When God leads, do we follow?

[This is adapted slightly from a comment I left on a post about dancing in worship on the Emerging Women blog.]

Do you know about unprogrammed Quaker worship? Lots of silent waiting, usually a little spontaneous but solemn talking. It's often about as staid as you can get. But it doesn't have to be that way.

In our meeting's children's program a few weeks ago, we were learning about different body positions for prayer. We were testing the hypothesis that how you sit/kneel/stand/etc. affects how you pray.

My co-teacher was a 50 year old birthright Friend, who doesn't usually teach First Day School. He originally agreed to come because he had a bee in his bonnet about people slouching in worship. But he told the children a story about a meeting for worship some years ago.
One time a young man stood up and gave vocal ministry, "I feel like I should run up and down the room shouting Hallelujah." And then sat down. Because nobody does things like that in Quaker meeting.

But then a very elderly woman, a lifelong Quaker (a very weighty Friend, we would say), stood up in the silence and said, "I wish our Friend would run up and down shouting Hallelujah if God is asking him to." And she sat down. More silence. And then the young man did just that.
I've never seen something like that happen. My children were amazed. My six year old told his dad after worship that was what he remembered from First Day School.

The important thing for me is that when we preach that God can and does speak to us, as Quakers and the Vineyard folks do, we have to be willing to follow, even if we are embarrassed about the leadings we get.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

This Sunday I felt like dancing during worship. And I opened my eyes and saw everyone sitting quietly and felt like I couldn't. I think this was brought on by the Ecstatic Quaker blog I read. Or coffee. Either way, I couldn't center after that.

BUT afterwards, I talked to Pete and Jim and we talked about a potential dance worship group.

2/25/2008 2:41 PM  
Blogger Robin M. said...

There is a price to pay for disobedience to the Holy Spirit.

In my earliest days of going to meeting for worship, I wanted to kneel, as I had been doing when worshipping by myself. I didn't think I could, given the lack of space and the fact that no one else was doing anything like that. I would be braver now.

2/25/2008 3:10 PM  
Blogger Rich in Brooklyn said...

I once heard Dan Whitley, a pastor in an evangelical Friends Church, tell this story (or at least, this is how I remember it):

He said that once when he was preaching he felt such a powerful urge to start dancing that he had to grip the pulpit to restrain himself, and that the result was that he started quaking right then and there. He said that this felt like a real breakthrough in his ministry, but that when he discussed it with another Friend later the other Friend said the real breakthrough would have been if he let go of the pulpit, stopped quaking, and started to dance.

I love the story...but...I still feel there is in general a real value in the reverent silence and sober composure of people gathered in true stillness to wait on the Lord. Hand-clapping, dancing, singing can all arise from the Spirit, but they can also all be stirred up artificially and used to stir up a whole congregation and manipulate it.
Something like that seems to have happened in some of the "holiness revivals" in the history of our Society.

2/25/2008 6:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've seen dancing (a woman mourning the death of her mentor) and heard singing at Brooklyn Meeting. It's rare, but a very welcome expression of the Spirit.

2/25/2008 8:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with Robin, who says: "There is a price to pay for disobedience to the Holy Spirit."

And to that I would add, that when a person feels prompted by the Spirit to do something but feels shy about it, perhaps forming a special group will take away some of the anxiousness or awkwardness, but will it enhance the Meeting as a whole? Will it allow the Meeting as whole to grow? I don't think so. It feels like an exercise in segregation to me, and a strategy that will promote factions rather than encourage others to become more at ease with expressions of ministry they are not used to seeing--why? Because they will continue not to see them.

Allison, I hope you will dance in your main Meeting for Worship someday rather than take that wonderful expression of loving God to a private place.

You may be the agent of the Spirit needed to cause a change. :)


2/25/2008 9:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As an addendum to my previous comment.....

From Advices and Queries (Britain Yearly Meeting):

27. Live adventurously. When choices arise, do you take the way that offers the fullest opportunity for the use of your gits in the service of God and the community?"

I think dancing at Meeting for Worship (when prompted by the Spirit) might be one way to let one's life speak re: this advice.


2/25/2008 9:49 PM  
Blogger Robin M. said...

Rich, while I too am more likely to kneel than to dance in worship, I am not worried about restraining other people. Most unprogrammed Friends' meetings that I have known are so far from being carried away in an artificial revival spirit that it seems petty to worry about it.

Hi lazygal. I've never seen dancing, but folks do sing from time to time in SF meeting.

cath, I think that's a good point about the dangers of saving one's worshipful leadings for a small group rather than the whole meeting

I'm trying not to personally speak for or against dancing in worship - I personally despise most of what I've seen that was called liturgical dance - but I believe that there is a broader range of acceptable expression than is commonly seen in unprogrammed worship. See this early post of mine: Why do Quakers talk like that?

2/25/2008 10:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I ought to clarify. I did feel like dancing, but what kind of dance? I didn't know. Was it me or was it God? Was it a message for me or everyone?

What about us is regularly conducive to people being expressive and joyous? I have never ever seen anything thus far in Quakerism which has burst forth with joy and light and celebration.
I wonder if sometimes people bring in bad energy and it has rubbed off on me.

Yes, it is a high price to pay. The price I feel I've been paying for disobeying the Holy Spirit is leaving my true self at the door when I walk in, the difference between my friends and Friends. The real me runs and skips and jumps and sings and there is so little of that in Quakerism.

So that is why I'm interested in being on welcoming committee. So I don't have to leave that part of me at the door, I can bring it to the door.

Did I ever tell you what my favorite book was as a child? It was Pollyanna. I read that thing like 20 times. She teaches a minister one day about how the Bible says to rejoice.

The chapter about the rejoicing texts is here:

2/26/2008 12:45 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Allison, I admire you for wanting to be on the welcoming committee when you don't feel welcomed. Let your Light shine! Who knows, you may change someone. And those who aren't open to it will missing out.

Meanwhile, I don't know how far afield you've gotten in visitng other Meetings. I know there are Meetings our there which would not reflect the way you've described yours.

Back before I was part of the caregiving for a sick mother, I used to travel to various Meetings when I could and was surprised at how different they all were, even with the similarities.


2/26/2008 9:19 AM  
Blogger Johan Maurer said...

Robin, you always make me think and reflect!!

Today your mention of Vineyard led me on a series of rabbit trax that included this discussion. You probably already know that I've been intrigued by the connection between Quakers and John Wimber, Vineyard cofounder--a connection he acknowledged throughout his post-Quaker life.

I cherish the few memories that I have of nonstandard ministry during open worship/waiting worship among Friends. Songs, tears, unrestrained testimony, confessions, dances, quaking. I also cherish the incredible memory of one Easter Sunday at Ottawa Meeting where nothing at all happened outwardly, but we all knew we'd been through an extraordinary blessing.

Our freedom should include the freedom to be extravagant or to be outwardly still. And we also will go through cycles where one or the other mode predominates. And we will probably all go through spells of timidity or shyness. But if you're on the edge of obedience, holding back only because you're afraid of creating a scandal, go ahead and dare! Not only will the sky not fall in, but some will be blessed directly, and all will be blessed by the demonstration of freedom.

And if you turn out to have erred and the elders come visit you, even that is not the end of the world! The conversation may be life-changing for the elders as well as for you.

Here's one of my absolute favorite George Fox quotations, from 1669:

All Friends every where, in the living spirit, and living power, and in the heavenly light dwell, and quench not the motions of it in yourselves, nor the movings of it in others; though many have run out, and gone beyond their measures, yet many more have quenched the measure of the spirit of God, and after became dead and dull, and questioned through a false fear: and so there hath been hurt both ways. And therefore be obedient to the power of the Lord, and his spirit, and his spiritual weapons; war with that Philistine that would stop up your wells and springs.

I recommend this PDF journal from North Carolina Yearly Meeting (Conservative), particularly the article on vocal ministry by Deborah Shaw.

2/26/2008 4:50 PM  
Blogger Liz Opp said...

What I find important about this post is that when one Friend is freed from the presumed "quietist" mode of worship, we never know what seeds are planted in any of us, young or old, experienced Friend or newest attender, about the manner of prayer, the movement of God's ministry through us.

Liz Opp, The Good Raised Up

2/26/2008 5:34 PM  
Blogger kevin roberts said...

I have recently been led to take my flute with me to meeting. I haven't been called to play it, just to have it there. I am very grateful for the latter, as I am a lousy flute player, and I hope I don't have to demonstrate that in front of everybody.

2/26/2008 7:52 PM  
Blogger cubbie said...

there was one time when i really thought maybe i should just stand up and laugh. i don't remember why i didn't, but i don't think it was actually just nerves. maybe someone else spoke or the meeting ended or something like that.

and i also want to repeat what johan said-- you always make me think and reflect. i think that is blogging at it's best. :-)

2/27/2008 12:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Open question:

I struggle with this a lot. Some people think a separate worship group is separatist. But my issue with religion is, isn't any religion separatist? What's the difference between a smaller separatist group v. a larger one?

Isn't that like saying killing one person is bad, but in a group as a war it's okay? The mob-rule thing.

I'm confused.

2/27/2008 2:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Allison, since I'm someone who feels that taking one's leading to a separate group is separatist, perhaps I can speak more aobut that and possibly help your confusion.

The best way to encourage people to change is to model that change. Remember Gandhi's prahse: Be the change you wish to see in the world.

If we feel that our Meetings need improvement and also feel inhibited about going against the grain, it might seem safer to meet privately with like-minded people.

But how will the Meeting at large ever change and grow if they are not exposed to the leading in the first place? They won't. They might hear about it informally. They might feel left out (and therefore, resistent to change). They might write it off as something that does not concern them. They might feel that *they* are the ones who have been victimized by exclusion.

All that can be cleared up if one person with a leading can muster enough faith in the Spirit to go forth, even if alone.

I know this is easy to say from my chair in front of my computer. But trust me, I have followed promptings of the Spirit which have gotten me rude glances and have been greeted with a kind of silence that isn't gathered--if you get my drift. I have experienced worse that those things.

But after a while, I've noticed other people giving vocal minsitry on topics for which I was once the only champion. I have had one or two people tell me that they plugged into an effort in the wider world that they had not thought they'd want to be a part , and did so because I was involved in similar efforts. ETc. ETc.

I'm not trying to blow my own horn here; I'm no perfect Friend--anyone can have the same effect if they let the Spirit guide them.

And I know this--nothing that I've described about my situation would have happened if I had gone off and dealt with my leadings privately. The group as a whole would never have seen me saying "yes!" to those leadings.

It is sometimes not comfortable to be the only one who does something in a group of people who are not only not doing it, but may be giving signals that they are wary of it being done, period.

In fact, in my experience, the fear of being the *different* one has sometimes been quite upsetting. But in the end, I have to be true to myself--and more importantly--true to my leadings.

Even if no one ever responded, even if I got up over and over to speak about what the Spirit wanted me to speak about and no one ever said "well done," I would have allowed them the opportunity to see and hear.

I would have earned my right to complain by having tried to demonstrate the issues that the Spirit was prompting me to bring before the group.

But if I deny the Meeting the opportunity to see my witness, as laid on my by the Spirit, I am not only letting the Meeting down, I am also letting the Spirit down.

I don't think we can expect people to change unless we show them what change might look like.

It takes courage, but as I have said on some blog somewhere:

It might be uncomfortable, but it might be necessary.

In the end, moving out of our own comfort zones is the action that has done the most to change the world. Think of any great figure who had a profound effect on changing society and dig into their past and you will find a person who did not sequester, but who braved the demons of stepping forward to provide an example for others to follow.

Perhaps none of us reading this comment is led to be a great figure who will change society as a whole, but we may be someone the Spirit wants to use to start a ball rolling or to effect a change in our small corner of the world.


2/27/2008 10:29 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks Cath,

I think my question was more along the lines of is joining any one religion separatist from the larger human family itself? Seeing the Meeting itself as a separate worship group already.

Your answer "go at it, even if alone" actually points me back to the nagging feeling I've felt ever since coming to Meeting. Am I really going to learn more about Spirit in a Meeting or out in life?

2/28/2008 3:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Alliison, I don't know all of the circumstances of your life, but I do believe that the Spirit is in all places at all times, and we can learns what we need to learn and be led to the places we need to be led by being open to the possibility that we will encounter the Spirit whnever, wherever.

Personally, I wouldn't try to pin down the Spirit or box the Spirit up, but that's just me.

I have a story: One time I stopped by a large, historic Catholic church in the middle of the city. It is open all the time for tourists, is beautiful and has a deep resonant silence. I love to sit in there and wait prayerfully for connection to God.

One day, I was doing just that when two elderly women toward the front started having a very loud conversation, the kind of conversation people have when they are hard of hearing. It was the most annoying distraction to my prayerful waiting. In fact, the prayerful part went away in an instant.

So I asked, inwardly: Give me a new way to see and understand this.

To make a long story short, I didn't feel that I'd gotten an answer so I got up to have a word with the women. But as I approached them, I realized I actually had met one of these women before and knew a bit about her story.

Suddenly, the whole situation was turned away from being an annoying interruption to a warm and friendly reunion.

Meeting for Worship can be like that--something that seems to be irritating may well have a divine purpose that we don't know.

Ever since my experience in the cathedral, I have tried (not always successfuly) to remember that the Spirit is in all corners of the universe, and I will get different things from the Spirit in different places.


2/28/2008 10:19 PM  

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