Some say that there are forms of religious life which have adopted a sad and barren silence. Perhaps they are alluding to Quakers, but their information dates from late medieval monasticism.
The original Quaker silent worship, currently followed among European Friends, is so called because it does not have liturgy and official preaching by one person alone; but it does allow, and indeed welcome, anyone to speak briefly, since everyone shares in the priesthood of all believers.
Counting only silent worship, the Quaker priesthood would number about 200,000 individuals, and, since to them the whole of life is service, these are ministers of God from first to last.
For here is the mistake of those who think that silence means inactivity: during that weekly hour of meditation, initially and externally silent, the Friends of Christ, in serene encounter with the Spirit, recharge themselves spiritually, promise anew to live up to their choice of being workers for peace and justice; and they become true Friends of their Neighbour.
As for the sadness of silence, it may be a problem for those who think this is true, but not for Friends. Their best meetings with the Lord are actually during the worship, and it is impossible to be sad after such a meeting. The joy experienced inwardly during the session is also shown outwardly at its conclusion when, shaking hands, it is impossible not to smile at having tasted this sense of communion, friendship and deep spirituality.
How many self-styled Christians rashly pass harsh judgements on matters, on people, and on religious groups different from their own, whose principles and practices they do not know -- besides, if they did in fact know them, they would have to avoid judging anyway!
Whoever is unfamiliar with the value of silence as a tool to help people's search for God, should, before rejecting it with disdain, learn to be silent. Later, if humility and the desire to know win over, they should try it out in practice at least once. Lastly they should say, more to themselves than to others: this suits me or it does not suit me, this fits in with my religious life or it does not, and in any case I respect it just as I would like others to respect the form of worship which I have chosen.
Verbania, 5 IX 1991
Please send any suggestions for alternative translations of any of these meditations to Simon Grant.