Room to Breathe . . .
. . . was the name of a store co-owned by a former neighbor. I liked that. I like the idea of having room to breathe in my home, and in my office space. I rarely seem to have it, but I like it. I also like room to breathe “at church.”
Church gatherings rarely give one much room to breathe. (And I’m not talking about singing here, although that can be one specific issue. As I wrote in this post about beat-skipping and other musical crimes, “I do need to be spiritually charged, but I don’t need to be gasping for breath and having my intoned words lopped off at the end of each phrase.”) From the parking lots and busy lobbies and coffee cups, through the multiplied hand-shakings and ever-present greetings, to the good-mornings by leaders who don’t seem to have heard the last “good morning” and are intent on filling every moment with noise, it seems like a hullabaloo more than a haven. The “sanctuary” notion may be stilted, but the sound and information overloads of our age may yet drive sober-minded Christians back in that direction.
Some time ago, I wrote about a visit with some Mennonites. That group impressed me, of course, as separatist—but also as thoughtful, sincere, refreshing. I found room to breathe in the men’s Bible class: between reading and comments, there was time. The men actually seemed to be pondering and meditating before speaking. I also found room to breathe between stanzas of the songs.
A more subtle yet deeper difference was in what I would call a “thoughtful waiting” that characterized so many aspects and events. In Bible class, at least seven or eight different men spoke up at one time or another, and I noticed that there was some silence after each comment, as though everyone habitually considered everything that was said. Also, a couple of seconds transpired between stanzas of songs and hymns. I’ve heard that this is the habit in British churches of various stripes. from A few minutes with some Mennonites, October 2016
Later, I also visited another Mennonite group I serendipitously found, 35 minutes in another direction. I find, generally speaking that Mennonite assemblies seem to give one time and space to ponder God and life. These visits transport me back to a visit to a group in Alfred, NY about eight years ago. . . .
The group was called the Alfred Assembly of Christians, and they met in a tiny chapel owned by a small university. The otherwise insignificant town of Alfred was on another side of our county, and I can remember most of the turns in the 40-minute drive to get there. This modest group of believers made up of one sizable family, a university professor and his wife, and a couple other folks. The setting was quaint, and the people, hospitable.
One remarkable factor was the amount of quiet time. There seemed to be some planning, particularly around communion, but there was also some spontaneous sharing and singing. Typically, in my experience, in spontaneous singing situations, a feeling of rushing through is present. If there are different leaders, they may be appear to be competing to choose the most fun, or the loudest, or otherwise superlative songs. Between songs, there is hardly an opportunity for thought. Between stanzas? Forget it! Might as well plan on missing the first few words of each stanza, just to have a breath. Not so at the Alfred Assembly. I could think. I could appreciate something of what I had just sung. I could anticipate the connection with what was to come in the next succeeding stanza.
This room to breathe can make people uncomfortable. The noise that young children sometimes make will be more noticeable, for instance, making parents tense. Yet silence and time to ponder call us to go deeper.
Things might have changed in Alfred, and not everything about that group was admirable, but having time and space to ponder things was good.
I’m pretty sure it’s a minority of people who would rather have more silence and space in church gatherings.
I’m also pretty sure that people would be healthier and more responsive to God if they had this room to breathe.