What are Quakers doing when they sit in silence on Sunday morning? These 7 Friends share their answers.
I’m a little bit of an overachiever, so I usually come in and I’m like, “I’m going to worship now. I’m going to sit here and be the best worshipper ever, and this is going to be it.” And I really have to let that go.
What Quakers Do in Silent Worship
I go to Quaker Meeting and I just let everything open up. I think of it as this wonderful scan disk of my hard drive, helping me clear out all of the gaps and be still and lay down things that are bothering me that really aren’t that important, just getting me to a place of stability and clarity. It’s been really important to me.
Preparing the Soil
Thinking about Meeting for Worship on Sunday, the first thing that comes to mind is to share that Meeting for Worship is a much more satisfactory experience if some spiritual preparation has been done in advance. The metaphor for me is “preparing the soil,” so the soil is ready for the message or for the seed.
It feels like it is very important to be part of a group of people who are creating a container of deepening worship that is already in process as other Friends arrive.
I remember my first Meeting for Worship when I was older that I could remember was really difficult because I wanted to talk or play a game or go run around.
So often the energy of life is a topsy-turvy energy. It’s energy going in many different directions with many different pressures, being pulled hither and yon, and it’s centered in many many different places and not in one place.
I usually need the first 10, 15, 20, 30 – however long it takes – minutes to quiet myself.
In the Meeting for Worship in the silence I am trying to center myself, which means to lay aside distractions of the world, and to listen carefully to the inward teacher, the inward guide, the inner Christ, that within me which is within me and also beyond me.
And for me that sort of involves that narrative voice that I sort of have going in the back of my head all the time, just sort of letting that go. It’s not so much about quieting it but just releasing it. The more I sort of try to like, stuff it down, the louder it gets and so it’s just sort of about letting it go. And that seems to make space for God to fill up.
There’s a quote that means a lot to me from Thomas Kelly’s essay, “The Light Within”, which is found within his volume A Testament of Devotion:
“Deep within us all, there is an amazing sanctuary of the soul: a holy place, a divine center, a speaking voice to which we may continuously return.”
That describes a centered place for me. This deep inner sanctuary of the soul. And I find meaning and value in trying to get there, making my way back home. Making my way back home.
Developing a Practice
Thich Nhat Hanh, who is of course a Buddhist not a Quaker, talks about meditation as a process of sort of “tuning into the smile channel,” and somehow that description was very helpful for me. Let’s tune into the Spirit channel! Where in the body – in my body – do I perceive the Spirit moving among us?
I start by paying attention to my breath and my body, and slowing down my breath and feeling my body. I love the sense of settling into my body, and my body settling into space, and I feel my breath sort of going deeper and deeper.
Sometimes my mind will go to what has happened the preceding week, and I’ll ask the question, “How can I identify the movement of Spirit and what has happened for me in the week preceding this worship?”
Something I do, I have these prayer beads that I wear all the time, and I’ll think of all the people in my life and I’ll hold them in the Light for a few minutes and let them know that I’m thinking about them and giving them positive energy.
Sometimes I focus on a particular phrase or word or image and try to hold that as long as I can and then keep coming back to it.
I mean, I think for me, it let’s me know that even if somebody thinks they’re alone, you know, I can say, “No, you’re not. I’ve been thinking about you. And I don’t know if it’s impacted anyone else, I’ve never told anyone that so I guess, secrets out!
Sandra Cronk, in her pamphlet on gospel order, has a sentence in the beginning of the pamphlet:
“Early Friends expected and experienced the in-breaking of the Spirit in their Meetings for Worship.”
And that sentence has been so important for me to hold onto like a life raft, continue to hold expectation. I think that’s why we call it “expectant waiting worship”, that positive expectation that we will experience the presence of the Holy Spirit among us, and we are just waiting for it to show up. It’s not an if, it’s a when.
And then, when I get to that place, it’s a communal effort, it’s not just about me and my relationship with the divine – although that is an important part of it – but it’s also feeling the gathered assembly around me, the gathered Friends around me and paying attention to what might be needed: whether I’m going to be called to deliver a message or sing a song, or pray particularly for someone in the group, or might just be mindful of someone. I see that as a very communal thing, how the group comes together and is able to center in the silence.