517: QUAKER WORSHIP (i) ATHEISTS WELCOME!

“A warm welcome to Zingcreed, the Christian/atheist polemic, the blog where a retired science teacher in north London muses aloud about religion and life. Whenever I’m free on a Monday night in London I try to go to Friends House in Euston for Quaker Quest. It is an informal and friendly get together where we hear speakers and discuss a specific topic, e.g. truth. This is where I got the idea of writing this Post.
You’re welcome to eavesdrop and to reply. I hope you find this piece interesting.

Peter Turner M.A., M.Sc.”

I have listened carefully to what speakers at Quaker Quest have said on the topic of worship and because I think we could all learn from them I have decided to write a Post on it. At first sight members of the Society of Friends sit together quietly for an hour every Sunday listening to passing traffic and stomach rumblings. Occasionally a member is ‘moved by the spirit’ to stand up and say what is on his or her mind. There are no prayers, no hymns, no bible readings, no communion, no ministers, no hierarchy. Everyone present takes responsibility for the meeting.
Quakers have no creeds or required beliefs; indeed in the UK 25% of them are not sure that God even exists. Worship is not a debate, there should be no confrontation as “it’s not for us to judge.” The meeting ends with a handshake. And notices.

Here are some of the things I noted down when Friends were talking about worship:

“Worship is a time of expectant waiting”

“Worship is a response to an awareness of God”

“I felt like I was coming home”

“I can give myself over to the light”

“It is very strengthening”

“It continues to refresh me”

“It is at the heart of everything”

“There is a spirit of sharing.”

According to the leaflet “Quaker Worship” I picked up in a Quaker meeting house, “Silence is valued by Quakers because in removing pressure and hurry, it allows them for a while to be aware of the inner and deeper meaning of their individual and corporate lives. They are able to begin to accept themselves as they are and to find some release from fear, anxiety, emotional confusion and selfishness. One can understand the words of one of the first Friends who said: ‘I found the evil in me weakening and the good raised up’. The listening and waiting in a Friends meeting is a shared experience in which worshippers seek to meet God: the seating is usually arranged in a circle or square to help people be aware of one another and conscious of the fact that they are worshipping together.”

Other writers have said:

“As Sufis are to Islam, so Quakers are to Christianity. They have more freedom that way and can be more intuitive.”

“There is a creative loving power in all people and in the world around. Many call it God, though it is beyond all names. Everyone can become aware of it directly by listening to its promptings in their hearts and in the hearts of others…the still small voice can speak …and direct lives.”

“I had deep meaningful experiences in and out of worship. I gained insight, felt deep love and peace, learned to be in a centered place and experienced the gathered meeting. But none of these experiences seemed to involve a greater power.”

“Some friends might interpret feelings of rightness or wonder or love as caused by God, I would be likely to interpret them as arising from simple human mechanics and dynamics.”

“I view meetings for worship as  a precious opportunity to become very present to the oneness of all humans, of all existence. We are aiming to lift our hearts and minds as high as they’ll go. I bring my concerns, knowing that sometimes in the warmth and safety of meeting, something intractable will melt.”

“I may even get to the point of stillness where I feel at one with the world and then I do not need words or thoughts at all.”

One could write a book about Quaker worship; indeed a glance at the shelves of the bookshop in Friends House shows that several people have already done so. I hope my dipping my toe into the water will inspire you to read them for yourself. I am going to finish with 2 more quotes:

“Words split apart, Silence unites. Words scatter, Silence gathers together. Words stir up, Silence brings peace. Words engender denial, Silence invites even the denier to find fresh hope in the confident expectation of a mystery which can be accomplished within. In my  active silence, I shall prepare myself to hear the Silence of God.”

and “When the meeting ‘gathers’, you will find that you are drawn into the silence in a way that you could neither anticipate nor achieve by your own efforts.
This process can have an amazing effect. Not only are you able to find peace in the meeting in a way that you had not thought possible, but you will find that this peace can be recalled later, when the world and its pressures crowd in  on you. This may not happen on the first occasion, but if you persevere with Meeting then the peace and inspiration that it leaves with you soon become apparent. You have begun listening to the Light.”

Sources:
(i) Boulton, D. (ed) “Godless for God’s sake. Nontheism in contemporary Quakerism” Dale Historical Monographs (2006)
(ii) Gillman, Harvey  “A light that is shining: An introduction to the Quakers” Quaker Books (2003)
(iii) Pym, Jim “Listening to the Light: How to bring Quaker simplicity and integrity into our lives” Rider (1999)

Related Zingcreed Posts:
518: Quaker worship (ii) the experiment with Light
“That of God in everyone” George Fox (1656)
A Quaker talks about God
Realist and non-realist views of God
Radical Christian attempts to define God
101 alternative terms for God
522: Is God subjective or objective? Why I left the church.

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