“O Lord, support us all the day long of this troubled life, until the shadows lengthen and the evening comes and the busy world is hushed, the fever of life is over, and our work is done. Then, in your mercy, grant us a safe lodging, and a holy rest, and peace at the last, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”
Not once does the word, silence, appear in this prayer assigned for the funeral liturgy. And yet the images described here – shadows lengthening, evening coming, the busy world is hushed, work is done – point to a deepening silence around us. Indeed, at the end of every day when rest beckons, we must enter into the silence that is already there, holding and waiting for us.
Death, here, does not just mean our physical death. “When the fever of life is over” can also refer to the tiny deaths we experience throughout our lives – the fever and suffering of all our losses, grief, and rapid change.
At some point amidst these life transitions we must enter, in a daily rhythm, the steady silence that anchors all our days. Should we emerge healthy and renewed out of the suffering of all our losses, we will have rested when the busy world is hushed and our work is done – and embraced the silence that is already there, holding and waiting for us.
The prayer of the heart is thus a grace and a gift during the pandemic. The world has slowed down. At this time of exterior pause, God has given us the invitation to explore the interior landscape of silence. I hope you may have discovered that if anything has remained constant in this season of unprecedented and extraordinary change, it is the holy silence that undergirds our being. Like the blood flowing through our veins, the beat of our hearts and the almost imperceptible breath in and out – always happening, always moving, subtle, silent. Steady.
Meditation can be one of the greatest gifts to us in a time of disrupted schedules, routines and gatherings. Communities of faith who in the Spring suspended regular in-person gatherings, who are now trying to resume some form of in-person gatherings, who continue to meet online, who explore different ways of being faithful to our call and mission – navigating the strain of this rapid change and its verisimilitude of failure and success cannot continue without a regular, daily return to a place of steady silence and stillness.
We must feed and be nourished at the table of grace, which now more than ever, is the table of silence. And which, by grace, is given wherever you are – not just in a church building or any particular space you have associated with prayer. The presence of Christ is experienced in your place of prayer where silence holds and waits for you.
What is that place for you now? Where do you return to the Lord daily to pray? What are the features of this space? Which of these characteristics are vital for your prayer? What changes would you like to make in order to facilitate a daily return to the steady silence?
How will you resume in-person gatherings for prayer and meditation? Where will these gatherings take place? Who, in your surroundings, is important to you on this journey? Make a commitment to yourself to phone, email, or write them in the coming days. Would they spend a few moments of silence in prayer with you?
In all of these considerations and risk-taking, may the gift and grace of silence hold and sustain you as we enter a season of renewal and new beginnings.
“Ministry at the Time of Death – Funeral” in Evangelical Lutheran Worship Occasional Services, Readings, and Prayers: Pastoral Care (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2008), p.250.