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Spiritual Silence in the
Experience of Friends (Quakers)
by Bill Samuel
Originally published March 8, 2001 at Suite101.com
(Also available in Portuguese translation)
Be still and know that I am God.Friends (Quakers) are rightly known for their use of silence. I have previously written on Friends (Quaker) Worship. In this article, I want to explore the spiritual use of silence in an even broader context than corporate worship.
The essence of the value of silence, for Quakers as well as for monastics and others, is to free ourselves from influences other than from God. Silence, then, can open ourselves to God and let us truly listen to the Living Christ.
In the spiritual silence in which we have so opened ourselves, we can see our own condition much more clearly. This can be a very humbling experience, for we see our own sinfulness, how we fall short. Seeing our condition, we become acutely aware of our need for God to redeem us.
In the stillness, we can also become much more aware of the depth of God's love for us. We do not empty our minds because we value emptiness, but rather so they can be filled with the things of the Spirit. We allow God to make us a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17, Galatians 6:15).
Friends (Quakers) value the use of silence not only in the context of our regular gatherings for corporate worship, but also in other contexts. Traditionally, Friends regularly have "times of retirement" - private devotions. While these often include Bible reading and petition, they also should include substantial quiet time for listening. In these times, we are helped to see where we need correction and the directions in which God would lead us. Friends also use silence in times when one or more meet with another outside of the meeting for worship to allow the Spirit to work more deeply in the interaction than generally occurs when someone is talking all the time.
In contemporary Western culture, we are often afraid of silence. While there are contexts in which silence is negative, the spiritual practice of silence can allow us to transcend our culture and connect with the divine source which is ageless and infinite. In this culture where we are bombarded from all directions with manmade stimuli, this spiritual practice is refreshing and needed more than ever before.
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