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Bill Samuel, August 4, 2002
Bill Samuel

Spiritual Silence in the
Experience of Friends (Quakers)

by Bill Samuel
Originally published March 8, 2001 at
(Also available in Portuguese translation)
Be still and know that I am God.
Psalm 46:10

In the inward quietness and withdrawal of the mind, the witness of God arises in the heart, and the light of Christ so shines that the soul becomes aware of its own condition.
Robert Barclay in his Apology for the True Christian Divinity
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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A Living Faith: An Historical and Comparative Study of Quaker Beliefs
Cover imageWilmer Cooper, founding Dean of Earlham School of Religion, provides an historical look at the beliefs of Friends (Quakers). Includes study questions.
Prayer: Finding the Heart's True Home
Cover imageRichard J. Foster. Describes 21 types of Christian prayer. Harper San Francisco, 1992. 288 pages.
Journal of George Fox
Cover imageThe auto- biography of the founder of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers).
Celebration of Discipline
Cover image20th Anniversary Edition of Richard J. Foster's million- selling work on Christian spiritual disciplines.
Imagination & Spirit: A Contemporary Quaker Reader
Cover imageA selection of excerpts from 15 contemporary Quaker authors who reached the mainstream market. See review.

Recommended Art Print: see all prints

The Peaceable Kingdom
by Edward Hicks
29 in. x 23 in.

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Document last modified on Saturday, 22-Oct-2005 20:57:06 EDT