Recently I sat in a Meeting for worship where a number of messages were given. Someone rose after at least 4 messages had been given and said: “What I would like to add to this discussion is….” I hope that person just chose their words carelessly or was using an expression of speech. I hope they did not really think that messages shared in Meeting are a discussion or that they rather than spirit had something to “add to the discussion”. Am I nit picking here? If it is perceived so, we are more lost then I would hope for the Society of Friends. So I wrote this for new convinced Friends and Seekers so they may understand the issue.
George Fox famously asked Friends to look inward to find the Light of Christ within, to see what the still small voice said to them – not he said what the preacher or the Bible said to them (and I would add now not what the media says.) He, in fact, based Quakerism on the idea that we could listen, in silence, for the truth which would present itself to us. Our worship is unprogrammed by humans but is supposed to be programmed by God! The silence is supposed to be a space to listen and hear the voice of God, and all messages delivered are supposed to be faithfully discerned before delivery to be from the Holy Voice.
I have written a number of previous posts about messages in Meeting: Expectant Silence, and TheQuality of Silence talks about what makes a living silence and FaithfullyDelivered talks about the importance of delivering messages that we are given. But I have not written about the discernment process of discerning whether a message is to be delivered. I am realizing for most new comers it must be a mysterious process that some people rise and speak. If you hang around a bit you hear that you are supposed to be moved by God to speak. For some that is so imposingly high a bar they never speak. Other’s noting the casualness with which some speak, conclude, as the person above did that it is a discussion, and if you have something pertinent to say why then you speak.
But the reasons we are called Quakers is because some of us have been known to literally Quake before we speak -others describe it as “butterflies in stomach”. This is a curious thing because I speak in public all the time, sometimes in public testimony challenging existing policy, and I do not have fear of public speaking or butterflies. And yet in Meeting for worship, if I am to speak I will have some thoughts (which I have all hour long) but after THESE thoughts I get a sensation in my stomach. If I ignore the sensation it gets stronger (and more unpleasant) – a clear tap on the shoulder.
In the past year a newer Friend gave a message that was clearly from God but was also a bit rambly and disjointed. When I talked to this Friend about this message he acknowledged that the message felt important but unclear to him. I suggested: “sit with it, review it, it will get clearer. You do not have to speak the minute the message arises in you.” For me I will get the initial sense that maybe a message is to share – I will then review it – if it is, the physical feeling will get stronger. If it is not I will just be again thinking about something. I also have had to discern is the message for me or the Meeting? Once I had the funny experience of feeling a message coming to me in a Meeting I was visiting, but no urge to speak. I thought maybe it is just for me. I returned home and tested it the next Sunday. No urge. However, several weeks later I remembered it and then received a distinct urge to speak. Apparently, it was being held for a particular person to show up at Meeting for Worship!
Certainly all our messages come thru the veil of our own spoken language, the way we have learned to turn a phrase, the twist of our own personality -but when done correctly it serves The Holy One and not our own egos which is why we are also not responding to other messages. I left a Meeting once permanently when people had gone to arguing with each other through messages about a contentious topic in the Meeting and M&W had not figured out how to stop this abuse of the worship space. In a Gathered Meeting (as described in my other posts) there can be a sense of a theme and like in an orchestra different instruments sounding differently on the same note and melody. However, when God is the one orchestrating it is indeed beautiful music. When it is people contributing from their heads to a topic that is provocative – it has a distinctly different, and intellectual feel to it. If you violently disagrees with something someone has said: time enough to tell them after Meeting and you will not have multiplied the voices speaking unfaithfully.
So we sit in silence and we wait for words, which may or may not be given; we discern if we have the right words and if we are truly to deliver them, and then we are faithful.