by Rebekah Hanson
from Signs of the Times No. 65 - Apr 2017
Brent Bill’s book provides an introduction to Quaker spirituality, which focuses on silence in spiritual practice and worship.
He argues that the riches of spiritual silence are often overlooked in today’s busy world, even in many Christian churches, and invites the reader to reflect on the spiritual imbalance that neglect of silence may bring. The book consists of an introduction, five main chapters, and a short closing chapter, plus sections on practices, queries and a glossary. For a book that has been ‘revised and expanded’ it remains a fairly short and easy read at under 150 pages. However, it covers a range of topics relating to the spiritual depths of silence in both worship and everyday life from a Quaker perspective.
The first chapter explains how Quakers understand silence sacramentally,
‘The deep silence of the soul is our Eucharist’ (p.7).
It is in silence where worshippers meet Christ. Chapter Two discusses the spiritual practice of silence in various religions as well as within Christian history. He notes that many modern-day Christians often make use of these practices from non-Christian sources, which implies a lack of awareness of how silence has been understood and practiced in Christian spiritual life. These chapters help the reader to understand how silence in Quaker life relates to spiritual practices in the wider Christian tradition.
Chapters Three and Four discuss the personal challenges and discipline of practicing spiritual silence in daily, modern life. He warns that this leads to deeper awareness of one’s own faults and insecurities which can be easily avoided in the noisy, hectic activities of life. Therefore, practicing silence can be inwardly turbulent, but peace is found as one’s relationship with God grows in a silence which makes room for God’s presence. In these chapters in particular, readers are encouraged to reflect on how to make time and find space for spiritual silence in everyday life. Bill movingly describes, through his life experiences, the transformative power of encountering God in silence and its impact on his relationships with others.
Chapter Five shifts the focus from personal practices of silence to the wider context of worship and community as highlighted in the first chapter. This reminds the reader that the subject matter of the book points toward something greater than personal spiritual development. He makes clear that while people will come to silence in different ways, nevertheless, the spiritual silence practiced in the Quaker tradition is one of communion. He also offers suggestions for incorporating times for silence in non-Quaker worship environments.
The book is written in a straightforward and conversational manner, but it nevertheless offers a rich introduction to Quaker spirituality for those interested in learning about the power of God’s presence in silence. Throughout the five main chapters, there are interspersed ‘quietude queries’ which guide the reader to stop and reflect on the different aspects of Quaker spirituality and how these practices can be incorporated into one’s daily life. This was helpful for pacing the reader so that one does not necessarily breeze through the book, as well as offering a way to dip one’s toes in the waters of silent reflection. If the book is read in a group setting, the ‘quietude queries’ could easily be used to invite discussion among readers. While Bill writes from the heart about the transformative impact of Quaker spirituality, he is careful not to pressure the reader to drop everything and join a Quaker community. If one is looking to find out about how to gently ease into practices of Christian spiritual silence, Holy Silence is a good place to start.