How do you know when to stand up and speak out of the silence in Quaker worship? We asked 9 Quakers how to know when you have a message that needs to be shared.
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Paul Motz-Storey: Quakers often say that there are some times that a message is meant for you alone and some times it’s meant for the meeting as a whole. For me it’s clear, because I am an introvert. I don’t like to speak in public and I get very nervous speaking in public. So if I don’t want to do it but I feel compelled to do it, then I know I’m meant to do it.
When to Speak in Quaker Worship
Melinda Wenner Bradley: How do you know when to speak in meeting for worship? The first part of the answer is that we are all invited to both be listening inwardly and sharing outwardly.
William Wolf: A big part of my Quakerism is trying to bring God into the worship. If there is God in all of us then any of us should be able to tap into that and bring that Spirit forward to the community.
Carter Nash: If you feel that you have been given a message from the Spirit, from God, from that love that is within you, and you have tested it to make sure it is from God and not your ego, then you speak.
Julia Carrigan: The virtue of Quaker silent unprogrammed meeting is that it is inherently unplanned. Tom Hoopes, the religion teacher at George School, likes to say, “Your only job is to show up.” I think that really strikes a chord with me, when you can come into a space and all you have to do is be there. And that’s a lot, because you have to really be there and be present if you want to get the most out of your meeting.
Kri Burkander: We’re waiting. We’re not just sitting there, there’s a thing that we’re doing. We expectantly waiting. We expect something to happen. One of the great ideas about Quakerism is that we didn’t need an intermediary between ourselves and God, that we could have a direct, personal relationship with God and that’s what worship is all about. The idea is that it is God among us speaking through whoever is gathered.
Testing a Message
Pamela Haines: So when I’m sitting in meeting, how do I know when to speak? It’s a really hard one. I notice my heartbeat, and if my heartbeat gets going and doesn’t stop, that’s one sign. I ask myself: is this just something that I’m thinking about or is this something that comes from a deeper place? I ask myself: can I not stand up?
Melinda Wenner Bradley: We often talk about asking ourselves 3 questions as a test, as a way of querying ourselves and testing whether or not to stand. The first question is, “Does this message feel like it comes from spirit?” Does it feel like it comes from within? Does it feel like it comes from here (heart) and not from here (head). The second question would be, “Is this message for me or is it for others?” Is this for me to share? The third question is, “Is it for now or is it for later?” Is it something that out of the silence of worship, that out of this space together and this communal waiting, that I might share with those gathered? Or is it for some other time, is it for later?
Ayesha Imani: For me, it’s when I reach that point that I’m shaking. I’m feeling like this has to come out because it’s something coming through me. And that it’s not about me. The speaking is done in community, and so it’s not about me sharing my thoughts. I think Jeremiah talks about fire that showed up in his bones and he just had to say something. A good practice is to speak when you feel that you have to, not simply that you want to: that if you don’t speak, you’re not going to be at peace.
Julia Carrigan: I know for me there’s like this buzz in my stomach. You’re shaking and you’re like, “Oh, I’ve got something to say!” There’s this link for me that’s spiritual to mental, mental to physical. I feel like the spirit comes into my brain and tells me to say something, and then my brain is making me physically need to stand up.
Benjamin Camp: When I’m in worship and I think I might have a message, I run over it a bunch of times. First I start to process where that message is coming from. Have I already heard it today? Did I hear it on the radio on the way here? Not that that’s necessarily bad, but it happens a lot, so I ask, “Is this a deep message? Is this a message that comes from a connection with the light, a connection with God? Is it something that is important to me? Is my message in service to the meeting, or is my message useful to me?” And if it’s useful for me, I’ll just tell my partner later. If it’s really in service to the meeting, is there a requirement to share it? Is holding it back a disservice to others?
Kri Burkander: And it generally is this urgency. You can’t keep it in, and it has to happen right now. That’s part of the testing, “Is it right now? Is it for everyone? Is it just for me?” and you kind of go through all of that, and then you find yourself standing and suddenly you’re like, “Oh my gosh, I didn’t know I was going to be standing, but here we are!” So it happens like that, I think. Sometimes. It happens different ways for different people, but that’s what it can look like.
- Have you ever given vocal ministry in an unprogrammed Quaker worship? What did it feel like? How did you know that you were supposed to stand and speak?
- Many Friends describe a physical sensation when they feel led to stand up and speak. Can you relate to the “buzzing” that Julia describes or Pamela’s consistently elevated heartbeat? What happens in your body when you feel moved by the Spirit?
The views expressed in this video are of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect the views of Friends Journal or its collaborators.