The Qualities of Silence

Recently, at Woodbrooke, I had a startling revelation. Quaker silent worship is anything but silent.

I don’t mean only the shuffling feet, rustling papers, coughs and sneezes, or the occasional snoring. I mean that the room is not deeply peaceful or intensely quiet. Rather the space is filled with emotions: uncertainty, expectation, impatience, fatigue, distraction. The concept of waiting or expectancy means that at no time in Meeting for Worship is everyone completely silent within.

This realization struck me during the Woodbrooke course, “Quakers and Modern Spirituality.” During the course, we had periods of Quaker worship and of meditation. It was during a very deep group meditation that I suddenly recognized how full, enclosing and uplifting that silence of meditation is when compared to that of Quaker worship. Meditation is at the same time both the essence of self-awareness and the practice of connecting Self with the Divine Energy.

Quaker worship is assertive, grasping, reaching out. Meditative silence is accepting, open, inviting in.

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