Worship is the foundation for spiritual life and renewal in the Religious Society of Friends. The selections that follow address the distinctive character of Friends communal worship and the forms of ministry to which it gives rise. These selections include practical advice regarding how to prepare for and settle into worship as well as broader statements regarding the meaning and significance of our form of worship. Selections have been gathered into four groups: Worship; Prayer; the Scriptures, Jesus, Inward Teacher; Discernment and Guidance.
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The first that enters into the place of your meeting…turn in thy mind to the light, and wait upon God singly, as if none were present but the Lord; and here thou art strong. Then the next that comes in, let them in simplicity of heart sit down and turn in to the same light, and wait in the spirit; and so all the rest coming in, in the fear of the Lord, sit down in pure stillness and silence of all flesh, and wait in the light…. Those who are brought to a pure still waiting upon God in the spirit, are come nearer to the Lord than words are; for God is a spirit, and in the spirit is he worshiped…. In such a meeting there will be an unwillingness to part asunder, being ready to say in yourselves, it is good to be here; and this is the end of all words and writings—to bring people to the eternal living Word.
Alexander Parker, 1660
We earnestly advise all who attend our meetings to lift their hearts to God immediately on taking their seats. The avoidance of distracting conversation beforehand is a great help to this end, and the walk to meeting may often prove a true preparation for divine worship….
The meeting affects the ministry quite as truly as the ministry affects the meeting. If those who come together do so in expectant faith, and in genuine love and sympathy with one another, striving to put far from them thoughts of criticism and fault-finding, and praying earnestly that the right persons may be led to speak and the right messages be given, they will not go away unhelped. It is in such an atmosphere that the Holy Spirit can work effectively to bring forth the utterances that are needed, and to check those that are not required. On the other hand, the spirit of indifference or of cold and unfriendly criticism injures the whole life of the meeting, and we need not wonder if in such an atmosphere speakers mistake their guidance.
Revision Committee, London Yearly Meeting, 1911
Observance of special days and times and use of special places for worship serve a helpful purpose in calling attention at regular intervals to our need for spiritual communion. They cannot, however, take the place of daily and hourly looking to God for guidance. Nor can any custom of fasting or abstaining from bodily comforts take the place of constant refraining from everything which has a tendency to unfit mind and body for being the temple of the Divine Spirit. The foundation for all our personal life and social relations should be the sufficient and irreplaceable consciousness of God.
Philadelphia Yearly Meeting (Race Street), 1927
There are times of dryness in our individual lives, when meeting may seem difficult or even worthless. At such times one may be tempted not to go to meeting; but it may be better to go, prepared to offer as our contribution to the worship simply a sense of need. In such a meeting one may not at the time realise what one has gained, but one will nevertheless come away helped.
Ministry and Extension Committee, Berks and Oxon Quarterly Meeting, London Yearly Meeting, 1958
For, when I came into the silent assemblies of God’s people I felt a secret power among them which touched my heart; and as I gave way unto it I found the evil weakening in me and the good raised up; and so I became thus knit and united unto them, hungering more and more after the increase of this power and life, whereby I might feel myself perfectly redeemed….
Robert Barclay, 1678
And as many candles lighted, and put in one place, do greatly augment the light and make it more to shine forth; so when many are gathered together into the same life, there is more of the glory of God, and his power appears, to the refreshment of each individual, for that he partakes not only of the light and life raised in himself, but in all the rest.
Robert Barclay, 1678
Yea, though there be not a word spoken, yet is the true spiritual worship performed, and the body of Christ edified; yea, it may, and hath often fallen out among us, that divers meetings have passed without one word; and yet our souls have been greatly edified and refreshed, and our hearts wonderfully overcome with the secret sense of God’s power and Spirit, which without words hath been ministered from one vessel to another.
Robert Barclay, 1677
When you come to your meetings…what do you do? Do you then gather together bodily only, and kindle a fire, compassing yourselves about with the sparks of your own kindling, and so please yourselves, and walk in the light of your own fire, and in the sparks which you have kindled…? Or rather, do you sit down in True Silence, resting from your own Will and Workings, and waiting upon the Lord, with your minds fixed in that Light wherewith Christ has enlightened you, until the Lord breathes life in you, refresheth you, and prepares you, and your spirits and souls, to make you fit for his service, that you may offer unto him a pure and spiritual sacrifice?
William Penn, 1677
On one never-to-be-forgotten Sunday morning, I found myself one of a small company of silent worshipers, who were content to sit down together without words, that each one might feel after and draw near to the Divine Presence, unhindered at least, if not helped, by any human utterance. Utterance I knew was free, should the words be given; and before the meeting was over, a sentence or two were uttered in great simplicity by an old and apparently untaught man, rising in his place amongst the rest of us. I did not pay much attention to the words he spoke, and I have no recollection of their import. My whole soul was Wlled with the unutterable peace of the undisturbed opportunity for communion with God, with the sense that at last I had found a place where I might, without the faintest suspicion of insincerity, join with others in simply seeking His presence. To sit down in silence could at least pledge me to nothing; it might open to me (as it did that morning) the very gate of heaven.
Caroline E. Stephen, 1890
Our worship is a deep exercise of our spirits before the Lord, which doth not consist in exercising the natural part or natural mind, either to hear or speak words, or in praying according to what we, of ourselves, can apprehend or comprehend concerning our needs; but we wait, in silence of the fleshly part, to hear with the new ear what God shall please to speak inwardly in our own hearts, or outwardly through others, who speak with the new tongue which he unlooseth and teacheth to speak; and we pray in the spirit, and with a new understanding, as God pleaseth to quicken, draw forth, and open our hearts towards himself.
Isaac Penington, 1661
He that lets his mind be ungoverned out of meeting, cannot set it so right as it should be when he comes into one; and such as get not forward in their spiritual journey when in meeting, it’s certain they will go backwards when out of them.
John Bellers, 1703
True worship may be experienced at any time; in any place—alone on the hills or in the busy daily life—we may find God, in whom we live and move and have our being. But this individual experience is not sufficient, and in a meeting held in the Spirit there is a giving and receiving between its members, one helping another with or without words. So there may come a wider vision and a deeper experience.
Revision Committees, London Yearly Meeting, 1925 and 1994
The whole fellowship of disciples without distinction of sex or of official position are called to be priests, and to each one may be given some work of ministry. Our common worship must give opportunities for this, and in our experience we have found that in waiting upon God in silence we have the freedom and opportunity for such ministry and also for a deep experience of communion.
T. Edmund Harvey, 1937
Meeting for worship can be more than just an occasion on which one’s private religious needs are satisfied. Silent devotion should lead to an awareness that the meeting is less and less a place we choose ourselves, and more and more a place to which, out of love, God has called us. To understand this is to sense the meaning of those lovely phrases about the community of faith being the body of Christ.
John Punshon, 1987
In a truly covered meeting an individual who speaks takes no credit to himself for the part he played in the unfolding of the worship…. For the feeling of being a pliant instrument of the Divine Will characterizes true speaking “in the Life.” Under such a covering an individual emerges into vocal utterance, frequently without fear and trembling, and subsides without self-consciousness into silence when his part is played. For One who is greater than all individuals has become the meeting place of the group, and He becomes the leader and director of worship. With wonder one hears the next speaker, if there be more, take up another aspect of the theme of the meeting. No jealousy, no regrets that he didn’t think of saying that, but only gratitude that the angel has come and troubled the waters and that many are finding healing through the one Life. A gathered meeting is no place for the enhancement of private reputations, but for self-effacing pliancy and obedience to the whispers of the Leader.
Thomas Kelly, 1945
How does a Quaker Meeting work? Its foundation is the conviction that God is not a distant remote being but a living presence to be discovered in the deep centre of every human being….
The Quaker experience is that, in the silence, as we are open to one another in love, we help each other by sharing our strengths and weaknesses. The Quaker conviction is that as we go deeper into ourselves we shall eventually reach a still, quiet centre. At this point two things happen simultaneously. Each of us is aware of our unique value as an individual human being, and each of us is aware of our utter interdependence on one another.
George Gorman, 1982
As Catholic worship is centered in the altar and Protestant worship in the sermon, worship for the Society of Friends attempts to realize as its center the divine Presence revealed within. In a Catholic church the altar is placed so as to become the focus of adoration; in a typical Protestant church the pulpit localizes attention; while in a Friends Meeting House there is no visible point of concentration, worship being here directed neither toward the actions nor the words of others, but toward the inward experience of the gathered group.
Howard Brinton, 1952
A concern for the fellow-worshipers of our meetings which leads us to find the necessary time to know them, to visit them, to have them in our homes, and to make their needs our concern is a tested preparation for ministry of the highest importance. A person who throughout the week thinks of the approaching meeting for worship and holds up inwardly some of the needs of those who attend, is being prepared for that kind of participation in the meeting for worship that may open the way for helpful ministry. Ministry is often deepened by our natural exposure to those in greatest need, whether it be physical need, as in a constant visiting of the poor, of those in prison, of those whom group prejudice segregates; or to the poor in spirit, those who face mental turmoil and inner problems. Few who feel this kind of responsible love for the meeting do not in the course of the week find some experience, some insight, something they have read that has helped them, some crushing burden they know some member or some group is bearing which they have held up to the Light, without these things appearing as seeds out of which ministry could grow.
Douglas Steere, 1955
The Society of Friends can make its greatest contribution to community by continuing to be a religious society—I mean by centering on the practice of a corporate worship which opens itself to continuing revelation. Again, community is simply too difficult to be sustained by our social impulses. It can be sustained only as we return time and again to the religious experience of the unity of all life. To put it in the language of Friends, community happens as that of God in you responds to that of God in me. And the affirmation that there is that of God in every person must mean more than “I’m okay, you’re okay.”
The silence of the Quaker meeting for worship can be an experience of unity. I am an orthodox, garden variety Christian; I find the image of God first in Jesus the Christ. But it is my joy in the silent meeting to seek with those who find different ways to express the inexpressible truths of religious experience. Words can divide us, but the silence can bring us together. Whatever kinds of community the world needs, it surely needs the kind that embraces human diversity.
Parker J. Palmer, 1977
Worship is a hunger of the human soul for God. When it really occurs, it is as compelling as the hunger for food. It is as spontaneous as the love of boy for girl. If we feel it, no one needs to tell us we should worship. No one has to try to make us do it. If we do not feel it, or have no desire to feel it, no amount of urging or forcing will do any good. We simply cannot be forced from the outside to worship. Only the power within us, the life within, can move us to it.
N. Jean Toomer, 1947
I have never lost the enjoyment of sitting in silence at the beginning of meeting, knowing that everything can happen, knowing the joy of utmost surprise; feeling that nothing is preordained, nothing is set, all is open. The light can come from all sides. The joy of experiencing the Light in a completely different way than one has thought it would come is one of the greatest gifts that Friends’ meeting for worship has brought me.
Ursula Franklin, 1979
As I silence myself I become more sensitive to the sounds around me, and I do not block them out. The songs of the birds, the rustle of the wind, children in the playground, the roar of an airplane overhead are all taken into my worship. I regulate my breathing as taught me by my Zen friends, and through this exercise I feel the flow of life within me from my toes right through my whole body. I think of myself like the tree planted by the “rivers of water'” in Psalm 1, sucking up God’s gift of life and being restored. Sometimes I come to meeting for worship tired and weary, and I hear the words of Jesus, ‘”Come unto me, all that labour and are weary, and I will give you rest.” And having laid down my burden, I feel refreshed both physically and spiritually. This leads me on to whole-hearted adoration and thanksgiving for all God’s blessings. My own name, Tayeko, means “child of many blessings” and God has surely poured them upon me. My heart overflows with a desire to give Him something in return. I have nothing to give but my own being, and I offer Him my thoughts, words, and actions of each day, and whisper, “Please take me as I am.”
Tayeko Yamanouchi, 1980
I think it’s extremely important that we learn to listen. Listening is a lost art. And when I say learn to listen I mean listen to our spouses, listen to our children, listen to our fellow believers in our communities of faith. But I also want us to learn to listen to God. I know from personal experience that God speaks through the Scriptures. He speaks through preaching. He speaks through friends. But He also speaks directly. We can know that, but we must make time and space and silence in our lives if we are to learn this in real ways and be the beneficiaries of His leading and His guidance directly. We are told in the 46th Psalm, “Be still and know that I am God.” In another translation it says, “Stop fighting and know that I am God.” Let’s take time to listen to God.
Kara Cole Newell, 1982
It is unfortunate that much formal training in ministry does not even recognize that… inward preparation exists. In our world of degrees, exams, and training programs, it is easy to forget that ministry is not primarily a task; it is a way of being in the world. It is living in relationship with God and being a witness to God. Ministry is being able to listen to the Word of God and thereby have a word of life to share with others. Fundamentally, we do not do ministry. We are ministers.
Sandra Cronk, 1991
Meeting for worship—which includes troubled silences, pompous speechifying, and uncertain searchings, as well as clear leadings—has taught me that the difficult things are often the most fruitful. Reading the Bible is fruitful for me precisely because it challenges me to a deeper level of compassion, commitment, and understanding….
Once, for instance, I was reading the section on the woman at the well, which I had previously dismissed as being one more miracle story. Jesus, I thought, was being credited with knowing the woman’s whole life story through mysterious means. But as I reread the passage it became clear to me that Jesus was not showing off—he was explaining to her that God could be worshiped anywhere, that there was Living Water which quenched the deep thirsts we have….
With this new understanding of reading, and this return to my cultural roots, I can carry meeting for worship with me throughout the week and practice the concentration and love which I have found there.
Molly Bishop, 1994
The silence gives me time to center, sometimes using a few simple words, sometimes watching the play of sunlight on the floor. In the silence, I may simply go over what needs to be done for the week, or focus on concerns for friends, or worry through a problem. In the silent worship, space is there to hold these all up to God. Other times I am drawn into a sense of awareness of Presence, a place of comfort, or instruction, or prayer, or awe.
Margery Post Abbott, 1995
Let none allow the rush of engagements or the hurry of business to crowd their opportunities for private retirement and waiting upon God. The more our engagements multiply, the greater is the call to watch unto prayer. He who is a stranger to prayer enters upon them in his own strength, and finds, to his unspeakable loss, that a life without prayer is a life practically without God.
London Yearly Meeting, 1877
72[Dig] deep, …carefully cast forth the loose matter and get down to the rock, the sure foundation, and there hearken to the divine voice which gives a clear and certain sound.
John Woolman, c. 1770
It came into my mind to write a prayer of my own composing, to use in the mornings. So I wrote a prayer, though I then could scarcely join my letters, I had so little a time learned to write….
The next prayer I wrote was for an assurance of pardon for my sins…. I felt how desirable a thing to be assured of the pardon of one’s sins; so I wrote a pretty large prayer concerning it.
I felt a fear of being puffed up with praise, as several persons had praised me for the greatness of my memory, so I wrote a prayer of thanks for the gift of memory and expressed my desires to use it to the Lord.
Mary Proude Springett Penington, c. 1635
The place of prayer is a precious habitation….I saw this habitation to be safe, to be inwardly quiet, when there was great stirrings and commotions in the world.
John Woolman, 1770
In intercession we share with God our deepest desires for others…. We need constantly to remind ourselves that we can have no right desire for others in which God has not forestalled us. It was His desire before it was ours…. All intercession is self-offering, a self-giving, a longing that what we ask for others may be done, if need be, through ourselves.
Edgar G. Dunstan, 1946
Do not let us be discouraged because we find the path of silent prayer difficult or because we do not experience that joy of conscious communion which is given to some. The sunlight shines through the cloud; even when the cloud is so thick that we cannot see the sun at all, its rays carry on their healing work, and it does us good to go out into the open, even on a grey day. The experience of many of the greatest saints points to the traversing of a dark night of the soul before the light of full communion dawns, and to times of dryness of spirit coming at intervals to test the faith and perseverance of the seeker.
T. Edmund Harvey, 1929
The habit of turning instinctively to God at any moment of life is of immeasurable benefit to the mind and spirit. The entreaty of the moment may be for one’s own strength, forgiveness, courage, or power to endure. It may be a petition for the wellbeing of another. It may be an involuntary expression of gratitude for joy or peace in one’s own or another’s life. Whatever the need, longing, or aspiration, this instinctive prayer may take the form of silent communion, of petition in words, or something akin to intimate conversation.
Agnes L. Tierney, c. 1930
There is a way of living in prayer at the same time that one is busy with the outward affairs of daily living. This practice of continuous prayer in the presence of God involves developing the habit of carrying on the mental life at two levels. At one level we are immersed in this world of time, of daily affairs. At the same time but at a deeper level of our minds, we are in active relation with the Eternal Life.
Thomas Kelly, 1942
The highest purpose of prayer is to lift the soul into close companionship with God. Such prayer is not an attitude of the body; is not a formula of words. It is an impulse of the soul that often cannot express itself in words. In the midst of our busiest occupations, when hands and mind and heart are bent upon accomplishing the purpose of the hour, there may come a flash of divine illumination, flooding our souls with light, showing us how God is the center of all things, the life of all that lives. In that moment’s deep revealing comes to us the secret of faith that need not question; of hope that foresees its own fulfilling; of strength that wearies not in the walk with God; of love whose beneficent impulses go out to all the needy, and sweeten all life’s relationships; of peace that bears the soul upward to the regions of perpetual calm.
Elizabeth Powell Bond, 1895
We would do well as Friends to acknowledge our indebtedness to the great religions other than Christianity as we search through the world’s treasury for resources to sustain our prayer life.
Elsie Landstrom, 1970
In prayer, the seeds of concern have a way of appearing. Often enough, a concern begins in a feeling of being personally liable, personally responsible, for someone or some event. With it there may come an intimation that one should do some little thing: speak to some person, make an inquiry into a certain situation, write a letter, send some money, send a book. Or it may be a stop in our minds about some pending decision, or a clear directive that now is not the time to rest, or an urge to stay home when we had been meaning to be away; it may be that no more than this will be given us. But this seed is given us to follow, and if we do not follow it, we cannot expect to see what may grow from it. Seeds, not fruit, are given in prayer, but they are given for planting.
Douglas V. Steere, 1962
It is helpful to think that God is waiting for us to offer ourselves to him in the ministry of healing. Just as the remedies for many diseases had to wait on the development of medical science (through which we must believe that his Spirit is working), so in this service of intercession, results are waiting upon our obedience and readiness to do our part. Thus we shall come to know what it is to share in the fellowship of the Spirit, and become ‘workers together with God.’
Frederick J. Tritton, 1958
When I read that I was supposed to make ‘a place for inward retirement and waiting upon God’ in my daily life, as the Queries in those days expressed it, I thought: “Oh, those stuffy old Friends, they don’t understand! Do they think I’m going to be able to sit for an hour, or half an hour, or a quarter of an hour, or for any time at all, in my very busy life, just to have some kind of feeling of ‘inward retirement’?” I felt irritated and misunderstood, and I tried to put the whole thing out of my mind. At last I began to realise…that I needed some kind of inner peace, or inward retirement, or whatever name it might be called by…. I began to realize that prayer was not a formality or an obligation; it was a place which was there all the time and always available.
Elfrida Vipont Foulds, 1983
Prayer would be an evil rather than a blessing if it were only a way of getting God to do what we ourselves will not make the effort to do. God does not do things for us—he enables us to do them for ourselves.
Elisabeth Holmgaard, 1984
Obviously, then, all the activities of a meeting—the prayer of worship, the vocal prayer of a gathered meeting, the prayer which sustains and nourishes its cells or prayer groups, family prayer, the ministry of love which expresses itself in counseling, the impact of a meeting on the outside community—all of these should be grounded in the prayer life of the individual. If prayer has not been a reality through the week for at least a core of its members, participants in the Sunday meeting cannot reach high levels of worship. Vocal prayer flows when the cup is already full before we come to meeting. Activity which is meaningful results from insights gained in prayer. Counseling which is helpful comes from the bringing of divine perspective to human confusion. Prayer, then, is a necessity in our lives. It must be at the center of them.
Helen Hole, 1962
There were three separate occasions when heart-felt disturbances called me back to prayer. One was entirely joyful: sitting up in bed early one summer morning nursing my week-old first child, looking out on the sunshine and being swept into a feeling of miraculous oneness with all creation and able to thank a real God with the whole of my being.
The second was in great contrast. The winter after my husband’s death, when I was physically stretched to the limit caring singlehanded for six young children and emotionally in a state of bleak torpor, I came across Simone Weil’s Waiting on God and in a chapter called ‘The love of God and aZiction’ recognised my own condition. I could not claim that I knew the worst that she, in her utterly clear and ruthless style, was describing, but it was near enough; and knowing that someone else recognised it brought a certain comfort. But most important, she showed a place for God in the shape of the crucified Christ, and part of my misery for some time had been the blank absence of any sense of the presence of God….
The third experience, some years later, concerned a friend who was extremely ill. She was one of the few really good people I had ever known, and I saw her in great distress. When I reached home from the hospital I went to my room and tried to lay myself alongside her suffering and bring us both before God. In the depth of aZiction I had sometimes felt like Job; now I found myself wrestling like Jacob. This last episode began the process of break-up which led on by slow degrees to a time when I knew I had to try to pray again; not just in dire immediate need but as a basis for daily living.
Joan Fitch, 1980
Now as the Father teacheth to pray, so he giveth desires or words (if he please) according to the present need. Sometimes he gives but ability to sigh or groan (if he gives no more he accepts that)…. Now, if the prayer be in words, for there is praying without words, then it must be in those words which he pleaseth to give, from the sense which he kindleth, and not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, or would choose.
Isaac Penington, c. 1665
The way to [submerge the individual self in the one eternal Self] …is through prayer. Some Friends use a short and oft-repeated prayer or a mantra as an aid to concentration. Prayer often involves adoration, gratitude, and love. Passages from the Psalms, incidents in the life of Jesus, or sayings of spiritual leaders may be brought to mind, pondered and related to your life. Sometimes prayer takes the form of petition, not to tell God of your desires for He knows already nor to seek special favors for that would be impossible, but to set your deepest longings in the Light to see if they are pure. In this silence comes a deep peace beyond words and thoughts, as natural as breathing. The native American chief Papunehang, who had attended a meeting with Woolman, said, “I love to feel where words come from.”
George Peck, 1988
Lord, baptize us again and again with the pure water of life, the life of Thy love for us. Touch our hearts with brands from Thine altar, to destroy those things in our lives that keep us from being authentic examples of the work of Thy transforming power. Open our eyes, that we may see the work which Thou wouldst have us do for Thee. With grateful hearts we come with assurance unto Thee.
Charles Warner Palmer, c.1940
Oh God, our Father, spirit of the universe, I am old in years and in the sight of others, but I do not feel old within myself. I have hopes and purposes, things I wish to do before I die. A surging of life within me cries, “Not yet! Not yet!” more strongly than it did ten years ago, perhaps because the nearer approach of death arouses the defensive strength of the instinct to cling to life.
Help me to loosen, fiber by fiber, the instinctive strings that bind me to the life I know. Infuse me with Thy spirit so that it is Thee I turn to, not the old ropes of habit and thought. Make me poised and free, ready when the intimation comes to go forward eagerly and joyfully, into the new phase of life that we call death.
Help me to bring my work each day to an orderly state so that it will not be a burden to those who must fold it up and put it away when I am gone. Keep me ever aware and ever prepared for the summons.
If pain comes before the end help me not to fear it or struggle against it but to welcome it as a hastening of the process by which the strings that bind me to life are untied. Give me joy in awaiting the great change that comes after this life of many changes, let my self be merged in Thy Self as a candle’s wavering light is caught up into the sun.
Elizabeth Gray Vining, 1978
So much of life is just going on and going on, long after the excitement and stimulus has faded…there is so much to ask for that I get very lost. And then I just come back to the simple longings, the simplest prayers of all; that Christ may be in those we love, that our love may be more Christ-like, more unmoveable, that we may be kept sinless by some immense miracle, and by God’s side whatever happens. We must give up trying to hold His hand, and just stretch out our hands—even if they are just fists—for God to hold. There is all the difference…between holding and being held.
George Lloyd Hodgkin, 1912
A friend tells me that when she prays for someone she does not so much pray to God for them as for God for them. This seems to me a vital clue about prayer. It is God that the troubled person needs, not our advice and instructions. As we learn more about worship we learn to listen more deeply so that we can be channels through which God’s love reaches the other person. It is God at work, not we ourselves; we are simply used.
Diana Lampen, 1979
Be still and cool in thy own mind and spirit from thy own thoughts, and then thou wilt feel the principle of God to turn thy mind to the Lord God, whereby thou wilt receive his strength and power from whence life comes, to allay all tempests against blusterings and storms. That is it which moulds up into patience, into innocency, into soberness, into stillness, into stayedness, into quietness, up to God, with his power.
George Fox, 1658
The Scriptures, Jesus, Inward Teacher
And the scriptures—some of them are history done in their times when they were written, and some of them are shadows and figurative and typical of things in their times—of which Christ is the substance and end.
So the scriptures of truth is the best book upon the earth to be read, believed, fulfilled, and practiced. And Christ, the substance of them, is to be enjoyed and walked in….
Holy men of God spake them forth as they were moved by the Holy Ghost. So it is the Holy Ghost that leads into all the truth of them, in both the old and the new testaments.
George Fox, 1689
We find many renowned women recorded in the Old Testament, who had received a talent of wisdom and spiritual understanding from the Lord. As good stewards thereof they improved and employed the same to the praise and glory of God…as male and female are made one in Christ Jesus, so women receive an office in account of their stewardship to their Lord, as well as the men. Therefore they ought to be faithful to God and valiant for his Truth upon the earth, that so they may receive the reward of righteousness.
Elizabeth Bathurst, 1683
96[The scriptures] are only a declaration of the fountain and not the fountain itself, therefore they are not to be esteemed the principal ground of all truth and knowledge, nor yet the adequate, primary rule of faith and manners. Yet, because they give a true and faithful testimony of the first foundation, they are and may be esteemed a secondary rule, subordinate to the Spirit, from which they have all their excellency and certainty: for, as by the inward testimony of the Spirit we do alone truly know them, so they testify that the Spirit is that Guide by which the saints are led into all truth: therefore, according to the Scriptures the Spirit is the first and principal Leader.
Robert Barclay, 1678
The case of David hath often been before me of late years. He longed for some water in a well beyond an army of Philistines who were at war with Israel, and some of his men, to please him, ventured their lives in passing through this army and brought that water. It doth not appear that the Israelites were then scarce of water, but rather that David gave way to delicacy of taste; but having thought on the danger these men were exposed to, he considered this water as their blood, and his heart smote him [so], that he could not drink it, but poured it out to the Lord. And the oppression of the slaves which I have seen in several journeys southward on this continent and the report of their treatment in the West Indies hath deeply affected me, and a care to live in the spirit of peace and minister just cause of offence to none of my fellow creatures hath from time to time livingly revived in my mind, and under this exercise I for some years past declined to gratify my palate with those sugars.
John Woolman, 1769
Wait on the Lord, that thou mayst, from him, feel the right limit to thy mind, in reading the Scriptures. For the mind of man is busy and active, willing to be running beyond its bounds, guessing at the meaning of God’s Spirit and imagining of itself, unless the Lord limit it. Therefore, read in fear; and wait understandingly to distinguish between God’s opening to these words concerning the kingdom and the things of the kingdom, and thy own apprehensions about them; that the one may be always cast by, and the other always embraced by thee. And always wait God’s season; do not presume to understand a thing, before he give thee the understanding of it: and know also, that he alone is able to preserve the true sense and knowledge in thee; that thou mayst live dependently upon him for thy knowledge, and never “lean to thy own understanding.”
It is one thing to understand words, testimonies, and descriptions; and it is another matter to understand, know, enjoy, possess, and live in that which the words relate to, describe, and bear witness of.
Isaac Penington, c. 1670
And the end of words is to bring men to the knowledge of things beyond what words can utter. So learn of the Lord to make a right use of the Scriptures: which is by esteeming them in their place, and prizing that above them which is above them.
Isaac Penington, c. 1670
No sincere Quaker can entertain a doubt that the immediate influence of the Spirit was the moving cause which gathered our forefathers in the truth; and that it is the root of our peculiar Christian testimonies…. Here, however, I must observe in passing that our early Friends were not led into their spiritual views of the Gospel independently of Scripture, but in connection with the diligent searching of that blessed book. While they renounced all dependence on human wisdom and learning, it was their privilege to maintain a firm, unshaken hold on scriptural Christianity. The Bible, in their view, was not one of the “appendages” of religion; much less did they regard it as “‘the letter” which “veiled the mysteries of the kingdom.” On the contrary they hailed it as the divine record by which these mysteries are plainly declared to us; it was their treasure of knowledge, their storehouse of materials for the Redeemer’s service.
Joseph John Gurney, c.1840
As to John’s revelations, they are some of that apostle’s last writings, written at a time when he was far advanced in deep experience; and we find that the most deep and mysterious writings of the prophets and apostles are often couched in allegorical similes; therefore, it requires our coming to the same experience, rightly to comprehend or understand them; and hence, when I meet with parts or passages of scripture that I do not understand, I leave them until I may arrive at a state of deeper experience, by which means I have come clearly to comprehend and understand some things that, at a previous time, seemed mysterious to me.
Elias Hicks, 1820
In making a comparison of the blessed spirit of the gospel with the Scriptures of truth, there is nothing lost to them; for placing it above them is no diminution of their excellency, nor of their character; nor can there be any dishonor brought to the sacred writings, by placing the all-manifesting spirit, and light, and grace of God, through our Lord Jesus Christ, over and above them in the rightful order of God’s manifestations and provisions for the children of men. Nay! truly, it cannot be derogatory to the Scriptures, nor to any other creature here below, to place the second Adam, the Lord from heaven, the quickening spirit above them.
John Wilbur, c.1850
I absorbed a great deal about Jesus and the Bible in my upbringing. But I was late in coming to a personal sense of the reality of God and later still in coming to a personal sense of Jesus. I believe it was a combination of the difficult Christian ethic I had absorbed together with the strong scientific temper of the twentieth century that led me to put the demands of truth very high and made an affirmation of belief in something ultimate not easy for me to make.
So, in my thirties, with the spiritual world beginning to open in a surprising way, I was trying, with my twentieth century mind, to understand the role of Jesus in truth and reality. The Jesus of the Sermon on the Mount had been a hero of mine right along. But I was troubled about much that was claimed concerning the Jesus of Christian tradition and also, in some respects, the biblical records. I was particularly puzzled, at this time, by the image of Jesus which comes through in the last part of Matthew 25. Was this merciless judge and dictator—the “Son of Man” now come into a strangely asserted personal power and glory—the same as the Jesus of the Sermon on the Mount, of the prayer shared with his disciples (“thine be the power and the glory”), of the prayer made on his very cross for those who “know not what they do”?
Whatever the merit of my puzzlement—and I believe it had merit—it was at this time that I received an impression of Jesus as a personality as distinguished from a figure fixed in the records. I could elaborate on the details of the occasion. Suffice it to say, this living Being seemed to be asking me—somewhat humorously, I thought—whether I imagined that he was any less humble and earnest in seeking truth than I was. He himself—so I understood him to be telling me—is a living Being and need not be thought of as fixed, like a dead specimen, within certain pages of a book.
From that time on I have not been troubled about the credibility of the figure of Jesus, whose meaning in my own life has grown steadily more vivid and present now than ever.
Ferner Nühn, 1974
Perhaps you, like me, have had trouble with the ancient laws handed down by Moses. I accepted the Ten-Commandment-core with a Sunday School deference which could never quite make the laws of Moses as real or as important as the laws of science. For me, this began to change when I began to read the Bible in what I sometimes call the Quaker way—that is, reading with both the analytical mind and the intuitive mind leaving plenty of space for the Holy Spirit. On the one hand Biblical scholarship and all the light science can provide; on the other hand, savoring and resting in the meaning, pausing from time to time to stare off into space….
As I reread the Old Testament laws in this more meditative way, two recognitions helped open my understanding. First, I realized, as did George Fox, that most of the laws of Moses were designed for a specific culture of long ago…. Then I began to face the cultural trappings or rubbish with which I had surrounded the concept of law; I realized that I had connected “law” with fallible legislators, judges, policemen, and childhood memories of adults who ruled my life. Even so there is a living core of the Law of Moses which remains as vital as it ever was.
Moses like all true prophets was a seer, for like Newton and Einstein he saw or felt the law as a vital force, not merely as a string of words. I have little doubt that he actually heard the words of the Commandments on Sinai. I also believe that he could not have done what he did if he had not also seen how these laws were an indispensable part of the fabric of the new age fellowship he was to build.
William Taber, 1984
What kind of approach to the Bible leads to … discovery? An intelligent analytical and critical approach has its rightful place. We then stand over the Bible as subjects investigating an object. An inversion of this subject-object relationship is, however, possible. We then approach the Bible not mainly to criticise, but to listen; not merely to question, but to be challenged, and to open our lives penitentially both to its judgments and to its liberating gospel.
Pathways to God are many and varied. Friends, however, along with a great company of other seekers, have been able to testify that this receptive personal response to the biblical message, and especially to the call of Jesus, leads to joyous self-fulfilling life, and to a redemptive awareness of the love and glory of God.
George Boobyer, 1988
How much the Bible has to teach when taken as a whole, that cannot be done by snippets! There is its range over more than a thousand years giving us the perspective of religion in time, growing, and changing, and leading from grace to grace. There is its clear evidence of the variety of religious experience, not the kind of strait-jacket that nearly every church, even Friends, have sometimes been tempted to substitute for the diversity in the Bible. To select from it but a single strand is to miss something of its richness. Even the uncongenial and the alien to us is happily abundant in the Bible. The needs of men today are partly to be measured by their difficulty in understanding that with which they differ. At this point the Bible has no little service to render. It requires patient insight into the unfamiliar and provides a discipline for the imagination, … a crying need of our time.
Further the Bible is a training school in discrimination among alternatives. One of the most sobering facts is that it is not on the whole a peaceful book—I mean a book of peace of mind. The Bible is the deposit of a long series of controversies between rival views of religion. The sobering thing is that in nearly every case the people shown by the Bible to be wrong had every reason to think they were in the right, and like us they did so. Complacent orthodoxy is the recurrent villain in the story from first to last, and the hero is the challenger, like Job, the prophets, Jesus, and Paul.
Henry J. Cadbury, 1953
I think that we suffer from lack of biblical study both individually and in groups; I do not urge that this should be done in the regular gatherings for worship, but rather in groups during the week. To restrict our fellowship to the single hour on Sunday mornings is, under ordinary conditions, to impoverish our times of worship. The over-busyness resulting from the changed and difficult home conditions has, I fear, told on this side of our lives and does need distinct attention.
Joan Mary Fry, 1947
Though I am not an assiduous reader of the Bible, its wisdom and its cadences are bred in my bones and deep in the fibers of my mind. “The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away.” I can write the words without hesitation, but must look in the Concordance to see where they come from. (Psalm 90, that wonderful one, which begins, “Lord, thou hast been our dwelling place in all generations,” and ends, “And let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us; and establish thou the work of our hands upon us; yea, the work of our hands establish thou it.”)
Elizabeth Gray Vining, 1978
It makes me sad when I hear discussions about not introducing children to “God” until they’re old enough to understand. I grew into the Lord’s Prayer, and am still growing into it. All religious language, all devotional books, and particularly the Bible, provide growing room for young minds and spirits. Because they have sometimes been used as straitjackets by adults who did not understand, does not mean that they are straitjackets.
Elise Boulding, 1975
My own vital relation to the Bible actually began during my early association with Quakerism. One elderly and wise Friend habitually used sections from Psalms in his messages. Some of these fragments began singing through me, and I started using them in my daily meditations. Their value for me then as now is that they address the Divine directly rather than talk about Him. At their best, they gather the depth and breadth of Person into an interplay of I and Thou. During one of my early Meetings, a woman, describing Jacob wrestling with an angel, equated this to her own struggle, and pleaded with this angel not to let her go until it blessed her. She lent imagery to a nebulous, inarticulate process going on within me, and her image became permanent equipment of my religious life.
Dorothea Blom, 1967
But as I had forsaken all the priests, so I left the separate preachers also, and those called the most experienced people; for I saw there was not one among them all that could speak to my condition. And when all my hopes in them and in all men were gone, so that I had nothing outwardly to help me, nor could tell what to do, then, Oh then, I heard a voice which said, “There is one, even Christ Jesus, that can speak to thy condition,” and when I heard it my heart did leap for joy. Then the Lord did let me see why there was none upon the earth that could speak to my condition, namely, that I might give him all the glory; for all are concluded under sin, and shut up in unbelief as I had been, that Jesus Christ might have the pre-eminence, who enlightens, and gives grace and faith and power. Thus, when God doth work who shall [prevent] it. And this I knew experimentally.
George Fox, 1647
My health now in a measure restored, I felt that I should do something for others. No way seemed open that met my desires. I searched my Bible and soon settled it in my own mind, that if I followed Christ I must of necessity live as He lived, and as I traced His life, I learned that it was in doing good, helping the poor, visiting the sick, comforting those in sorrow, lightening the burdens, and increasing the joys of the world. There were at that time few poor families in Richmond (Indiana). These I sought out and aided.
Rhoda Coffin, c. 1850
I cannot see the life of Jesus as other than God trying to disclose his love for us and his attempt, at any price, to show us that the cosmos is grounded in love. All hate, all sin, all discord, all clefts, all ignorance, all confusion will finally give way to love. But this love, like a strip of wood, has its grain which must be followed. If we follow this grain we will find that we must change the patterns in which we have previously cast our lives. And I do not see how God could have made this disclosure more effectively than by placing his love in the body of a child who was to become a man, and letting this cosmic message shine through the material envelope of a human life.
Douglas Steere, 1965
Fox is not interested in drawing people into an assent to a set of propositions about the life of Jesus sixteen hundred years before. That was the cultural norm of seventeenth century England. His mission is to bring people into a possession of what they profess—to help them incarnate the life of Christ as well as to speak of it. That was far from the cultural norm.
Douglas Gwyn, 1986
Our growing, mystical consciousness shall transform us into evangelical Christians, bursting to share what we have learned about living in the Kingdom from Jesus of Nazareth, through the gospels, and from our personal discovery of the Christ within—a Christ who is not limited to Jesus and can therefore be good news to men and women of other living religions and to countless humanists who, in being true to themselves and their own sense of honesty and wholeness, will never be able to accept the Christ myth in its traditional form.
John Yungblut, 1974
Thousands [are] now mistaken as to the dignity and origin of God’s Spirit in them; they think it is of man, a part of his nature and being; whereas it is of the very life, power, and substance of God. Its descent is as truly from heaven as was that of the Lord Jesus. He came in that low, mean, and ordinary appearance as to outward show and accommodations, teaching us thereby not to despise the day of small things, nor to overlook the littleness of the motions of divine life in our own souls. And when he compares the kingdom of heaven, which he expressly says is within, to outward things, he very instructively inculcates to us that the beginnings of it are small—”a little leaven … a grain of mustard seed … least of all seeds”(Matt. 13:31-32). This is true in the inward, whatever it may be in the outward, for the seed of the kingdom is the least of all the seeds in the field or garden of the heart.
Job Scott, 1765
Jesus’s question in the Sermon on the Mount: “If ye salute your brethren only, what do ye to excess?” What do ye to excess? How often he showed his approval of extravagant generosity when it arose from a simple and pure impulse of the heart. He defended the act of the woman who broke the alabaster box of precious ointment so that she might pour it over his feet. “If thy brother ask of thee thy coat, give him thy cloak also”—in other words, more than he expects to receive. In his parable of the Prodigal Son, the father does not wait to welcome his son at the door of the house; he runs to meet him, and it is the best robe which he puts on him. It is this excess, this extravagance, which we find in God’s love for us, that for me shows the meaning of the word “Grace”.
Phyllis Richards, 1948
Perhaps a shortcoming of modern Quakerism can be traced to the great revelation of early Quakers who acted to replace outward cult and ceremony in religious worship with inward spiritual relationships. As the concrete manifestations of inward spirit, i.e. water baptism, laying-on-of-hands, taking communion in bread and wine, were eliminated, an outward, physically present and actively manifested spiritual energy was called for as a replacement. That alternative replacement was, as Jesus described, the baptism and spirit of fire. He called for a physical witness, a continuous entry in the Temple to upset the on-going corruptions of the money changers, the on-going rebuilding of the institutional secular structures of wealth and power, political domination, sexism, and the other demons which interfere with a life of love in practice. A physical, spiritual activization of the inward Light was imperative. Without it we would simply be left with a passive, inward spirit with no function but to nourish our own individual idiosyncrasies. Without the outward expressions of the inward spirit, the fire would be truly only a moderate one, if a fire at all. The loss of the outward witness in turn reduces the flame which kindles the inward spirit as well. Inward revelation cries out for the outward spiritual witness of pacifism and nonviolence, which leads to courtrooms and prisons when practiced before the bastions of power. It cries out for corporate radical community, which characterized the first meetings.
William Durland, 1988
To allow [the] inward work to take place is to allow the universal Light of the eternal Christ to reveal our sundered and separate individualism, our own areas of darkness and sin, and then to cooperate with this Light as it seeks to transform, guide, gift, and empower us….
This inward work takes time and may cause us to make painful changes in our life as we become more and more sensitive and obedient to the inward guide….
It is this inward work of Christ, and not our verbal statements about Christ, that can produce that amazing unity in a gathered meeting for worship, a gathered meeting for business, or a gathered opportunity between two people. And finally, it is this inward work of Christ that leads inevitably to the important outwardness of Quakerism; to a life able to behave in all those ways which Jesus taught and in which he led the way, to a living equality of men and women, to a radiant and supple pacifism that comes not merely from books or movements or anger but that wells up from deep inner springs.
William Taber, 1984
It is not enough to hear of Christ, or read of Christ; but this is the thing—to feel him my root, my life, my foundation; and my soul ingrafted into him, by him who hath power to ingraft. To feel repentance given me by him, faith given me by him, the Father revealed and made known to me by him, by the pure shinings of his light in my heart; God, who caused the light to shine out of darkness, causing it to shine there; so that in and through him, I come to know, not the Son himself only, but the Father also.
Isaac Penington, 1670
Perhaps what we are now considering is the question: What was the central concern of Jesus? I may say quite simply, The answer to that question is: human conduct…. [For Jesus there] are not primarily questions of religious ritual…[nor] questions of philosophy, or theology or belief. There are rather questions of how you should behave…. Jesus, in his teaching, would not be asked … abstract questions nearly as much as … questions about the will of God for our conduct.
Henry J. Cadbury, 1961
Consider now the prayer-life of Jesus. It comes out most clearly in the record of St. Luke, who leaves us with the impression that prayer was the most vital element in our Lord’s life. He rises a great while before day that he may have some hours alone with His Father. He continues all night in prayer to God. Incident after incident is introduced by the statement that Jesus was praying. Are we so much nearer God that we can afford to dispense with that which to Him was of such vital moment? But apart from this, it seems to me that this prayer-habit of Jesus throws light upon the purpose of prayer…. We pray, not to change God’s will, but to bring our wills into correspondence with His.
William Littleboy, c.1937
I do not know if Jesus is God, or the divine son of God, or the only mediator, or a saint among other saints. I don’t claim to understand those things which only God can know, but I sense the reality of this Christian mystery that makes God’s promise and requirements more than words. This Jesus offers his life as a ransom for many. He dies for the multitudes. He gives himself to draw all into salvation. In his life and death we sense the love and power of God. We are called to follow. We are called to do the same for the sake of all.
Carol Reilley Urner, 1994
Pain isolates one. It pervades everything; blackens the sky, pushes other humans away, reduces music and poetry and the outside world to dullness; grinds on and on endlessly.
Some say Christianity is a morbid religion, over-emphasizing a Christ tormented on a cross. I can only say that even as a child I could sometimes comfort myself in pain by remembering his suffering…. It was Jesus the man, enduring agonising pain in terrible loneliness, who spoke to my condition and brought me sometimes much needed consolation.
Joan Fitch, 1988
The resurrection, however literally or otherwise we interpret it, demonstrates the power of God to bring life out of brokenness; not just to take the hurt out of brokenness but to add something to the world. It helps us to sense the usefulness, the possible meaning in our suffering, and to turn it into a gift. The resurrection affirms me with my pain and my anger at what has happened. It does not take away my pain; it still hurts. But I sense that I am being transfigured; I am being enabled to begin again to love confidently and to remake the spirit of my world.
S. Jocelyn Burnell, 1989
Discernment and Guidance
126[You are] not to spend time with needless, unnecessary, and fruitless discourses, but to proceed in the wisdom of God: not in the way of the world, as a worldly assembly of men, by hot contests, by seeking to outspeak and overreach one another in discourse, as if it were controversy between party and party of men, or two sides violently striving for dominion… not deciding affairs by the greater vote… but in the wisdom, love, and fellowship of God, in gravity, patience, meekness, in unity and concord, submitting one to another in lowliness of heart, and in the holy Spirit of truth and righteousness, all things [are] to be carried on by hearing and determining every matter coming before you in love, coolness, gentleness, and dear unity—I say, as one only party, all for the Truth of Christ and for the carrying on the work of the Lord, and assisting one another in whatsoever ability God hath given; and to determine of things by a general mutual concord, in assenting together as one man in the spirit of truth and equity, and by the authority thereof.
Edward Burrough, 1662
The Quaker way of trying to invite and be open to divine guidance is to begin with a time of silence. This is not the “moment of silence” which is a mere nod in passing to the Divine. Nor is it a time for organizing one’s thoughts. This is a time for what has been called recollection: for an intentional return to the Center to give over one’s own firm views, to place the outcome in the hands of God, to ask for a mind and heart as truly sensitive to and accepting of nuanced intimations of God’s will as of overwhelming evidences of it. It is possible that someone designated or undesignated may offer vocal prayer for the joint undertaking. Spoken or not, it is understood that each person present will be holding the undertaking in the Light in his own way.
Patricia Loring, 1992
Even if Friends are careful to attend Meetings for Business and to assemble promptly, they may nevertheless fritter away God’s opportunity, perhaps because the business has been poorly prepared and presented, or because Friends do not apply themselves promptly and earnestly, or because Friends are self-indulgent, or simply because Friends do not wait upon the Lord.
The Query whether Friends are careful to come to Meetings for Worship “with hearts and minds prepared” should be extended to include our Meetings for Business as well. It is essential that the period of worship prior to the undertaking of business be long enough to permit Friends to put aside the heat and tumult of the day’s anxieties and to enter into the quietness that comes from trust in God and in God’s concern for the affairs of men and women.
Thomas Shipley Brown, 1963
Each of these Quarterly Meetings were large and sat near eight hours. Here I had occasion to consider that it is a weighty thing to speak much in large meetings for business. First, except our minds are rightly prepared and we clearly understand the case we speak to, instead of forwarding, we hinder business and make more labour for those on whom the burden of the work is laid.
If selfish views or a partial spirit have any room in our minds, we are unfit for the Lord’s work. If we have a clear prospect of the business and proper weight on our minds to speak, it behooves us to avoid useless apologies and repetitions. Where people are gathered from far, and adjourning a meeting of business is attended with great difficulty, it behooves all to be cautious how they detain a meeting, especially when they have sat six or seven hours and [have] a great distance to ride home.
In three hundred minutes are five hours, and he that improperly detains three hundred people one minute, besides other evils that attend it, does an injury like that of imprisoning one man five hours without cause.
John Woolman, 1758
In meeting for business, Friends are seeking to discover and to implement the will of God. Aware that they meet in the presence of God, Friends try to conduct their business reverently, in the wisdom and peaceable spirit of Jesus. Insofar as a divine-human meeting takes place, there is order, unity, and power. The Quaker way of conducting business is of central importance. It is the way Friends have found of living and working together. It can create and preserve the sense of fellowship in the meeting, and from there it can spread to other groups and decisions in which individual Friends or meetings have a part. Thus it contributes to the way of peace in the world.
Faith and Practice, New England Yearly Meeting, 1985
We recognize a variety of ministries. In our worship these include those who speak under the guidance of the Spirit and those who receive and uphold the work of the Spirit in silence and prayer. We also recognise as ministry service on our many committees, hospitality and childcare, the care of finance and premises, and many other tasks. We value those whose ministry is not in an appointed task but is in teaching, counselling, listening, prayer, enabling the service of others, or other service in the meeting or the world. The purpose of all our ministry is to lead us and other people into closer communion with God and to enable us to carry out those tasks which the Spirit lays upon us.
London Yearly Meeting, 1986
Few of us, by our efforts alone, can activate our spiritual natures in a vital and creative way. We need God’s help. We need the help of one another. But God’s help may not come at once. Our help to each other, even though we are gathered in a meeting for worship or actively serving our fellow men outside the meeting, may be and often is delayed as regards our kindling one another spiritually. What are we to do in this case? There is only one thing we can do—wait. Having done our part to overcome the separated self, we can but wait for the spiritual self to arise and take command of our lives. Having brought ourselves as close as we can to God, we can but hold ourselves in an attitude of waiting for Him to work His will in us, to draw us fully into His presence.
N. Jean Toomer, 1947
A common misconception about Quaker business process is that a decision can never go forward if one person decides to “stand in the way.” Inactive members, new attenders and non-Friends trying to imitate Quaker process often interpret our principle of unity to mean that each individual has veto power over any decision of the community. Nothing could be further from the truth.
“Standing in the way” is not a right which inheres in paper membership or attendance at meeting for business. It is rather a privilege granted by the community because it believes that the dissent is grounded in spiritual integrity and not in ego or a power trip. We acknowledge that the Friend may have light which the rest of us don’t yet see; we wait in love for the Friend to see our light. We are willing to remain teachable in the trust that the dissenting Friend is also teachable….
Difficulty arises when some show themselves not to be teachable, as for instance when they attach themselves to an external “party line” which precludes submission to the Spirit. The Meeting may rightly decline to trust such persons. Trust is something which must be earned. Perhaps that is a central meaning of the term “weighty Friend”: one whom the community trusts to “attend to pure wisdom and be teachable.”
Esther Murer, 1989
In our meetings for church affairs an effective continuing life can be secured only if there is at least a strong nucleus of Friends attending with regularity, willing to accept responsibility and to give judgments based on informed minds as well as spiritual wisdom. There are few things which tend to destroy interest and loyalty in any business so easily as prolonged and unnecessary discussions on trivia: such discussions are very often provoked and kept up by those who do not trouble to inform themselves adequately of the facts, or who use their occasional attendance to re-open matters already decided. The meeting should expect and encourage its clerk to take firm action in such circumstances.
Quaker Faith and Practice, Britain Yearly Meeting, 1995
At monthly meeting there was a strong sense of unity on the matter—except for one person. (How easy to have ignored this one dissenting voice.) But in view of it, it was agreed to hold a second monthly meeting to reconsider the matter. Because the venue was different (our meetings are not normally “monthly”) a different group of Friends was present, although three of the first meeting were there. The sense of unity was equally strong in the other direction—except for two Friends. It was therefore decided to hold a third “monthly” meeting. By this time feelings were running high and we were each convinced of the rightness of our own viewpoints. Then suddenly Christ’s presence moved in, and in my own case I remembered his words to his disciples, “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, that ye have love one for another.” And quite suddenly it seemed more important to love than to be right.
Rosemary M. Elliott, 1967
Many Friends of all ages need the training provided by a good meeting for business: one that starts with real worship, that respects the insights of all its members; one that remembers it does God’s work, that God is in no hurry, and that, in the vast pattern of God’s universe, even man may not be very important—no matter how wonderful a creation he is.
Martin Cobin, 1964
As a structure to facilitate discernment of the will of God, the clearness committee partakes of many of the features of a meeting for worship for the conduct of business. Where meetings for business have been assimilated to more secular models, with emphasis on getting through agendas within time constraints, on decision-making rather than discernment, consensus rather than unity, it is helpful to incorporate in the model some aspects of worship sharing.
The crucial element is the establishment of a context of prayerful attentiveness, not just for the beginning and end of the time together but for the entire meeting. Liberal amounts of silence between utterances permits them to be heard with all their resonances and taken below the surface mind. The space between can remove the temptation to revert to discussion or conversation. It can help reinforce disciplined speaking and listening. It can allow what does come forth to arise spontaneously from the Center.
Patricia Loring, 1992
A great deal of charity is needed about messages that come in the meeting. No message is likely to be meant for every one of the worshipers. What may not affect me may open out life for another, and this consciousness must always be there.
Douglas Steere, 1972
Perhaps one in worship senses … that he is only going round and round in his mind about a problem, to no good point. He will and must take these things up again later, perhaps with new energy and insight. For the moment, however, it seems right simply to be in the quiet. The worshiper does not try to do anything, but simply to be in that which is eternal.
Sandra Cronk, 1991
If worship does not change us, it has not been worship. To stand before the Holy One of eternity is to change. Resentments cannot be held with the same tenacity when we enter His gracious light. As Jesus said, we will need to leave our gift at the altar and go set the matter straight (Matthew 5:23). In worship an increased power steals its way into the heart sanctuary, an increased compassion grows in the soul. To worship is to change.
Richard Foster, 1978
To love and be loved is a universal human urge. Is it any wonder, then, that we are moved to seek God’s love?… It is to this divine love that we are called. This is the high promise of man’s life. We are called away from indifference, from meanness, malice, prejudice, and hate. We are called above the earthly loves that come and go and are unsure. We are called into the deep enduring love of God and man and all creation. Worship is a door into that love. Once we have entered it, our every act is a prayer, our whole life a continuous worship.
N. Jean Toomer, 1947
Feeling the spring of Divine love opened, and a concern to speak, I said a few words in a meeting, in which I found peace. Being thus humbled and disciplined under the cross, my understanding became more strengthened to distinguish the pure spirit which inwardly moves upon the heart, and which taught me to wait in silence sometimes many weeks together, until I felt that rise which prepares the creature to stand like a trumpet, through which the Lord speaks to his flock…. All the faithful are not called to the public ministry; but whoever are, are called to minister of that which they have tasted and handled spiritually. The outward modes of worship are various; but whenever any are true ministers of Jesus Christ, it is from the operation of his Spirit upon their hearts.
John Woolman, 1741
One characteristic institution among Friends of the “quietist” period was the traveling ministry…. The call to this ministry came often in a childhood sense of the presence of God when alone and out-of-doors. It was reinforced by powerful examples of local and traveling ministers and tested by the trials of learning to respond to the Spirit’s moving to speak in meeting. After sufficient testing, the minister would become more sensitive to the spiritual condition of others. He or she would not only speak at various meetings, often at wearisome distances from home, but would hold “religious opportunities” with families or individuals, giving them spiritual counsel. Though much of this ministry was among Friends and designed to maintain the spiritual health of the Society, it was not uncommon to call special meetings for Blacks, Indians, or apprentices, as well as to visit jails or mines. The Quaker leaven in the world owes much to these “active contemplatives” of the past, whose central message was that the living presence of the Spirit is here and now.
Carol Murphy, 1983
It is our earnest desire that ministers and elders may be as nursing fathers and mothers to those that are young in the ministry, and with all care and diligence advise, admonish, and if they see occasion, reprove them in a tender and Christian spirit, according to the rules of our Discipline and counsel of Friends in that respect; also exhort them frequently to read the Holy Scriptures, and reverently seek the mind of the Spirit of Truth to open the mysteries thereof, that, abiding in simple and patient submission to the will of God, and keeping down to the openings of Divine love in themselves, they may witness a gradual growth in their gifts, and be preserved from extending their declarations further than they find the life and power of Truth to bear them up.
Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, 1723
When men and women come to this pass that they have nothing to rely on but the Lord, then they will meet together to wait upon the Lord: and this was the first ground and motive of our setting up meetings; and I would to God that that was the use that everyone would make of them, then they would be justly and properly used according to the institution of them at first; we should use them as poor desolate helpless people that are broken off from all their own confidence and trust and have nothing to rely on but the mercy and goodness of God.
Stephen Crisp, 1663
146[Some] need to share their pain and have found no other way of being heard than during the silent Meeting. They come for the healing of their hurts, but they come with only an incomplete acceptance that the mystery of God’s presence is at the heart of Meeting for Worship. Because their audience does not include God they don’t listen for an answer, they don’t allow the power of the Holy Spirit in a gathered Meeting to overshadow them as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings. If you don’t believe God is present, what answer are you expecting and from whom?
Brenda Clifft Heales and Chris Cook, 1992
There can be complete unity of worship without a single word being said. I have known a few such meetings and shall never forget them. It was their silence, not their words, that was memorable. And even one short sentence, spoken nervously at the spirit’s prompting, is better than a well-phrased five-minute talk prepared beforehand.
Clive Sansom, 1962
And thou, faithful babe, though thou stutter and stammer forth a few words in the dread of the Lord, they are accepted.
William Dewsbury, 1660
It has been my experience that if I come to meeting in a state of strong emotion and follow an easy impulse to talk about it, I—and the meeting?—are left with a sense of emptiness. But if I trust that there’s a reason why I’m here, now, in this state, but that it’s God’s reason, not mine, and my part is to wait in holy expectancy—strange things happen. Messages which speak to my condition are given by people who couldn’t possibly know of it. The meeting ministers to my need and uses my state to minister to others—quite without my willing it.
I believe that there’s an explanation for this phenomenon. Strong emotion can make us what the early Friends called tender: vulnerable to the workings of the Spirit. I suspect that the presence of one such person in our midst can cause the meeting to gather.
Esther Murer, 1988
On First-days I frequented meetings and the greater part of my time I slept, but took no account of preaching nor received any other benefit, than being there kept me out of bad company which indeed is a very great service to youth…but one First-day, being at meeting, a young woman named Anne Wilson was there and preached; she was very zealous and fixing my eye upon her, she with a great zeal pointed her finger at me uttering these words with much power: “A traditional Quaker, thou comest to meeting as thou went from it, and goes from it as thou came to it but art no better for thy coming; what wilt thou do in the end?” This was so pat to my then condition that like Saul I was smitten to the ground as it might be said, but turning my thoughts inwards, in secret I cried, “Lord, what shall I do to help it?” And a voice as it were spoke in my heart, saying “Look unto me, and I will help thee.”
Samuel Bownas, 1696