Quaker Worship Part 1: The Challenge of Sitting in Silence

What happens when you try to sit in silence for an hour? These seven Quakers discuss the challenge of being alone with one’s thoughts in Quaker worship, and the opportunity for grace and true communion on the other side.

Jon Watts

Jon Watts launched and directed the QuakerSpeak project for its first 6 seasons. Keep up to date with Jon’s work at his website.

6 thoughts on “Quaker Worship Part 1: The Challenge of Sitting in Silence

  1. What Friends shared here is inspiring — another great piece!
    It would have been cool to hear some younger people’s voices — kids, middle school-age Friends. Meeting for Worship is for them, too, and they have beauty and wisdom to share from their experiences in the silence.

  2. Thanks Jon and Friends Journal for this topic. I always enjoy these films which are a touchstone in a busy week…

    I’d like to share where my thoughts went on this one. I wished (as I started to watch this) that I could share this video with people who are athletes, people who have type A personalities, people who value and create physical strength in our world but get burned out and need to know how to rest… (SOMETIMES I think of those as the Earth element folks, instead of the Ether and Air folks like myself). I know someone like this, and I want to help her.

    But this video as it is feels only for insiders or people who are already liberal Quakers or at least mystics of some sort.

    What instead? It feels like the last speaker started to go in that direction I’d wanted, and that maaaybe what would as well would be someone sharing more about the structure of the silent time, a structure that seems to organically rise, given by the Divine… or hearing from people of specific faith structures / orientations, such as a Christian or a Buddhist or a Jewish person… somehow breaking this down into language available to people who value Spirit but tend to focus on Spirit much more integrally attached to the Physical experience….folks who are not liberal Quaker”insiders” or mystics.

    Earth qualities include structure, dense nutrition, “something solid you can grab on to”, etc. I think it’s easy for us to think that if we don’t need to include that because if people need that they aren’t Quakers/mystics or aren’t liberal Quakers anyway…. but it’s really not the case.

    I believe that it’s just a missed opportunity to reach more people with this good “Gospel” when we don’t do the hard work (for mystics) of “pinning it down.” We don’t need to pin down what God or Light can do, but it would seem pretty great if we were willing to show that God / Light is doing very specific things with our silence… and not “fireworks” specific, but Solid, grounded, manifesting, structure-creating, physically good things…that Light is tangible. Communicate mysticism to an extroverted athlete, I say… Can we maybe? We’ll have created something amazing if we can do that!

    Thoughts? I wish I had more to offer on that but I can’t fully see what I’m hoping that will become…just have only a glimpse of it.

  3. I have been asked about silent worship several times. I reply by asking if the questioner does or has attended other worship services. If they reply yes them my answer to their question is easy.
    Do they connect with every sermon? Does every sermon create a moving spiritual experience? Have they ever been bored and spent the time gazing at others or out the windows? Have they ever dozed off? Without exception, they have answered yes.

    It is the same in Meeting. Sometimes I am only sitting for an hour waiting for the time keeper to rise. Sometimes I feel rested and mentally slowed down but no sense of any Gathering. I love the Meetings where my sense of Gathering is so strong that I am startled when everyone rises.
    I have seen my wife making notes in her journal and at times I have sat quietly reading my bible. I have seen other members gazing around and usually when our eyes meet we both duck our heads as if we have been caught in some misdemeanor.

    I ask, why should it be any different? We react differently to similar situations and sometimes it is not the event that causes this but something in ourselves. Our team may have a win over rival that excites us and next week it will not.

    I don’t worry about the times I don’t feel I am sitting in the Light, I cherish the times I do.

    What would worry me would be never experiencing it.


  4. Sometimes people cannot sit still for 60 minutes. One meeting I attended was accomodating and no one seemed to mind if I sat as long as I could and then walked outside until the end of the meeting. However, the meeting in the area I now live has 2 women that yell at people and both of whom appeared angry that I wanted to leave. Both have told me that I could do it if I really wanted to.

    Sometimes people have physical reasons that they cannot sit still.

  5. Hi I am moved to comment on the last comment about a person yelling at somebody for getting up. So much of the world is about one person telling another person how they need to behave and I find that very unacceptable no matter what a person‘s does, it is their experience. And I’ll never ( if I’m lucky) understand what difference it makes, in the big picture, what someone ruled by rules, and pettiness says about anything.

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