How vocal ministry works for me
January 9, 2016 § 1 Comment
For me, vocal ministry takes place in the context of relationship with the body of the meeting as it is gathered right then. That context consists of a pattern of inner mental/spiritual actions in which I explore and engage with the body in various ways; and it also consists of the responses I seem to get from the meeting in this engagement—a back-and-forth feedback system of my inward engagement and apparent meeting response leading to further engagement, and then more response. So I can’t talk about vocal ministry without talking about this pattern of behavior and experience. Here’s the pattern.
(When I started describing what I do internally in meeting for worship, it just kept expanding, so I’m going to offer short descriptors of my practice as just bullet points here. I invite Friends who are interested in reading a fuller description of my practices in worship to visit this web page.)
- Deepening—using techniques I’ve picked up from my years as a student of yoga and other more “New Age” spiritualities. One of these techniques includes attuning myself to the room and the people in it.
- Prayer—directed to several . . . well, I think of them as angels, faces of the divine that have names and personalities and who have come through for me over the years, and with whom I have a relationship, including, among others, Jesus and the angel of the meeting. (Some day I want to write about the profound difference between a religion practiced as relationship, as is the case for Christians who have experienced Christ personally, and religion practiced as a spirituality that doesn’t engage with spiritual entities capable of relationship, as is the case I think for many “liberal” Friends.)
- Opening to need in my fellow worshippers—a systematic spiritual antenna scan of the meeting room. If I pick something up, I try to focus on it, to open to it, to offer myself in prayerful service inwardly and then to wait to see whether this includes vocal ministry.
- Further deepening—when I’m done “listening” for need, for the prayers of others, unless I hear/feel someone calling, I go back to my deepening techniques. I rarely clearly hear someone calling.
- Waiting and opening—do you have a message for me, dear G*d?
- More prayer—when someone rises to speak, I imagine Jesus standing with them to strengthen and guide them. I’ve had this experience twice spontaneously, and so now I do it as a practice that I feel has been taught to me.
- Discernment—if it seems that there might be some vocal ministry rising up in me, I begin to test it.
- Continued cycling through prayer, deepening, waiting and opening, maybe discernment, until meeting closes. I cringe when someone speaks of breaking meeting for worship.
So for me, vocal ministry sometimes arises out of this back-and-forth inner engagement with the room and, especially, with my fellow worshippers.
But sometimes it arises as openings that emerge from my reading or writing or in prayer or meditation. As I have said before, the face of God that is most powerful for me is God as Muse, God as the Source and Guide of my inner life, which is tantamount in many ways to my writing life.
In Preaching the Inner Light, Graves has returned several times to the fact that Fox and early Friends insisted not on the immediate inspiration of the Holy Spirit, meaning only right then and there, but on immediate as meaning direct, unmediated. He argues that what he calls the impromptu preaching of Fox and early Friends clearly and often grew out of openings that had come to them before the meeting and had been seasoning until they matured. But still they tested whether this was the time, these were the people, whether Christ was offering this ministry through them NOW.
This has been my experience exactly. I have in some cases mulled a message for years before I felt led to speak it.
Vocal ministry as an emergent phenomenon
So for me, vocal ministry is an emergent phenomenon. I want to return to emergence theory and spirituality in future posts, but here let me just say that some phenomena happen as individual members of an ecosystem respond virtually simultaneously to small signals from each other. Like when a huge flock of starlings suddenly swerves in a radically new direction seemingly simultaneously. Or like identical twins who end up being different in some ways, even though they have exactly the same genetic code, because the genes are expressing in a constant dance with their environment from the molecular level on up.
This is an opening for me: I think spirit-led ministry may be an emergent psychic behavior, Friends responding to subtle ripples in the aether as we all deepen and attune to each other, and send out our prayers, our needs and desires and thoughts and blessings, which we then sense as small signals at some subtle level of consciousness.
Stories of psychic manifestation in and through vocal ministry abound in our tradition, and as I’ve alluded, I have experienced this myself. Something transcendental is going on, at least some of the time in our meetings for worship. And for me, the role of vocal ministry is to prepare the medium for the gathering by calling it deeper into our collective center, to seed the medium with the nutrients that the Seed needs to germinate, and to be a catalyst for the precipitation, to provide the seed around which the crystal of a gathered meeting forms. (Whoah, mixed metaphor mania, with my old chemistry-major past in partial dominion—sorry for that.)
Finally, a word about my discernment process. But no . . . this post is long enough. Later.