Finding My Center: Reflections from a Term at Pendle Hill

"Waiting upon the Lord in silence"—what an odd phrase, I thought—when, in my Moravian tradition, you sang praises to God and bowed before God. Sitting quietly and expecting God to come to me was incomprehensible. This is how I felt when I first began attending Claremont (Calif.) Meeting.

I had been raised being told what to believe and now I was allowed to think for myself. It was frightening! The freedom felt good, but inside, I was churning between what I thought I should believe (after all, mother told me it’s right) and what I truly felt.

A lot of my spiritual questions have centered on my relationship, or lack thereof, with Jesus and what role he plays in my beliefs. After a term at Pendle Hill, I cannot say I was much clearer about my beliefs, but my studies of Quaker history showed me that I am not alone. I do not have to place Jesus upon a pedestal but can find him in my heart as a living example of God’s word.

Another of the questions that have arisen for me surrounds the word silence and David Saunders’ query, "Are we just worshiping the silence?" This makes me think about how I use the silence in meeting for worship and what it really means to me.

Not having grown up with any true meditative practice, I continue to explore various methods of settling into the silence. Unfortunately, they often don’t work and I find myself counting Birkenstocks or watching an ant find its way across the floor. But there are also days that I feel a real presence in the room and a warmth within. Daily meeting for worship at Pendle Hill made me realize how much I need this centering process. As Howard Brinton writes in Friends for 300 Years, "Silent waiting commits no one to any action or expression which is not a sincere outcome of inward life and thought." He also says that waiting upon the Lord is "not an intellectual, theological concept, but a living experience." Both these ideas help me toward a more centered existence.

Wanting to pursue the meaning of silence further, I looked it up in the dictionary and found that, beyond the first two definitions—stillness and absence of sound—the meanings became slightly unsettling: withholding of knowledge; failure to communicate; oblivion and obscurity; absence of mention. Then I looked up quiet. Its meanings were more soothing to my soul: still, calm; not noisy; gentle; not easily disturbed; not ostentatious or pretentious; unobtrusive.

This reminded me of a passage I read in Frederick Buechner’s book Whistling in the Dark: "Silence is a given, quiet a gift. Silence is the absence of sound and quiet is the stilling of sound. Silence can’t be anything but silent. Quiet chooses to be silent. It holds its breath to listen. It waits and it is still."

Am I, after the hustle and bustle of a busy week, just worshiping the silence on First Day? What do I have to do to get into the quiet and find that warmth within that gives me calm?