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Readings for Reflection: January 2005
from the Committee on Ministry and Counsel

Out of a concern expressed by many in our Meeting community, our Committee on 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 two seasoned Friends on how they “test” a message and decide to speak.

I never know beforehand if I am going to speak. I never plan on speaking. I usually have trouble settling into silence and often find I am worrying about something that happened in the past week or about something coming in the week ahead. I try to slow myself down, let go of worries, and either say “thank you” or “help” over and over if either thanksgiving or need takes the uppermost in my mind.
If my thoughts start to move in a particular way and I think I have found a new way to look at something, I may start to try and refine the thought. I usually think this new way is just for me, and I keep it to myself. It is a personal gift. I ask, “Is this just about me?” Usually the answer is “Yes.” Sometimes the new way of thinking is voiced by another person in Meeting, and he or she rises and speaks. I think this is God at work among us. It is not necessary for me to rise and restate what the other has said: once is enough. Sometimes, though, the thought comes back more persistently or in a new form. I test it again, and I will know that it is meant for everyone if my heart begins to pound and my palms sweat. There is a ringing in my ears. I am not calm, but something takes and pushes me up. Often the words come out haltingly, not fluent, not the way I thought them before. I try to say only as much as is needed—I don’t worry whether I can be understood, I just say it as simply and directly as I can. I think perhaps each hearer can fill in the blanks and make the message something for themselves, or not.

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In my experience, speaking in Meeting grows out of having “openings” during Worship. I’m not sure I really understood what George Fox meant by that term “openings” at first, but I did after I experienced them myself. For me, they are extraordinary experiences of seeing something in an entirely new Light, and feeling confident that this new way of understanding is a more God-centered view. Sometimes I feel no leading to share the new understanding with anyone else. In other cases, I start to ask myself if this is something that should be shared with the Meeting.
I don’t speak as soon as I understand what the message is and feel an impulse to speak. I wait a bit to see if I am really led to share the message. During this waiting time, I may experience physical signs which tell me that I should speak. These include warmth in the center of my chest, a sense of fullness, and sometimes tears rolling down my cheeks.
If those symptoms are present and there is no one else speaking or the Meeting has not taken a turn in which my message would seem inappropriate, I stand and share it. When I return to worship after speaking, I try to judge whether or not I have followed a faithful leading. I feel relieved when I have been faithful, and worried when it is not clear if I have “outrun the guide” or not. This is helpful information to use the next time I am trying to discern whether or not I am led to speak.
Now that I read over what I have written above, it sounds more intellectual than I experience it. Even though I try to clearly wrap my brain around what the message is before rising (because I am not confident of my ability to speak without understanding the complete message), it feels much more heart-led than brain-led.

All Readings for Reflection
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