Sunday, December 14, 2008

Out of Silence, Quaker Joy!

A Quaker query: We know of “making a joyful noise unto the Lord,” although we Quakers rarely practice such "noise." Is it possible to make a joyful SILENCE unto the Lord? How can our silent joy, once we’re led to it, be shared?

Today in our Friends meeting we dispensed with our normal silent worship and practiced what Friends call “worship sharing.”

Normally Quakers “speak out of the silence,” if they speak at all, during worship. It’s considered bad form to come prepared to speak on a topic. Instead, Quaker worshippers rely on the "leadings" in the silence for guidance. We listen for and then to “that of God” within us, and, if so moved, we stand and speak.

Worship sharing, though it begins in silence, is different. The group agrees that we will speak without necessarily being “called” to. Each person’s observation is followed by silence and prayerful consideration, and then that silence is followed by someone’s vocal offering, followed by silence etc.

The topics of worship sharing are usually unplanned as well, but last week one of us were provided a topic. At the end of worship, Renee Chinquapin, a fairly new attender, complained that our meeting doesn’t take into its care “single” members.

I responded by acknowledging the problem but then asserted that each of us is part of the meeting. We all, Renee included, bear responsibility for the meeting’s strengths and weakness.

I suggested that we make Renee’s concern our own and offer it as a subject for worship sharing.

I was looking forward to what Renee would say today. Renee is a musical, lyrical, open, earthy, perceptive free spirit. I shared a passage from her energetic travel book, “Bogotá to Buenos Aires —Riffs, Raps and Revelations Along the Gringo Trail” in an earlier Red Electric post. (I intend to post another selection soon.)

Her observation in today’s sharing was incandescent. She said she found Quaker worship joy-less.

The truth of her words stunned — and liberated — me.

Quakers share their “concerns,” they “hold in the light” the suffering and the oppressed, they struggle against war and hatred. They look within for the truth as they “seek the light.”

But where is the joy? And what keeps us from it?

As I considered her remark, I thought that perhaps the lack of joy might result from our silent worship. It is hard to express joy in silence. Rarely someone will recite a short verse out of the silence. One of our members occasionally sings. Once the silence led her to sing “Amazing Grace.”

But mostly we are profoundly and deeply silent. Some might see us as brooding and even grim.

Yet how easy it is to inject joy into our silence. After Renee spoke, I thought of all the potential for joy in our silent gatherings. I thought of my joy FOR our meeting. The joy in worship is there, if only we choose to turn our hearts to it.

I thought of a contemplative, serene and smiling Buddha. I remembered Alan Watts, the American popularizer of Zen, and his way of punctuating insight with unrestrained, even mischievous laughter.

Could our silence lead us to song and dance and laughter, as well as “spoken ministry”?

My guess is that in the future, thanks to Renee’s gentle prodding, we “early morning” worshippers at Multnomah Monthly Meeting will experience and celebrate our joy inwardly, and, when so moved, outwardly.

I look forward to it — with joy.

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Blogger JuanPresidio said...

I was raised with some Quaker influence (my mom's family) in Connecticut and I often wondered as a child about the joylessness of Quaker Meetings. Looking back on it though, I think the quiet time in meeting is what you make of it. Your feelings about the meeting are very much a reflection of what is inside you that day. Perhaps it is joyful, perhaps it isn't. I would be more concerned though that our time outside of the meeting is not reflective enough, before worrying that the time in the meeting is not joyful enough. That said, maybe some dancing is in order. I would leave it to somebody that was not raised Quaker to demonstrate.

1:03 AM  

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