When friends ask me how my Thanksgiving was this year, my answer can be summed up in one word: “quiet.” There are a couple of reasons for this, not the least of which being that I lost my voice as soon as Thanksgiving break began.

To be fair, it did return within several hours, only much more softly and in a much lower pitch than I am accustomed to. But at the time, it was both an alarming and amusing experience to wake up and realize that I could hardly produce sound, let alone talk.

Our voices provide an incredibly powerful instrument of expression and connection. When singing with choirs, I have sometimes felt a profound, intimate connection with  the people around me through the music, the rise and fall of harmonies overlaid with liquid, flowing rhythms punctuated by occasional rests and breaths. Some musicians I’ve talked from my home congregation in Brookline have described feeling the presence of the Divine in their exultation through music.

So what does it mean to lose this instrument? On the one hand, it was somewhat distressing to wake up unable to produce much sound. On the other hand, the silence was also a little comforting. It gave me more time to reflect, to think, and to sit still.

I remember the verses from 1 Kings 19: 11-12, when Elijah is waiting on a mountain for God to pass by: “Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence.”

I should point out that in some translations of this passage, the sound of sheer silence is instead written as a gentle whisper, or a still small voice. There is a subtle difference between these different readings. Sound can be described as soft or gentle, but it is much rarer to see silence described with similar terms.

And yet, I think that silence comes with textures of its own. There is the quietness that comes with being in solitude, the awkward pauses that settle so quickly when people run out of things to say. There are the harsher forms of silence, those that come with deep feelings of hurt or from turning a blind eye to something.

Then there is the kind that I find most comforting: the one that comes from understanding that there is nothing that needs to be said. The silence that comes with solace and being at peace, even if it is only for a moment. This silence carries its own sort of warmth–faint, and perhaps difficult to detect, but present all the same. Losing my voice reminded me that such moments of this kind silence do exist. I hope to encounter it as the semester begins to come to a close.

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