Spiritual Community

Yesterday I wrote about some of my personal spiritual practices.

This is Sunday, or First Day morning (see [1] below ), which means I am preparing to go to meeting for worship.  That is what Quakers call our church services, and where we participate in community spiritual practice.

Quakers came into being in the 1650’s in England at a time when the official church was very unpopular, and much of the country was trying to find a way to meet their spiritual needs. A number of religious groups, with variety of practices, were established during those turbulent times.

What Quakers believed then, and now, is that there is something of God in every person, which makes us all equal, all concerned for each other, all members of the global community. Then, and now, we believe that means that each person is able to communicate directly with God, which means a minister or priest is not a requirement.

It is often really hard to hear what God is trying to say to you, especially as our social lives have become increasingly busy, complex and noisy.  The Quaker form of worship is to sit together in silence for about an hour as we each try to hear what that inner spirit is saying to us, and what to do about it when we do hear something. Somehow this shared seeking together often helps each of us present feel we have been more closely in touch with the Spirit than usually occurs when we meditate alone. Occasionally anyone present may feel they have been given a spiritual message to share, so they speak that into the silence. Often others find that message related to what they had been exploring themselves in the silence.

There is a video series called Quaker Speak, about Quaker topics, such as meeting for worship.  http://quakerspeak.com/?s=meeting+worship&submit=Search

Finally, one First Day I was given a message to share.  It was very short, and had a visual component.  After that meeting, I recorded the message, and the visual that prompted it.  I called it Spiritual Fire.

To find a Quaker meeting near you:

http://www.quakerinfo.org/quakerism/findingfriends

Another of our group spiritual practices is to discuss a set of questions (referred to as queries) that are designed to help us continuously evaluate the conditions of our meetings and spiritual communities.  We have 12 sets of queries, one set being considered each month.  Those Friends gathered together for that month’s discussion, which often occurs in the hour before or after meeting for worship, come up with a group response.  These responses are gathered together, and shared during the annual sessions, when Friends gather together for about a week to do the work of the Yearly Meeting.  These discussions are very important, serving as a way to explore the current state of the spiritual life of the meeting, and to address questions or conflicts that might have arisen.

My monthly meeting, Bear Creek, has been using the consideration of the queries as a way for those of us who live too far away from the meeting to attend regularly, to continue to participate in the spiritual life of the meeting.  Each month those who live at a distance, are invited to send their responses to that month’s queries, to the meeting.  Then when those who are physically present at the meetinghouse discuss the queries, the responses from the distant members are included in the discussion.

For each set of queries, there is also an “advice”, that summarizes the subject at hand.  The advice and queries related to Meeting for Worship are:

ADVICE

Meeting for Worship is the heart of the meeting. In the silence, we seek direct communion with God the Spirit, conscious of the seeking of others. From the depths of living silence may come an awareness of the presence of the Spirit.

Sometimes the silence is unbroken. At other times a message may come to any one of us which seems intended not simply for the worshiper, but for the gathering as a whole. If the message is not expressed one may feel a sense of not having been faithful to a leading of the Spirit, but if it is spoken, a sense of peace may follow. We are most effective if we speak clearly, simply and from our own experience. Because we are unique individuals who come from varied backgrounds and life experiences, our messages reflect diversity. Part of our worship together is listening with an open spirit, holding the speaker in love, remembering that silence after the message is part of the message.

Our daily lives are linked with Meeting for Worship. In the search for truth, Friends are encouraged to spend time in individual study, meditation or prayer and to be open to other sources of inspiration around us. The life of the meeting may be strengthened by a deep level of sharing, discussion or worship at times other than regularly scheduled meetings.

Friends should make an effort to arrive a Meeting for Worship prepared in mind and spirit to support one another in a worshipful atmosphere. As we give and receive, in speech or in silence, we are drawn together in the life of the Spirit.

QUERY

• Are our Meetings for Worship held in a spirit of expectant waiting and communion with the Holy Spirit? How do we prepare our hearts and minds for worship?

• How do we refer to that which is divine? How does ascribing gender to the Holy Spirit affect our worship?

• How does the vocal ministry of the meeting contribute to its spiritual life? In what ways do we recognize and nurture vocal ministry and other spiritual gifts?

As an example, here is one meeting’s response to these queries:

A good portion of the discussion of this query centered around vocal ministry and the spirituality of the meeting.
One participant in the discussion felt that our meeting appears not to have a common, shared spirituality and that this may contribute to our difficulties in keeping young people in the meeting. Because vocal ministry tends not to come from a large variety of members, young people may not view the individual messages as messages from the meeting, but as messages from individuals.
Other participants expressed different viewpoints. One felt that our young people are here because of our spirituality. Another pointed out that one’s view is dependent on the definition of “spiritual,” and said that if a common belief is the basis of a common spirituality, then she felt that it was not necessarily desirable to have a common spirituality. She grew up in a meeting where there was a great deal of unity of belief, yet she was not entirely comfortable with all aspects of this belief. In thinking about the definition of spirituality, one participant expressed the view that spirituality is an aspect of what we share and how we care for each other. Another participant felt that it is not necessary to have a single definition of spirituality to have a collective sense of spirituality.
A number of participants expressed their personal experiences with spirituality. One expressed the difficulty during meeting for worship of letting go of one’s own thoughts and letting the Spirit lead. Another talked about the ups and downs of life and the Spirit. There are times when a person clearly feels the presence of God and feels a sense of being led, but there are also times when a person feels utterly alone and adrift. One must be ready and open at any time for the presence of God to be felt. Sunday morning meeting for worship is in a sense the opportunity to practice readiness for communion with God. A third participant expressed her growth in spirituality through her struggle to find a deeper level of spiritual energy in an effort to try to help others in the meeting.

[1]  The common names of days of the week and months of the year, such as “Sunday” and “January”, were adopted in honor of pagan deities. Friends have traditionally rejected such vocabulary and have called the days of the week and the months of the year by their numbers. For example, Sunday is First Day.  In the 20th Century, many Friends began accepting use of the common date names, feeling that any pagan meaning has been forgotten.     http://www.iymc.org/calendarnames.html

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