In last month’s blog, I made the case for silence. Today I want to make the case for words.
Occasionally as Quakers worship, the silence inside the Meeting House is broken when someone rises to share a message they feel moved to say. These messages are usually simple, and most have a universal element since messages should be shared only if they offer something to others. So, yes, we Quakers worship in silence, but we also listen – to God, to each other, to our own hearts – and share that with the community around us.
Why allow the silence to be broken this way? Sometimes a Meeting for Worship is silent for the entire hour, leaving a deep sense of fulfillment. But just sitting quietly is not the point. Silence is necessary to hear what God might be telling you, or to sift through the whirl of thoughts so you can make sense of your life or the world. Sometimes the silence is challenging because we are inclined to turn away from this inner voice; sometimes we might lose the inner voice in the comfort of the silence.
Which is why words matter. Words bring us together. We worship together, rather than alone in our homes, in part because the words we share enrich our experience. Some of the most simple and beautiful messages I’ve ever heard were shared at a Meeting. A heartfelt message can open up a whole world in my head. When I am spiritually cold, the messages in Meeting can feel like warm mittens handed to me by friends, and the wide range of spiritual insights can feed me for days.
Sometimes messages are shared using words that make some uncomfortable, as we all have our own experience of God. When that happens, I try to remember this guidance from the British Yearly Meeting: “When words are strange or disturbing to you, try to sense where they come from and what has nourished the lives of others. Receive the vocal ministry of others in a tender and creative spirit; reach for the meaning deep within it, recognizing that even if it is not God’s word for you, it may be so for others.”
One of my favorite messages was shared by a friend who quoted from the Quran: “if the day of judgment erupts while you are planting a new tree, carry on and plant it.” She linked these words to her deep concern and love for the natural world. Her message speaks to me still.
Wendy Swallow, Clerk of Reno Friends Meeting
email: wswallow54 (at) gmail.com
The opinions expressed above are not necessarily those of Reno Friends Meeting