Monday, 4 February 2013

Quaker Meeting House

Meeting for worship, Sunday 03 February 2013, 11.00am
Led by: “the Spirit”

Silence is a difficult thing to achieve in our noisy world, and in a room full of people all trying to be silent the smallest of movements can seem incredibly irritating. Thus the throat-clearing, nose-blowing, jacket-folding, wriggling-in-one’s-seat kind of noises became amplified and impossible to tune out.

I’d done my homework, so I knew that the Quakers sit in silence until someone feels moved by the spirit to speak, and I was wondering how easy it would be to sit still for a whole hour. As it turned out, it was easier for me than for some of the other 80 people in the room, especially the children, one of whom remained completely unchecked by his parent(s), allowing the drumming of impatient feet to drown out any possibility of meditation. After ten minutes of incessant shoe percussion I was beginning to think I'd not be able to stand it much longer, but thankfully that was the moment when the kids were taken to another room, leaving the adults to our more muted and occasional shufflings.

It was twenty-five past the hour before anyone spoke, a brief observation about something she’d read in the Bhagavad Gita. At 11.33 someone spoke for about two minutes about adversity and life’s apparent unfairness, and about fifteen minutes after that a third person talked about liking other people and liking oneself. So over the hour the breakdown was roughly as follows:
  • drumming of child’s feet: 10 mins 
  • vaguely spiritual observations: 4 mins
  • not-quite silence: 46 mins
And that was it, barring the announcements which followed the end of the meeting proper.

Did it feel spiritual? Did it nurture my soul? No, not really, although it did occur to me to wonder whether other religious groups with more structured and dramatic worship formats are simply filling up an hour with unnecessary noise. But I didn’t feel bored, didn’t wish I’d brought my knitting, didn’t find myself thinking about work, so that period of silence at least took me to a place of neutrality, even if I didn’t find communion. Nor, to my surprise, did I doze off, despite the incredible heat in the room and my not having slept well the night before. 

Is it worship? For the Quakers, yes. As for myself, there’s something lacking … the lyricism of liturgy, music, Bible readings and familiar prayers. Maybe these are no more than window dressing, or maybe they’re just different routes to the same end, but for me the silence isn’t quite enough. 

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