Category Archives: Quaker Practice

Speaking in Silent Worship

Quakers are known for gathering to worship in silence, and yet they also gather to hear the many voices of God. Instead of a prepared sermon or liturgy, Quakers worship through “vocal ministry,” messages offered out of the silence by those who feel moved to speak.

Many Quaker Meetings have just a few messages during Silent Worship, and some Meetings go week after week without any vocal ministry. When I first started attending Quaker Meeting, I mostly listened as others shared messages that were usually thoughtful and eloquent. Sometimes they started with personal anecdotes, sometimes with musings on a theme. Occasionally they included a quote from the Bible or some other spiritual text. Many messages, whether brief or extended, bloomed into something universal and important. I wasn’t sure how they did it, but I loved the moving narratives that bubbled up in the Meeting.

During those early years, I sometimes felt a message stirring in my heart, but I wasn’t sure if I should share it. There were guidelines: only speak if you can’t stay seated; only speak if the message is intended for someone other than yourself; refrain from political or non-spiritual comments; don’t lecture or use worship for a personal announcement. It could be bewildering.

And yet, at the same time, I sensed that there was value in sharing if I had something genuine and deeply felt. Deciding whether to share a message can be difficult, but if everyone is too circumspect, then the Meeting goes quiet and loses the wonderful mystery of vocal ministry.

In a recent spiritual discussion on Speaking in Worship, Reno Friends offered advice:

  • Share more about how we are human rather than how we are perfect;
  • Think of messages from others as gifts – even if we don’t recognize the source or the language used, there may be something in it that speaks to us;
  • Experienced Quakers can set an example by sharing their ministry;
  • Aim for the universal rather than the personal.

Our guidebook Faith & Practice tells us this: “Do not assume that vocal ministry is never to be your part. Faithfulness and sincerity in speaking, even very briefly, may open the way to fuller ministry from others. When prompted to speak, wait patiently to know that the leading and the time are right, but do not let a sense of your own unworthiness hold you back. Pray that your ministry may arise from deep experience, and trust that words will be given to you. Try to speak audibly and distinctly, and with sensitivity to the needs of others. Beware of speaking predictably or too often, and of making additions towards the end of a meeting when it was well left before.”

We all have wisdom and questions and soul to share with the Meeting. The power of vocal ministry lies in its variety and heartfulness. May we all continue to speak out of the silence, and to one another.

By Wendy Swallow, Blog Editor, Reno Friends Meeting

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

The Genesis of Embodying the Light

I teach a Qigong/Tai Chi/Yoga class for Reno Friends three times a month and was recently asked how I came to this practice and what it means to me. I thought a blog post would be the perfect way to answer that question.

I have been practicing yoga since 2008 and Qigong/Tai Chi since 2014. I came to these practices after injuries and during rehabilitation. You might say I discovered them after breaking myself repeatedly. In Western culture, we are programmed to push ourselves to attain physical goals and fitness. Like many people, I was able to do this in my youth, but as I aged, this strategy was no longer working!

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Quakers and Prayer

Reno Friends gathered online earlier this year for a spiritual discussion about Quakers and Prayer. Newcomers to Silent Worship, puzzled by the unprogrammed quiet, often ask me if Friends are praying. I can understand their confusion, because it’s not clear during Silent Worship what, exactly, we’re doing. Some of us would say we’re sitting in silence waiting to hear what God might have to say to us. Others say they are meditating, and some might say they are praying.  

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Domestic Noise

On a recent Sunday, our Quaker Meeting was gathering for our Zoom Silent Worship, when something lovely happened. As usual, there was a bit of chitchat as folks welcomed each other to the zoom session, and then people began settling into the silence.  As the session quieted (and before the host muted everyone) there was a short period when we could all hear domestic noise from each others’ homes: the clink of a spoon in a mug, the scrape of a chair on the floor, the whistle of a cockatiel.  It was intimate and wonderful.

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Bringing Light into the World

This is the time when sunlight returns to our winter world and a new year begins. 2020 has been a year of retreat for many of us, clouded by uncertainty and anxiety. We spent more time with ourselves than usual. I have seen this year as an opportunity to go the “mountain”, to use a metaphor common to many spiritual traditions. There has been less outward activity and more inward reflection. But now the energy is shifting, and the time is coming to re-engage with the “marketplace”—to bring our inner Light into the world.

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Silent Protest vs. Speaking Our Truth

A Reno Friend recently shared a photo from social media that reminded me of something fundamental to the Quaker faith. It wasn’t a photo of Quakers; it was a photo of Turkish protestors, gathered to stand against their government’s crimes –   and they were standing in silence. Below the photo (which was published by The Free Thought Project) was a caption: No yelling. No screaming. No fighting. A more efficient form of protesting: Thousands of people standing in complete silence, protesting in squares & public places in Turkey. Baffling the police by creating a calm curiosity, instead of tension and aggression. Along with the photo, the Reno Friend sent a comment: “Quakers have been using this form of protest for years!”

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Continuing Revelation

The coronavirus pandemic has raised many challenges for society, but one of the most difficult are the restrictions on gathering for worship. Like many other church groups, Quaker Meetings have struggled with whether to meet online through Zoom, or outdoors, or in tiny groups – but for Quakers, it is all complicated by the fact that we worship in silence. There’s no service, no minister or choir, to videotape and upload to our website. Instead, we sit in silence and, occasionally, someone feels moved by a message rising in their heart, and they stand and share it with the group. But not always; many gathered Meetings for Worship pass without a single message. Despite that, however, we do feel the Spirit moving amongst us. There is something about being together that makes the Silence more powerful.

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A Time for Reflection

Suddenly, we all have more time for reflection. Quakers are familiar with taking time in silence for reflection; it’s what we do! Now we are joined by legions around the globe. Schedules are falling away as we retreat into our homes and living spaces. This strikes me as an opportunity to settle deeply within and ask: what is truly important in my life? What do I wish my life to stand for now?

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Trails

Last winter, a young couple from South Lake Tahoe visited our Meeting. When we ended Silent Worship and asked for afterthoughts, the man spoke. During the silence he’d been meditating on their work making snowshoe trails through the forest. It was a snowy winter, so there was a recurring need to set new trails to help people unfamiliar with the area find their way through the forest. In his reflections, he’d been pondering the deeper meaning of leaving trails for others to follow along the path of life.

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