CONCERNING THE EXPERIENCE OF WORSHIP
Traditional Quaker worship is very distinct from what you might find in other Christian churches. In traditional Quaker worship, there is no designated speaker. There is no set routine about when to sing or when to pray. And a good deal of the time is spent in silence.
Although this method of worship may sound strange, Robert Barclay testifies to its great power. In this chapter, we concern ourselves with his testimony.
Writing in the Apology, Barclay asks the reader to envision what happens when you hold some combustible material very near a flame -- even though the fire never actually touches the material, still the flame spreads. Fire leaps across the distance. Quaker worship has this same infectious energy. Those coming into a meeting for worship can have something within them "kindled" by the intensity of God's presence in those around them.
Barclay also offers the analogy of "priming the pump." Living (as we do) on the modern side of indoor plumbing, we may not be familiar with this phenomenon. In former days, people drew their water from a pump. The process required cranking a handle up and down. But simply cranking on the handle is not enough to do the trick. One must first pour a little water down the pump to bring up the rest.
In a similar dynamic, those entering a Quaker meeting for worship could find the Spirit of God welling up inside them. The Light present in the gathered community could fill them just enough to release God's Spirit from within.
According to Barclay, those who come into a Quaker meeting for worship can feel something stirred up inside themselves. There is an experience in a gathered meeting for worship that draws one into a direct experience of God.
Being human, there are sure to be times when our minds wander. There are sure to be times when we are distracted from worship by the hurry and bustle of outward business. Fortunately, it is within the power of a gathered meeting to draw us back to our center.
Perhaps even more amazing, the gathered meeting has power even over those who are hostile or intent on disruption. Barclay writes: "Sometimes, when there is not a word in the meeting, but all are silently waiting, if one comes in that is rude and wicked... perhaps with an intention to mock or do mischief, if the whole meeting be gathered into the life, and it be raised in good measure, it will strike terror into such a one, and he will feel himself unable to resist."
In fact, Barclay considers himself a person won over to the Friends movement primarily by the power of its worship. He writes: "I myself... who not by strength of arguments, or by a particular disquisition of each doctrine, and convincement of my understanding thereby, came to receive and bear witness of the truth, but by being secretly reached by this life; for when I came into the silent assemblies of God's people, I felt a secret power among them, which touched my heart, and as I gave way unto it, I found the evil weakening in me and the good raised up, and so I became thus knit and united unto them, hungering more and more after the increase of this power and life, whereby I might feel myself perfectly redeemed."
We are left with this irony: the greatest theologian among the Friends was not convinced by any argument of theology. This great thinker was not convinced by any great thought. Instead, he came to truth through the power of his experience.
The power of Quaker worship is its ability to directly connect us with an experience of the Living Christ.
We'll examine the theology behind Quaker worship in the next chapter. For now, here are some questions to consider:
1. What "primes your pump" for worship? What facilitates your ability to worship in a meaningful way?
2. What obligations do we have to prepare for worship if we are to truly create a spiritual environment where others are moved by God's presence in us?
3. Do you agree with Barclay, that a good understanding of God best comes after a good experience of God?
Continue to Proposition Eleven (pt. 2)