Silence yields great insights and firm resolve

_15V6995-2One of our practices in Morning Meeting, that comes from our Quaker origins, is the use of silence.

To many of us, silence might seem like an inactive state, in which nothing is happening. Our world is so filled with noise that sometimes I believe some people think that silence, the absence of noise, is a passive, lifeless, inert occurrence.

In fact, silence is a powerful, active, difficult process that requires all of our skill to undertake successfully, but that can yield great insights and firm resolve.

Think about sitting silently for a moment; especially among friends in a room like this. You must actively realize that, “hey, it’s time to be silent.” You must stop talking; you must find a way to stop listening to people beside you, you must work to ignore the many voices and movements around you that might distract you, you must find a way to calm yourself; you must start to find focus on yourself, or on the issues that are important to you; and you must exercise great self-discipline in maintaining your silent, calm, collected, thoughtful and purposeful mind throughout the time of silence.

If you were to ever attend a First Day Quaker Meeting, what other denominations would call Sunday church service, you would be amazed and perhaps a little intimidated by the process. Formal Quaker meetings would normally be up to an hour in length. Participants enter the Meeting House silently and take a seat upon wooden seats, like pews. The seats are arranged to face each other. From time to time, when a participant feels that they have felt the spirit move them, they stand up and share their thoughts with the other worshippers. They then sit down and the silence resumes once more. Over the course of an hour, as few as one or two people may stand, or as many as 10 or 15. Sometimes they recite scripture, sometimes they sing a hymn, sometimes they talk about religion, but oftentimes they talk about politics or social justice issues or environmental issues. But over and over and over, the key defining aspect of the meeting is the silence.

I’ve never suggested that we do it quite that way here; because it does take a lot of work to be silent. But what I do want us to do is learn the discipline required to be truly silent and to practice it on a regular basis.

Quakers believe, and so do I, that truth or enlightenment is available to us through the practice of silence. It does not matter your language or your faith or your age, there is power in silence. Since Quakers believe that that of God resides in every person, silent meeting is a chance for you to have that conversation with whomever it is residing inside of you … and that makes me wonder if perhaps sometimes we seek noise and activity rather than contemplative silence, because we are not so sure we want to have that conversation.

Dorothy Flanagan, a Quaker who wrote The Mystery of Meeting for Worship says, “We usually affirm children for their words, but do we ever affirm them for their silence? Silence can be the capacity to not have the easy answer. We need to affirm the time for dreaming, for imagining, for vision-making – the time for the interior images to meet the images of the world … silent time can become a centrepiece to the school’s rhythms, a way to deal with problems, to celebrate, to respond to tragedies, either in the school or in the world.”

For us at Pickering College, the silence in Morning Meeting is the point when time slows down; when thoughts hang with increased gravity; when you can stop and actually listen to your own breathing; when was the last time you listened to your own heart beat? The silence in Morning Meeting is when you can clear your mind of the clutter of your daily existence and open it up to the possibility of revelation – of that moment of Truth; when you can seek and find serenity – be at peace.

So for us, the few moments we share in silence each day is a chance to slow down, take a deep breath, gather our thoughts and listen, really listen. Some of you may meditate, some of you may relax, some of you may pray. And if we are really lucky, all we will hear is silence … and if we are patient enough … the silence will let us listen to our thoughts and our hearts.

Whatever you do, my hope for you is that you can revel in the silence, take comfort, strength and joy from being in the presence of friends and find that sense of power and enlightenment that a silent time together can provide.