A Friends Meeting.
For those of you who've stuck with Mainstream Religion your entire lives, with nary a thought of betraying the tradition of your particular practice, let me enlighten you: Friends in this context are Quakers. Really, who wouldn't be drawn to a people who throw this disclaimer onto their national website's homepage:
Quakers are not: Amish, Anabaptists, Shakers or Puritans--we come from a separate tradition than these other groups. We mostly don't dress like the man on the box of oats anymore, and today we hardly ever call people "thee."
No one called me "thee" this morning. In fact I arrived and found a seat in a large, four row circle of silence. That's what Quakers do on Sunday mornings. They sit, unless someone in the group feels called to speak, in silence. For an hour. There is no call to worship, no responsive reading, no scripture recitation, no singing, no confession of faith, no assurance of pardon, no prayers of the people, no sermon. You are totally on your own to make connection with The Holy.
What a contrast - I thought, as I first settled into the quiet - to church last week. Last week I sat among old friends and, well, gossiped a bit as we gathered for worship. Then I downloaded a Bible app to my phone during announcements...and, okay, I might have checked my email too. I probably added one or two items to my phone app shopping list while I was at it. Then I numbly stood and sat and sang and bowed my head and did it again another two to three times before listening with almost undivided attention to the words someone else had decided I needed to hear.
Today, I was on my own. Once I found my breath and some focus, I heard my call to worship. It was a songbird - I kid you not - singing ever so sweetly just outside the door of the worship center. When she flew to a branch a little farther out of earshot I began to hear the responsive reading - the long breaths of over 50 people gathered, the sighs, the coughs, the whispers, the quiet tip-toeing in of late comers...assurances that I was not alone. Scripture came easily into my head when I went looking in that unreliable old vault that is my memory: Be still and know that I am God. I examined the text at length - word by word:
Be - it is not time to DO, it is time to BE
Still - all that makes your heart race, your blood boil, your mind tilt...let it go
And - there is more I must tell you
Know - you have wisdom from many sources...your intellect, your life experiences, your heart...know
That - an elliptical imperative, of sorts...a "pay attention" conjunction. I was paying attention...
I - not YOU
am - active verb...not was, not will be...AM
God - Creator, Inspirer, Celebrator, Griever, Father, Mother, Gift Giver, Holy Holy Holy - God.
Then I became aware of the busyness of the street outside the building, and I turned my thoughts to intercession on behalf of all those who could not find stillness in the morning. Perhaps the man sitting next to me? Maybe someone in my family. Certainly the people of Japan. Most likely many people in Iraq and Afghanistan and Libya. The President? The Governor? The Grieved? The Sick? The Poor? The Lost? The Lonely? I have never found so many names and faces in my prayers.
And then, much to my surprise, a rustle and a mumble began and I opened my eyes to find an extended hand and a smile on the face of the young man sitting in front of me. "God's peace be with you," he said. The hour was finished. I had sat my multi-tasking, media-loving, blurt-style-talking self down for a full hour of silence.
And I have spent the balance of the day quietly wondering this: What if we all spent an hour a week being instead of doing, listening instead of talking? What if knowing came from the heart and hearing included the songs of birds? What if the presence of the Divine was something very real for one full hour every week?
What kind of world would that be?