Bodies in Silence
That’s the title of a print article in the January 12th hard copy of The Christian Century (different title online). The author is Chris Palmer, a Presbyterian minister in Waco, Texas. Palmer admits that digital tools like Zoom are useful for churches in this Age of the Pandemic. However, he emphasizes the limits of such technology. In particular, he argues that the silence built into religious services loses its effect on virtual media.
He writes (and many Quakers would agree) that
Silence is about presence, not just absence…. It is a
pregnant stillness that raises heart rates and releases
endorphins within the pathways of our bodies. It
is about the quiet friction between individuals gathered
in space. It is that eerie awkwardness, when there is an
excess of silence in a church service, that makes us notice
the feeling of a neighbor’s presence. All this leads to my
somewhat counterintuitive conclusion that without other
people—without other bodies in space—silence is
I agree with Palmer that being physically present in a church or meetinghouse is the ideal, but I also believe that Palmer over-generalizes. For myself and other Friends, a virtual meeting is very conducive to silent worship and vocal ministry.
For example, in a N.Y.Times article Friend Joan Malin speaks of a new intimacy as she looks at faces and expressions on Zoom. “I really see that they (other Quakers) are deep in worship. There’s a vulnerability when someone is doing that, and here they are putting it onscreen for us to witness. It helps me get there, too.”
Well, I’ve laid out the controversy around online worship. I think I’ll relax now by listening to Weird Al Yankovic’s song about a 2,000-inch TV. Of course, for our meeting—in my opinion—a 32-inch TV would do just fine.
~ Richard Russell
Donald Newman Lathrop
1/20/2022 09:42:05 pm
Well said, Richard
joseph vincent olejak
1/24/2022 04:40:39 am
Richard, I couldn't agree more. I find the digital interface to be deadening to my spiritual practice.
1/24/2022 03:02:26 pm
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