silence

by G. Travis Woodfield, Guest Contributor

“Say not, ‘I have found the truth,’ but rather, ‘I have found a truth.’
Say not, ‘I have found the path of the soul.’ Say rather, ‘I have met the soul walking upon my path.’
For the soul walks upon all paths.”

– Khalil Gibran, “The Prophet”

Worship is a funny thing. The diversity present in all of the students’ traditions, ideas, beliefs, practice, spirituality, and sacraments presents a particular problem for me. I know what some other religions believe about certain things.   Others I know absolutely nothing about. I thought coming in that I would be learning about others’ spiritual beliefs and practices and that would have been great. What I have come to see is that, while the book knowledge is possible, so too is the understanding of the emotional and spiritual components.

I was not so much struck by the unity of the singing, the communion, the readings, or the sermon although they were all pretty amazing. What blew me away were the moments of silence. Let me explain. Silence is one of the most important parts of my spirituality. I have found that The Divine breaks in, for me, when I am least talkative. To put it another way, if prayer is a conversation, I try to do as much listening as I can. I find God in the mundane things of the world most clearly, like a moment of silence. A brief glimpse happens, a glance at the nature of God, the nature of relationships and the nature of myself.

When I was a chaplain, silence was my friend. Whether I was listening to a patient who had just been diagnosed with cancer, was with a family of a grieving family whose loved one had just died, or with the staff member who was on her 5th 12 hour shift in a row, when I was silent they were heard and, I believe, so was God. Those moments when I was a chaplain and I was silent, the other and I entered sacred space because God could be heard in the other’s voice, not my own. I simply facilitated the conversation with God.

What I felt in those moments of silence during orientation worship was God entering the sacred space for sure. But more importantly, I think, is that I felt others entering my sacred space. Others, by joining me in my sacred space and practice of silence, I think, saw a glimpse of the value of silence and I felt them join me, not in head knowledge of the practice of silence but understanding on an emotional and spiritual level. Others, fearlessly, even if unknowingly, stepped into part of my relationship with God. For that I am grateful and humbled. I hope I can do the same when offered the opportunity to join with others. For what are we here for if not to walk with one another in mind, body, and spirit?