I spent most of last week in almost complete silence.
I was on retreat for five days at New Calmaldoli Hermitage, just south of Big Sur. In this community, there is no talking unless you are in a church service (or shopping in the bookstore).
No music. No Netflix. No chatting. No phone calls. And no cell service, so even texting is off limits. Needless to say, this makes for an extremely inward experience: the only things left to listen to were my own thoughts, and the words of scripture that were said and sung several times a day in the chapel.
This would probably make a lot of folks crazy.
(And after two straight days of rain without being able to take a walk outside, I was nearly done in.) But this environment made it suddenly apparent how much noise permeates our lives, and what a gift it is to suspend that for a little while.
When I was in seminary we had two “Quiet Days” every school year. Many of my classmates used this as an opportunity to stay home and catch up on homework, but I always found it very powerful to come to campus when it was transformed by silence.
One of the most interesting parts to me of a Quiet Day was going to lunch in the large dining hall, which was full of dozens of people and – normally – a dull roar of mid-day conversations among friends and classmates. On those days, however, there was a collective hush punctuated only by the clink of silverware. Somehow it felt louder than the noise of a usual day.
Some of you may have read this article from The Atlantic magazine about the role silence played in his past weekend’s March for Our Lives. One of the students who organized and spoke at the rally in Washington spent much of the six minutes and twenty seconds she had allotted for her speech (symbolizing the amount of time it took the gunman to kill her classmates) in silence.
The article describes these moments as “a solemn reminder that, for some things—even in this most classic of First Amendment contexts—words will never, can never, be enough.”
All of this speaks to the unique power of collective silence, when a group of people recognizes together the sacredness of holding a quiet space.
One of the core principles of Braid’s mentoring program is that of presence. Presence takes many forms, but one of our human instincts can be to fill space with words, as if the higher our word count, the more present we are.
But silence can often be the most powerful form of presence. We have heard from some of our teams about moments when they have held silence in their time together with their youth and/or teammates.
It takes a lot of trust to sit in silence with other people, even if it is just for a few moments. Being able to hold this space is a real sign of something sacred and important that you are holding together.