• Vested Interest

The Value of Silence

Mark Kharas
April 19, 2016

This week, Vested Interest welcomes guest contributor Mark Kharas. He's our Minister for Welcome and Growth and resident Quaker, Sanskrit scholar, and Gamelan enthusiast.

During the Good Friday service this year, something amazing happened at Trinity. Four times during the 3 hour liturgy, about 200 Episcopalians waited together in silence for 10 entire minutes.

Having grown up in the Quaker tradition, I crave silence, and was eagerly looking forward experiencing silence at Trinity. Silence is immensely powerful; it's where the presence of God can most reliably penetrate the innermost parts of my being. All of the liturgical aspects of Trinity--the music, the processions, the appointed readings at various points of the liturgical year--have become an essential part of my religious life. They define a worship space, set it apart from everyday space and time, and they force me to consider the entire sweep of faith, including the parts that I might prefer to gloss over. Yet it is in the silence that all of that stimuli, all of the thoughts--intellectual, personal, theological--are suspended, and get to seep in. It's only in the silence where I invite God in to transform those thoughts, to make them his own, so that they become a genuine meeting point between myself and God. It is akin to the visceral connection that I feel to God in the most beautiful of church music, except that connection can be transformed, deepened, extended beyond the last vibrations of sound.

The most beautiful aspect of silence cannot be adequately described, but only experienced. People often think of silence as a solitary act; you go to a quiet, isolated space to sit and meditate or pray, to find an intimate, private connection to God. Even if you're sitting in a group, people often think that this is something they are doing alone. Yet sitting together in silence is the most radically communal form of prayer or worship possible. Entering into silence on Good Friday, there was rustling for the first few minutes. People cough, shift in their pew, perhaps page through the bulletin. But as it progresses it becomes deeper. Though you can't stop your body from making any noise, you start to notice that everyone contributes to the silence. By not moving, not speaking, making as little noise as possible, everyone is actively working to create the space of worship.  

While singing a hymn, you might drop out and not sing a verse if for whatever reason you don't feel like it, knowing that the organ and chorus and rest of the congregation will soldier on for those moments, and that the atmosphere of worship won't be disrupted. Not so with silence. It requires the active participation of the entire gathering at every moment to be maintained. And yet in that space you invite God to enter and speak to everyone individually. One person might be grieving the loss of a loved one. Another might be celebrating the joy of a marriage or birth of a child. Another may be struggling--with addiction, rejection or a whole host of other situations--and praying for God to come to them, to support them when they feel that there is no one else to offer support. God can enter into that room and speak to each of their conditions, and countless others, simultaneously, in a way that no sermon or hymn, no matter how expertly crafted, can accomplish all at once. And yet this intimate, deeply personal, singular encounter with the Divine is actively supported by every person gathered together. The Quakers have a term for when the silence is so deep, so charged, that the power of the Spirit can be palpably felt in the room, weaving around in every which direction, answering that of God present in each person: a Gathered Meeting. At the beginning of the 3rd hour of the Good Friday liturgy, as we were together in silence, I sensed a receptivity to the Spirit actively supported by everyone gathered together, inviting God in. I can only imagine what happened at that time for those who were actively, silently praying together.  


At "Vested Interest," church nerd Mary Davenport Davis explores all things liturgy and music at Trinity and beyond. Chime in with comments and questions!