Bringing Worship Home

A&Q #3

Do you try to set aside times of quiet for openness to the Holy Spirit? All of us need to find a way into silence which allows us to deepen our awareness of the divine and to find the inward source of our strength. Seek to know an inward stillness, even amid the activities of daily life. Do you encourage in yourself and in others a habit of dependence on God’s guidance for each day? Hold yourself and others in the Light, knowing that all are cherished by God

Worship: The dictionary defines worship as “to pay great honour to” or “to show reverence and adoration for”. The origin of the word is Old English, meaning an acknowledgement of the worth of someone. When I think of worshipping God, this definition makes me uncomfortable. Does God need me to pay honour to God? Does God need me to acknowledge God’s worth? It all sounds sycophantic to me if I’m honest. 

Instead, Quaker worship feels to me like sitting still in the love of God, feeling that connection to the eternal that takes me out of time and place and into a sense of fullness, of completeness. 

I don’t feel this in the busy noise of church rituals. Sometimes I find it in the silence of nature, of the forest or the fens, but most often worshipping with those Quakers in whose safe and nurturing presence my heart can rest. 

Then I feel a flow of love that calms my spirit and awakens in me a sense of the universal. I believe that this flow of the love of God is something that goes on all the time; we just dip in and out, and can feel it when we let our walls down and open ourselves to the love of God. 

When that happens, some of it sticks and I can bring that back to the world and fulfill the ministry that brings my great joy to the needs of the imperfect world. The trick is to keep holding on to that love, that feeling of absolute peace and presence that comes when worship happens.

Often I fail. It’s hard to bring it back into the world of humans elbowing each other for prestige and recognition and wealth and power without putting up the fences and walls that I use to protect myself from a world that seems to have forgotten this amazing feeling of connection. Those walls and fences of self defense bind up the flow of love and thus kill it. It needs to circulate. We only keep it by giving it away.

But what if we could trust that sense of peace and presence? What if we could come back to the world and lay down those walls? Just live wide open? 

This sense of being in that perfect love feels like a fragile thing. Feeling this love seems like only half the work: the rest is to bring it back to the world. That’s hard to achieve where there is judgment or conflict or unresolved issues. 

Whether judgment and conflict are in our personal lives or in the greater world, they can block us from God’s love. Not because God doesn’t love us, but because they generate fear which clogs the channel through which that love flows. The simple admonition to ‘love one another’ holds the key to holding on to the sense of completeness and connection in a world that seems to be falling apart. It tells us to bring back the love of God that we find in worship and to give it away to those who need it most. 

Love one another. It’s that simple and that difficult.

In Praise of the Weird

21.07 It is by our ‘imperfections’ that we move towards each other, towards wholeness of relationship. It is our oddities, our grittiness, the occasions when we hurt or are hurt, that challenge us to a deeper knowledge of each other. Our sins have been said to be stepping-stones to God. Quaker Faith and Practice of Britain Yearly Meeting, 5th edition

Many years ago, when I was in graduate school learning to be a psychologist, I took a class that was a little different from most. Buried in the study of psychological abnormalities was a course with the unappealing name of ‘mental hygiene’. It was essentially a class in normal psychology. 

Under the guidance of a Freudian psychoanalyst, we studied normal behavior. One day the professor said something that I will always remember: “normal isn’t always healthy, it’s just what most people do — it’s just average.” We learned that abnormal behavior is often a simple exaggeration of the normal – a matter of degree.

She went on to say that differences from normal, ‘weirdness’ if you will, can be a mark of a strong character and can often be found in those who make important contributions to their community. To emphasize that point, she said (with a chuckle), “do you realize that if I could have got my hands on Jesus Christ he would have been the best carpenter in the world?”

In this sense we are all abnormal. And that’s a good thing. It is our differences from the crowd that let us do the work we are called to do. Our weirdness, our not-normality is also often the thing that helps us to know what that work is. 

I think of this sometimes, and am reminded that often the things that most annoy us about others are the things that enable them to do the work that we admire.

For example, I believe that it was George Fox’s arrogance that allowed him to challenge the powers that be and to persevere in the face of great resistance and personal risk to found our spiritual community. I wonder if Greta Thunberg’s Aspergers allows her to resist the social pressure that would have crippled me as a teenager and to do what she knows is right. Closer to home, I think of a Friend who is annoyingly persistent when they want something, not taking no for an answer. That fact has allowed them to do amazing things in the local community. 

We are made the way we are for a reason, and we might think about exploring the usefulness our “not-normality” can bring to our community. We try to get rid of our weirdnesses, but they are also our strengths. We need them to do the work we are called to do. 

As Quakers we sometimes celebrate our collective differences from the mainstream, from the normal. Our acceptance of those differences, those ‘weirdnesses’, can allow Friends to feel empowered to do work that others shy away from: work with refugees, in prisons, against the arms trade. 

Other times we find ourselves uncomfortable with individuals who are different from the Quaker mainstream – those who have a different theology, a different accent, a different way of approaching our Meeting. 

What if we could accept our own and others’ weirdness as an integral part of the gifts they bring to our community? Would that change how we perceive and live with all of those who are not like us? Can we see the gift in the differences among those in our community? Can we show the love of God to those we would like to avoid? 

Author’s note: This was published in the British Quaker Magazine “The Friend” 9 April 2021

Photo by Cottonbro on Pexels

A Rule to Live By

My Friend Ken Orchard was inspired by the Rule of St. Benedict, written in 516 as a series of precepts to guide the life of monks living together. Ken has written his own Rule as a guide for his life. When I first heard it read it touched my heart as ministry.  He has allowed me to publish it here.

  • Open your heart, mind and soul to the divine energy for every hour of every day. Live faithfully to your sacred potential. Make the divine energy central to you and in you and be true to it in all that you do. 
  • Surrender yourself to the divine energy without reservation and put the divine will even before your own. 
  • Total commitment brings change. Little by little or vast area by vast area let your life be transmuted in the life of the divine energy.
  • The basis of simplicity is centring on the divine energy. The heart of the monastic life is to live always in the presence of that energy. 
  • Offer yourself as a place of prayer. Enter silence joyfully. May your presence be one that heals divisions and expands hearts. 
  • Celebrate embodiment. All of creation is a manifestation of the divine energy. Worship it with unparalleled commitment and a complete love that is without self-interest. Work to make the holy manifest. 
  • Refrain from possession. Love expands the spirit, possession contracts it.
  • Treat all religions and spiritual paths, and those who follow them, with honour and respect. 
  • Seek the company of those who will deepen your spirituality and support your journey.
  • Create community wherever you are. Make of your heart a home for the homeless, a refuge for the poor. 
  • Be simple, honest and authentic. Welcome humility and vulnerability into your life. Express your gratitudes and appreciations openly.
  • Surrender yourself to the true glorifying of the divine energy.

For Our Sins

I have always believed that Jesus isn’t coming again, because I don’t think he ever left.

We are promised that Jesus “will come again in glory…”

I have always believed that Jesus isn’t coming again, because I don’t think he ever left. In every generation there are those prophetic voices echoing the message of Jesus: love one another and let your life speak. Often we kill them. Three examples would be Dr. Martin Luther King, Rosa Luxemburg and Mahatma Gandhi.

In a recent Woodbrooke course we learned that crucifixion was a political death – the Roman equivalent of being hanged, drawn and quartered. It was meant to be painful and public and humiliating. A warning to those who follow — both those who would come after and those who were his disciples.

We are told that Jesus died this death for our sins. To redeem us for the sins we have committed but also for the sins whose burden we carry that were committed by Adam and Eve, two people who didn’t actually exist historically. 

But what if Jesus didn’t die for our sins but because of our sins? Not to pay for our sins but because the sins we carried couldn’t let him and his message live? 

The sins that were responsible for this particularly cruel and harsh political death are still with us: pride, domination, ambition, control, lust for power, empire. And they are the ones responsible for the continued assassination of those who tell us that we are enough, that we are worthy of love and so is everyone else. They tell us that we should love one another because God loves us just as we are.They tell us that we are all equal and that none are more equal than others. When we can accept this we lose the need to dominate and control others. We also lose the ability to be dominated and controlled, which can be a dangerous thing.

Sin separates us from the love of God. These particular sins – pride, domination, ambition, control, lust for power, empire – also separate us from our fellow humans. This separation is part of what enables the dehumanizing process which allows us to kill each other. This separation is lost if we can believe that we are all equal in the eyes of God, who loves us just as we are; that is why this message is a threat to those who need for us to be able to kill each other. 

The message that God loves us is also the message that we are not separated from God. The radical danger of that message is that if we believe this then we don’t need elite power structures to ‘save’ us from ourselves and each other. We only need to know that we are loved and that we can pass that love to others. It’s that action of denying / dismantling the power structures that triggers the need to wipe out the ones who teach it, often in cruel and very public ways.

I believe that Jesus died not to save us from sin today but because he was saving people at that time and in that place, as those who are murdered today are saving people in this time and in this place. The need to dominate and control cannot allow this radical message of love and equality to continue to be spread.

What if we could hold the belief that we are good enough just as we are? Would we be able to give up the need to dominate and control others? Could we give up pride and ambition? Could we know that we don’t need to accomplish anything more than we have already done? What if we truly loved ourselves and others, as equal recipients of God’s grace? 

If we could do that we might be able to vanquish the sins which separate us from the love of God and thus cause the death of those who teach us to love one another. 

Photo by Jack B on Unsplash