Friday, February 17, 2006

Role of Silence

This is really old and I've been meaning to write about it for a while. It's stuff that came out of meeting some months ago, but my unbusiness was not conducive to writing it down...

Unfortunately I don't remember all of the technical grammar terms for these things, but in sociolinguistics there are rules of dialogue that incorporate wait time.

This is the length of time you must wait after someone finishes speaking before you say anything in return.

Wait time varies culturally. Not just nationally or regionally but from one family to another.

I discovered this firsthand when dealing with my husband's family. I grew up in a family that doesn't have much wait time and even allows for some overlap between speakers. He did not.

Eventually I realized this is why I was ALWAYS the one doing the talking at family functions. Their wait time is agonizingly long. So long that I assumed they had nothing to say.

As I sat in silence at the Quaker meeting I thought long and hard about the role of silence. Why is it important to have these long stretches sitting in silence? Why isn't it just a free-for-all of vocal ministry? Is it just to provide the opportunity for silent meditation?

I was then hit by the idea of divine wait time.

If there is a divine being or some force in the universe that we are communicating with, we humans must seem to be in an awful big hurry with our brief and scattered lives.

Maybe this extended silence is necessary in order for the divine to know that we are done speaking-- that we are ready to listen.


Blogger Liz Opp said...

Ahh... You speak to my own understanding of one of the roles of silence during MfW... Nice analogy, too, with the sociolinguistics piece, which is a field I also am fascinated by!

Liz, The Good Raised Up

4:02 PM  
Blogger Robin M. said...

Oh my goodness. I have had the same experience with my husband's family! I took Deborah Tannen's course on sociolinguistics in college, (but not from her because she was still out on her extended booktour for You Just Don't Understand). But I still make the mistake of answering a question too quickly or too directly.

I love your concept of divine wait time. Maybe we also need to have extended wait time so that we keep in mind the different frame for speaking in meeting for worship.

8:46 AM  

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