October 10, 2007

Worship and visits among early Friends

For whatever reason, the last few weeks in Meeting for Worship I have found my mind resting on how our participation in meetings and in worship perhaps has changed since the first few generations of Friends:

  • Without cars or mass transit, would people have traveled more than 10-15 miles on any given First Day to attend worship? Or would people naturally have gathered as a local meeting or worship group, making it easier for more Friends to attend a meeting for worship that was held in closer proximity to where they lived?

    Would there have been many more meetings and worship groups across the land as a result of needing to rely on our own feet or maybe a horse?

    Would it have been that much more important, then, to make the effort to attend the monthly meeting's Meeting for Worship with attention to Business, knowing that the Spirit was moving amongst so many small groups in a region? Would it have been refreshing to hear those experiences from other Friends, in the next town over?

    And would such proximity have lent itself to a local, more sustainable faith community, relying on one another for mutual support and accountability; and helping one another get to know each another "in that which is Eternal"?

  • If a traveling minister or other traveling Friend had arrived in town, would a good many more Friends attend Meeting and social or public events in order to listen to and worship with the visitor(s), knowing that such visits required an additional measure of spiritual faithfulness and physical endurance?

  • Without the huge media network that we have today, would worshipers be more likely to listen inwardly to that still, small voice, rather than mull over what they heard that morning on public radio or read in the newspaper?

  • Without the tremendous number of books available to them on psycho-spiritual matters, other faith traditions, or Quakers who had lived before them, did early Friends at the time gain inspiration from the Scriptures and from the living ministers among them?
  • I wonder sometimes if I have become a bit lazy in my Quakerism. I use the internet to search for another Quaker's words about a concept with which I am wrestling--but should I be carving out more time to listen inwardly or wait patiently in the Light for understanding and revelation to come to me?

    I underline the pages of the pamphlets and books that I read, grateful that someone is able to speak to my condition--but should I be allowing myself more time to sink into the Seed more deeply and allow the Spirit to speak directly to me?



    Chris M. said...

    Yes, yes, oh yes. Well said. Or written. This gives me chills. Wonderful queries.

    I think I should get offline now. Thanks, though, Liz!

    -- Chris M.

    Unknown said...

    Thank Liz, for this reflection. I have often thought the same thing -- that it is so easy to become lazy in light of all of our technology and accessories. Sometimes I have lulled myself into believing that there is community in reading and reflecting and journaling.

    How soon I am reminded of how far this is from the truth, when I once more rejoin my monthly meeting, or particularly when I have attended yearly sessions. There I have opportunity to hear the voice of the divine not just through history or my own listening, but through others and as challenges are met, new ideas presented, and conflicts explored.

    In our meeting house, there is a picture from a newspaper, from the early 20th century. There are horses and buggies, a few autos, and scores of people on foot. The caption tells the story of the Quaker Quarterly sessions for northwestern VA, and how people from the entire community turned out to view the proceedings.

    I wonder about the tremendous sense of presence felt at those gatherings. Sometimes, sitting in the same meetinghouse that witnessed such gatherings, I feel the power of that gathered witness as it lives with us today.

    How can we call each other to the covenant community? How can we deepen that community even across the miles that separate us from firstday to firstday?

    These are the questions that have been presented to me over and over again in worship this year.

    Peace to one and all,

    jana said...

    Media can be a boon to our Meetings, too. And example: most of the visitors that we have each to our Meeting (Orange County Friends) find us via the Internet.

    As someone who is fairly new to Quakerism myself, I am grateful for all of the online and printed resources that are available.

    Anonymous said...

    You wrote some of my thoughts. My meeting retreat is coming up. In preparation, I have been reading pamphlets and books, while wondering whether what I need to be doing is spending more time in inward retirement. How can I speak about finding light in times of darkness if I am not spending more time with the Source?

    I appreciate the nudges I get from the faithfulness of Friends in the posts I read on quakerquaker.

    Liz Opp said...

    Thanks to all of you for dropping by and sharing your thoughts!

    One thing that many of your comments and my original post"bump up against" is the comment that the first Jana makes:

    "....Most of the visitors that we have... find us via the Internet. As someone who is fairly new to Quakerism myself, I am grateful for all of the online and printed resources..."

    For someone new to Quakerism, the use of the internet can speed along one's process in connecting with an actual meeting or worship group, as well as having access to a variety of print materials that are now online.

    That said, like so many other parts of Quakerism, there is a balance to be struck, a paradox of creative tensions to live into:

    The place of modern resources/technology in our homes in our spiritual lives <--> The place of the human resources/opportunities of our meetings in our spiritual lives...

    ...or something like that.

    Perhaps the "scales" will need to shift and as we get more involved in Quakerism and create real relationships with Friends we encounter in our meetings. Many experienced Friends recognize that discerning the will of the Spirit cannot happen over the phone or electronically.

    Of course, at times I am asked about whether the internet and these Quaker blogs are negatively impacting the faith community. I am pretty easy with responding that the blogosphere has in fact helped facilitate face-to-face meet-ups among Friends from across the schisms.

    If we stay close to the Root and be mindful of our intention for using technology, we might be able to find a balance that works for us, individually, corporately, and over the long term.


    Peterson Toscano said...

    Wow oh Wow. This is so rich. Thank you.

    Just yesterday I thought of Ben Franklin, not a Quaker, but very much connected to them. Franklin said, "Early to bed, early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise." Of course Franklin didn't have Internet. That would have blown that one completely out of the water. I could just see him all caught up on YouTube.

    Anyway, thank you. I like the way the Spirit led you on this and I will revisit these queries.

    Martin Kelley said...

    Reading some of the old accounts, I'm often struck by how the distance made Friends value meeting more. People didn't just crowd First Day worship into ninety minutes between breakfast and shopping. They traveled for hours and stayed for hours.

    The other effect of transportation is that Friends actually tended to live near one another, congregating in towns where even walking would get them together in a few minutes.

    The dispersion that isolated Friends and have limited our participation long predates the internet--blame cars, the changing nature of cities, the dispersal of jobs, etc. Having spent the weekend in the buggy-land of Lancaster County, PA I have to wonder if the Amish were really so backwards when they decided community was more important than speed or convenience.

    Liz Opp said...

    Peterson and Martin -

    I agree that inventions like the motorized car and the internet (to name two) have drastically changed our lifestyles... and our priorities.

    I also have a growing sense that, at least in metropolitan areas, there will be a return to gathering locally for Meetings for Worship, perhaps with a more traditional form of worship groups that then gather monthly to attend to business affairs.

    Time will tell--along with global climate change, an oil crisis, etc. And then our priorities will change as well.