Wednesday, 26 September 2012

I attended a Quaker Meeting


Frequent readers of this blog will recall that I long for  silence in  Church services.

I have written about the very wordiness of the liturgies of the Episcopal Church. With hymns, prayers, readings, psalms, creeds and sermons we scarcely have time to think, and often have no time to reflect.

(This wordiness is probably endemic in all churches: mainline protestant, evangelical, fundamentalist or roman catholic).

With that in mind I took myself to Sarasota’s Quaker Meeting last Sunday.  There we were, some forty or so folks who sat in prayerful silence for the best part of an hour.

There was but one “speaker”, a man who (responding to the "Inner Light" as Quakers would describe it), reflected briefly on the recent death of a Friend.

His reflection was followed by singing, when a woman arose and began to sing one chorus of “I’ll fly away”. Some of us joined in.

(I did find it a wee bit incongruous to be singing a bit of an old gospel song in a Quaker Meeting!).

I enjoyed the silence – the more so I think because it was a shared silence.  I was able to reflect and pray as I recited various psalms and hymns in my mind.

It all reminded me a bit of my up-bringing in the “Plymouth Brethren” where the Lord’s Day observance of the Breaking of Bread took place in the context of silence, broken from time to time when some brother or other (always a brother, never a sister) led us in extempore prayer, or read from the scriptures, or announced a hymn – to be sung a cappella.

Of course there were huge differences.

The Plymouth Brethren meeting always led to a sharing of the bread and the drinking of wine “in remembrance” of Jesus.  

Quakers have no sacraments or ordinances.

Brethren theology is fundamentalist (or more accurately “dispensationalist”)

Quakers eschew theology.

The silence in the Brethren was called “waiting on the (Holy) Spirit”.  

Quaker silence is devoted to being in touch with one’s inner light.

But the silence was the same. It was refreshing to my spirit.

I am not thinking of becoming a Quaker, (I am far more certain of my inner darkness than of any inner light!) -  but it was good to be away from the hustle and bustle of “normal” Church services, and to relax in the quietness.

John Greenleaf Whittier  (1897-1892) was a Quaker poet.  One of his poems has been abbreviated and turned in to a hymn. It’s well known to folks of my generation.  His words ran through my mind last Sunday at Quaker meeting – I believe that they beautifully express the spirit of Quakers as they meet for worship.

Dear Lord and Father of mankind,
Forgive our foolish ways!
Reclothe us in our rightful mind,
In purer lives Thy service find,
In deeper reverence, praise.

In simple trust like theirs who heard
Beside the Syrian sea
The gracious calling of the Lord,
Let us, like them, without a word
Rise up and follow Thee.

O Sabbath rest by Galilee!
O calm of hills above,
Where Jesus knelt to share with Thee
The silence of eternity
Interpreted by love!

With that deep hush subduing all
Our words and works that drown
The tender whisper of Thy call,
As noiseless let Thy blessing fall
As fell Thy manna down.

Drop Thy still dews of quietness,
Till all our strivings cease;
Take from our souls the strain and stress,
And let our ordered lives confess
The beauty of Thy peace.

Breathe through the heats of our desire
Thy coolness and Thy balm;
Let sense be dumb, let flesh retire;
Speak through the earthquake, wind, and fire,
O still, small voice of calm.

Tomorrow I will add a blog entry which will give you the background of “Dear Lord and Father”

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