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Ask the clergy: What's silence's purpose?

Brother Maximilian Kolbe, Little Portion Friary, Mount Sinai:

Through study and meditation, I've come to understand that silence is the primary language of God. We just have to trust that God speaks to our souls during that silence. Singing, mantras, sermons, etc. are all valid parts of worship. But we all also need to sit quietly in the presence of God.

The immediate reaction for those new to silent worship is that "all these thoughts and words are in my head. I must not be doing it right." You have to know that there is a part of us -- our soul -- that is connected to God. He can communicate with us. And that communication is best facilitated in silence.

Father Thomas Keating, a Trappist monk, explained it this way: Silent meditation is like sitting on a riverbank and your thoughts are sailboats floating by. You can get on one, attempt to push one past or just let them float by on their own. The goal is to learn to let them float past. We need to learn to let the thoughts go, to not engage.

It is human nature to have thoughts. Don't try to fight that nature. Don't enter into the process of silence with expectation of what you're supposed to do or achieve. The eventual goal is that you can more easily let things go and more easily hear what God has to say to you.

The Rev. JoAnn Barrett, Gathering of Light Multifaith Spiritual Fellowship, Dix Hills:

It is to listen. Prayer is talking to God. Silence is listening to God. The goal is to empty your mind of all that clutters it, so you can hear what God has to say to you.

We do a two-hour walk along the Greenbelt Trail once a month during good weather. Afterward, people comment about how loud they are in their heads. There is a discipline to silence. It is silence in the mind, not just in the mouth.

There is a process that you go through on the silent walk. You first hear the noisiness within yourself. We help ease the noise by listening to our breath and then being mindful of our steps. Eventually, the mind becomes very still and silent. You develop the ability to listen on a true spiritual level.

Pat Hunt, clerk, Shelter Island Friends Meeting:

Silence restores the ability to hear. We refer to it as expectant silence. I personally didn't understand it until I experienced it. You could think of it as a form of meditation.

At a Friends Meeting, we all sit in silence until someone is moved to speak. When the person speaks, we all listen, and no one interrupts. Then there is another period of silence. Afterward, anyone can speak or respond to what has been said. At the end of the meeting, we join hands and ask for comments or reflections.

I've only spoken a couple of times in 10 years. The first time, it was on my daughter's birthday. I hadn't gone to the meeting intending to talk about the day she was born. However, that was what happened. It came as a total surprise to me. Something wanted this story to be told.

You go to the meeting with the intent of sitting and being silent. You develop an openness to whatever is going on in the meeting. You come out of the silence more receptive to what is going on around you.

Eve Sokol, member of the social action committee, Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Bellport:

There is a power in silence that can't be achieved through loud, angry words. It is a time to be introspective, to reflect without interference or the distractions that noise creates.

Several of our members participate in "Women in Black," a weekly silent vigil (11-11:45 a.m. Saturday, corner of South Country and Station roads in Bellport) to protest injustice throughout the world. In our particular vigil, we're hoping to encourage people to take action against any injustice. In the silence, we also hope people will slow down and think about things, be more introspective.

Our aim is not necessarily to move people to immediate action, but to get them to think about where injustice exists locally and throughout the world.

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