A Quakers dozen of things I like about the Meeting for Worship
By way of Background. I am not a Quaker. I have however attended the Meetings for Worship every Sunday with few exceptions for the past 6 months. I have enjoyed the meetings and have benefitted from them. I do not know where my path in life will take me but for now and the foreseeable future, the Sunday Meeting for Worship is a very important part of my life. I look forward to it and try not to miss it. Here are but a few of the wonderful things I have found.
1. Silence – the meetings are held mostly in silence. I find this helps me reflect on God and find my true self. I have been trying to find a definition of God that works for me. The broad church of Quakerism admits many definitions of God. This very openness and tolerance suits what I have become over the past few decades and what I hope will develop over my remaining years. I love sacred music but increasingly the words of traditional hymns did not speak to where I found myself. I am at home with the quiet God of the cosmos, the God of peace, not the sometimes portrayed God in the Old Testament with flowing beard and mighty spear. That image has nothing to do with my spirituality. I still love to listen to sacred music, to Bach and Handel and to Gregorian chant, but the silence in worship suits me fine.
2. Centering down – after the first few minutes the meeting centers down. We breathe more easily and put aside the cares of the week. I find the cumulative and communal effect of individuals united in silence is often more powerful that a group of people praying together out loud.
3. I get a feeling of invisible companionship – mostly among the little community within the room, but also with the wider world – with my friends across the road in the Catholic Church and down the Road in the Church of Ireland with my family here and abroad, with friends alive and gone.
4. It helps me develop my relationship with Jesus Christ. In common with some modern Christians, some Quakers among them, I struggle with the notion of the divinity of Christ but have a huge love and affinity for Him. His message is even more compelling at the Meetings. His words no longer go over my head but through me. The Beatitudes have greater meaning and resonance. I think Jesus would be very comfortable in a Meeting for Worship. In an inexplicable way I feel closer to his word and example now than when I was a daily mass-going Catholic. Some Friends have a more traditional approach to the divinity of Christ, but each view is respected. Besides, the Meeting is not a place for theological debate but for affirmation of universally held views of charity and tolerance within a broad Christian tradition having respect for its continuing evolution over time and its specific meaning for the individual.
5. The meeting appeals my mystical side. During my eight years as a seminarian and a religious I occasionally felt touched by mysticism, by the sublime love and mystery that is not so much ‘out there’ but is really within all of us. This mysticism is available to all human beings no matter our education, our religion or lack of it. It allows me lose myself and my small worries in the infinite and eternal love of God however I might try and define him.
6. I enjoy the simple spray of flowers that are placed for every Meeting in the middle of the table. I believe God reveals himself especially in nature. This year I have discovered the beauty and power of nature with a new vigor. The harshness of the winter of 09 was replaced by the abundance and stunning beauty of the spring summer and fall of ’10. The colors seemed more vibrant to me, purples during the summer and pinks during early fall.
7. I listen out for the birds outside the beautiful simple windows who sing from the trees that surround the meeting hall. It may be a coincidence but this year I have felt closer to animals – to our two little dogs at home and to all animals generally. I have come to discover their broad range of emotions – affection, fear, vanity, jealousy and loyalty. The teachings and example of St Francis who spoke of ‘sister sun and brother moon’ have meant a lot. In the meeting I reflect on the togetherness and interdependence of all of God’s creation and the necessity to protect it as best we can.
8. I have enjoyed the readings. In every meeting someone is invited to introduce and recite a reading from the list that has been chosen a year in advance. The readings are an eclectic mixture of material from the Old and New Testament, from Quaker writers, from other religions and no religion. This years readings included excerpts from Sheenagh Pugh - her lovely poem – ‘Sometimes’; Teilhard to Chardin ‘Some day, after mastering the winds..; Gerard Manly Hopkins for ‘Thanks be to God for dappled things’; the Gospel of St Mark ‘ suffer little children..’; Nadine Starr, ‘if I had to live my life over again; William Henry Davies ‘what is life, if full of care..’; the Gospel of St. Matthew ‘ take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat..’; Siegfried Sassoon ‘Everybody sang’ and so on…
9. The meetings bring serenity. Serenity during the meeting and serenity in my life in the week after. I have been grateful to have this gift of serenity during these times of financial and social upheaval.
10. The most striking Quaker statement for me is – to find that of God in everyone. In the meetings I hear testimonies that are sometimes quite different to the way I would see life. Whereas before I would have tut tutted inwardly, now I am grateful to receive a testimony and a view that are different to mine. I don’t have to accept them, but being different they are often more valuable. I love the democracy involved. In a sense everyone’s view is as valid as everyone else’s and we avoid the hierarchical nature of many organised religions, with the joys and tribulations they bring. In all things there is charity. Being non judgmental lifts a load off my back.
11. The cup of tea at the end of the meeting. In some ways it is just as important as the hour in silence. For me the last supper was not about transubstantiation but about meeting together in friendship in memory of Christ and what he stood for. A cup of tea and a few biscuits are as effective as any last supper.
12. I like the intimacy of the meeting – Normally we have 30 to 50 people. I wish it could be five or six times that number, but certainly the thought of thousands would frighten me. I can understand thousands of people might meet for a pop concert or a game of football but not to pray. Each person in the meeting is special and is not just a number.
13. I value the testimony of the lived lives. I love meeting those who Friends who generally say little or nothing but their greeting or smile is better than a thousand words.
14. If it is to be, it up to me. There is no ‘us and them’. It’s not their religion I am following – it is mine. And the Meeting gives me a voice albeit silent to the urgings and call of the Spirit.
15. I feel the Spirit of God does actually touch the meeting, perhaps not all the time and not always directly but I get the reflected and refracted light through the rainbow prism of the meeting and the warmth of the love and service that the fellowship induces.
I know that is more than a dozen things, but then I am an accountant and famously accountants cannot count.