent rise, all across the globe and Christian music is now even entering the mainstream flow in many countries. It’s really something that makes me proud because the standard was raised and many stood up and answered the call with incredible results.

However, there is something that bothers me. And please hear my heart. I am not speaking against Hillsong or any other band who are creating professional and beautiful environments for us to worship in. I’m not against modern congregational worship.

But I am against performance in this setting.

Performance? But aren’t we giving God glory by using our talents to the best of our ability? Shouldn’t we be creating an environment that helps usher people into his presence?

Yes and yes. Yes we should be using our talents. Yes we have a responsibility to usher in the presence of God. No we should not allow performance to enter in.

So how does the need for white space and the issue of performance connect together?

Musicians are a special breed of human. There is a continual struggle, especially for musicians using their talent in a church setting, to ensure that they are not performing and seeking personal glory and gratification when leading the congregation in corporate worship. I’ve personally faced this challenge and it can be a fine line!

Sometimes, I’ve experienced a time of corporate worship that has left me confused, irritated and disappointed because all I’ve participated in is a rock concert. It’s the setting as well as the lack of spiritual listening on the part of the band that contributes to this. It’s the lighting and the dry ice. It’s the perfectly timed instrumentals and revving the congregation up into frenzied sound, all in the name of worshipping God.  I’ve both been on the platform and as a congregational participant in these scenarios and so feel I can contribute a perspective from both sides of the coin.

silence as an act of worship

Sometimes this extreme scenario creeps in to regular church settings and it makes my skin crawl. I genuinely believe that for the most part, we as musicians want to worship God and feel that we are doing so, to the best of our ability. And I also believe that God sees our intentions and loves us regardless.

What I do see though, in this kind of setting, is the potential for a congregation to end up watching what’s happening up the front and a worship team lost in their own interludes and musical prowess. I’m sorry to be so blunt but this is what I see.

The congregation then become observers for the most part, rather than participants and this makes my heart break.  They’ve come to collectively worship their God and they’re often left confused and disappointed.

It’s time to go beyond this. It’s time to step further in to what worship is really about. Worship isn’t even about music in the first place! It’s about connecting with God and communing with his Spirit. About acknowledging his majesty, authority and love. About bringing our brokenness to his feet, like Mary did, when she cracked open the most expensive and precious gift she could, pouring out perfume to honour Jesus.

contemplative worship that includes silence and reflection

This is where I feel that white space needs to come back into the conversation.  But before we do, I want to bring in one last element of thought.  This is where some reading may feel very differently to me, and that’s okay.  I respect your opinion and hope that you can afford me the same.

I believe that there is opportunity for us to respond to an environment of worship fully believing that we are engaging with God and encountering his presence, regardless of skill sets, lights, dry ice or great vocals or all the latest gear.  I don’t think it’s the stuff that’s an issue.

However, I also believe that we could potentially find ourselves in the same environment, fully believing that we are worshipping God, but are in fact worshipping music itself.

 

Thanks for reading. Stay tuned for Part 2 where I discuss the validity of taking some time to incorporate silence into our worship times.

 

In love and honour,

Miriam Miles

If you’re interested in reading more about what inspired my train of thought today, why not visit Bonnie Gray’s website and check it out.

If you’d like to check out other things that I write about, you can visit me at my blog on WordPress.

What’s been your experience of congregational worship?

What have you personally discovered in those quiet moments?

Please share your thoughts and remember that we are a community of like minded folk, so church bashing is not on, okay? Okay :)

 

 

The Pursuit of Happiness… is what exactly?

We are taught to pursue happiness.

We’ve written books and made movies about this concept and been inspired and motivated by it too.

But what does this phrase really mean? Is it different for each person and is it a notion that we are aspiring to achieve but don’t necessarily have any idea what we are reaching  for?

The word happiness clearly must be defined but are we defining it via one cultures’ expression of happiness or all cultures? And what about the assumption that what makes me happy equally makes you happy?
So then, firstly we must pursue an understanding of what we are pursuing, why we are pursuing it and if indeed we need to actually pursue it.
The word ‘happiness’ is defined simply as being ‘the state of being happy’.  Other ways to describe happiness are contentment, pleasure, satisfaction, well-being, lightheartedness, exuberance, euphoria, transports of delight and rapture, just to name a few!  I don’t think it is a simple thing to try and pursue something as complex and full as happiness until one can define what it is that causes that state of being to occur.
So clearly, what makes one person happy does not necessarily define another person’s happiness. Gosh, it’s all a bit complicated, isn’t it?
Today I read a fantastic blog by Susan Kiernan-Lewis  about balance. Really encouraged me as I’ve been trying to forge that word into my life for the past lifetime without a lot of great success!!
Actually my thoughts have been very scrambled of late as I write goals and consider the potential outcomes of this coming year and notice the tension in my thinking and the taught sound of my voice as I consider that I may achieve nothing at all.  How will I feel about that? About not achieving my goals?  And what defines achievement anyway? Who makes that call, that I haven’t achieved something?  Is it me or society?
Today my conclusion is that as beautiful a pursuit of balance is, it does not compare to pursuing what causes you to feel a sense of inner peace, well being and acceptance.  Now I do need to make a note here: a healthy pursuit of happiness does not annihilate someone else’s needs; drive another person into the ground on your behalf or cause another individual harm, pain or emotional distress.  So many times we read in magazines and books and on the Internet and see in tv shows and movies that people do things ‘in the name of pursuing their dreams’, their own happiness etc and the other person is left high and dry. I’m not talking about a pursuit where you are the only winner.

There’s another side to pursing our own happiness and that is the side of ‘do unto others what you would like them to do to you’ - being considerate of how other people are travelling in their pursuit and working out ways to accommodate both parties.  A deeper sense of contentment seems to spring forth from this kind of mutual pursuit…
Ultimately, as I sit here thinking about my goals and the reality of my somewhat ‘balance’ and mostly unbalanced lifestyle coming into play, I see that I may need to do a little reassessing along the way… perhaps redefine some of my time frames and expectations and take on board the fact that my achievement of my goals is in fact less important than my pursuit of happiness.
So what is this pursuit of happiness for me?  Well, it’s knowing I am loved, being able to look in the mirror of life and know that who I am matters more than what I do.  I say to my teenage sons all the time ‘be the very best version of you that you can be’ – because when the rubber hits the road, people won’t be flocking to the celebrities and well-to-do’s of the world:  they’ll be rushing to find people of authenticity, depth.  People who represent relationship and solidarity.  People who can be relied upon to be real.  So if I manage to sell my music to a few hundred people rather than a few million, and I have a loyal readership of one instead of one thousand, but I am real – I am the very best version of Miriam that I know how to be, then I think that’s the pursuit of happiness for me.

Are you brave enough?

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What happens when our knowledge is challenged and our surety is no longer secure?

We are a funny creature, us humans. We are so sure of ourselves: what we believe; how we want to live; who is politically right and how the world should really be governed, are all things we consider ourselves authorities on, even if we lack substantial knowledge in some areas.

We stand on what we believe, but do we ever stop to think about
what we believe, and why we believe it so staunchly?

I’m talking here about multiple aspects of our lives: our beliefs regarding politics, culture and faith particularly – the core elements that distinguish us from others. What if, for a split moment, our knowledge base was challenged? What is our response, and how will it affect our lives?

Even more so, what if this challenge to our knowledge unveils a potential truth we had not seen, and everything we’ve founded our lives upon comes into question?

I’ve been pondering these questions for the past few days because I recently attended a 2 day conference that focused on aspects of my faith that I had not really thought about before. In fact, some information that was revealed, showed up my signifcant lack of knowledge in areas that I thought I knew enough about to establish what I believe in.

Hm. I can tell you now, that this was not something that I anticipated, hence my questions above.

So then, what is an appropriate response, when someone reveals information to you that significantly challenges what you believe to be true? Again, let’s not just consider aspects of faith or religion here. Let’s consider science, politics and general cultural norms. Things we base our society on.

Of course we have options.

We can flatly reject this new information if it does not resonate with our core understanding. And that is entirely an acceptable choice. Sometimes we learn new things and can quickly disprove them, or can easily see that it does not connect with our personal paradigm and there is nothing wrong with that. I am not encouraging us to change with the wind and believe something just because it’s entered our sphere of understanding.

However, I am a big believer that if something is truth, and I’m wrong in my initial assumptions, I will come across additional information that will help me see where I am missing key elements in my knowledge. It will still then be my choice as to whether I integrate this new knowledge or not.

Additionally, we have two other ways to respond. We can choose to blindly believe everything we’ve just heard, or like any scholar worth their salt, we can mine this new information: delve into it, break it apart and discover the core of it, seeing how it lines up with our paradigms.

Do we trust ourselves enough to accept that at some point in our belief system, and again, I’m not just talking about religion or faith, but in any area of major mind set that we have, we may come across new information that reshapes our thinking, and in some cases, replaces it? Will we grow more quickly? Will we learn to appreciate another’s point of view more readily?

Perhaps we will learn to acknowledge that we haven’t got all the answers yet, and that this is an okay place to be?

All I know at this point, is that my life is built on the foundation of discovery. It is vital to my core understanding of life, that I make regular efforts to learn things that I don’t understand and to allow information that may seem contrary to my paradigms, to enter into my thinking, even just for a little while, in order to ensure that I don’t miss something life changing. I have my brother to thank for this. He questions things and allows himself the opportunity to learn from another’s point of view and it has inspired me to embrace the things that scare me and let discovery take it’s natural course.

But why should we bother with all of this? If we are so secure in what we believe, why go to such lengths to discover more?

This is a brilliant question with an answer that has sewn itself into the fabric of history. If we didn’t allow ourselves to question what we know, we’d still consider the earth to be flat. Trite, perhaps, but you know this is true!

Furthermore, if we can choose to trust ourselves and believe that our minds really are capable of receiving information that we may later reject, and still be okay, then I think we become closer to living a fear-free life.

Free from the fear of getting it wrong.

Free from the fear of being rejected by our peers, our family and friends because we may discover something beautiful that shifts our thinking away from our cultural norms.

Free from the fear of loosing our identity or even our minds when we become torn between what we knew and what we know now.

I’ll leave you with this idea. If at some point, you come across new knowledge, and this information sparks a landslide of questions in your mind, would you consider giving that information a little bit of breathing space so that it can have the opportunity to help you develop?

After all, you’re the only person in control of your thinking. So it’s up to you as to what you accept and what you reject.

So, when it comes, take a moment; take whatever time you need, to mine that information and see if it connects you to a deeper understanding of who you are. Yes it may be a bit scary, but that’s okay. It’s okay to take on new ideas and it’s okay to reject them or even to reject your original understanding and replace it with this new one. It’s your choice, so don’t you owe it to yourself to be open, consider what comes your way and see where the ideas lead you?

For me, I’m going to travel down the rabbit hole and see where it leads. If Alice is brave enough, then so am I.

Thanks for reading,

Miriam

Worshipping Without Music

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Want to hear from God in a new way? Consider worshipping without using music as your foundation.

Think about these things:

* There are many ways to express worship
* Deep worship doesn’t necessarily mean musical worship. Quiet or even silent worship can cleanse the soul and connect our spirit with Holy Spirit
* Quiet times with God can be as vital and revitalising as breakthrough praise and warfare worship
* Some Quakers practiced silent worship that led to encounters
* Being silent offers God an opportunity to speak to us in ways that our songs can sometimes drown out

When we stop talking, he has more room to show us new things. When we cease our noise, we send him a message that we respect his desire to be the first to speak.

When we create a space like this, we open up the opportunity to grow through new encounters that may otherwise take us longer to find, or at worse, be missed all together.

How can we do this?

1. Settle your mind and wait quietly before God. This could take a few minutes to a bit more.

2. Don’t start praying. Seriously! We are waiting, not orating!

3. Remain patient as your mind lets go of what it thinks is important. Write down anything that keeps distracting you. Go back to waiting quietly.

4. Let God speak in his way and consider writing down anything you feel has been significant about your time together. Maybe he led you to read a scripture, or impressed upon you the need to just sit and rest? Whatever it is, take a moment to document your experience.

By giving ourselves an opportunity to spend some time in Gods presence without having to be vocal at the beginning, it gives us an opportunity to hear from him in a different way.

May your week be blessed with great revelations and joy.

In love and honour,

Miriam

What do we do when we have no desire to worship?

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Psalm 63 says:

O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.’

Desert

But what if you read that verse, and there is no longing? No feeling of wanting? Of fainting?

Does that mean you’re broken? Or…’backslidden’? Have you done something to offend God? Or are you just distracted by the things of the world?

Perhaps there is an alternative to these causes for a lack of desire to worship?

 

I want to share something and I hope that you are encouraged.

For the past 12 months or so, I’ve felt spiritually numb. It’s like I’m in neutral. I don’t feel extreme excitement about my life with God, nor do I feel uninterested. I just feel numb. And it’s not through a lack of desire. I want to have a deeper relationship with my heavenly Father. I want to know the secrets of His heart for me and how he wants me to partner with him in his plans. I want all the things that any other Christian desires.

The difference is that I don’t feel anything. I’ve tried to ‘get into’ his presence. I’ve tried by spending time at the piano, playing whatever comes into my heart to play and letting myself get lost in a moment of expression in an attempt to worship. I’ve tried journalling, soaking to music, soaking without music. I’ve tried reading my Bible, other great writers who inspire and listening to teaching that has in the past inspired me to worship. I’ve even led the church in corporate worship and literally gone through the motions hoping that at some point, my obedience to serve will procure a tangible effect in my heart, mind, body and spirit.

Nope. Nothin.

I will admit that there have been a handful of moments where I have felt the presence of God, albeit fleeting, but it’s not been during a time of traditional worship. In fact, it’s been in the most random of times, usually while I am sitting at my desk in my overcrowded-with-books-and-piano-office, working on a brief from a client. Suddenly, a wash of warmth floods my head, my neck and shoulders. I’ve come to recognise this experience as the Lord’s presence and it is a sweet and comforting feeling. But it is sporadic at best.

I know that he’s not gone. I know that he’s not turned his face from me. I know that he’s pleased with my efforts because when I ask, he continues to affirm the direction I have taken. I know that he is pleased with me because his word tells me that he is, regardless of any effort I make.

But when I ask about music, and about worship in general, about anything else than business, I just hear the crickets singing…like in a bad joke situation at a low-end comedy club.

But I know I am hearing his voice. I’m not overly concerned about that.

So why is it that I have quite frankly lost any desire to worship in the way that our culture has come to recognise? And are there others who are also experiencing this phenomenon?

Worship

I don’t have answers yet. I’d love to say that I do. ‘Here’s ten thousand steps to help you get out of the rut and get back into feeling like worshipping’. I hate that stuff. It’s all driven by us doing something to fix the so-called problem and insinuates that we must have done something wrong in the first place and it’s up to us to fix it. Not always the case.

Here’s my two cents, for what it’s worth.

What if there isn’t anything wrong?

What if there actually isn’t a problem after all? What if this is simply a season of learning to recognise the presence of God outside of songs, sound and creative expression?

What if…God is just as pleased with you right now whether you raise your hands in worship this morning or not?

Resting

What if he’s just as pleased with you regardless if you sing today or sit in your seat with your arms folded?

He says that we can do nothing without the enabling of his Spirit. Perhaps this is a season of learning how to trust that he’ll love me (us) regardless of how we pursue him? Maybe our pursuit is a little unnecessary? Perhaps we might be instead like David, when he says in Psalm 62:1:

‘Truly my soul silently waits for God; from him comes my salvation’

 I don’t know about you, but I am tired of being worshipful in my outward demeanour at church. And I don’t mean that we should just come in a surly mood and stay that way. I genuinely want to worship God, just like so many others, but I feel a sense of cultural expectation to outwardly represent my feelings for God in a way that is frankly a little artificial right now.

So if you’re in church today, and you are experiencing something like what I’m going through, let’s stand/sit/lay down/walk around/whatever together and let’s make a pact to worship God in spirit and truth, even if that means we don’t sing or raise our hands.

Candles to worship

Let’s make a pact to be genuine in our response. For he alone knows the state of our hearts and if the rest of the congregation are watching you or I to determine if we are in a good place with God or not, shame on them for watching.

To thine own self be true…

 

Thanks for reading.

Miriam Miles

 

I wondered where my days had gone: Memory, Writing and Mental Health

Miriam Miles:

I came across this blog a while ago and come back for a read now and then. I was just thinking about my journaling the other day and wondering why I’ve not been inclined to journal for some time. Perhaps Tipsy Lit has some insight here worth reading. Enjoy and share!

Originally posted on TIPSY LIT:

Rather than marching into the catalogs of my memory, they have dissipated into quiet oblivion. Where is my childhood? Where are my daughter’s first months of life? Where are the milestones and trips and events of my history? I know I lived them. I’m sure of it.

A revelation lurked.  I found my memories. Found all the days and years and sights and heartaches and intimacy and yearning and adventure. I retrieved it from its sealed capsule, at back of a closet. Storage in dark places and moving from place to place to place has worn the box into a tired patchwork of cardboard and packaging tape.

I stabbed the plastic with a ballpoint pen– pop!– to unveil the carefully packed notebooks, whose covers contained pages and inserts, a dam creaking against the pressure of confessions, secrets, dreams, palpable emotions. Journals…

View original 693 more words

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