[The Lord of Silence: general index]

25    Silence and Freedom

(2 Corinthians 3:17)

"Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom". Leaving aside for now every social aspect of the concept of liberty, let us concentrate on the moment of worship. There is no doubt that whatever form of worship is followed in good faith offers a greater or lesser fruition of that liberty.

As for we who prefer the Quaker form of silent worship, it seems that the fewer repetitive forms there are - even the holy ones of the Our Father and the Apostles' Creed - the greater the enjoyment of that liberty. Once having experienced the presence of God in an almost tangible way and the comfort of his invisible hand coming to cover our sins, it is good to bury oneself in it by meditative concentration without distractions.

In unprogrammed worship no one speaks out before ten or fifteen minutes of silent gathering. When there is speaking, the speaker should feel free to express a genuine feeling, briefly and in a rather soft but audible voice so as not to distract someone who may have thoughts turned in another direction. But is does happen through the working of the spirit that a melding of parallel or similar thoughts takes place. They may meet in a message and so the thoughts of many flow together in the spiritual direction of that message.

This process has nothing to do with the necessarily single direction of a preacher's sermon, who has selected a theme and asks the whole assembly to concentrate on it. In many cases sermons are excellent things in themselves and surely precious for Biblical studies. Quakers may pursue these on suitable occasions during the week.

Silent worship has certain risks and a certain discipline. Whoever wants to preach should leave that desire at the door. Whoever is so disturbed as not to be able to find peace even in the silence of worship may be uncomfortable during all that long meeting and prefer to leave. There are those who though relatively calm, cannot succeed in participating spiritually and are not reached by any message; yet a Quaker of long experience will not shun that period of worship but will thank God for having participated in some way and not wasted his time elsewhere. God certainly accepts the lament of those who do not succeed in offering him heartfelt worship.

Finally there is the freedom not to speak. Safe in the equality of all, even the most taciturn of those present may find with surprise and pleasure the courage to give a message. This is a form of freedom from fear.

Verbania, 28 VIII 1991

We have thought of the widespread exploitation of economically underdeveloped peoples, and of those industrial and other workers who are exploited and heavily burdened. We must therefore work for a larger measure of liberty in political and economic life. For not only is this at the heart of the Christian message, but we have seen that peace stands on a precarious footing so long as there is unrelieved poverty and subjection. Subjection, poverty, injustice, and war are closely allied.

Epistle of the London Yearly Meeting, 1937

Translation by George T. Peck

[Original Italian]

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