Why Silence?

In a world filled with constant stimulation and frantic deadlines, the quietness of a Quaker meeting for worship may provide you with a refreshing respite.

Our private and public places today are full of unceasing noises coming from a variety of sources, human and machine-made. In our culture we find solace in noise, because it gives us the often illusory impression that something is happening. We find silence uncomfortable because in it we come face-to-face with our inner emptiness and anxiety. We are often compelled to utter words in order to secure approval from others because we are focused on our outer image, and are afraid to confront our inner nakedness and spiritual hunger. Breaking free from the distractions of hyperactive busyness and passive entertainment is difficult, and it may be tempting for places of worship to cater to these entrenched habits.

The discipline of silence in Quaker worship offers a corrective. For over 350 years, the Religious Society of Friends, AKA the Quakers or the Friends Church, has cultivated communal silence as an integral part of our religious practice. Friends sometimes call this practice “waiting” worship because of the Scriptural counsel to “wait upon the Lord.” Waiting worship is a road less traveled for most Christians, yet it has led to some remarkable destinations well worth exploring:

  • Silence allows us to listen: Jesus’ Great Commandment, based on the Shema of Israel, begins with the words “Hear O Israel, the Lord your God, the Lord is One” (Deuteronomy 6:4/Mark 12:28–31). Jesus concludes many of his teachings with the injunction “Hear, anyone who has ears to hear!” In order to hear inwardly, we must quiet ourselves outwardly.
  • Silence frees us: It is liberating to know, both individually and communally, the deep call of Psalm 46:10, “Be still and know that I am God.” Resting in this knowledge, we can leave behind the distraction and busyness of our lives.
  • Silence itself is not the object of worship: Rather, we seek to “worship in Spirit and in Truth” (John 4:24). We practice silence in a worshipful, prayerful manner, that we may be spiritually revived by the inward Truth of God.
  • Silence is the seedbed for ministry: The Holy Spirit may give a message to anyone whose heart is open and responsive to God—regardless of age, gender identity or race—so that “your sons and daughters will prophesy” (Joel 2:28/Acts 2:17). What’s more, ministry is not confined to what happens on Sunday morning: our inward communion with Christ in the quiet supports and sustains our work for peace and justice in the world.

Would you like to explore Quaker waiting worship in more depth? Whether or not you identify as a Christian, we invite you to visit us at BFC. You would be most welcome to join us on any Sunday at 11 AM to experience worship with Friends.

Read more: Further Thoughts on Worship