Spare Us the Clamor and Din

“When you find more spiritual sustenance in an empty church than the actual service, something has gone badly wrong.”  William Wildblood, Meeting the Masters Blog (October 10, 2020)

“But when alone—really alone—everyone is a child: or no one.”  C. S. Lewis, That Hideous Strength (1945)

“Unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.”  Matthew18:3.

I have spent many hours alone in empty, silent churches, and I will confess that those hours were, for me, superior to the many hours I have spent in churches that were packed with people and full of sound.  My preference is no doubt partly due to a discreditable streak of misanthropy, but I think it is primarily due to distaste for the dreadful clamor and din.  As Wildblood says, something has gone badly wrong when men prefer an empty church to a worship service, and I say that what has gone badly wrong is the service and not the men.

Do solitary men find more athletic sustenance in an empty stadium than in a roaring game?  Do gourmands prefer it sit before empty tables and plates?  Do lovers find their erotic desires are most fully satisfied when they lie, alone, between the sheets of a solitary bed?

You may begin to see the problem.

We are all of us drowning in an ocean of clamor and din.  We are by turns wheedled, exhorted, reproved, beguiled, alarmed, flattered and coaxed.  And this pandemonium is enlivened with jangling tunes, flashing lights, grimacing faces, and bodies in lewd or ludicrous postures.  From morning to night, we are accosted by the barkers, buskers and bawds of Vanity Fair, and when we pack into our churches we find that the service is not really different.

* * * * *

There are, to be sure, many people who like the dreadful clamor and din, and Lewis tells us why.  When they are alone—really alone—they are appalled to discover that not even they are there.  Drain the clamor and din from their consciousness, and they are conscious of a ghastly emptiness.  The feeling is rather like the ghastly emptiness one feels walking round the rooms of an apartment from which one has just moved.  There are two wire hangers in the closet and a dead fly on the window sill.  One wonders if these bare walls and dusty floors are all the apartment ever really was.

Children are certainly subject to this ghastly emptiness, and are gregarious in consequence, but an adult who remains childlike is not.  Or at least he is not subject to ghastly emptiness in the same degree as adults who truly hate to be alone.  An adult who remains childlike is happy in an empty, silent place because he is not himself empty, or silent, and because his being and music are not eclipsed by clamor and din in that empty, silent place.  He becomes, instead, like the child you have seen absorbed in solitary play, talking to itself and entirely content and withdrawn from the world.

When you have seen a child absorbed in solitary play, did you think it would be better to break the spell and subject that child to a scolding lecture, a giddy game, or an hour of frantic razzmatazz on television?  Of course not!  Perhaps our churches should go and do likewise.  Perhaps they would provide more spiritual sustenance if they would only learn to be quiet and leave us alone.

4 thoughts on “Spare Us the Clamor and Din

  1. Pingback: Spare Us the Clamor and Din | Reaction Times

  2. I’m familiar with clamor and din from growing up in an American church which, while not mega, was certainly kilo, with a rock band and sound engineer to boot.

    Later, I converted to the Orthodox Church, where by contrast, although services in are superficially rather busy (continuous chanting, bowing, lighting of candles, processing, censing), every action has its expected time and place. The struggle then is more to bring the mind back from worrying about worldly cares and to be attentive to prayer. While I do value the opportunity to pray quietly in an empty church during the middle of the day, there is a certain presence and energy that I’ve only ever perceived during a service.

  3. You are no doubt familiar with Pascal’s famous observation. Quiet time alone is the crucible which tests man to his core, but without which refinement is not possible. The most pernicious force in the 21st century is the confluence of smartphone technology with the suffocating ubiquity of social media. The dopamine hook that it unleashes in the brains of chronic users destroys their capacity to sit quiety alone. Yet, in the same spirit of aggiornamento that ushered in the tumult of Vatican II, the Catholic Church races to embrace social media and casts aside the ancient traditions which were perennial sources of grace, wisdom and peace. Too often this race to accomodate the modern world is justified by a post hoc propter hoc fallacy that blames everything old for the decline in participation, particularly by the young. It’s time to pump the brakes, slow down and find a quiet room.

    • They say that hunger is the best sauce. Silence likewise sharpens our appetite for conversation, just as solitude sharpens our appetite for companionship.

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