Let me get out of the way that "silence" is one of those sharp words that has several connotations to it. I recall a friend tell the story of confronting a family elder who was crying "peace peace!" around some ugly family history that needed to be confronted. My friend replied, "You don't want peace, you want silence." In her case, the silence was doing real damage to some people in the family and there would be no peace until the silence was broken and the ugliness worked through.
So there's that. The silence that equals death (to use the Act Up slogan).
But there is another kind of silence, an intentional one, one that I've really only experienced once or twice.
The instance that stands out for me is at a retreat at a convent. The rule of the convent was that everyone kept silence until mid-morning (I don't recall the exact time, but it was before noon and after breakfast). We were also expected to help make and clean up breakfast. It was a spiritually profound moment.
As John Cage told us over and over, there is no such thing as true silence. Without talking, the sounds of clean-up, with it's clanking of pans and rattling of plates and cutlery, had its own communication. We gestured for what we needed, smiled, nodded in thanks. I remember thinking how much easier it was to love all the people in the room when we were working together in silence. And of course, that made me smile (silently) but it was also true.
I think we talk too much. We spend too much time with chatter. I learned at that convent how much silence could soften a heart. At least for me.
Cooperation on a simple, understood task was one of the best prayers I ever lived in.
It's not something I experience very often. Really, everyone in a room has to agree to a rule like that and that's really hard in our world. But like other spiritually profound moments in my life, having experienced it, I know it is possible. There is a silence that equals death, yes, but there is also a silence that allows for the Spirit to move among us without the barrier of words.