“What is your experience of waiting worship?”
I do not remember where I first heard the term open worship, or waiting worship, but I distinctly remember not understanding it at all.
Sooo….you just sit quiet in a room?
Where is the worship there??
Where are the instruments???
Why aren’t we exclaiming how big God is and how broken we are??!?!
….ok the last one was a bit of a joke, but when I heard about open worship, it was a couple years after I had left a rigid faith system, so I was kind of a cynical fellow. Now, I’m writing this as a convinced Evangelical Quaker, and a Christian mystic. Hearing about the Friends of the past was a big part of what kindled the fire of my early curiosity. I wondered, what did these Friends find in the stillness? What did they find that gave them the courage to defy the divine right of Kings? What did they find that gave them the strength to endure prison and mistreatment without striking back? What did they find that gave them the eyes to see that slavery was not a norm to be passively accepted? Whatever the answer is, I believe that Friends across all expressions of Quakerism still seek, and find, the same.
Below are the responses of my house and Atlanta QVS staff to the query at the beginning of the blog. We centered down on a QVS day to write our answers, and we decided that we wanted to share them with you.
“My experience has been full of…silence…and I love it. As I sit in Quaker Meeting I’m able to calmly collect my thoughts, meditate, and be aware of the light that is shining upon myself and those around me. Too often, in life, we talk & talk & talk & we don’t take time to listen…listen to others or to ourselves. Waiting worship gives you that much needed spiritual time.”
“Waiting worship…sacred sometimes, deeply moving sometimes, selfish sometimes, secular sometimes, deeply grounding oftentimes. Oftentimes consciously realized, sometimes its hard for me to settle. When my life feels hard, its easier for me to see the “light of god” in human interactions, rather than waiting for the divine in silence. I’m feeling jaded toward divinity but the light is so clear in all of you.”
“When I begin to center down into open worship, I feel like I am leaning my head back into a gently flowing stream. I am always by the stream, and every other person is by it too, I just tend to forget most of the time. Sometimes when I’m worshiping at my Meeting, I feel like there is more happening in that room than would be if we were a choir or an orchestra. It is holy, precious, and magnificent. Usually I rest in the query, ‘God, what do I need to learn today? or ‘God, what are you trying to teach me?’ Sometimes the answer is in words, pictures, or memories. Asking the question is like wandering into the woods; I don’t know where I’ll end up. When I feel led to rise and give vocal ministry, my heart races, I don’t want to speak, but I know that I need to. It is unlike anything I’ve experienced before.”
“Usually I enjoy worship once I get into it…but rarely get to the point that I would consider waiting worship. Prayer feels more like a monologue than a conversation, so I would rather read something than wait to receive a message that I am not convinced will come. But like I said, I value/enjoy reflection, just it doesn’t come very naturally.”
“I find that in general waiting worship is not the most spiritual experience. I often use it as a time to reflect on things that are happening in my life. I have only had a couple instances where I have felt moved to give a message, and I feel that in each of these instances it took a lot of convincing myself to put myself out there share it. Both of these times I came in with a feeling or thought, and then became relevant to the sense of where the meeting was. It is a powerful and very physical experience to feel moved to share, and sort of the opposite of my other state of worship where I feel very at peace.”
“Sometimes my mind goes in a millions directions and I found myself just thinking and thinking. When that happens I try to come back to breath or repeating a phrase to center myself again. Occasionally it feels very deep, covered. It feels like a palpable presence in me and in others, a unifying experience. Very, very occasional I feel clearly led to speak. Its has happened that I felt a clear message and before I stand up to speak someone else does, and says the same thing I was going to say. Thats rare, but its happened enough that I helps me trust that something real and important happening.”
“As a child, meeting for worship felt like an opportunity to think about whatever was in my mind or even to daydream. Later, I heard that I should be focusing my energy outwards during meeting, so that others who might feel moved to speak can more easily rise. I tried this for awhile, but am myself most successful in worship when I am able to fall into a calm waiting – as opposed to one in which my thoughts are churning. To me, this state is harder to get to, it is, I think the objective of Buddhist meditation when l’ve done that, but reached in what feels like a more natural way in Quaker meeting. Focusing inward and letting my thoughts settle naturally is thus the current objective of my meeting for worships, though I do not always attain this state.”
“For me, what is special about meeting for worship is the spiritual experience of being in community. My experience is impacted and enriched by the spiritual energy of the whole community. I am not necessarily referring to members who are moved to speak and their messages, (they often do not feel relevant to me, depending on the group) but more the general positive vibrations that are palpable when a group of people chooses to sit together in silent worship.”
As you can see, there was a wide variety of experiences of waiting worship in our Atlanta QVS family. After we were done reading them, we had some fun and tried to guess who each statement belonged to. As I observed the community guess correctly, the testimony of integrity came to my mind. I am glad to belong to a group that can worship together without a shellack of holiness; we come as we are. Transcribing these shared experiences of my housemates also made me realize, while each one is meaningful in its own right, they make a special sound when they are read together.