Monday, February 3, 2014

How do you prepare for worship?

Sharon Doyle, the editor of our meeting newsletter, asked Orange Grove Meeting friends: How do you prepare for worship?
So I jotted down these reflections and sent them to her. Then I decided to share them on this blog and was pleasantly surprised that nearly 100 people read it on the first day. I'm eager to hear how others respond to this vital question....

As a former teacher, and perpetual student, I need to remind myself that “preparing for worship” is very different from “preparing for class,” which is a deliberate, goal-oriented process. I don't consciously prepare anything for meeting for worship, but I do engage in activities during the week that help me to be open and attentive to the Spirit in myself, and in others, when we center down in worship:
  1. I try remember to spend as much time as I can being thankful. When I am about to go to sleep or get up or when I sit down for a meal, I give thanks that I am alive and have been “gifted” in countless ways. I am thankful I have a home, food, a loving spouse, friends, etc. I am thankful for "little" things, like the fact I can walk to the bathroom (a few months ago, because of my sciatica, walking was excruciatingly painful and almost impossible). The list of things to be thankful for is endless, and remembering the many gifts I have been given usually brings a smile to my face and joy to my heart. Remembering to be thankful is one of the best spiritual practices I know, and a good preparation for worship. Thankfulness and mindfulness go together. The apostle Paul wrote: “Rejoice always. Pray unceasingly. Give thanks under all circumstances. For that is the will of God for you...” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).
  2. I also try to remember to be thankful for things that irritate or infuriate me, though this is often difficult. These are “learning experiences,” opportunities for spiritual growth. They may even become grist for vocal ministry.
  3. I try to to take time each day just to be, to breathe in and out, in silence, and to let go of my worries. I don't pretend that my worries or my pain aren't real, or try to analyze them or explain them away, I just remember that God and/or Jesus (the source of love and wisdom) is present within and around me; and if I am patient, my worries will gradually fade away, like snow melting under the light of the sun. Having a mind clear of worries is a good preparation for meeting.
  4. I read inspiring books, including the Bible, every day. The apostle Paul had this excellent advice: “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” (Philippians 4:8). In other words, don't just read bad news in newspapers; read good news in spiritual literature. This is what the Buddhists call “right thinking.”
  5. I try to stay connected with Friends as much as I can outside of meeting. I remember that the purpose of meeting for worship is to help me draw closer to God and to Friends. In other words, meeting for worship is a school for love. The more I feel connected with Friends outside of meeting, the more likely I will feel connected during meeting.
  6. Even if I don't feel “ready” for worship, even if I feel tired or depressed or confused, I go anyway. I am not going to worship to show off, but simply to be present. I trust that God will give me what I need—healing silence, or maybe a word of wisdom or solace from a Friend who is more in touch with Spirit than I am at this time.
She then asked, "How do you center down for worship?" And this was my response:

When I enter meeting, I have a variety of ways to enter into the spirit of worship. Sometimes I read a short passage from the Bible and meditate on what I've read. Not to analyze it, just let its meaning sink in, or rise up. Sometimes I read the advices and queries, if they're available. I often practice mindful breathing--focusing just on my breath, feeling the air fill my lungs, exhaling--a technique I learned from Zen--that brings stillness to my mind and body. I become aware of my body, how I'm feeling emotionally, physically. Sometimes I will use a short prayer to center, like "thy will be done" or "rejoice." Or a mantra like "breathe in peace, breathe out love." Or the ancient but still powerful Jesus prayer: "Jesus Christ, have mercy on me...." I gradually let myself relax into worship--no agenda--just let whatever happens, happen. Noises, chatter in my head, messages (both those that speak to me, and those that don't.) I try to let go of judgments and just be still. Sometimes I get sleepy and that's okay. Often I emerge from my drowsiness with a special clarity. At other times, I can't help thinking about stuff--things I am supposed to do, or other matters. When this happens, I go back to focusing on breathing. Or I "hold people in the Light" or express gratitude to God or recite prayers I have learned by heart. As my busy mind calms down and my sense of worship deepens, I become aware of my heart, and of a spaciousness and clarity. Sometimes there is a deep, healing silence--a feeling of connection, love, peace. An awareness of Divine Presence. Or messages come--an inner voice full of wisdom. Sometimes this voice is just for me. At other times, I feel my heart begin to race and I feel it's something I need to share. I always wait, however, ask God for guidance: Are you sure you want me to share this? And I wait until I feel clear. And sometimes someone else gives a message and I no longer feel any need to do so. And that's fine.

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