Sunday, August 14, 2005

If you're not part of the solution...

The old saying goes, "If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem." I prefer the geekier version: "If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the precipitate."

I was going back through some posts on other Quaker blogs and I came across this quote on beppeblog:
As a side note: I also feel that this blog has turned into a complaning place - my complaints about the Society.

I think it is natural to do a bit of complaining, especially because we have all noticed some glaring problems. It is better if a complaint is accompanied by a possible solution. The "War Is Not The Answer" signs are good, but why not propose an answer?

I have read a number of different complaints about liberal Quakers lately, but it seems like the biggest one is the lack of Spirit-centeredness. It also seems like a lot of meetings are aware of the problem but don't know what to do. You can't just say "we need to be more Spirit-centered in our work" and expect that to do the trick. I read an interesting passage by Rufus Jones describing the household of his childhood:

The word "mystical" was never spoken and of course had never been heard in our circle. It was implicit practice and not explicit theory that counted. I was immersed in a group mystical life from the very birth of consciousness and memory. Every day at breakfast we had a long period of family silent worship, during which all the older members of the group seemed to be plainly communing in joyous fellowship with a real Presence. The reality of it all was so great, and certainly of something more than just ourselves in the room was so clearly felt that we little folks were caught into the experience and carried along with the others. The mysterious high had its own awe and the rapt look on the older faces deepend the sense of awe and wonder. By the time I was four years old I had formed the habit of using corporate silence in a heightening and effective way. It brought with it, even for the child, a sense of Presence.
            From Rufus Jones: Essential Writings

The reason I included this passage is the quote "it was implicit practice and not explicit theory that counted". What is it about our practice today that is failing us and what can we do to improve it? I don't really have an answer to that question, but I would like to start with two observations:

  • The main thing that keeps coming to me right now is "time limits". From what I understand, Meeting for Worship used to end when the clerk discerned that it was time for it to end. These days, that "clerk" is usually a wristwatch.

  • If children are in meeting, it is often for only a short period of time. I don't know about other meetings, but in my meeting, I have noticed that there are very few messages in the 15 minutes that the children are with us.

I can understand that the time limit issue can be particularly difficult for Friends, but the voice inside of me keeps saying "is there something more important than God?" It's not that I am saying that longer worship is what we need, it's that we need to relinquish control of when the meeting ends. I wonder if maybe for starters, there might be once a month when the Meeting for Worship has no set time limit.

I know that many meetings have discussed the issue of children in Meeting for Worship, with varying results. Many people find the presence of children distracting, and children these days have a harder time sitting still in meeting. For large meetings, perhaps a special family-friendly Meeting for Worship might be a good idea -- something where the children are expected to stay, and to behave, but where Friends understand that it will take some patience. Rufus Jones said that even at the age of four he attended MfW for almost 2 hours every week. Of course, he didn't have TV, radio, CD players or video games to distract him, and his family had daily periods of silent worship.

Since I have been considering these kinds of issues for some time now and seem to have an interest in it, I am beginning to think I should join the Ministry & Worship committee. That might give me a better idea what is being done, what isn't being done, and what has been tried.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Mark,
    I love the observation about letting our wristwatch be our clerk. I've been to Meetings where the discernment for breaking worship consists of counting to 10 after the first digital wristwatch beeps.

    I know and love some of the Friends who I've seen do this. I think part of the problem is that they're just not confident enough that they could discern the Spirit's lead. I've known some really deeply-centered Friends who will tell me they've never experienced the inward Christ/Spirit and I think "wha?? of course you have." I've seen it working in them very clearly but we too often have a fear of naming it.

    So yes, how do we get to an implicit practice of centering down that gets us into that joyful fellowship?