One of the constants at Glen Workshop is daily collective worship/devotion time. (It’s a faith+art conference, so not a surprise.)
Our chaplain this year believes in silence. And when I say, “believes,” I don’t just mean the way Roy Blount, Jr. uses it in this line:
“There’s an old Southern story about an old boy who was asked if he believed in infant baptism, and he said, believe in it? Hell, I seen it done.” (various)
but in how she sets out these long, luscious, potentially interminable spaces. In one of the first silences she opened, I felt quiet sluicing down my back like a bucket of water out of one of those rocky streams feeding the Allegheny. If I had had wet feathers to flip around, I would have.
She leaves quiet before she speaks, after she speaks, and sometimes during… though not as often there. All these pools of silence to catch God’s reflection in—God’s reflection during our reflection, see what she did there?
At least once thus far I caught myself comparing her liberal silences with the silences deployed during worship in the various congregations I’ve participated in. I was tutored in worship-silence in one of them: how what, when written down, seems like the merest scrap of time (say, 10 seconds) expands and magnifies in the seated folks’ minds such that they are convinced you left them there for five whole minutes. Ten seconds really isn’t very long. But we really lack practice in silence, even from ‘way back in my childhood in the 1970s.
So in that silence-contemplation (sorry, God, not you; but then, you’ve met my unruly mind), I lovingly remembered the steadily-more-anxious twitches of those congregations, waiting for the prayer to end. What is the cue? When can we move on? What are we doing here? Shifting weight, hands fluttering low. Eyes sneaking open, just in case.
Not so much, this group. Each participant here sinks deep into a trust-fall of silence—it will be as long as it is, which is the best length for this particular silence, and we will be together as we move into sound. No fear, no twitch, just deep body-commitment to the moment, the breath, and the unfocused gaze.
I suspect a congregation of artists is the least-anxious gathering of liturgical silence. We are used to offering carefully considered experiences, as well as being dismayed when others trample through our considerations as if they were never there. To honor our colleagues, we will wait, watch, listen, observe: to do our best to consider the experience as conceived.
silence as challenge and gift.
For these gifts we are about to receive, we are truly grateful.