Beside the still waters . . .
Quakers describe their worship as “silent.”
Nearly all of our worship is in silence. The silence is broken only when someone is compelled to “share ministry” from the spiritual depths of silence.
But the word “silence” fails to adequately describe our worship.
I prefer to think of it as stillness.
Silence is, as they say, “necessary but not sufficient” for stillness.
Indeed all kinds of “noise” inhabits silence. Physical restlessness, distractions, worries, the mundane (Did I feed the cat? Did I water the plants?).
Stillness is altogether different.
That difference swept over me in the course of worship last Sunday.
My worshipful stillness led me to the image of a still pond. No ripple disturbed its surface.
My fellow worshippers and I sat in a circle around tranquility.
I’ve seen ponds and lakes like this. In their glassy stillness, I’ve seen clearly and deeply beneath the surface. Down to the very bottom. Seen through the deep, cold currents, to the stoney bed that quivers in animated distortions of light and shadow. To reeds that sway in gentle waters.
That’s where I went in the stillness of Sunday’s worship.
Later I thought of the 23rd Psalm. “He leadeth me beside the still waters.”
At their core, Quakers believe God (or, I prefer, the “Spirit”) is in everyone. In the stillness of worship, we embrace it and let it lead us.
It was that spirit that led me beside these still waters. It was that spirit that was stilling the waters and allowing me to see into them.
There was more.
Sometimes in meeting we all have stilled the waters. We simultaneously experience the depth and clarity. We call this experience “a gathered meeting.”
I did not want to speak out of the silence of any of this to my fellow worshippers. I could feel they were, in their own ways, already at one in the stillness.
The last thing I wanted to do was to send blinding ripples — words — across the surface of our pond.
I sought only to protect the stillness, for our worship had immersed us in the sacred.