These words are powerful. Especially when delivered through the calm, measured voice of someone tasked with ensuring the immediate and composed departure of a building full of people in Manhattan. And through a single back door. The building was the Episcopal Church Center, which sits only one block from the United Nations. Our group was in the chapel for a conversation on stewardship. Everyone else in New York seemed to be focused on the UN General Assembly around the corner.
We left quietly because of a bomb threat half a block away. We left in prayer – you know that sensation after a Good Friday service – when all you hear is the shuffle of feet, but you are resoundingly aware of the hearts that surround you in their “thin” places? It was like that – and wow was I in my thin place with God right there next to the UN. We left slowly, because as we exited through the loading dock, we had to choose the stairs far over to the right, the steep and slick ramp directly in front of us, or the delivery dock in the middle with a three foot ledge. Not exactly a triune of egress glory. But we moved.
Outside was a perfect September day in New York. Lovely, crisply warm and a blue, blue, blue sky. The world of brilliant sunlight that we stepped into was everything except quiet. Yet that is what I remember. I remember silence.
We were safe it turned out. “Just another routine bomb scare,” was the phrase I heard several times. What a truth. I was reminded, though, of how explosive silence can be. We all have memories of silences so terrifying, unknown and other, that a few seconds seem to explode into eternity. In quite other moments, silence can feel so decadent in comparison that we pursue and covet it as a goal above all others – as a chance to shell up and pacify ourselves so that we don’t eventually explode.
Silence is a risk. Whether pursued or imposed, silence is a risk of what we will hear, what we won’t hear, and where God’s whisper is amongst and between. And this whisper – amongst and between the shuffle toward slopes, out of the way steps and delivery docks – is a call of invitation for us to move with God.
Do go ahead and leave the building quietly. Every walk out into the world should be an opportunity for us to be in a thin place with God. And when God speaks through these thin places, listen closely each time because the whispers will change. And so will you.
–Julie Simonton, Staff Officer for Congregational Development & Stewardship