Ask A Quaker: Quaker Silence

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By Paul Blankenship

Why is silence emphasized in your worship?

Silence is emphasized in Quaker meetings for a number of reasons.

One reason is that Quakers consider silence a sacred place, a special and set apart meeting place — that is where people can encounter the living God. Another reason Quakers emphasize silence is because they tend to deemphasize creeds, doctrines, and other formulaic beliefs.

Quakers recognize that the living God often gets suffocated in religious dogma, ritual, and theatrics. In silence, one is invited to shed the external stuff of religion and commune with the holy in a deeply personal way.

It is one thing to read that there is a love that moves the sun and the other stars; it is another thing to experience that love in your own soul. I might read John 3:16 1,001 times a day but it probably won’t stick until I sit alone and ask myself whether I believe and feel and experience divine love.

I will give one final reason why Quakers emphasize silence: because it is delightful to be in the presence of real love. When I was a child, my godfather and I would take long road trips together in his jeep — and, quite often, we wouldn’t say a word. We would just sit in each other’s silence. It wasn’t awkward or forced; it was delightful. He told me then — and he tells me now, in a way, even though he has since passed on — that our relationship is special because it doesn’t need a lot of words.

About Paul Blankenship

Paul Houston Blankenship is an interim pastor at Spokane Friends and a PhD candidate at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley. He has taught theology and religious studies at Seattle University, Fordham University, and UC Berkeley. Paul's dissertation, Soul Suffering, is an ethnographic study about the spiritual lives of people living on the streets of Seattle.

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