I received a mailing from Friends Journal, which describes its goal today “to serve the Quaker community and the wider community of spiritual seekers through the publication of articles, poetry, letters, art, and news that convey the contemporary experience of Friends.” I signed up for the one-year subscription, and in today’s world of instant gratification, I immediately became able to download the latest issue, and peruse the archive of all issues going back to 1955, the year that both the Journal and I got our start in the world.
I selected the issue closest to my birth date and began reading. The discussion of the Korean conflict, of the arms race, of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, could all have been written today. And for a lunch-time meditation, this article, on preparing for meeting, was just the right size for reading over my soup and sandwich. Nothing earthshaking – just some suggestions for preparing for silence. But part of the process is always reviewing what you may already know, and hearing how others come to the same point. So, let me share that article with you all – a voice from 1955 – but passing along timeless advice.
Preparing for Meeting
JANET WHITNEY’S article “Some Thoughts on the Meeting for Worship” in the first issue of FRIENDS JOURNAL was cogent in its description of the type of ministry which all too often violates the silence of our meetings. Smaller groups often sense a real feeling of embarrassment rising from the fear that visitors or newly convinced Friends might find a silent meeting too difficult. Also when the children come to worship, someone is sure to feel that they need a message. It is, indeed, one way of “relieving the silence,” and achieving a more active sense of participation.
The author then asks, “Do we … need to bring nothing to meeting but our need?” The answer was, perhaps, not quite satisfactory. Surely we need to bring with us more than a need and a smattering of the week’s intellectual accumulations. May I suggest a few thoughts on the three modes of preparation I have found helpful before going to meeting?
First, I want a bit of serenity gained by deliberately abandoning the Sunday paper and household chores for the half hour before meeting. Often it has to be done by walking to meeting, and I recommend the practice. Meditation and reverent reading of Scripture is not always possible in the midst of a large family. The meeting hour itself is too precious to be used for settling down.
Second, I want an active feeling of respect, interest in, and love for the members of the group. I anticipate being with them. While one may very well worship with strangers, the bonds of fellowship will always assist in uniting us. Love of man is the first step toward love of God.
Third, I feel I must bring more than hunger and hope. I need the firm expectation that I shall be filled. All worship is an act of faith. No one knocks convincingly at a door when he does not really expect to be answered.
When we come to worship thus prepared, our feeling of participation is so concrete that silence needs no relief. When many Friends attend in this same mood, the unity of love will embrace even newcomers, and we have heard them speak about it with appreciation. We do not carry food to a banquet; nor do we bring a sermon to a meeting. But we should come with good appetite, an awareness of fellowship, and the confidence of enjoying the occasion.
WILLARD E. MEAD (September 1955 Friends Journal)
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