Silence, especially in life’s busyness, leads us through the whitewater of life to gentle pools of stillness and calm. 400 years of Quaker silence have pointed us back to the center within. Silence moves us from difficult self-examination to healing to relaxing in God’s presence. Interior silence takes us to a place where we are living St. Paul’s injunction to pray without ceasing, even when we are not consciously aware that we are doing so.
That happened to me on a recent Good Friday. I spent the day hammering the nails out of pieces of wood that made up the pallets that the outside walls of our new house had come on. Our home is made of timbers recycled from old factories and exterior walls constructed on jigs on the factory floor. These were then put on pallets and shipped on semis from New Hampshire to our Indiana home site. “The wood we use in the pallets is better than most builders use in their homes,” said one of the people building our house. “You’ll want to salvage as much of it as you can. Don’t let the framers burn it up.”
Quakers are strong on grace and redemption. If something can be saved and used again, it is. I hoped to see these used 2x4’s born-again as a woodshed or workshop. So, the sun blazed and I pounded nails out instead of in. A few yards away, four framers worked at pounding nails in, hanging the walls and roof panels. While I drove 16 commons out of 2x4s, they drove 10 and 12-inch spikes through 2x6 walls into 6” posts and beams with 3 pound sledges. The sound of hammers on nails rang through the Good Friday afternoon. That ringing was accompanied by the church bells from St. Thomas More Catholic Church just a couple of miles away, drifting on the spring breeze.
This symmetry with the holy day was not lost on me, even though Friends, being non-liturgical, don’t celebrate holy days or seasons. Still it was easy to recall other nails driven long ago – not through walls into posts, but through outstretched hands into rough wood. Even while carpenters yelled to each other, rough voices calling out measurements and grunting and cursing to set panels in place, I found silence in my soul. I was not sitting in a congregation listening to the last words of Jesus. Nor was I following the Stations of the Cross. But I was, in my soul, remembering, alongside those congregants. My arms grew weary of pounding and pulling nails. In, but at the same time apart from, the noise I pondered Jesus’ tiring journey that day. In spite of the noise, silence swathed my soul. Here I am, I thought, spending Good Friday in the company of carpenters. How fitting. I prayed for them. I prayed for me. I prayed for the world.
I heard a car pull up our long lane. It was my friend Aaron. A rabbi. My soul laughed – how right, how good. Carpenters and a rabbi on Good Friday. I thanked God for the silence of my soul that helped me see that day that was holy because God breathed life into it.
I was led into the holy that day, while hammering out nails and visiting with rabbis and framers. Arms weary, back bent from stacking reclaimed wood, it was a Good Friday.
adapted from Holy Silence: The Gift of Quaker Spirituality