Thursday, July 22, 2010
I need to say right up front that I rarely attend Meeting so my experience of corporate worship is limited ~ & my Meeting is really small, barely half a dozen people. Firstly my closest meeting is some distance away & very difficult for me to get to. Secondly it clashes with other commitments I have on Sunday & those other commitments are where I feel the Lord would have me on Sunday. Thirdly, the blessing of Quaker worship is that one does not need to be physically present to participate. It is better, but not necessary.
Every Meeting I have attended has been unprogrammed. This means there is no order of service. There is no designated time for music or preaching. The Meeting unfolds as the Spirit leads. If you attend a more regular service I'm sure this sounds weird & chaotic but in fact it is never anything but orderly & restful.
The Meeting hall is always very plain & simple, completely unadorned in any way so creates no distractions. Mind you, on a nice day the Meeting is just as likely to pick up their chairs & cart them outside for worship.
Now I am sure you are used to arriving at church & everyone is standing around chatting before they move into the church. They may even be chatting in the church. The organ may be playing some quiet hymn, or if you belong to a more progressive church guitars & drums will be warming up near the sanctuary. This is not the case as Quakers arrive for Meeting, not in my experience. Quakers arrive silently, already preparing to centre down & enter into the presence of God. Each arrival moves quietly so as to cause as little disruption as possible, quietly takes a seat & begins preparing their heart for worship. My Meeting has no littlies so I do not know from experience how that affects worship.
When everyone is gathered an elder leads the people into worship simply by bowing their head & closing their eyes. Not everyone will immediately do this. Some people will read for a while, either their bible or a devotional or some other inspirational book or pamphlet. People are also likely to do this at any point throughout the hour of worship.
I have spoken elsewhere of the different stages one moves through in silent worship. At some point the leader may invite anyone who has a word from God to speak, or someone inspired by the spirit will speak or sing or read a verse of scripture but most Meetings will pass the entire hour in complete silence.
How, I can hear you all asking, can you worship together when there is no set program that everyone is following? No songs to sing? No prayers all will pray together? In my experience, I need to keep saying that because it can be different for everyone & I dare not speak for another on this issue, the silence is what binds. How to explain?
Silent worship is a discipline. Well, it should be. There is a rythmn to it just as there is a rythmn to the Catholic liturgy or a Baptist gathering or Charismatic worship. Times aren't set in stone but the flow goes something like this. The first 10 minutes or so everyone is settling down. You are aware of lots of little movements as people's minds try & discard all the everyday clutter we carry around with us. Every little noise is a distraction. Gradually this dies away & you sense a shift in the tone of the Meeting. People's bodies are quieter. You can literally feel people centering down, entering more deeply into the silence, & as they go deeper the silence envelopes everyone drawing everyone together into the very presence of God ~ whoever or whatever they concieve him to be. This is how leadership can *take the sense of a Meeting* when something is to be voted on. Silence is tangible. It literally has weight & substance.
It is at this point God will often speak. I get all sorts of things once I am here: songs of praise & worship, answers to problems, a timely word of encouragement or discipline, messages for others, scripture verses, images, a sense of the real presence of God. It is out of this silence that anyone who has a message to share with the Meeting speaks.
Gradually people shift out of the silence & become aware of the noises & movements around them again until the whole Meeting is present. The leader will turn & shake hands with the person closest to him, signifying meeting is over. Hands will be shaken & only then will conversations start up ~ usually quietly. Not everyone moves through the stages at the same pace. The beauty of this style of worship is how it accomodates each individual while maintaining unity. I know the time my Meeting meets & when I am able I can participate even though not physically present. There are no barriers to God.
Here you will find another's perspective on what happens during Quaker worship & it's practise. Those of you who practise silence as a way of worship please feel free to contribute your experiences in the comments section for the edification of us all.