Primitive Christianity Revived, Again
I was reading the other day the book 'Keeping Silence' by C. W. McPherson who is an Episcopal priest and spiritual director. McPherson found himself guiding people in their spiritual practice. One of the most difficult practices, he found, was for people to be silent:
"If I ever thought that keeping silence was easy, my congregation taught me otherwise. From time to time as a parish priest, I recommended they try spiritual pracices, such as memorizing a psalm or reading the Bible daily. But one simple suggestion proved dificult or impossible for most people to follow. During Advent and Lent, I advised that they keep silence for just a few minutes each day: turn off the phone, close the door, and be silent for ten minutes. It seemed like such an easy suggestion -- something people would find refreshing.
"I thought wrong. Many people found the assignment impossible . . . The only people who could carry out my suggestion were those who were already used to keeping significant periods of silence in their lives." (Page 1)
I found this passage revealing of how demanding Quaker practice is for most people. The idea of sitting silently for an hour (or more) is daunting. It feels unnatural and is often experienced as highly stressful.
What I have found, though, is that the Quaker community does not seem to offer much assistance in negotiating this silence. There is a lot of assistance when it comes to social engagement, political commitments, and the faith witness of things like peace and simplicity; but when it comes to guiding a newcomer into the realm of silence, my observation has been that people are left pretty much on their own.
That is one of the reasons why I find the 'Guide to True Peace' so useful. For it is a guide, a practical manual, that assists one is finding one's way in silence. Such guidance is, I think, needed for most people. My experience is that people need as much guidance and assistance with entering into silence as they do when coming to terms with faith commitments like the peace testimony. The 'Guide to True Peace' indicates that the Quaker community used to offer such guidance; but for some reason that seems to have fallen away. By returning to the 'Guide' we can recover a powerful resource for showing people the way into this silent realm of true peace.