Finding God in the silence

Finding God in the silence

Editor’s note: Each Thursday, we feature a throwback piece from Topology’s predecessor, catapult magazine. In this essay, Karissa Knox Sorrell explores a critical shift in her sensibilities about noise and silence.

I was raised on mountaintop experiences. From performance-filled missions services to glow-stick lit youth retreats to inspiring moments of praise during college chapel, the strength of my faith could always be rekindled by a spiritual “high.” For me, every encounter with God had to be new, emotional and different from the last. That was why I prayed extemporaneously, searched Scripture for God’s special message for me, and made many trips to the altar. I was always suspicious of ritual: liturgical worship was surely lifeless and meaningless.

Yet after my 17-year-old brother Will was killed in a motorcycle accident, I couldn’t bear the mountaintop anymore. The praise choruses left a bitter taste in my mouth. I wondered how people could raise their hands and shout “Amen” when my brother was dead.  God was cold, unfeeling and distant. Didn’t they know that?

It was at a Taize service almost a year after my brother’s death that I felt God again. Taize services, originating from a monastic community in Taize, France, are worship services that use chants, icons and quiet. My mother invited me to attend the service with her, even though neither of us knew much about liturgy, and nothing about the Taize tradition. The service was an amalgam of songs, meditation, silence, and prayer. In the midst of flickering candles, the cantors sang:

The Lord is my song
The Lord is my praise
My hope is found in God
The Lord is my song.
The Lord is my praise.
God, the wellspring of life.

We sang it again and again, no microphones, no preacher or worship leader standing in front, just two cantors sitting to the side. Instead of looking at a music minister or a big screen, I stared at a table of candles glittering around an icon (though at the time I called it a portrait) of Mary holding Jesus.

Adoramus te Domine
Adoramus te Domine
Adoramus te Domine
We adore you, Lord Jesus Christ.

And a picture came to my mind: one scene there in the church, Christians singing, “We adore you.” Another scene: two boys on a motorcycle in Phuket, Thailand. They were soaring down a paved road, carefree, smiling—

Adoramus te Domine among the candles’ flames

They begin to round a sharp curve and lose control—

We adore You, Lord Jesus Christ

There is a moment, an awful sickening moment of fear and panic—

In the stillness of the chapel, I hear the sounds of voices singing, see the candles blur before my eyes.

They are dead. Will is dead.

Domine Deus
May your peace surround us.
May your peace surround us.
Veni Sancte Spiritus
Holy Spirit come to us
Veni Sancte Spiritus

A mother and father cringe and weep. A sister, a grandmother receive the news.

Mary keeps looking at her baby, her son who will die for the world. In her eyes I see my mother’s, dark and deep with secrets, with love that will prove its strength over and over.

Veni Sancte Spiritus

And in the quiet of that strange, beautiful service, the Holy Spirit had come.


Photo by Maciej Biłas (Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic).