Saturday, March 17, 2007

early friends & silence (or lack thereof)

Another thing I've noticed reading Fox's Journal is that it doesn't seem like he and other Friends spent a whole lot of time in silence at their gatherings for worship. It sounds like most of the time it was more like Fox was on a preaching circuit so people came out to hear him, and sometime's he'd speak and sometimes he would wait for a while before he spoke and "famish them for words." Once he talks about waiting until he could sense the Spirit had opened the hearts of everyone there to the extent that they were going to be opened that day, and then he spoke into that open space, prepared by the Spirit.

Other times when he meets with a smaller group of committed Friends it sounds like they would wait for a while together until they heard what they were supposed to do, and then they would go out and do it. So it was a meeting to come together and listen about the immediate action they would take, rather than just time to sit around centering and get a nice feeling, a retreat from daily life.

That kind of silence sounds like a deliberate opening up to the leading of the Spirit in ways that are challenging and scary. I mean, in meetings for worship I'm scared sometimes if I'm just led to speak out of the silence, but this took courage of a whole new level. What they heard God leading them to do was no small matter--they might go speak about "the day of the Lord" in the market place, or go debate with people in the "steeplehouses," or go visit Friends in prison. With all of these there was risk of being thrown in prison themselves, or getting beaten up, or at least being made fun of. Doing any of these things marked them publicly as a crazy Friend and even if persecution was not immediate it often would occur later.

It seems like our meetings for worship (whether programmed or unprogrammed) have veered quite far away from the meetings of these early Friends. I think it's important to come together for the simple purpose of worshiping God, but what IS worship anyway? Can it be worship if we're not willing to act on what we hear? How long do we need to wait and ponder for clearness before we go out and just DO what we're called to? (I ask these things of myself, because I'm definitely not perfect in this area, but also of us as a community.) If don't want to support our country's wars, why do I still drive out of convenience? If I don't want to encourage slavery and worse worldwide, why do I still buy consumer products that are too cheap to have been paid a fair price for? If I don't want to destroy the Earth why do I use disposable containers and buy items with unnecessary amounts of packaging? etc. etc. etc.

When will we as Friends not just listen, but ACT again?


Marshall Massey (Iowa YM [C]) said...

According to some of the historians I've read and talked with, early Friends made a distinction between their public and private meetings. Their public meetings, like those at the Bull and Mouth in London, and those where Fox or Nayler was the featured preacher, were meetings to which the public was actively invited, and were dominated by preaching except when the Quaker preacher felt led to "famish" her or his audience from words. Their private meetings, on the other hand, were dominated by silent waiting on the Lord.

Your question, "Can it be worship if we're not willing to act on what we hear?", strikes me as right on target. But I'd want to add that a real prophetic/apostolic experience leaves the worshiper with the feeling that she could not bear to live with herself if she didn't act on what she'd been given. So simply deciding in our own strength to act is not, in my opinion, a solution to the sleepy state of our Society. If we are not feeling that we have to act, or else we can't live with ourselves, then we are not yet having a real prophetic/apostolic experience, and the way forward is not to decide to act, but to discover what the path is to the real experience.

Alan said...


What IS worship anyway?

Not necessarily by dictionary definition, but my own, worship is a deeply personal experience. Whether in a Sunday meeting with two hundred other people, during an early morning walk, driving to work, reading, or a quiet time set aside to listen, worship is an internal conversation of the mind, body and soul with God. That conversation is externalized at the promptings of the Spirit: verbally, physically, both or ... ?

Reading this blog, I recalled a blog by Aj back in Sept. '06 which was meaningful to me in that I hadn't spent much time considering how others may feel led to worship differently than the Sunday meeting. I personally love the Sunday time gathered with friends and family around me. I am both comfortable with the setting, but also moved to places of discomfort by some messages. I like that balance of challenge in a supportive place.

Cherice, your question Can it be worship if we're not willing to act on what we hear? is a challenge to me. If that nudge or leading is heard and you act otherwise or not at all (not acting at all might as well be acting otherwise), then that seems like defiance of the Spirit and how can I call that worshiping?

I think growing up and living in the US makes is very difficult for me to answer your remaining questions. The conveniences of modern life here are unfortunately built on top of what seem to be evils. I am not even sure for myself why I won't change to be a better steward of the earth and to better love brothers and sisters with whom we share it. Yeah, I recycle stuff. But I still buy 35-packs of water bottles at Costco because I like the size, even though I know about the extraordinary amount of plastic involved. I turn off lights in rooms not in use, but I won't use Compact Flourescent bulbs because 1) they look funny, and 2) I'm more concerned that each bulb has a circuit board with transistors and capacitors and I think that's worse that the amount of CO2 expelled by increased energy usage. I work for a company which has 90% of its products manufactured in East Asian countries like China, Korea and Vietnam. Sure, people get into fights or riots to get jobs in those factories, but are they better off working there than in the fields? Is it OK because I'm able to give almost 10% of my salary back to the church and other charities who do humanitarian work around the world?

Am I just blogging in this comment and asking more questions?

Actions speak louder than words is an old saying, and it seems to me that act of worship involves action if you are called to it. God deserves more than lip service.

Bill Samuel said...

One thing is clear. They weren't worshiping silence. Silence was not the point, but the means. What they were doing was opening themselves up to the Spirit of Christ. They were seeking to totally attentive by putting aside all distractions and simply waiting on the Lord.

Encounter with the living God changes us. So if we are not changed, we have not worshiped. Sometimes that change could lead us directly to some immediate action, but that isn't something to always expect.

Laurie Kruczek said...

This is fascinating... the post and the responses. I make attempts to do as much as I can environmentally, because it is necessary for this planet, and it is what God wants. That said, I take as much action as I can, at that moment, but I do not put my own life or the lives of others at immediate risk (jail, beatings, whatever). I am not George Fox, I am not Tom Fox, and I am certainly not Jesus Christ. I do what I can, when I can, and that is Quaker action in the modern world. I am doing my best and pray the Lord sees me through.