How Do You Let the Silence Speak?


Sunday’s concert wrapped up the second season that I’ve stepped outside my ordinary skillset to participate in the Montgomery Chorale. There was one song in particular, When David Heard, where I tried very, very hard not to sing an unintended solo from the alto section.

The way this piece was written, there would be a lyric, silence, lyric, silence, lyric, silence. I feared interrupting the silence.

During the rehearsals our director, James Seay, had told us, “You are all responsible for your own notes.”

That was a big responsibility to carry. When even the sound of a small cough or cleared throat can disturb the experience, you pay attention to what you’re doing. And you watch out for those notes.

Maintaining the silence was not easy. The piece is a long one (17+ minutes), and as we sang in the choir loft, I began to feel hot. My throat tickled. A cough was rising up. Even my nose started running.

Right there in that cramped space, I faced the consequence of being human. I did not know I had it in me – and I suspect that I don’t actually have it in me to will myself not to cough. Yet I achieved that small victory nonetheless: I didn’t sputter into the silence.

It’s funny how important it is, sometimes, to watch what we don’t do. Though these could be missed opportunities, it is also a missed opportunity to speak or act when it’s better to not do so, wouldn’t you agree?

Who knows how many problems have been avoided by not saying what we were thinking – or by not intruding in areas that was not our call to make? The undone and unsaid have their own moments for expressing beauty and care.

David’s “manifest lament” is not a piece you’d want to disturb. When he heard that Absalom had died, he went up to his chamber over the gate and wept. He carried their complicated relationship, his own failures, his deep grief, and his unbroken love into that chamber. Heavy stuff.

And the thing about putting that lament into a choral piece is that people can share the feeling without having to explain it. You don’t have to articulate the losses you grieve in your own chambers. David’s words, the choir’s voices and the silence speak that for you.  

I was remembering something from years ago… a story about the great value in sitting with someone through their sad moments. I have an image stored in my head from Tinyburg Tales, a book by Robert Hastings that my former minister, Donna McConnico, used frequently in the Sunday school classes I attended.

I don’t remember details – just an image – but a preacher’s wife was falling short in her ability to get her dishes to the potluck suppers and so forth. She just was not rising to the standard expected of her. But the real story was that she had let her dish overcook in the oven as she sat at the kitchen table and listened to a church member’s lament. Her listening ear was the greater value.

Maintaining silence is not as easy as it sounds. You could get quite hot, so near sputtering. But listening to someone’s lament could be a small step that makes a big difference – for you and the one you hear.

Enjoy your magnificent journey.

Minnie Lamberth
The Magnificent Journey
Vol. 3, Issue 8

Photo by Mohammad Metri on Unsplash