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the sound of silence

In early August Roger and I spent four days camping in the Borders National Park (far north NSW) and one of the highlights for me was the 'sound of silence'.

A deep quiet ... not a sound for miles and miles. There wasn't even a whisper of wind or a rustle of leaves. The stars at night were bright against the black sky and we would sit quietly together just being in this reflective space.

I have always valued the silence or quiet in my life and also within my work as a celebrant.

Silence can add many different  elements to a ceremony - it can deepen our connection to the beauty surrounding us, or the community of friends and family in our lives. It can give space for our inner world and thoughts to be revealed.

It is most common to find moments of silence at a funeral ceremony which can offer time for reflection and prayer.

Yet, it can be a powerful tool for use in a wedding as well.

Miki and Joe's Wedding Celebration

Miki and Joe's wedding, in early August, was on the long stretch of beach at Mudjimba. I have known Miki since she was a very young girl and I have always enjoyed her company. When I met her fiance I was delighted. Joe is a perfect match for Miki - thoughtful, sincere with a strong heart.

Their wedding was beautiful for many reasons. Miki and Joe were radiating an uplifting sense of calm and joy; the setting was perfect; their families were full of excitement and supportive; the breeze was gentle; the ocean was blue...

I called in their sixty guests to stand in a circle on the sand and welcomed them to the magnificent venue and special occasion. At Miki and Joe's request, I invited guests to refrain from using camera's during the ceremony and invited them to 'hold the silence' while we waited for the bridal party.

Everyone honoured this request and for ten minutes the guests embraced the invitation to really enjoy the beauty and bring their full attention to the moment. The silence was a force that was powerful and evocative. There was no music played as Miki, escorted by her father, and her bridesmaids walked into the ceremonial area. It was truly a magical moment to be a part of.

Everyone was smiling and all that could be heard were the waves rolling in, gently lapping on the sand.

The feedback from guests later was affirming - it was indeed a rich moment to behold. Silence is golden.

Silence in Ceremonies

Not everyone feels at ease with quiet moments in a group and I have had ceremonies where 'holding the silence' doesn't work as well. Guests will whisper or laugh because they feel nervous or uncomfortable. It can help people to feel more comfortable if you give clear instructions on how long the silence will be for and also suggest prompts to reflect upon or give focus to something in particular (the venue, the couple, connection to others...).

Pausing in the Ceremony

It is important that in any public speech there are appropriate pauses of silence (not um, ah, er... pauses).

A well placed pause can allow the couple and guests to absorb and become present with what is happening (internally and externally) - a heartfelt exchange, a reflection upon the couple, upon family and friends.

A pause can highlight something you have just said or are about to say.

Also, if you don't pause occasionally while you are speaking, listeners will just simply tune out.

I recall one wedding in the Upper Orara Valley where you could have heard a pin drop - there was not a breath of wind or a car passing by.

The pauses in the ceremony were powerful. They gave people time to connect with the silence of the surroundings, the intensity of the 'love' emotions between the couple, the sense of community.

A gentleman came up to me afterward and said he had been to many events at this venue and not once, had he been aware of the silence. He was deeply moved not only by the ceremony but by the sense of stillness he experienced in the moment.

Standing in Silence and Strength

I know of many celebrants like myself, who at the beginning of the ceremony don't just launch in...they take the time to centre themselves - 'standing firm' on the spot, then they smile - a big friendly smile. They create rapport by making eye contact and acknowledging non-verbally the people present. This gives a sense of confidence and an air of dignity to the ceremony, as well as making people feel very welcome!

Remember to keep the 'pause' in your speaking natural and normal rather than forced. One of the best ways to do this is to ensure you are relaxed and confident about what you are doing. Another useful tool is to record yourself delivering a ceremony and listen to yourself speak and pause. It can be amazing to hear what your manner of speech is like.

Moments of appropriate silence and pauses will add a richness to the celebration that will touch people at many levels.

Many blessings and, until next time, lots of love and laughter.
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