Sunday, January 08, 2006


Weighty Friends were absent from Meeting today. And the clerk was downstairs doing first-day school. So the silence was loose and scattered somehow. You can feel the room: no one had anything to say, everyone was trying to get deep into some thought. Or so I thought. Maybe I was right.

A copy of Advices & Queries and F&P were on the central table, just outside my reach. I could read a query, help people focus and centre down. But should I? I had no quivering sense of a leading, no nudge. Just an urgency to break a skim-milk silence, pour something into it.

Is it a leading to want to rescue a Meeting?

Should I? Or should I not?

A new attender arrived a bit late, one who had told me on occasion that she feels she gets nothing from Meeting when no one speaks. I feel uncomfortable.

Someone’s gotta say something.

After a few minutes, she got up and took both the A&Q and F&P to her seat. She began leafing through them, taking matters into her own hands.

I sensed an uncertainty in the room, whether she should be reading or not.

Should she? Shouldn’t she?

Restless, I pulled a pamphlet from the shelf beside me. Something by Rufus Jones. The first excerpt said little to me. The second was more promising.

Should I?

Still no one had said anything.

I read it out loud. It was an essay about Psalm 1, how we grow like a tree. That we work too hard, that growth is silent, invisible, like the lilies. That growth needs water, soil, sun. And we are the soil, the farm, while the Spirit is the rain. How the Kingdom is not like a great event, but like a mustard seed, small, needing to be planted, but then it grows.

No one spoke afterward. The silence had changed somewhat, maybe more focused. A few legs crossed and uncrossed. The new attender had put the book down. She was deep in thought now.

My thoughts focused on images of trees and seeds. I imagined a new type of communion service, except instead of bread and wine, the priest would hand out a single mustard seed to chase with a glass of water. Take this, eat it, and let it grow.

To speak or not to speak. It always seems like a good idea at the time.


At 9:13 PM, Blogger Larry said...

It was Douglas Steere or one of those greats who said, "a totally silent meeting is a dead meeting".

Yes, you are responsible for the meeting; everyone is responsible for the meeting, although you may be the only one to take responsibility.

There is nothing necessarily sacred about silence. Under those circumstances a weighty Friend will speak, as you did.

At 9:50 AM, Blogger Liz Opp said...

Your experience brings up two things for me:

First, just because you didn't feel the quivering of heart or the palpable inward motion to speak doesn't mean you weren't faithful to the prompt you were given to help deepen the living silence.

Second, that you seemed to have experienced what Bill Taber has called the razor's edge as it relates to vocal ministry: walking the line between reticence and boldness.

Liz, The Good Raised Up

At 11:12 PM, Blogger Claire said...

This brings up an interesting point: Is a totally silent meeting really dead?

My instinct tells me that it is not. I feel that at a truly gathered meeting for worship, the silence could still be alive and the Spirit could still be moving in non-verbal ways. There are times when a Friend will receive a message intended only for them, or where the flow of the Spirit is in no need of words to supplement it.

However, at a meeting for worship that is not very gathered, I can see how verbal guidance may be very necessary. How to discern such guidance, though, I do not know.

Perhaps how the silince is held - or not held - is a reflection on the meeting community itself. Very uncomfortable or awkward silence could be an indication that more community needs to be built, or that some Friends are in need of more adult eduction, or perhaps there is an even deeper issue to be addressed.

You mentioned that the usual weighty Friends were not present this morning and attributed the loose and scattered feel of the silence to their absence. Perhaps the "non-weighty" Friends are too reliant on the leadings of these weighty Friends and are neglecting their own responsibility to listen deep to their own Inward Guide. I heard (or read) once that two of the worst ways to come to meeting for worship are 1)To come to meeting planning to speak, and 2)To come to meeting planning not to speak. As Larry said in a comment above - everyone is responsible for the meeting.

Just thought I'd lift up these ideas.

Love and Light,

At 2:52 PM, Blogger Liz Opp said...

Claire's comments touches on a few other thoughts that have been rolling around in me since I first came across your post, Nancy.

One is that I consciously avoid using the phrase "silent worship," since that hints at there being no speaking, no ministry. Instead, I often use the phrase "unprogrammed worship" or "open worship," which for me carries more of a sense that Something Could Happen...

Also, I have wondered if what is meant by "a silent meeting being a dead one" might refer to a meeting that, in its worship, is silent over time, say, over the course of many weeks.

And, akin to another point that Claire raises, I have wondered about the gift that sometimes emerges only when "the regulars" are gone for awhile. Tender saplings in a thick forest can grow towards the light only when tall, mightier trees have fallen away.

Liz, The Good Raised Up

At 8:41 PM, Blogger Judy Tretheway said...

I have often felt the need to offer an "Invocation" to help Meeting settle into a deeper worship. Sometimes the need has been joined by a "message of invocation quality" and I rise. Sometimes I stay put and offer a invocation prayer up in the silence. The last time I spoke this way it was before all the latecomers had arrived and, as true as I felt I had been to God's impulse, I also felt my words scrambled people's centering habits coming so early.

As a Hospice Chaplain, who often conducted Memorial services, I became very comfortable with the Grace of an invocation to pull the community of worshipers together and name the presence of God. On First days when the Queries are read in our MfW, I feel how the collective spirit coalesces around those questions and starts us off from a common place.

Probably more than any other aspect of our unprogramed-ness, it is the lack of Invocation that frustrates me now and again. And then I turn that over to God find that "all is well" and turn to the quote in our bulletin and let that be my starting point.


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