My Quaker meeting maintains silent worship, which means we sit quietly, listening for the Spirit. This is called an unprogrammed meeting and is what differentiates both conservative and liberal Friends meetings from Friends Churches, which have pastors and weekly services.
During silent worship, if someone feels that the Spirit (God, Christ, Spirit, Light — we gotta lotta words for It) leads them, that person will speak, usually briefly. Some of the “old school” Quakers in my meeting say that as children, they were told they should only speak in meeting if they felt the force of the Spirit “kick them out of their seat.”
My meeting is a quiet one. It’s not unusual for a whole hour meeting to pass in complete silence, and 90% of any speaking is done by two of our elder/ly women. Meetings in which lots of people speak are sometimes called (derisively) by Quakers “popcorn meetings,” giving the impression that folks may be more focused on speaking up for themselves rather than waiting for the leading of the Spirit. We are the opposite of popcorn. We are humble little kernels, lightly buttered, perhaps, waiting for an elusive heat.*
It will probably surprise my friends and family to know that I have attended Quaker meetings sporadically here in Iowa and in Ohio for more than 6 years, and consistently attended the meeting I joined last summer for about 2 years, and I have never, ever spoken during meeting.**
Until last week.
I was sitting there in the old meeting house, which we only use in the summer because the heater is funky and we can all imagine the winter headline “Shocking Local Quaker Carbon Monoxide Suicide Pact” with an accompanying quote about how nice and quiet we all were, and a thought popped into my head. Now, this is not unusual because while I can keep from speaking during meeting, my head is all over the place. The thought was spiritual and enlightening (to me), and had to do with something I’d read earlier that week in a fantasy novel, and of all the things I might consider sharing at meeting, that would not be one of them because while I feel true affection and acceptance from my fellow Quakers, I’m already the tattoo flaunting, speculative-fiction reading, joke-cracking wackadoo from Nevada.
And then I felt a little kick, in the form of uneasiness.
No, I said to myself and to any Light that might be listening, I’m not going to share my little fantasy novel-related epiphany.
And I felt more uneasy.
No, I said, really. At meeting for business before meeting for worship, we even discussed how few people speak up at our meeting and if I say something right after that, it will look bad. Pushy. Popcorn-y.
And I felt even more uneasy. Uneasy enough to make me want to squirm.
And so, haltingly, I spoke up. I said that I get a lot of spiritual and philosophical ideas from good fantasy and sci-fi novels, because stories are about people even when they seem to be about aliens or rabbits or whatever, and I had recently re-read one*** in which, as in our world, the Spirit works among us through people, but can only do so when they have “cracked open” and become roomy. Then I said I wondered what my life would be life if I could be truly roomy for God.
And then I shut up and experienced what I’d always known happens after speaking up at meeting, but is way more disconcerting when it happens to you (or at least to me, a new Quaker). Think about it: when you are conversing with someone, or speaking up at a work meeting, your words always receive some sort of reaction, even if it’s a rolling of the eyes. Silence is even a telling reaction in a non-silent situation. When someone speaks in Meeting, however, folks don’t make eye contact or acknowledge the comment/message — it’s just Silence/words/Silence. You say your bit and that’s it, and you have no idea how anyone else received it.
But I also experienced something I wasn’t expecting: As uneasy as I had felt before speaking, afterward I felt peaceful, even joyous. And not nerdy or dorky, which is probably a more telling part of the little miracle that is silent worship.
After meeting was over, a woman thanked me and said making room for God had been on her mind a lot lately. And that’s the other (third? I’ve lost count) thing about speech during meeing for worship: it might not be about you, the speaker, at all. I have certainly heard others speak words or ideas that seemed to be exactly what I needed to hear right at that time. Again, Spirit works through us.
So there it is: I spoke up at meeting for the first time, confirming my status both as a Quaker and as a speculative fiction dork,****** and the earth didn’t open up and swallow me or anything and I didn’t even want it to.
And that’s all I have to say right now.
*At which point we will become (ex)salted. Oh come on, it’s a good pun!
**Yes, I can hear your disbelieving laughter
***Lois McMaster Bujold’s Paladin of Souls***** (which, along with Curse of Chalion, is not only well-written and a good read, but has middle-aged protagonists.)
*****I did not feel led to give the name of the book or the author. Luckily God seems to understand about the Dork Factor.
******Now that it’s done, I feel a bit dorky again. I almost didn’t include the paragraph about what I actually said. But if anyone in cyberspace laughs at me, at least I can’t hear ’em.