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.

Worship

Does God need worship from us? What does that mean?

Will Rogers famously said, “God created man in his image and man returned the favour.” We imagine God in our own image. I was raised with images of Jesus as a blue-eyed European who looked a little like my brother and God as an old white man standing on a cloud and judging us all. We not only create God in our image, we give God the gender of kings. 

I believe that these images and the ways in which we interact with them arose in a time and place where rulers needed to be sure of loyalty and fealty to hold on to their power. God was imagined as what was needed at that time – the ultimate ruler who would free God’s people from whoever was oppressing them. Thus the psalms speak of God protecting us from our enemies, smiting them and leading us to safe places.

Today we still interact with God based on the image of God as a powerful ruler, the king of kings, who will destroy our enemies and raise us up to a noble level above others. We worship God and sing praises and continually tell God how great God is. 

We know these physical images of Jesus and God are not really the right ones and many of us have no problem with re-imagining God in other images. We begin to see reconstructed images of Jesus as he might actually have looked. But how do we feel when we are asked to interact with God differently, in ways that are reflections of a new imagining of God? Not as a powerful ruler who will protect us but as a loving presence who can guide us and show us how to love others. 

Take, for example, the expectation that we will worship God, i.e. to acknowledge the worth of God, to show admiration for God, and to adore God. Does God really want this? Does God need our approval? Did Jesus in the manger need to be worshipped by the Magi, to be told how great he was? In truth, he probably could have used a room at the inn, some clean swaddling clothes and a bodyguard to protect him from Herod.

I do not believe that God cares where I worship God or even if I do. I don’t think I will find God in meeting houses or churches or holy sites – unless I bring God with me. God doesn’t live in sacred places, God lives in sacred actions, in how we treat each other and how we show the love of God in our lives.

The amazing fact of Quaker worship is that we sit in silence not to tell God how great God is (surely God has better things to do than listen to that?). No, in silence together we wait. Sometimes, only sometimes, we feel a connection to God and to the ones around us and if we’re very lucky, to ourselves. Our true selves. 

When that happens, we have our marching orders—“pick up your cross and follow me”. The message is clear: not “worship me”, but “follow me.” Feed the hungry, tend the sick, welcome the stranger, let your life speak. Take the love you’ve been given unconditionally and pass it on. Give it to others who need it, who need to feel that miraculous connection that was given to you. 

I believe that bringing the kingdom of God to earth is about bringing the love of God to the earth. One person, one action at a time. 

Author’s note: This was published in the British Quaker Magazine “The Friend” 5 Feb 2021

Quaker Roots

Our roots nourish us and hold us steady. But we are not our roots — we grow beyond them into something different, something new.

The Religious Society of Friends is rooted in Christianity and has always found inspiration in the life and teachings of Jesus. How do you interpret your faith in the light of this heritage? How does Jesus speak to you today? Are you following Jesus’ example of love in action? Are you learning from his life the reality and cost of obedience to God? How does his relationship with God challenge and inspire you? Advices and Queries 4, BYM Quaker Faith and Practice

We are taught that Quakerism is rooted in Christianity, but without much explanation of what that means. In the same way that early Christianity was rooted in Judaism, we are rooted in Christianity. It is our spiritual culture, the ground from which we grew, the language and concepts we use to describe our direct experiences with God. 

Our roots nourish us and hold us steady, but we are not our roots. Rather, we grow beyond them. In the same way that early Christians grew from their Jewish roots into something different, Quakers take their Christian roots and grow into something different, which fits our experience with God. 

Jesus was rooted in his family, in his culture and in his religion.  They informed every aspect of his life. But he was not only that culture – he went beyond it. He even rejected large parts of it. 

I can’t claim to be a student of the Bible, but I’m pretty sure that Jesus never said, “pick up your cross and worship me”. I think what he said was “…follow me”. Do what I do: tend the sick, feed the hungry, welcome the stranger.” I believe that the Quaker form of worship helps us to connect to our roots and then go beyond them to “let our lives speak”; to work for the world we want to see. 

Ghandi is often quoted as saying, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” Quakerism began as a return to early Christianity, to the work of Jesus. In many ways, Quakers continue to do this, to respond to Jesus rather than to the Christ. To follow the one who said that we need to “love one another”, rather than the one who is represented in many modern Christian churches. 

I often think about Jesus – the man, not the Christ. I wonder, for example, what kind of accent did he have and what did that accent say about him? How did he part his hair? What did he call his mom? We hear he was a carpenter—was there one piece he created that he was particularly proud of? Did he like his work? What did he say when he smashed his thumb with a hammer? What was his favorite color? His favorite meal? His favorite swear word? Could he swim? There is so much we do not know about this man and about the things that formed him to be the one we still talk about 2000 years after his death. 

One of the things that first attracted me to Quakers is the notion that revelation didn’t stop 2000 years ago. It continues today, as Friends wait in anticipation for divine inspiration and then share their ministry with each other and with the world. 

What does this mean, then? The mystical nature of Quakerism means that my experience may not be yours. However, I believe that the roots of Quakerism are not in the steeplehouses and the hierarchies of Christianity. I believe that those roots are in the man who taught us to love one another. It’s that simple and that difficult. 

Author’s note: This was published in the British Quaker Magazine “The Friend” 22 Oct 2020

Photo by Evie Shaffer from Pexels