Improving on the Silence

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There was this time, after a big move that took me far from everyone and everything that had normalized my life to that point, that I was feeling pretty desperate for some kind of connection. So I went to a retreat, and at that retreat I was grouped with a handful of people who committed to continue meeting regularly for a year.

I like small groups, if I’m being honest. I like the idea of them, the potentiality of them. I also, if I’m being honest, like to show off in small groups—to quote a kid I went to college with, small groups have historically afforded me a chance to “expound upon my vast biblical knowledge.”

You can perhaps understand why I was finding it hard to make new friends in a new place.

Anyway, I entered this small group fully prepared to show off. But before I got my chance, another group member shared a conviction from his Quaker tradition that what is shared in groups like this should be limited to what will “improve upon the silence.”

Well, that shut me up real quick.

The phrase has stuck with me now for years, and increasingly it informs my approach to gatherings of any kind, from church to business to social engagements to family reunions. I may slip into verbosity when I’m feeling insecure, but when I’m doing well, I’m increasingly inclined toward silence.

And yet …

I work in books. I don’t get paid by the word, but I get paid by way of words. And I believe in the power of words—as catalysts, as illuminations, as markers of moments. I believe that all that is seen and unseen was spoken into existence by divine word; I believe that death was conquered by the Word made flesh.

So, yeah, silence is tricky.

But I’ve found that asking whether a book will “improve upon the silence” is a valuable diagnostic. We are awash in words at all times, from punk kids cavalierly expounding on their vastly underconsidered  assumptions about the Bible, to carefully crafted words striving to sell us something, to loud and angry words seeking to take us down a peg, to so many other incantations that whittle away at our human dignity. So rarely is the real value of words really measured. So many words are robbing us of a gracious silence.

But there remain words that should be shared, and the careful curation of words, of which the best book publishing is only one example, ensures that words are earning their place, adding value to the silence that patiently waits for us.

I like to think that NavPress books live up to that aspiration. Two projects come to mind: Known, by Aubrey Sampson, which considers the names—the words—that God offers us as counters to the dehumanizing words we are so often subjected to. And then there’s Thank You. I’m Sorry. Tell Me More, by Rod Wilson, which unpacks the redemptive potential of three such simple phrases. These are books that are not simply made up of words but for which words are their focus.

That’s about as meta as a book can get. But they are joined in mission by our other books whose words are carefully chosen by authors who want to improve upon the silence, to populate the world with better words than what we’re so used to being given. The best books, I think, are born of silence—our authors have quieted themselves before God to hear the word to be shared.

David Zimmerman
David Zimmerman

is in his 28th year in the Christian publishing industry and serves as the NavPress publisher. He leads the team in acquiring and developing new NavPress resources and building on the strength of a robust backlist catalog, including the bestselling Message Bible.

3 thoughts on “Improving on the Silence”

  1. I’m surprised this article made it into the disciple maker. Too many words about improving on the silence. Jesus was silent only before the high priests and Pilate during his trial. I think testimonies shared briefly are the best words that edify.


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