Katie Evans writes:
Silence has a wider appeal than you might think. That’s why, given the chance to talk about Quaker silence, it was important to me to emphasise that Quaker worship is open to everyone: ‘Whoever you are, however you are, you are very welcome … and you are contributing’. Simply by being present you are contributing.
Katie Evans (far right) at the Sounding the Silence panel session (photo © Retreat Association 2018)
I was speaking as part of a panel session at the recent ecumenical conference Sounding the Silence: Exploring depths in stillness and speech. This was organised by the Retreat Association, a UK organisation dedicated to helping people explore and deepen their journey with God through spirituality and prayer.
I shared my excitement about the depths, spaciousness, invitation and community I find in Quaker worship. I spoke about Quaker worship as a communal, listening silence that can bear weight, and as a creative silence that gives rise to inspired speech. You can listen to my short talk here (it’s about 13 mins long):
It was wonderful to make connections and find common ground, both with my fellow panelists – who spoke about silence in personal suffering, in relationships of care and in working for social justice – and with conference delegates from across different traditions. There was a mutual recognition of experiences of profound inner stillness and of community, even if the outward packaging looks very different.
I enjoyed the music, poetry, artwork and words as well as the silence. Silence is such a rich topic. Despite the inevitable jokes about the irony of talking about silence, we didn’t run out of things to say! If you’re interested in hearing more, recordings of all of the talks are available from Agape Ministries.
Now I’m looking forwards to delving further into practices of listening and gathering, going beyond the context of Quaker worship to explore how we make spaces for conversation, connection and community. This is the theme of a Woodbrooke course I’m co-facilitating with Meredith Freeman, 10th-12th August. Some spaces still available.
To give grateful credit to the authors whose work I referred to in my talk:
- The characterisation of Quaker spirituality as patterned by listening and gathering comes from Patricia Loring’s book Listening Spirituality Volume 1: Personal Spiritual Practices Among Friends
- The story of the woman who goes to meeting for worship for ‘Just for a bit of a sit-down’ is Dorothy Nimmo’s and comes from Quaker Faith & Practice 21.19
- My conviction that God is a God who listens and my excitement about the creative, communicative potential of listening were inspired by Quaker theologian Rachel Muer’s book Keeping God’s Silence: Towards a Theological Ethics of Communication.
- The phrase “hearing into speech” was coined by feminist theologian Nelle Morton in The Journey is Home.