I (the Reverend) recently spent a week in silence. Best thing I ever did. I was disconnected and mainly alone with just my thoughts for a week. When I returned to civilization and told people where I had been, their mouths hung agape, stupefied with wonder. “That’s amazing. How in the world did you do that? You must have been SO ready to come home.” I told them that it wasn’t all that hard and I could have stayed for a month.
Places of quiet and solitude allow for meditation, renewal and healing. I arrived home with a reconstructed interior life. I would recommend it to anyone. It actually led me to augment my list of human necessities—food, water, love, beauty, silence.
The whole experience jogged my memory of a funeral I officiated many years ago. A long-time member of our congregation moved away after retirement and spent the final years of her life worshipping with Quakers. Before she died she made a simple request of her family: “Could you please include my Quaker tradition of silence in the funeral service?”
“Sure, of course we can,” I said to her children when they informed me of the request. Then the negotiations began. “Fifteen minutes?” Too long we agreed. “Four minutes?” Too short we concurred. “Eight minutes?” That sounds just about right.
The service was packed. It began with me offering an unusual piece of instruction. “We will be honoring her Quaker faith tradition by having eight minutes of silence.” The looks of stunned disbelief and terror were priceless. I have to admit that it was a pretty rough start. Lots of squirming and bulletin crumbling. The first couple of minutes were clearly uncomfortable. By about the three-minute mark, people were starting to settle into it. By the five-minute mark they were comfortable with it. When we reached the seven-minute mark they didn’t want it to end.
In 20 years of officiating hundreds of funerals, I received the most feedback from that one. Here is what they all said to me in some form or other: “I really needed that.” Of course they did. We all do. It is the only counter I know to the “intolerable scramble of panting feverishness” that has so many of us by the throat. The guy who coined that term just happened to be a Quaker author named Thomas Kelly (1893-1941). He was one of the first writers to alert me to the human need for regular times of silence and solitude. Here is the quote from his book entitled, A Testament of Devotion, that stopped me in my tracks so many years ago and changed my life: “Over the margins of life comes a whisper, a faint call, a premonition of richer living which we know we are passing by. Strained by the very mad pace of our daily outer burdens, we are further strained by an inward uneasiness, because we have hints that there is a way of life vastly richer and deeper than all this hurried existence, a life of unhurried serenity and peace and power.”
These are the things we regain when we create space in our lives for silence: Depth, serenity, peace, and power. The gauges inside of us get turned down and all the rattling gets stilled. Then we hear the sound of birds again and the timber of our children’s voices. We find ourselves fully present with each other and wide open to a peaceful presence. Such rich gifts for the taking. Will we?
Click here to purchase Rabbi Daniel Cohen’s book, What Will They Say About You When You Are Gone?