The Sound of Silence

Taize-Silence_smSilence. We experience it so infrequently, most of us wouldn’t even recognize it. We wake to loud alarms, the drip of brewing coffee, running water as we prepare for our day. We travel throughout our day in angry traffic, busy stores, offices with constant conversation and ringing phones. We return home to the washing machine whirring, television shouting, the clang of silverware and, ideally, more conversation.

Most of us, if asked, would claim to long for silence. We’d exclaim over how lovely that would be, how peaceful, how relaxing. But when we’re provided with silence, when we have the opportunity to embrace it, it’s not always as wonderful as we hoped.

Recently I attended a Taize service at our local Episcopal church, a practice of worship I’d never experienced. Taize frequently includes music and readings, with a significant period of silence. This particular service featured a dim, candlelit room, the cantor’s calling, and several communal hymns. And then a bell, sounding the time for silence. Was it ten minutes? Fifteen? I really don’t know. It was silent. Broken only by coughing, paper rustling, shifting in the pew. That was all me; everyone else seemed perfectly still. Because what I discovered is what I think most of us realize when we take time to truly be silent, or have silence forced upon us: silence can be awkward and uncomfortable.

Without the drip-drip of coffee or clicking of keyboards or calling of children, we are forced to go inside our heads. We cannot claim to be distracted by our surroundings because they are still. We must focus on the internal, and if you’re like me, what we find there is not always pleasant.

I tried to pray. I thought about my grocery list. I wondered if my children were all right in the nursery. I checked my phone to be sure no one had called. I tried to pray. I planned in my head an upcoming church service. I calculated when I would schedule a meeting that I needed to squeeze in this week. I tried to pray.

Before I experienced any sort of meaningful connection with God or myself, the bell rang and the silence was over. The cantor intoned, the songs played, and we were dismissed back into the noise of life.

When I was in college I was able to spend a semester in the south of France, and one weekend several friends and I traveled to Paris. We attended a concert in a local cathedral, eager to experience what we were sure would be one of the most culturally meaningful experiences of our lives. It was beautiful, but afterwards one of the girls echoed my thoughts, stating that she felt like she couldn’t appreciate the music and the experience because her mind kept wandering to other, insignificant things. My other friend agreed, and added that perhaps that was the point; that the music allows us to wander internally through our lives and perhaps, find meaning inside, where it lived all along.

My first Taize experience reminded me of this; I longed for the service itself to lend me meaning, or for God to speak to me in some resounding voice. Instead, I was left to the silence, to struggle and wander and sit with what’s inside of me. May we not feel awkward in the silence, but sit with it. Let it make us uncomfortable. Let our thoughts wander, to seemingly inane, ordinary things. And in the wandering, perhaps God will reveal meaning to us that lived in our lives all along.

Photo Credit: Donyale Leslie

Photo Credit: Donyale Leslie

Kimberly McClung DeVries was raised in a minister’s family, first overseas as missionaries and then in Georgia. She attended the University of Georgia to receive a degree in telecommunications, worked briefly in that field, and then went to law school instead, also in Athens. She has worked as a public defender and for a legal aid agency, and now resides in Mississippi with her husband and two boys. Kimberly is trying to grow by pushing herself out of her comfort zone. To that end, she has a toddler and a baby, both boys, works full time as a lawyer, and is also helping her husband survive his PhD.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email


  1. Shirley Noles says

    WOW what a message and from one of our own. You brought up a new concept of worship for me but an interesting one and maybe your dad will try it with us one day. Thanks for taking time to write your experience and sharing with us.