from the Committee on Ministry and Counsel
Out of a concern expressed by many in our Meeting community, Ministry and Counsel has been considering how we might nurture and support one another in the call to vocal ministry. This month we hear from a seasoned Friend about sharing messages during Meeting for Worship.
Speaking in Meeting for Worship
Spoken prayers are addressed to the Divine. Silent worship listens. When we are at our quiet center, it is easier to recognize the sacred that is present within us, to experience it, listen deeply and respond to it, and to become aware of the sacred essence of every person. We listen to discover how we can live consistently with this understanding of who we are. Sometimes we share this understanding with others.
Our deepest ministry often is silent: when we truly come to our center, to that deep and quiet place within us where we feel most in touch with the sacred, it helps others go deeply there, as well. I believe this is our most important form of ministry.
When I come into Meeting for Worship, I often take time to “ground” myself, to be physically in touch with a sense of utter quiet. I try to let the mind go still. I observe thoughts if they come, but try not to get caught in them. “Thinking about a topic” is rarely the place from which a message comes that should be shared with others, I find. The heart needs to be involved, as well.
I find that not all messages I hear in Meeting speak to my condition. However, I have learned that messages that do not touch me sometimes speak deeply to someone else. Since not all messages are meant for me, I do not need to judge their “quality.” If someone’s message is not speaking to my heart, rather than “tune it out” I simply let go of the words, returning to a quiet place where I feel most in touch with the sacred.
If, from a place of quiet centeredness, I become aware of a message to which I should pay attention, I sit with it. That might be a message someone else has given, or it may be something that is emerging within me. If so, that message could be only for me, or it might also be for others.
I discovered Quaker worship in a Meeting that advised worshipers not to speak until they had to do so—i.e., until a surge of inner emotions made it clear that a message had come which was intended to be shared with others rather than kept for oneself.
Now, after years of participating in Quaker worship, I find that the chemistry of “inner urging” sometimes is gentler. At times, indeed, I feel that I will have no inner peace until I share a message that has come to me. At other times I notice a deepened inner calm after a message comes, a calm which makes it clear that this message is for others, as well.
I try to be sure I am in a truly centered place before I ask whether a thought in my head or heart is a message intended for me, or perhaps also for others.
If words come to me in response to what someone else has said, or perhaps to a call for help someone has expressed, I usually wait a while before speaking. I ask whether a message I now have reflects my own thought process—which may or may not be helpful to others—or whether it is something that ought to be shared.
If I get a sense that a message is coming to me as I worship silently, I wait for it to “take shape.” Sometimes I become aware of the topic but am not sure I have the right words for sharing it with others. As I sit with the message, different ways to say it may come into my consciousness. I wait until there is a deep feeling of comfort that one of the ways to say it is “right.” I wait further, until an inner feeling says “now is the time.” Then I rise and speak.
Occasionally I will be aware that a message is coming to me which needs to be shared today, but the words have not “taken shape” and my watch shows that we are about to leave the time of worship in which vocal ministry occurs. If I feel an inner prompting to do so, I will stand quietly until the words take form. I know the Meeting closer will wait to open “Joys and Sorrows” until the person who is standing has spoken. I try to stay calmly centered until the words come that I should share.
Sometimes I ask whether a message that is coming to me is for all of us or is for a particular person in the Meeting who has spoken earlier, or for someone I know is going through a life challenge for which this message feels relevant. In that case, I may say nothing in the corporate meeting, but instead will share that message as part of conversation within that person at the end of Meeting.
Sometimes I come to worship wrestling with an issue that churns within me. For me, our corporate worship is rarely the time to try to think that issue through, and usually is not the time to speak about it, unless to voice a prayer for guidance or help. Usually such a prayer is a silent one, unless I sense that others also are wrestling with this issue. After a silent prayer for help, I try to “let go.” The time saved for sharing “joys and sorrows,” however, may be a perfect time to let others know that I am wrestling with a spiritual issue, if it still remains unresolved.
I am happy to tell you about these spiritual practices, because they work for me. Should everyone follow the kind of sifting process before speaking that I have described? Probably not. God works among us in many ways. If we are authentic, true to our own spiritual practice, the leading of the Spirit will emerge.