Oneness in silence
I visited a congregation of Friends yesterday, otherwise known as Quakers. Someone I know from my volunteer work belongs to the congregation, and she invited me to come.
Here's what the introductory brochure said:
To begin with, we quietly take our seats on the benches. As the benches fill, slowly silence settles over the meeting. [T]here are no hymns, no sermons, no set prayers, no responsive readings, no ceremonies, no rituals and no minister. Each of us is alone with his or her thoughts, insights or prayers, while being part of a company of seekers.
Occasionally the silence may be broken when someone feels the need to offer a message, usually brief, simple in wording, and spiritual in nature. …
If you were to ask a number of Friends what takes place in a Friends Meeting for Worship, you would get many different answers. It is likely though that most would agree that a Meeting for Worship is a period of intense listening—listening to others, listening to that small inner voice in each of us, listening to whatever ways God speaks.
In a Friends Meeting, listening is a very active verb. It suggests not just the relatively passive act of hearing but the active effort of seeking.
I felt very much at home. The room we were in was quintessential New England—hardwood floors, roaring fire, straight-backed uncushioned benches. High ceilings, lighted only by the sun through the windows. I sat with a view of the fire. As the silence settled, the only sounds were the popping of the sparks and the various gentle human noises a group of people relaxing will make.
This particular meeting remained silent this way throughout. I found myself sinking deeper and deeper into my thoughts. Favorite memorized passages were where I started. Then I caught on the idea of one Mind, and suddenly realized how easy it is to accept one Mind when no one is talking. I stayed with this amusing concept for a time, really appreciating the oneness of silence.
In short, I enjoyed it. At the end, the appointed member invited us all to shake hands, and we all did so with each other, saying, "Good morning, Friend." Downstairs there were snacks and drinks, and I found my friend and met many others.
I've been thinking of the oneness of silence since then. Later in the day yesterday I attended a holiday carol sing and then an ice skating show. And I could see the difference between participating myself or watching others and the group silence of the Friends meeting. In the carol sing, particularly, I noticed how concerned I was with how I sounded. Did the people around me think I had a nice voice, was I singing in tune, could I get the kids who were there with their parents to smile at me? I had more of an ego there.
But in the oneness of the silence, I experienced less of an ego. I was one of a larger thought, a united consciousness. At least that's what I felt—of course I can't speak for the ones who do this every week.
Try being silent with someone this week. Often we fill the silences with sound as though we're afraid of emptiness. But if we let the conversation lapse into silence, we can companion on an entirely different level. Silence is frictionless, opinionless, present. I know it can also be cold, as in if someone is refusing to talk or is angry. But if we bite our tongues in even those circumstances and let the silence clean us and calm us, perhaps what we say next can be healing.
There is only one Mind, and we all share it. I'll be appreciating that in the silences this week.
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