August 19, 2018 § 7 Comments

Worship, at least in the traditional understanding, is all about service—giving God what God wants/requires.

You can tell what a community thinks God wants by looking at their worship service. For most Christian communities, that means prayer, praise, (some) thanksgiving, repentance, teaching and exhortation regarding the rest of God’s will, reassurances on God’s behalf (even to the point of absolution), and leadership from those upon whom God has presumably conferred authority.

Looking at the Quaker meeting for worship, we could infer that God wants:

  • silence; that is, a radical simplicity of form that removes all outward interference from . . . what?
  • expectant waiting (though this is not outwardly very apparent); that is, filling this silence, this absence of interference, with attention to . . . what?
  • and ministry, a word which means service.

The silence removes interference from the world’s distractions and those promptings, both outward and inward, that might carry us away from . . . what? From the Spirit. It is the Spirit to which we are giving our attention with our expectant waiting. It is the Holy Spirit  that we are trying to make room for with our silence. It is God whom we serve with our vocal ministry.

In theory, of course. All of this is the ideal.

All of this is also a legacy that we have inherited. And we haven’t thought very searchingly about it.

So let’s ask more primary questions: What does God want? And how do we know what God wants. (Let’s leave aside for a moment all that’s implied by saying “God” in the first place.)

I think early Friends looked to two places to find out what God wants: to scripture and to the direct revelation of Christ’s spirit. From scripture (John 4:24) they got: God is spirit and those that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth. From direct revelation: “In truth” apparently meant totally in spirit, that is, without anything else but our inward and collective spiritual attention—no outward forms.

The silence was designed to make room for the direct revelation of spirit. They were waiting for that presence in their midst. And they were serving Christ as conduits of his revelation through vocal ministry when the presence came as expected.

But now let’s return to what I meant by “God” above. To the degree that we have let go of a God who might want something from us, we have jettisoned the essential ingredient of worship as service. Now whom—or what—do we serve with our worship, with our expectant waiting, our spiritual attention, our vocal ministry? If we are not in relationship with a God who wants or requires something from us, as persons or, especially, as a community, does it makes sense to even talk about ministry, that is, service, in our approach to worship?

Some Friends might answer that now we serve each other and, by extension, the community, and it serves us. Maybe in fact, that is what we’ve been doing all along. That God no longer has anything to do with it—it’s just us.

If that were true, it would mean that we haven’t asked ourselves some important questions about what we’re doing in worship. We’re just going along with these legacy forms of silent worship and vocal ministry the way the Church of England was going along with its legacy forms in the 17th century, without reexamining the basic premises of our worship. If all we’re doing now is serving each other (or nothing at all), then maybe some other worship form would serve us better.

But then I wouldn’t be interested in being a Friend. I want some thing more. I want something transcendental, that is, trans-personal, greater than the sum of our individual selves. I want the gathered meeting, that is, the manifest presence of the Holy Spirit.

And because I have in fact experienced that presence, I know there is something to be served, even if it’s not “God”, not a remote being who might want something from us, but still a Mystery Reality behind that experience of gathering. For want of better words, a spirit, in truth.

§ 7 Responses to Worship

  • Ellis Hein says:

    This is in response both to your post and to the comments to date.

    There are words and concepts that have been cherished by all generations of Friends. “Truth” is one such concept. Even today when so many of the testimonies of the first generation of Friends are repudiated, “Truth” is held in high regard.

    George Fox stated, “And I was sent ‘To turn people from darkness to the light,’ which Christ, the second Adam, did enlighten them withal; that so they might see Christ, their way to God, with the spirit of God, which he doth pour upon all flesh, that with it they might have an understanding to know the things of God, and to know him, and his son Jesus Christ, which is eternal life; and so might worship and serve the living God, their maker and creator…”(Works, Vol. VII, p. 10).

    As Friends, this is your heritage, this is your birthright, this is your starting place, this is the foundation of your worship, this is truth. Fox’s statement comes from experience (his own and that of thousands of others); experience that was tried in the fires of decades of persecution. Read again those opening pages in Vol. VII of Fox’s Works. Fox’s thumbnail history of the first 30 years is an awe inspiring read. They were beaten, they were stoned, they were imprisoned, they were exported, they were killed; all for bearing testimony to this truth. The truth of Christ triumphed over all that ecclesiastical and secular powers could throw at them. This experience calls to us today in the words of the Psalmist, “O taste and see that the Lord is good.” (Psalms 34:8)

    I hear people’s complaints regarding so much evil that has been done in the name of Christ and God. Yes, people do evil, but it is a lie that it was done in the authority (name) of Christ and God. Why, if you honor truth, do you choose to believe a lie and the words of a liar? If you participate in the lie, you betray and crucify the truth.

    • Ellis Hein says:

      I have to clarify something. Patricia Dallmann asked me if me comment applied to what she had written. No, it did not. I was just writing from the general sense of what I had read without trying to pinpoint what particular people said.

  • Don Badgley says:

    To “worship” often implies an object of worship, a tangible and separate something. For most humans that would be named “God.” Like many Friends I am not comfortable with the “Guy in the sky” construct that defines most traditional Jewish, Muslim and Christian sects.

    The reason I remain a Friend is that worship, when defined at all, allows for a far broader possibility; oneness with the unnamable, infinite, eternal and unchangeable Divine Source. This Experience can be solitary or in the Gathered Meeting and it is discovered not as a separate reality that demands worship but as the totality of Truth in which I am a conscious part. There I become worship. There I become “the Spirit of Christ.” There I become.

  • All this begins with waiting.
    I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope
    For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love,
    For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith
    But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.

    In the long slow martyrdom of waiting and listening, one stands a chance of hearing the word of consolation, or the word of authority….It is in this frame of mind that one may possibly perceive a spiritual world that transcends the rule of force that governs everyday wartime life.

    (The poem [“East Coker” by T. S. Eliot] and paragraph following are from _The Year of Our Lord 1943: Christian Humanism in an Age of Crisis_ by Alan Jacobs [pp.109-110].)

  • Greg Robie says:

    In truth, Stephen, is there a dark night opening as your future? If so, embrace it. It is the fastest way down the rabbit hole of motivated reasoning. Death and rebirth. No one exits their prison-of-choice alive. No one who is really outside their prison-of-choice is the same creation. Isn’t it that by our fruits we are known … and knowable? Think a “Hotel California” dilemma … or is it feel (worship) the burn?

    And, FWIW, isn’t the order of worship virtually the same whether cataphatic or apophatic … with our species’ psychology likely dictating this?

    sNAILmALEnotHAIL …but pace’n myself


    life is for learning so all my failures must mean that I’m wicked smart


  • Betty Steckman says:

    The concept of a God “wanting” something from God’s creatures sets my teeth on edge. I am thrown back into my childhood god who is theOld Testament tinpot dictator, demanding obeisance on pain of a good smiting. A god so insecure that he (yes) demands unquestioning sucking up by the very creatures he created—the creatures he knows very well are prone to sinfulness and error. Well, childhood concepts sometimes have lifelong consequences! I find it a more centering and opening practice to ponder what *I* need for a deeper spiritual experience. I need to get out of my own way. I need to lay aside my childish peeves. I need to shut up and listen as deeply as I can to that inner source of guidance and healing. I feel and hope that it’s Spirit that sometimes moves me into an unfamiliar sense of connectedness to all of creation.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

What’s this?

You are currently reading Worship at Through the Flaming Sword.


%d bloggers like this: