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One of my favorite jokes comes from the Quakers, or Society of Friends. Quakers have two forms of worship together. Programmed meetings have a pastor or someone else who gives a sermon on what was traditionally called First Day - so, Sunday. These Friends, additionally, sit in silence. Unprogrammed meetings, generally more progressive, sit in silence but do not have a sermon or pastor.
The story goes that on a First Day, a preacher of a Meeting was, like usual, preaching a long time - where I came from, we would say such a preacher was long-winded. As was the custom among Friends, the preacher would occasionally stop, waiting for the Light to give guidance on what to say next.
Well, on this First Day, the preacher stopped abruptly. The Meeting could hear him pray, "Dear Lord, what would'st Thou have me say next." The preacher heard a reply, not from the Light, but a Friend who blurted out, "How about 'Amen'!" - meaning, "You've said enough!"
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When I was a child and youth attending a Baptist church, preachers in the Baptist churches, as well as other evangelical sects, often gave long sermons. When I began as a preacher, age 15, it was not uncommon for me to speak for at least forty minutes, and I would preach in revival meetings and on other occasions. And revival meetings usually lasted a week. The speaker for the revival was either a pastor or an evangelist - the pastor served a church, the evangelist was a traveling preacher, mostly speaking in revival meetings. Sometimes, these sermons would go on and on. Some revival preachers would, apparently, string together what could be several or more talks into one. When a revival speaker said, "Now, in conclusion," I learned to relax, for no end was near. We seemed to think the Spirit needed us to say much, rather than to say less to leave room for the Spirit to say more.
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"Amen," which the Friend spoke in the above story, is from the Hebrew Bible; this passed into the Christian Scriptures. "Amen" is an exclamation, "yes, so be it, it is so," and is often spoken at the end of prayers, hymns, blessings, or religious talks, stating an affirmation or spirited approval. Some enthusiastic preachers will even say, "Amen!" amid a sermon, things like, "Do I hear an Amen!" or "Will somebody give me an Amen!" Some preachers even "Amen" themselves. I had a friend in the 1970s who was an ecstatic Baptist pastor and revivalist. His congregation was not responding verbally to his preaching one Sunday morning. He stepped down on a level with the people, turned to the podium, and yelled, "Amen . . . !" He needed some urging on, it seems. He returned behind the podium, continuing his message. Possibly, he might have been wiser to ask himself, "Why do I not hear any 'Amens!'?"
I have joked with persons that "Amen" is sexist, for there is no Awomen. Yet, the Hebrew word is not "Amen," but "āmēn," pronounced like "Ah-main," and has nothing to do with gender. Here, in the Quaker story, the above Friend means, however, "Please, would you just shut up!" Possibly, my Amen preacher friend had a congregation too kind to say that to him. Perhaps, sometimes, we have persons listening to us and too polite to say the same to us. I do recall my late mother scolding me for preaching a very long sermon one night. I had worn her patience to shreds; likely, many left that night feeling the speech had overly strained their patience. I knew my mother was right; I had needed to anchor the tongue to the shore of enough-is-enough long before I did.
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I was vowed to a traditional monastic vow of silence. The vow does not mean I cannot speak. It means for me to speak wisely and with few words. "Few" is relative, and I do not strictly observe how many words I speak. Yet, over time, I have noticed I sense less need to talk and more to listen. I, also, have grown to need to listen less; that is, to be entertained by talk. I have grown to enjoy the quiet more. The vow to silence is not a rule, but wisdom to guide and remind in what is wise for anyone. We all would, religious or nonreligious, do well to vow our tongue to moderate and wise speech.