I ran into Laurie about six weeks ago, after Meeting one Sunday; She said "Hi Mark... say, would you consider doing First Word sometime?" My immediate response was "No Way!"
Fortunately, this wasn't a verbal response, although I suspect she could read it in my eyes. There was a brief internal battle between my id and my superego, but after a bit of hesitation, I said "sure, I'd be happy to do that some time."
Why did I hesitate? Some people are naturally open, outwardly focused. Those who know me know that I'm a quiet person. I usually find it difficult to share of myself in large groups.
Why, then, did I decide to accept the offer? Well, first of all, I'm strongly influenced by the sensibilities of my parents - you know... depression-era, Lutheran-upbringing, German-Scandinavian farmer-types. I have a strong, if misguided conviction that anything that hurts must be good for me.
But more importantly, I realized not long after coming to West Hills Friends that it was those people who frequently speak during meeting that I felt the strongest connection to. They felt like real people; accessible, approachable. It was only a small step to realize that if I never shared of myself, these people and others in the meeting probably wouldn't feel a similar connection to me.
For a while, I used to feel some guilt over this. I feel like I do have a responsibility to participate in the open sharing that we do as a meeting, as a way of fostering the spiritual bond between us all. But, I have decided that God in God's wisdom created an incredible diversity in nature, including diversity in personalities. If I'm not wired for easy sharing, it's probably okay, and God will find the right time and place to speak through me.
But one of the good things that has come of this exercise is that I have had a chance to reflect a little more deeply on the nature of the worship experience. I think that when people participate verbally in worship, they feel some exhilaration, some release. They are uplifted by the act of the their participation. But at the same time, those who receive the message are also uplifted. So both the giver and the receiver have been spiritually blessed by the exchange.
An early Quaker by the name of Isaac Penington had this to say about people in worship: "They are like a heap of fresh and burning coals warming one another, as a great strength, freshness and vigor of life flows into all." I think that's a wonderful image of the synergy that takes place when people are gathered in worship. I would like to thank all of you, especially those who open themselves generously, for the warm gift of the worship experience we share.