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Quaker Practice This Month's Blog Post

The Case for Silence

There is something about the stillness of midwinter that soothes the soul. Much of the natural world sleeps. Though the wind still blows and birds hop about searching for seeds, for the most part the cold and dark confer a deep, healing silence.

Many of us who attend Quaker Meeting on Sundays are drawn by the opportunity to sit in communal silence for an hour. The Quaker silence started, in part, as a reaction to church services of the seventeenth century, which were filled with ritual and liturgy. Early Quakers believed, instead, that each person must come to her or his own understanding and experience of God. The silence is a chance to listen for God – the stillness enables us to quiet the busyness of our brains and discern what God might want us to hear. It requires waiting.

Sitting quietly and waiting are not things we do much anymore in our twenty-first-century life. With our ever-present phones and ubiquitous Internet connections, we rarely allow ourselves to be bored. Instead of daydreaming while waiting in line at the grocery, we pull out our phones and fill our heads with news and gossip. Sadly, this barrage of information has taken something precious away. That is why I find silent worship so powerful.

There is no single proscribed way to be silent in Quaker Meeting. Some pray, others meditate, and many of us sort through the clutter in our minds. But no matter how you start, eventually a stillness descends. For me this stillness feels like an open sky – huge, empty, and holy. Untethered from my own wishes and worries, it’s much easier to listen for deeper messages that may arise in my mind. It’s a way of tapping into our truer selves, reconnecting with our own humanity and vulnerability. It’s a chance to renew our sense of wonder with the world.

The seventeenth-century Quaker Robert Barclay said this about silent worshippers:  “Each made it their work to return inwardly to the measure of grace in themselves, and not being only silent as to words but even abstaining from all their own thoughts, imaginations and desires.”

It is also within this space that Quakers listen and try to understand what the divine spirit would have them do. This kind of discernment works best within a condition of tranquility and freedom from the demands of one’s own ego and will, a state that the silence can help provide. The modern Quaker Arthur O. Roberts suggests that silence indicates submission to God and can help Quakers prepare for effective social witness. Silence can strengthen our souls and our resolve to “let our lives speak,” as Quaker founder George Fox famously remarked.

It is important to remember that Quakers sit in communal silence, not alone. Some religious traditions couple silence and solitude, but not the Quakers. We sit together in silence for many reasons, but part of it is to honor and support each other’s silence. When someone in the group feels led to share a message, those words carry more weight because they arise out of the conditions of our shared silence.

Yes, there are, occasionally, words in the Quaker silence. As much as we are drawn into the silence, we also worship together in expectation that someone else’s experience of God might speak to us through the messages they share. Check back next month for the Case for Words.

Wendy Swallow, RFM Blog Editor

The opinions expressed above are not necessarily those of Reno Friends Meeting.

Categories
Quaker Practice

The Dark Side of Gratitude

January, the season of resolutions, is always a time when I vow to do better with my Gratitude Practice. I usually start out strong, listing three things every day that I am grateful for, but – inevitably – sometime in the cold, dark days of February when it looks like winter will never end, I give it up. I’m not sure why. But I found a clue the other day: a note to myself that I should write a blog about the dark side of gratitude. And that was all it said; I had no idea what I had meant when I made that note months earlier.

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Quaker Practice

The Hold-In-The-Light List

Every First Day, at the end of Silent Worship, the clerk of Reno Friends Meeting reads the Hold-in-the-Light List. This is a list of all those we are “holding in the Light of God.” It usually includes the names of loved-ones we are concerned about because of illness, injury or trouble, and also a statement extending our concern to “all those who live in places where there is strife and need.” In difficult times, the list can get quite long.

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Meeting Community

Cultivating Joy

This is the second of my blogs on The Book of Joy by The Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu. The first was essentially a book review (https://www.renofriends.org/the-book-of-joy/#more-5464). This second blog is about my experiences of cultivating joy using the practices in the book over the last six months.

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Quaker Practice

The Gifts of Silence

My husband and I were hiking on a ridge above Lake Tahoe recently when I suddenly realized I could hear almost nothing. This happens out west – if you go far enough off-road you can often find a place beyond the whine of the highway or the hum of the city. We were hiking late in the day, so there were few others around. Even the birds were quiet. The tall pines and slanting light made it feel like we were walking through holy space, the world hushed in reverence.

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Meeting Community

Bittersweet Wisdom

We all have something to say about loss, because all of us have experienced it – yearning for what used to be, but is no more. And perhaps, as our years pass, we wrestle with the issue of loss even more, having chewed some of the gristle of life, as it were, not just the low-hanging fruit.

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Quaker Testimonies

Testimony Pie

Reno Friends recently gathered on Zoom for a spiritual discussion about the Quaker “testimonies,” shared truths that Quakers have distilled from their spiritual experience down through the last 350 years. The most common Quaker testimonies spell out the acronym SPICES – Simplicity, Peace, Integrity, Community, Equality/Equity and Stewardship. We use the term “testimonies” because each person’s experience illuminates different aspects of these shared truths.

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Quaker Practice

The Book of Joy

In March I went on a retreat to Graeagle. My friend, Peggy, sent along The Book of Joy by the Dalai Lama and Bishop Desmond Tutu. What an amazing teaching this book was for me during my sacred time! It was exactly what I needed. Before my retreat, I had been feeling increasingly hopeless about the future of humanity and all of our relations that share this planet with us. This is a familiar issue for me and one I’ve blogged about before.

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Quaker Practice

Growing Old, Gracefully

The Reno Friends monthly book club recently met to ponder both the challenges and blessings of growing older. Or at least to try and find a few blessings.

Our book for the month was On the Brink of Everything: Grace, Gravity and Growing Old, by Quaker writer Parker Palmer, a primer to both the yin and yang of the aging experience.

Categories
Quaker World

Toward a Life-Centered Economy

As a young Friend, I care deeply about the state of the world and what we can do to reduce climate change and rebalance our economy. I recently read Toward a Life-Centered Economy by John Lodenkamper, Paul Alexander, Pete Baston, and Judith Streit, and it left me feeling deeply inspired about the future.