Monday, March 29, 2010

In Praise of Silence

This past weekend, I attended a memorial service for a friend in an Episcopal church. I have not been a regular attendee to these kinds of institutions for a long time, only setting foot in them now for weddings, funerals, or, as in the case of Chartres Cathedral, to sight see.

Perhaps my being such an infrequent visitor is what brought my attention to something that seemed very obvious to me, but may not have been to those more accustomed to these places: the inability for many people to tolerate silence. 

Now, I do not intend any disrespect to the Episcopal Church, nor to any other. However, it seemed to me that, in the context of a time of remembering a person who has passed away, silence is one of the most powerful tools at our disposal. The minister, no doubt a well-meaning, experienced, and learned man, asked if anyone had anything they would like to share about the deceased. After only a few seconds, when nobody volunteered to come forward, he moved right on to the next order of business on the program. Then after the longtime companion of the deceased had spoken tearfully and from the heart, the minister was back at the podium announcing the next order of business before the speaker could return to his pew.

I believe that memorials are a perfect time to sit and reflect in silence, both about the life that has ended, and our own lives as they are being lived. Sitting in silence nearly every day, as I have done for many years, has inoculated me to any discomfort that may arise, and I welcome these times. They feel like home. Maybe in our world today, where so many people are plugged in to i-Pods nearly every waking hour, silence is so strange as to be radical, even in church.
I enjoy the silence in a church before the service more than any sermon. ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)


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