Embracing the Sacred Silence: Finding Comfort and Connection in Moments of Quiet Reflection

There is that sacred silent moment on Shabbat when the candles have just been lit and hands gently wave in the air and cover one’s eyes.

There is that sacred silent moment during prayer when your hands are clasped together, your eyes close, and your head gently bows down.

There is that sacred silent moment of human connection when after you’ve asked someone “How are you today?” and that person inhales, just about to speak.

Sacred silence.

We live in a world of so many words. The non-stop noises can feel overwhelming. There’s the 24-hour news cycle, the constant analysis at sporting events, the post after post on social media, the keeping up with texts and emails and voicemails, the talking over each other at family meals, the lengthy road trip playlist, the need to fill up even the spaces between our words with “um.”

Silence is so hard to come by. So hard, that we pay money to go on silent retreats or get out hiking deep into the woods to find it. Moreover, for some of us, silence is just hard to get comfortable with. Think about it. How many of us have come back from a romantic date or playdate with a friend and said, “I had a great time. We just sat there in silence.” 

Silence can be awkward. More times than not, we measure the quality of our relationships based on how well we can keep a conversation flowing. Less often, do we stop to appreciate that it is the relationships where we can sit comfortably together in silence that can often go the distance. So, what’s so sacred, so glorious about those quiet moments we share? What can silence offer us? How it is helpful? 

Our Jewish and Christian scriptures tell a story about the power and import of silence. In the story of Job, we find a man who has always been faithful to God. But when God and Satan decide to put him to the test, suddenly Job begins to suffer like never before. His body is covered head to toe with painful sores. Job’s three dearest friends hear about all that he is experiencing and come to visit him. Along the way, we can imagine that they discuss some of the things that they will say to cheer him up and lighten the mood, that will remind him that things will be better tomorrow. But when they see him, in all that anguish, almost unrecognizable – they weep. Suddenly, they are without words.

These days, when we look out at this troubled world, or even look inward at our individual worlds with their unique challenges, we too may find ourselves at a loss for words. 

When Job’s friends looked at him – bent over in agony – they knew that there was nothing they could say to fix the situation. He didn’t need unsolicited advice. He didn’t need cheering up. He needed friends who cared: who were willing to be present to him, to listen, to extend compassion and empathy and kindness.

Job’s friends didn’t run for the door, they didn’t pull out their metaphorical phones, they simply sat on the ground beside him, and remained there for seven days and seven nights. Throughout that time, the scripture says: “None of them spoke a word because they saw his suffering was very great.” 

Imagine sitting beside someone, day after day, being that present, that patient, that attentive amid such sorrow, without saying a single word.

Imagine having someone beside you for all that time, helping you feel seen, affirmed, and loved when you’re at your most vulnerable. Maybe you have experienced this.

Imagine what that must have been like for Job, or his friends sitting with him in sacred silence. 

So many of us are grieving right now. Some of us are mourning the loss of cherished loved ones, or are healing from illness or fractured relationships, or are struggling with financial concerns or life transitions. The ongoing conflict in Israel and Gaza, in particular, has been the cause of immense grief and pain.

Our very own Rabbi Debbie shared these words just a few days ago in the Washington Jewish Weekly. She writes, “The horrors of October 7, and the continuing suffering since then, have elicited cries of pain, wails of sadness, screams of anger and for some, silence. Not the silence of indifference, not the silence of callousness, not the silence of suppressed rage, but the silence of grief. The silence that denotes the anguish of the moment, and an apprehension of the future.”

Recently at IFFP, the Care Team and clergy led a grief group online. Together, we spent time in prayer and conversation, and yes, in silent meditation. During our time together, we put away our phones and other distractions and remained present to each other. Each of us had a chance to speak from the heart about all that was troubling us, while the rest of us quietly listened, only chiming in to ask questions that would invite deeper sharing. 

Our meeting felt like a holy experience.

When the meeting finished, I felt that I could breathe a bit deeper. My grief wasn’t gone, but I felt strengthened having been heard and understood, having been entrusted with people’s stories. It felt good to know I am not alone.

Even more recently, Rabbi Debbie and I opened another space for our community to grieve and dialogue together. Our time focused on our diverse feelings of grief regarding the conflict in Israel and Gaza and all its ripple effects. Together we practiced generous listening and vulnerable sharing. There were things that were hard to express, things that were hard to hear…and that was OK.

We held each other close. We prayed and mourned and learned from one another. We spent some time in intentional quiet. As a community that seeks to hold many beliefs side by side, we were present to one another in empathy and love. We were present to each other in sacred silence. 

The truth is, silence is not always comfortable, but it can be comforting. And when we make room for it, we make room for another voice – not our own. The voice of a friend who cares, and needs care. The voice of grief expressed and affirmed. The voice of growth and connection and discernment – even hope

In the quiet, we might even hear God’s voice singing out, reminding us that we are seen and known and that we will never walk any path alone. 

Just as Job’s friends sat in quiet with him, may we always make room for sacred silence, and for those tender and transformative voices we so need to hear. 



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