In the Quaker religion, adherents believe that a higher power can speak through them. We asked Quakers what it’s actually like to experience this.
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- Micah Bales talks about vocal ministry being a “pearl” that starts out as a bit of spiritual grit that gets refined throughout the worship process. Do you identify with this experience? What is some grit that you can remember turning into a pearl in worship?
- Have you felt that “electric feeling” that Callid Keefe-Perry says happens when he gives vocal ministry?
- Christopher Sammond lists some of the excuses he comes up with when he has been led to say something particularly challenging in worship. What are some of the excuses you tell yourself when you want to get out of what seems to be a leading? What do you do to try to stay faithful?
In the Liberal tradition of Quakerism, at least—although it’s present in other places as well—we say we don’t have a priest or a pastor. We don’t have a human priest or pastor. The impetus—the power that was really exciting, and George Fox (one of the founders of the Religious Society of Friends) really says in a number of places—what we worship, when we enter into worship, is God. And God gives us, as in the days of the apostles, a word via the office of prophet. So we’re sitting in Meeting for Worship underneath the highest priest.
Waiting worship is a time which we sit and focus on the possibility that God is speaking to us. It’s an experience that’s really unlike any other experience I’ve had.
Receiving the Call to Speak
The telltale sign of when you’re sitting in Meeting for Worship and are supposed to give vocal ministry, which is standing up and giving a message that others in the room hear, is the quickening of the heartbeat.
It feels a little bit shaky and flowy, maybe. I can just feel it moving through me.
…and the feeling like you’re in sixth grade again and you’re running for your first office in the student council and its the first time you’re going to stand up and speak to a group of people. It’s that kind of hyper-anxiety.
Usually there’s something that feels like it’s crystallizing in me. I’d almost describe it as maybe a sped-up version of what a clam might experience when they get that bit of sand stuck inside and over time it turns into a pearl. Of course usually we only have an hour for that sand to turn into a pearl in the Meeting for Worship, but God puts some spiritual sand in my heart and I wrestle with it. It may just be some sand that I need to wrestle with and its for me, but sometimes it turns into a pearl in a way where I just have to share it, I can’t keep the pearl to myself and it’s clearly been given for the whole community.
Discerning the Call
I think I’ve given a message twice. My concern was this, and I’ve asked a few members, “how do you know that’s God talking to you, how do you know it’s not just you?” And they say, “well, you listen to the still, small voice,” but the still, small voice could be your still small voice. Anyway, I always had a like, “Is this really God speaking to me?”
I’m kind of an over-sharer sometimes, and so I need to really sit with it, because I’ve had that experience of God giving me something and it’s just for me, and it actually is usually just for me. And so I have to be careful to only stand up when I feel like God has called me to share that.
I am very good at subtly talking myself out of a leading. And then I can say, “Oh, the leading has gone away. I don’t need to rise and speak.” I can say, “I spoke last week and I shouldn’t speak again,” or, “This isn’t a topic that’s going to go over well in the Meeting,” or, “That’s too close to the bone, I’d rather not share that.” Unless I go to a place of complete faithfulness and say, “I will share whatever I am led to share,” I can make myself feel like the leading has gone away. And then just live with a mild discomfort. So frequently my process is one of having to wrestle with my resistance to speaking and then coming to that place of genuine faithfulness where I will say anything that I am feeling led to say and to share that.
Delivering the Message
And so if I’ve been sitting with this bit of grit and it’s turned into a pearl and it’s ready to be shared, then I’ll stand up and deliver whatever it is that the Lord has given me to share.
When I give vocal ministry and really feel like it’s coming from a place beyond me, I feel electric. I feel like something is jarring all of my nerves in a way that clears my sinuses, like my mental sinuses. And sometimes when people give powerful vocal ministry that feels like there’s this real big opening, and there’s this piece of kingdom happening, I’ll get that electric feeling even though it’s not coming out of my mouth.
It never comes out exactly like how it was when I was wrestling with it interiorly, but I try to be cautious and careful and slow in my speaking so that I don’t say something that God hasn’t given me. I want to make sure that I have stripped away all the extra, superfluous stuff.
One of the things that I look for when I listen to someone speak in Meeting is not the content or the rhetorical content because that’s going to vary. The first thing that I try to understand is: am I feeling that, at the bottom, the message is the love of God?
I think the other tricky part is to sort of stop and sit down and the right moment. It’s really easy to keep rambling on once you’ve stood up or to try to tie it with this neat little bow and make a conclusion, but I think the important thing to remember is that when I sit down after giving vocal ministry, the worship hasn’t stopped. It’s not my job to – well, I grew up in Evangelical Friends – so it’s not my job to make the alter call. God is doing that in people’s hearts.
The times when I have felt the most like I really was giving a message that came through me from God, I don’t necessarily have a clear memory of what I said. I don’t necessarily say what I planned to say and I often sit down then with a feeling of great relief, but I wouldn’t necessarily be able to verbally reconstruct what I said because of that sense of being almost a conduit for it rather than it coming from my head, where I shaped it and made it nice and put it out there and can claim it as such a pretty piece of talking. It’s something different.
It’s not about, “I have this intellectual understanding of what the truth is, and let me talk about it for a while.” It’s about being a conduit for God, about being a conduit for the Spirit’s work and whatever message God has in that particular moment for that particular community.
A New Priesthood
One of the pieces I think that we find most important today, or at least we ought to find most important today, is that God can speak to anyone and does speak to all kinds of people, often people who we haven’t sort of sanctioned as people who God speaks through. With the work of Christ there is a new priesthood. We don’t need to have a particular priest to sort of mediate for us.