Quakers typically spend an hour every Sunday morning worshipping together in silence. During this time, individuals sometimes rise to share a message that has come to them out of the silence. Such messages are not planned in advance, nor are there suggested topics.
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 other people 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.
Concerns and leadings grow out of the spiritual experience and contemplative practice of the Meeting. They are the living fruit of Friends’ faith that the Spirit will lead us forward into right action in the world. The impetus for action is often a concern: a pull toward a specific issue, an experience of the stirring of the Spirit about a particular topic, individual or group. A concern may thrust itself suddenly into the life of a Friend or may grow out of a long-standing interest.
Unity, the idea that we should seek consensus in our collective decisions, is a central testimony of the Pacific Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers). In this fractious time, however, it often seems the goal of unity has been nearly forgotten. Everyone seems to have differing views and fears and concerns, many of them deeply held. The anxieties of our age have taken a toll on our ability to talk with each other. In such a climate, unity feels nearly impossible to achieve. If so, does unity still matter?
The British Yearly Meeting publishes a list of “advices,” bits of useful Quakerly wisdom. The other day I ran across an advice that resonated in my soul: “Come regularly to meeting for worship even when you are angry, depressed, tired or spiritually cold.”
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.
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.
Watching the news these days can leave you with a case of whiplash. One day we see images of white supremacists skirmishing with counter-protestors in Charlottesville, then we watch as scores of volunteers rescue neighbors and strangers from flooding in Houston. Are we a nation of hate or love? Are we divided or connected?
I recently attended an Episcopal service at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., a ceremony filled with thundering organ music, priests in crimson robes, and prayer after prayer. It had been years since I attended a religious service with so much pomp and finery, and I admit it was moving. The gorgeous stained-glass windows and soaring arches of the cathedral, the echoing hymns of the choir as it processed down the long aisle, the haunting recitative of the prayers. The only thing missing was silence.
The clerk of a Quaker Meeting has a pivotal role: he or she is supposed to lead the monthly business meeting and keep track of administrative tasks and how they are executed. When I first offered to serve as Meeting clerk for Reno Friends Meeting several years ago, I figured my background and skills as a former university professor and administrator would be just the ticket.