The Parable of the Table
It was early, 8 a.m.
A much larger congregation would be meeting later in the church sanctuary proper for singing, a short reading from the Bible, a pastor’s sermon, a period of silent worship and ministry and announcements from pews.
But in the little library, our small group practiced what Quakers call “unprogramed” worship, so called because it has no program of worship. Nearly all of our time together is spent in silence. Or as Quakers say, “in expectant waiting.”
In the silence I felt unusually attuned of our numbers. This was only the second time we had met.
I saw our new worship group as an experiment planned to last only three Sundays – the first Sundays of October, November and December. After that, we would decide whether to meet again, and, if so, where and when.
To me, the little Quaker gathering, if it continued, would serve Friends in our immediate part of Portland: Hillsdale, Multnomah Village, Bridlemile, Hayhurst and Maplewood. The latter is where the church – West Hills Friends Church – is.
The first month, there had been five of us. So our numbers had doubled. The little library was nearly full.
In the middle, someone from the Church had placed a small table. Some of our knees nearly touched it.
Tables in the middle of a Quaker place of unprogramed worship are not unfamiliar in many meeting houses. In England they are almost a given. They usually bear a single flower or a flickering candle. In some congregations, they hold Bibles. But here in the Western United States, I’ve rarely seen such a table. Quaker worship is an interior waiting, a ‘listening’ for the spirit that resides within us all. The deepening silence is what we share. The certerpiece is within. Occasionally, sometimes, someone will be moved to speak.
Oddly, in this circle of 10, I felt an eleventh presence. I was moved to acknowledge it “out of the silence.”
Some must have thought I was going to recognize God’s presence. But “God,” the word, for me, is a barrier. I rarely use it. At best I refer to ‘the spirit’ knowing full well that my words fail. “Is-ness” or silence is the best I can come up with for the ineffable.
No, the eleventh presence I felt in the room was the small, bare table.
My eyes kept opening and going to its surface. I described my attraction to the table top in my short ministry. The table seemed to invite me to empty my spiritual pockets and place joys and concerns there. It asked me to be free of life’s attachments and to simply “hold them in the Light.”
Perhaps the little table was inviting others to do the same. I suggested as much before I fell back into stillness. No one else spoke.
Slowly in the silence, I felt the table fill.
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There’s a post-script to this little “parable of the table.”
At the close of our silent worship, we wondered what this table was doing in the middle of an already cramped library. One member of our group, a part of the church’s congregation, said she had never seen the table in the library before.
The explanation of its presence turned out to be simple and far from mystical.
A pipe had broken in the Church the day before and someone moved the table to get it out of the way of the mopping up.
It was where it didn’t belong.
Or was it?
How often “where something doesn’t belong,” is exactly where it needs to be.