The Quality of Silence

This morning, lying in bed as my husband left for work, I was stunned by the silence in  the moment after he closed the door. Even in a small village, out in the country, there is rarely complete silence. But for a few moments this morning there was no sound at all. Even the breathing of Greta, my greyhound curled up on the bed beside me (she always climbs onto the bed in the warm spot my husband leaves when he gets up) was breathing so softly that I couldn’t hear it.


That silence was complete, but it wasn’t comforting or peaceful. It was a sudden emptiness where just moments before there had been my husband’s movements putting on his shirt and tie, his suit and shoes, and the rustling of his gathering the things he takes to work. Familiar sounds, comfortable sounds. Then absolute quiet. The contrast was startling, and my sudden noticing of it started me thinking about the qualities of silences.


As a Friend (Quaker), I know the silence of Meeting for Worship. It is familiar, even cosy. It is almost like a cradle or rocking chair into which  I can comfortably settle. But that Quaker silence is almost never soundless. It is punctuated by squeaking chairs, rustling papers, the door clicking as latecomers interrupt the meeting, the occasional whispering of a child . . .  Sometimes the joy is overwhelming when the meeting finally settles into the blanketing silence of worship, the quiet of the whole community waiting with such deep intension for the movement of the Spirit among us. In this finally deep silence, vocal ministry is sometimes a shock. 


Then there is the silence of a Gathered Meeting, an altogether different experience. The profound silence in such a meeting is the connector, the conduit, for the movement of the Spirit. And that movement is a clear, physical sensation, of energy moving from person to person, around the circle; of everyone worshipping being connected through the Energy of the Spirit. During once such meeting, I saw a glowing thread, vibrating softly, that connected everyone around the room. I also heard a buzz, almost like a bee when it flies close to your ear, but softer and somehow stronger. I felt lifted up out of my chair at one point.


Several Friends with a lifetime of worship under their belts have told me that the Gathered Meeting is a rare experience. One Friend, a Quaker for over sixty years, told me that she had never known a Gathered Meeting until she found Strawberry Creek Meeting. In the ten years or so that I worshipped with Strawberry Creek, I remember distinctly four Gathered Meetings, and about three others less clearly. These were profound, deep silences, but so fully of the Energy of the Spirit that they were almost heavy with indescribable and joyful meaning.