Ann Arbor Friends Meeting
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Readings for Reflection: May 2006
from the Committee on Ministry and Counsel

This contribution from an Ann Arbor Friend continues a series on how we might nurture and support one another in the call to vocal ministry.

On Speaking in Meeting

Meeting is a kind of collective dreaming. We close our eyes for about an hour all told, an odd thing to do, really, in such a big group of people, and one which requires, for the animals that we are, much trust. Then, we try to set aside all our worldly cares for a time, seeking some deeper meaning, comfort, and direction.

Scientists have discovered that there are many different levels of sleep. The REM cycle of sleep is when we experience dreams. At the best of times, our subconscious may be trying to tell us something very important through dreams, but it is rarely articulate about it. At the worst of times, we can wake up exhausted after having had a dream that is unsettling, confusing, and not conducive to rest.

This is what I feel if I, or someone else in Meeting, delivers a message which does not feel centered. The sound of the words breaking into the silence feels like an unsettling dream breaking into my sleep. Even when the images, words, and information shared are interesting and well-spoken, if they are delivered out of troubled REM sleep, as it were, they do not go far in helping the Meeting go deeper, into the kind of profound, restorative spiritual nurturing and rest we need and crave so much.

How do we know if our message comes from REM sleep, or somewhere that can help the Meeting reach a much deeper place? I like to think of the Meeting as an orchestra, and each individual is a unique instrument of God, with a different range and pitch. Authentic vocal ministry rings out like a kind of tuning fork, ringing the message love, love, love. After the message, you can feel all the instruments in the orchestra tune to the same pure note, love, love, love.

I also believe if a message is authentic, it comes out of the labor and worship of the whole Meeting. I believe everyone is necessary to that message, and if a different configuration of people were there on a particular First Day, the vocal ministry would be differentónot just because the people delivering it might be different, but because the message, the seed, needs that exact group of people enfolding it in sacred silence so that it can grow and take shape as words, then break ground into light and air. If a message is truly authentic, I know that I probably don't have to deliver itómany times I have waited on a message for a long time, then heard it delivered by someone else. The words might be different, but I recognize the seed. Because of this, I try to err on the side of silence. But if a message builds in me, I usually become very uncomfortable in my body if not my spirit. Then I ask myself: Are these words for Meeting, or are they just for me? Will they comfort, encourage, give rest and peace? Then I ask the most important question of all: will this message embolden and increase the love of this Meeting?

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