Reading Series: Quiet

Since moving back home in May, I have been attending my childhood church. I decided early on that I would give my best effort to finding value in its style of worship and contributing my twenty-something perspective to the collective discussion. I was ready to jump into this community with an open heart.

But transitioning back to the Pentecostal church after months of attending an Episcopal church was a shock to my system. I traded an hour-long service for two and a half hours of Sunday school and service; hymns led by a choir swapped for a worship band and lyrics projected on a television screen; tall stained glass windows were replaced by rooms where I was always searching for another light switch to flick on; receiving the Eucharist at the front of the church each week now became grape juice passed out in plastic cups once a month; Prayers of the People were subbed out for altar calls at the end of service.

I tried to ignore these differences, knowing they were petty complaints. I have laughed at stories of churches split over carpet choices, families leaving because of un-cared-for worship styles. I didn’t want to be someone to give up on a community for such superficial reasons. So I stayed, but never looked forward to Sunday mornings. They left me exhausted, and I didn’t think that’s how Sabbath should begin.

Then, halfway through the summer, I read Quiet, and understanding clicked into focus.

My preferred worship style is influenced heavily by the fact that I am an introvert.

Episcopalian services appeal to me so much because of the structure inherent in the liturgy. In the introduction to Quiet, Susan Cain writes, “introverts and extroverts differ in the level of outside stimulation that they need to function well.” Being on the introverted side of the spectrum, too much stimulation can negatively affect how I respond to a situation.

The beauty of the liturgy for introverts is that it decreases stimulation by maintaining the order and elements of the service from week to week. I know exactly what will be required of me in this social setting—there is even a handy little pamphlet outlining the details of the service. The repetition gives my mind and my spirit a structure to move freely within. Marie Poulin writes, “Structure enables flexibility.” Because I don’t have to wonder how many more songs we will be singing before the sermon starts or how long the homily will last, I can focus on the content of the worship and message. I can invest in the words instead of expending energy worrying about the scaffolding.

Additional things the Episcopal church does that make my introvert heart happy is provide “space for contemplation” and “incorporate silence and mystery” into its services, as Adam McHughes suggests in Quiet. I came to look forward to the moments of profound silence that are built into the liturgy. They allow me time to refocus my mind and heart throughout the hour.

Maybe now that Quiet has helped me understand my preference for structured, contemplative religious services, I can try to identify these qualities in my Pentecostal church. I bet they are there if I look hard enough.

If you’ve read Quiet, what did it teach you? If you haven’t read it and are an introvert, or if you live or work with introverts, I very much encourage you to pick it up soon!

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