I've spent the last couple of days participating in a retreat based on Parker Palmer's book A Hidden Wholeness. The main purpose of the work is to take the time to stop, be in community, and listen to one's inner teacher. And there is really only one way to hear that teacher and that is to be in silence.
The retreat was held at Pendle Hill, a Quaker center for study and contemplation. As a result, many though not all of the participants were Quakers and one of the opportunities for participants was the chance to join the people who live and work here in Meeting for Worship. I had never attended a Quaker meeting before, but I quickly learned that it is all about silence. Most of the half hour was quiet, sometimes a person will stand up and speak, but maybe not. There is time for announcements at the end and that is all. Each individual finds their own way in the stillness.
Most groups have trouble with extended silence. We feel compelled to fill the silence even if we don't have something new to add. But there is really only one way to truly listen, only one way to really hear what the other person is trying to say and that is to sit quietly, silently. The next time someone comes to you with an issue, try holding the silence. After they have told you what they came to say, what would happen if you just sat quietly for a moment or two? Yes, it might be awkward for you and for them, but they might find they have something else to say and that last bit might be the most important part of all. Larry Spears, former director of the Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership says listening is a servant leader's most important skill. Listening deeply requires the ability to hold the silence, internally and externally, to give people time and space to find what they need to say.
So this week, try giving the gift of silence to others and to yourself. You might be surprised what you hear.