Wednesday, December 14, 2011

A Quiet Joy: Quiet Church

About the author: David Hansen is a Lutheran pastor at a rural congregation in Brenham, TX. This year he started the Occupy Advent movement, using social media to encourage people to slow down and simplify during the season of Advent. Follow his personal twitter account @rev_david.

A crowd cheering in a stadium.
My daughter, jumping up and down and squealing with happiness.
A raucous worship service, full of energy and enthusiasm.

The images that come to mind when one thinks of “joy” are generally quite loud. It is easy to imagine being quietly hopeful, or quietly peaceful – but the idea of being “quietly joyful” seems to be an oxymoron.

As we enter into the third week of Advent – traditionally the week of “Joy” – images of loud celebrations surround us. But even in joy, we can find a place for quiet and introspection – a space for Quiet Joy. In fact, perhaps quiet ways of savoring joy would allow us a fuller experience of this third week of Advent.

Five and a half years ago, I was ordained as a pastor. I had spent years preparing for this day, all my family and many of my friends had gathered to take part in the celebration. Few moments in my life match that one for sheer joy.

In the moments before the service was to begin – the local clergy who were taking part were gathering together, laughing and sharing stories. Joining with them would have been one way to express my joy – but that was not where I went. My family was in the parish hall, gathered from all over the country, greeting one another after long journeys. Yes, spending time with my family as they talked and laughed also would have been a great way to express my joy – but that was not where I went either.

Instead, I went to my office – away from the noise of the sanctuary, the laughter of the parish hall, and the conversations of the sacristy. I found the one quiet place in the church, the one place where I could turn down the volume. And there, in the quiet of my office, I simply let the joy of the day wash over me. No distractions from others, no background noise, no interruptions. Just me, and the joy of that day.

I’m sure I said a prayer of thanksgiving while there alone – I don’t remember exactly. What I do remember is being there in the quiet, and how wonderful it was to simply allow that joy to wash over me.

As we draw close to the Christmas, there are certainly examples of boisterous joy in the Nativity story. Angels singing from the heavens. Livestock providing a background soundtrack. Shepherds running in from the fields.

And there in the midst of it, there is one who quietly stops – perhaps the one who has the best idea of what this birth truly means. In midst of the rush and noise of the Christmas story, Mary listens to the story from the shepherds, watches her child, and as Luke tells, “Mary treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart.”

No shouts of joy. No words of wisdom to share. Unlike when she visits her cousin Elizabeth and bursts into spontaneous song, Mary simply stopped and pondered all these joyous events.

In this holy season of Advent, we too are called to quiet joy. As the world around us erupts in loud celebrations – Christmas parties, holiday songs, and shouts of joy – we are called with Mary to tune out some of the noise of life; to slow down and let quiet joy wash over us. As we prepare for the coming of Emmanuel, we too treasure all these things, and ponder them in our hearts.