(9 am. – promoted by ek hornbeck)
Last night, in memory of a Friend who died suddenly, shockingly earlier in the week, we held a Memorial Service in his memory among those who knew him best. (Quakers do not use the word “funeral”) One Friend in attendance noted that, in addition to the worship, there is a certain group therapy aspect present. I agree. Yet, I think this is quite understandable and necessary. It’s a part of the grieving process. Each of us manages coming to terms with tragedy in different ways, but there is also something very human present that augments the purely religious aspect of the event.
After an hour or so of food and conversation, it was time to worship together. And at this juncture, I am reminded of the nature of silence and its supreme importance in our style of worship. In our face-paced, instant gratification, overstimulated society, sustained silence for any reason, at any time is increasingly rare. When we encounter it, we are often unsure what to do with it, or for that matter, ourselves. But beyond a exercise in Spiritual aestheticism, it is from silence that we seek God and his guidance. Each Friend reaches the Divine by a different way, but we are nonetheless all gathered together, seeking and searching. The Spirit is mysterious and because of it a strong element of mystery is also present in unprogrammed worship. Indeed, it will always be present within us and among us.
I’m reminded of an joke I heard in reference to the city of London in the UK. As the joke goes, you might be from London if you last heard silence in 1974, and when you did, it scared you to death. The same is true for many large American cities and others in the world. Where I live in Washington, DC, there’s always some low-level hum of activity going on outside, regardless of time of day. Frequently I am interrupted by fire trucks, police sirens, or traffic passing by on the busy avenue in front of my home. Silence to me is often a relief, but I’ve also begun to question whether I should modify my definition of that which is silent. I can see the extraneous noises outside as anathema to my own spiritual discipline, or I can accept their presence and perhaps even incorporate them into the meld. True silence is increasingly rare, and one must travel farther and father to find it.
There are times, I must admit, where sustained silence is a challenge. When I became a Friend, this was my experience and observation at first. The Meeting where I became Convinced (converted) was primarily silent. Vocal ministry was rare and infrequent. Spending an hour in relative silence had been previously unfathomable to me. Now, I squirmed in my seat. My mind raced. After a time, I felt extremely bored. Sometimes I caught myself nodding off. And I was thankful for any break, anyone’s vocal ministry, anything other than silence! I was grateful for those things, whatever they might have been, that allowed me the ability to focus on something else for a time.
Last night, however, could not have been more different. Our silence could not have been more active. The intensity of those gathered in a circle around me transformed this supposedly passive, dull silence to vibrantly active worship. I cried, I reflected, I sought God’s comfort. Thirty minutes or so passed before any of us dared to offer any words. And in that time, I was neither bored, nor anxious, nor inclined to wish in desperation that I might hear the sound of someone’s voice. The energy in the room was copious and powerful. Sometimes silence speaks louder than any word the human brain can conjure. There is a sound of silence, but unlike the Simon & Garfunkle song, it is not the sound of inaction and impotence. Rather, it is the glow of the Inward Light, where we share our leadings and enrich each other with our ministry.