In one of his sermons, Eugene Laubach tells of a non-Quaker youth who was invited for a meal in a strict Quaker household. The youth was unfamiliar with Quaker piety and, in particular, with the custom of beginning a meal with a silent grace. He later reported his response to it: "There was this embarrassing silence when we first sat down at the table, and nobody knew what to say, and everybody looked down, so I told a funny story and that seemed to break the ice."

To a TV-shaped world, silence, even relative silence, is as threatening as piety and much more puzzling. So people try to delete it. People haul their boom boxes to the seashore so that they do not have to live in the silence between the rolling of surf and the crying of gulls, and so that no one else can live there either. Years ago a live organist would play pop tunes at mezzo volume between innings at Detroit Tigers' home baseball games. Now the management fills the stadium with a more aggressive, in-your-face form of recorded rock music. Late-afternoon and late-night TV talk shows present hours of lightweight nihilism carried along by a chatter that is sometimes rancorous and sometimes mildly amusing, but that is mostly what the Bible calls "unwholesome talk"—a kind of talk that is foolish, coarse, dismissive, incessant, and vain. ("So he goes, 'You're sexy.' And I'm like, 'Whoa! This guy's sleeping with my Mom!' But he's, like, kinda' cute, so I go … ") Even contemporary worship, in some church settings, fills in silences with an emcee's patter or with snappy Christian music from which all the rests have been removed.

A loss of silence is as serious as a loss of memory and just as disorienting. Silence is, after all, the natural context from which ...

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