Tuesday, 5 February 2008

Silence and Ministry

Recently, someone again reminded me that they prefer silent meetings. I think the remark may have been a kind of challenge to the substance of what I had written in June last year in ‘Reflections of an Attender’. I feel drawn to return to the issue, but first I wish to make clear that I respect the right of each person to personal choice. I have my preferences and no doubt you have yours. That’s the way things are, but isn’t there more to the movement of the Spirit, (just as there is more to life itself), than my preferences or yours! Having considered further the issue of Meeting for Worship, I return to the theme, even at the risk of being boring.

We are told that one day the Buddha was sitting with his disciples when an angel appeared to him and asked: ‘how long would you like to live? You can ask for a 1000 years if you like’! Without hesitation the Buddha answered; ‘80 years’. When the angel had gone some of his disciples admonished the Buddha, and said, ‘think of all the good you could have done if you had asked to live for a 1000 years. The Buddha replied, ‘If I lived for 1000 years, people would be interested only in how to prolong life. I am far more concerned that they focus on enriching the life they are actually living in the community in which they live.

I wonder if there could be something of a parallel between this story and our lives as Quakers. We are Friends. We are community. We have so much to give and so much to receive from one another. We are all interested in silence, as a way to prayer, and to life. However silence is not an end in itself. Could it be that sometimes we seem to settle for the length of silence, rather than the quality of silence and what it is that arises from the silence? Couldn’t we all discover more from the silence and from each other if we shared more generously what it is that arises within us during the silence. Quakers lay special claim to what is called ‘the priesthood of all believers’. To me, priesthood is ‘a reality’ that calls for action; it calls us to be more for each other. Priesthood is not ‘an ideal’ in our heads, or just a thought to be cherished. So no matter how much attachment we have to our personal preferences, our role as priests calls us to serve one another.

I rejoice each Sunday when our Meeting for Worship has a balance of silence and ministry; especially when the ministry emanates a) from a deep silence and b) from a wide range of members or attenders who feel moved and are willing to take the risk of stepping outside of their ‘comfort zone’ of personal preference and respond in spoken ministry to what has traditionally been called the ‘little voice’ or ‘the light’ within.

It may well be that some people, up to this point in their journey, just do not have the sense of an inner voice? If this is so then of course just trust the reality of what is happening and feel comfortable to sit in the silence and enjoy the space offered to all.

However, to those who do have a sense of an ‘inner voice’ the issue is about whether we ‘take heed of the promptings of love and truth in our hearts and trust them as the leadings of God’, (A&Q,1). If we do trust the promptings then surely to share what emanates from within, during our time of silence, is for the building up of our Religious Society and the enriching of all our lives. To hold back on ministering, when one is prompted to do so is surely just as egocentric as someone ministering without an inner prompting to do so.

As a consequence, of silence and ministry we all go out into Sheffield and beyond, more inspired and committed towards the building of a more just and loving society. Surely this is what we are called to, the building up of the Kingdom of God on earth! My plea is that we respond ‘to the leadings of God who’s Light shows us our darkness and brings us to life’. Each of us is called to trust that my ‘feeble’ ministry is for the building up of the Meeting, and consequently ‘the Kingdom of God’ on earth.

Monday, 4 February 2008

Religion and politics: an American take

On the subject of religion and politics, I'd like to call Friends' attention to a brilliant essay by Joe Bageant, entitled "Redneck Liberation Theology." Some of the concerns of the article are particularly American (to wit, the cooptation of evangelical Christianity by neoconservatives), but it addresses broader issues as well. I particularly like the final section, headed "Cheer up dammit! It's only the end of the world." He means this quite literally. Here's the link.