Answering God – 40 Days with the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers)
Day 7 – Wednesday after 1st Sunday of Lent
Worship is our response to an awareness of God.
We can worship alone, but when we join with others in expectant waiting we may discover a deeper sense of God’s presence.
We seek a gathered stillness in our meetings for worship so that all may feel the power of God’s love drawing us together and leading us.
(Advices & Queries #8)
From the Scriptures:
‘Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.’ Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; 12 and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. 13 When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him that said, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’
(1 Kings 19v11-13)
When I was serving parishes in the Halesworth area of Suffolk a newly ordained colleague told us of his encounter with a parishioner the first time he took a communion service.
He arrived at the lovely St Margaret of Antioch church in Linstead to set up for service. No one arrived to join him so he went and stood at the lytch gate at the entrance to the churchyard to see if he could rustle up any business. Five minutes after the service was due to begin a ‘good old boy’ in a flat cap – somewhat of a rural Suffolk archetype – came up to him, touched the peak of his cap and said:
Parishioner: Mornin’ Vicar
Vicar: Good Morning
Parishioner: Is thur service this mornin?
Vicar: Yes, I’m just about to start
Parishioner: Are yer got The Blood today?
Vicar: Yes, it is a service of Holy Communion
Parishioner: Right Ho! I’ll come next Sunday then…
At which he wandered off homeward.
‘Worship is our response to an awareness of God’ and so should not, if it is to be as enriching as possible, be reduced to a searching after something that meets our own needs and prejudices.
The faithful of Linstead parish, well at least one of them, had been schooled into being only able to hear God in one particular way – Prayer Book Matins rather than Common Worship Holy Communion – and so found it difficult to find God’s presence in anything other than the familiar.
For many this is all they feel is needed for a sufficient faith. However for those who see worship with God as an encounter rather than a form of words they may find that in expectant waiting [they] may discover a deeper sense of God’s presence.
Yes, it is true that we don’t need to go to church to pray
Yes, some people can be closer to God in a Garden than anywhere else
(or listening to still small voices in the middle of earthquake, wind and fire!)
Yes, watching Songs of Praise counts as worship.
and sadly, yes some of the faithful for reasons of access, ability and distance cannot spend much time in the physical presence of other worshippers.
However all of us, be we frightened lonely Elijah in the eye of a storm, rural parishioner in the wilds of East Suffolk, or one of two or three gathered in God’s name on a winter Monday evening, have an opportunity to go deep with God by learning to be still and listen for a sound of sheer silence.
In the Church of England our liturgy is liberally scattered with rubrics – stage directions for the decent and proper conduct of ritual – and the one most honoured in the breach is ‘Silence is kept’. Not, please note, ‘Silence MAY BE kept’ but rather the mandatory ‘Silence is kept’. Perhaps if we followed the rubrics we might have the space to hear the sound of sheer silence of God’s call on our life and, in our communal listening, be drawn closer together in our common journey to follow God’s call.
In all our devotions and denials and charitable acts over the next days and weeks let’s aim to add a little emptiness, a time of regular silence, into our worship.
May all I say and all I think
be in harmony with Thee,
God within me,
God beyond me,
Maker of the Trees
(Chinook Chant, Native North American)
1) Read slowly the note from ‘Advices & Queries’ above again
2) Commit yourself to a regular time of silent prayer in the company of others.
Quotes from ‘Advices & Queries’ are copyright © The Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) in Britain, 1995, 1997 and 2008
Scripture quotations are copyright © New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright 1989, 1995, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Prayers from ‘Prayers for Hard Times’ are copyright © Becca Anderson 2017
These Reflections, ‘Answering God’ are copyright © Andrew Dotchin 2020 – and may be reproduced without charge on condition that the source is acknowledged