Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Waiting upon the Lord daily... preparing for weekly worship

My friend Wendy Geiger writes:
I very much appreciate the "QuakerSpeak" video in which Arthur Larrabee emphasizes the importance of PREPARING for meeting for worship.  I've written about Friends arising on First Day, drinking cup after cup of coffee while reading the NYT and watching tv.  Then, they listen to NPR on the way to meeting and expect to go into a deep stillness for the next hour of meeting for worship.  Disconnect? 
She also adds these important heart-felt questions: "Do we infuse Quakerism in all aspects of our life?  Or, do we include Quakerism where we can fit it in our (busy, busy) life?"
I totally resonate with what Friend Wendy is saying. If we expect our First Day worship to be profound and meaningful, we need to prepare spiritually every day of the week.  If the only worship we do is one hour a week, we can't expect miracles. We get out of worship (or anything) what we put in. Of course, sometimes God's amazing grace fills us with joy and wonder and peace that we haven't earned or deserved. That's why we call it "grace." But God wants a serious, committed relationship with us, and is willing to do whatever that takes (including miracles), but to have the kind of relationship with God that brings eternal joy and inner peace takes time and commitment on our part as well as God's.
I think that Meetings get the vocal ministry they deserve (as my Buddhist friends would say). Spiritually committed Friends will receive spiritually deep ministry. Superficial Friends will receive superficial ministry. That may be a hard lesson for Friends who think they're weighty and like to point fingers at others who aren't, but I believe it's a spiritual law: "We reap what we sow." If we listen with the ears of the heart, we will hear deep truths even in seemingly superficial ministry. If we are caught up in our false selves (including the idea that we are Weighty Friends), we may well  think that even profound messages are crap.

The most profound ministry I've experienced hasn't been at my local Meeting, but at FCNL and at the FWCC gathering in Peru. These gatherings draw deeply committed, deeply spiritual Friends, and their ministry is usually Spirit-led and transformative.
During the recent FWCC gathering in Peru,  a Latin American pastor was preaching in Spanish, and young woman behind me broke down in tears. I turned around and asked her if she had a problem. "No problem," she replied, sobbing. "I'm happy. I'm crying tears of joy." Tear pouring down her face, she explained that she had realized for the first time in her life that there truly was "that of God" inside her and she was loved by God.  She had been raised a liberal Quaker and had been taught that other people had "that of God" inside them, but for the first time in her life she experienced the Inward Light in her own heart. This was such a powerful, overwhelming experienced she wept tears of joy. When I realized what she was experiencing, I wept with her, and so did my book-keeper Friend Lucy. Lucy is a birth-right Friend who came to FWCC for just such transformative moments. All three of us wept, feeling broken and tender and open to the Holy Spirit.
 I wonder: How often has the Holy Spirit opened hearts in most unprogrammed liberal meetings? In my experience, rarely, because most of us aren't willing to make a serious commitment to transformation. This young woman showed her commitment by traveling five thousand miles and spending a week in a sacred valley in order to be transformed. We expect to drive a few miles to Meeting once a week, sit in silence for an hour, and have a mystical transformation.
It can and does happen that we are transformed in our weekly worship. But the more we prepare ourselves spiritually, the more likely it is we will be ready for Spirit to transform us. That's why I am encouraging Friends to take more time to prepare themselves spiritually though daily spiritual practice, small group work--worship sharing, retreats, etc.
There is no quick solution to shallow vocal ministry or silent worship that is spiritually unfulfilling. Some Friends think that by eldering Friends who give messages, they can impose a deep, worshipful silence on a Meeting. That's not eldering, that's just intimidation. When people are afraid to speak for fear of being eldered, the Holy Spirit cannot do its work. The Inward Light grows dim. The soul withers. The spiritual life of the Meeting becomes dry as dust.  The silence of true worship is vibrant and expectant. Waiting for the Lord is the best antidote to despair caused by feeling alienated from God and one's true self.
Psalm 27 captures the joy of such expectant waiting:
"I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the LORD In the land of the living, Wait for the LORD; Be strong and let your heart take courage; Yes, wait for the LORD!"
That's what real worship is about. To have faith that by waiting we can finally hear God's quiet whisper, the voice that guides us to where we need to go.


  1. Anthony – I have long enjoyed your writing, your insights, and your activism. This may be the best thing I have ever seen you write– thank you so much for it. I really appreciate it. – Patrick Nugent.

  2. Thank you. This helps me reflect on the ministry I heard in meeting this week.

  3. Marcelle and Patrick, Thanks for your comments. I hope what I write will help Friends to be more compassionate listeners during our times of worship.

  4. Practising Experiment with Light was the thing that made me experience that of God within me. Doing it on a near daily basis is not a chore but a joy and has also transformed my experience of meeting for worship. Barbara Childs

  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

  6. Devout, old time Conservative Friends (including my parents-in-law) had family devotions, including Bible reading and waiting worship, every morning and evening. And they met for public worship twice a week! Children also participated in these spiritual exercises; they did not leave meeting after 15 minutes. Meetings for worship under these spiritual conditions have the potential to go much deeper than what is frequently practiced by Friends nowadays.