Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Some Thoughts on Silence and Silent Worship

Note: This piece appears in the February 2008 Ann Arbor Friends Meeting Newsletter.

I’d like you to try an experiment as you read this:

• First, sit for one minute without making any noise.
• Then, sit for one minute during which you center yourself and listen for that still, small voice within.

Did those two minutes feel a little different? completely different? similar? kind of the same? absolutely the same?

As unprogrammed Friends, we worship in silence: we gather in expectant waiting for That-Which-Is-Sacred to move among us. Silent worship is the root of our ministry to each other and to the world. Our ministry often may be that silent worship, in and of itself: those of us who’ve ever been part of a meeting for worship where there was no vocal ministry, but which was nonetheless deeply gathered, remember and treasure that experience. And even the most vocal of gathered meetings for worship are sustained by deep and ringing silence between messages. Our vocal ministry, and the ministry of the actions of our lives, come of the deep spiritual spring provided by silent worship.

In Ann Arbor Friends Meeting, we often say things like: “Let’s have some silence.” “We need to make sure we leave room for silence between messages.” “Please arrive early so there is time for silence before we begin.”

When we say these things, most of of know we are using the word “silence” as shorthand for “silent worship.”

But does everyone understand that? Is it truly clear that when we say “silence,” what we actually mean is “silent worship”?

This raises some other questions:
• In what ways is using such shorthand consistent with Quaker plain speech?
• Are we speaking in “Quaker code”? Does this obscure what we really mean, or does it clarify what we really mean?
• Research has documented that the language we use to talk about things affects how we think and act about them. Are we teaching Quakerism in an effective way when we use “silence” instead of “silent worship”?

And what’s the difference, anyway?

What was your experience in that experiment at the beginning?


Kathleen said...

And how do we define the "silent" half of "silent worship?" Generally, it means that the time is devoid of people speaking, but gosh is it usually full of God's creations (birdsong, chattering squirrels, wind) and creations made by God's creations (ambulance sirens in downtown Philly).

Beth C. said...

I'd put off reading this till this morning...when our Meeting for Worship will include our annual Spiritual State of the Meeting silent worship and messages. I needed this right now.

Spirit moves when She knows it's the right time...

And yes, this is very very good. I especially appreciate your reflections about using plain speech (and "Quaker Code").

I will take this with me to Meeting in my heart, today and I hope often!