Duncan Frewin, Queensland Regional Meeting
Yearly Meeting is coming up, and with it a week of business meetings that we commonly open with “Shall we begin with a few moments of silence?” And of course there are all the local or regional business meetings, the committee meetings, clearness meetings that also begin with “a few moments of silence”.
Too often it seems to me a perfunctory silence – just a lack of noise, a dry ritual at the start of the real business with the guilty whisper of late-comers, and eyes checking over the agenda. I wonder how many others find the silence perfunctory. Yet I have also experienced the living silence where the divine presence breathes among us, a silence that is of the soul rather than of the ears. What is this living silence? How does it prepare us for conducting our business?
What is this silence? Is it prayer? And what anyway do we mean by prayer? I’m not talking about what a friend called “God-bothering” – you know: “Oh Lord, won’t you give me a Mercedes-Benz?”. God for me is not a thing out there that gives or withholds favours, who can be bargained with. But prayer is still something I turn to when I am desperate, when no earthly power is able to comfort me. I am faced with my powerlessness and I beg God (whatever that word means) for help. I don’t rationally believe in that God. I don’t know if this cry for help prepares me for a business meeting, yet that desperate call is my real human response. I can only accept it for that. Does it prepare me for a business meeting? Probably not. My needs are overwhelming me.
The idea of intercession is easier to accept – asking God to do something for someone else, commonly to heal them. At the beginning of business, my silence is sometimes a prayer for someone I love or some concern that is on me. I want something to be achieved and hope God will do something about it. Someone has said that God has no hands but our hands. So, if I ask God to do something, I’m really offering to work on it myself. In the silence am I really offering myself to stand with the person I love or to take on some task or to stand with others in the concern, or take up something I have never attempted before?
Prayer can also mean opening myself to the divine will, as Jesus did in Gethsemane – “Nevertheless, not my will but Thine be done.” The silence is a time of listening for the voice of God rather than beseeching or demanding. But what is the voice of God? We say there is “that of God” in every person. Can I hear the the voice of God in the voices of those I meet? Then listening to the voice of God has to mean being open to the hopes, aspirations, fears, needs, pain and joy of those around me, both friends and strangers, listening for the call. “What do I have to do? What does love require of me?” Can this be my worship as I settle into a business meeting.
More often I see worship as meditation. In the silence I seek to still the clamour of the world, shedding my self and its concerns, letting myself just be, as God just is. Meditation is a path to the sense of oneness with the universe – the world, the people around, the past, the future, and God. Not so terribly far from opening the self to the Divine. Is the silence a meditation that leads me to oneness with the divine, to discernment of the way forward in God?
At various times the silence has been all of these for me. In hard times I have faced my dark side, and hoped for a way into the light. In better times I have interceded for others, trying to offer my hands, my time, my energy to something in the business at hand. At yet other times in opening myself, I have listened, or at least attempted to listen, for what I am called to do. I have tried to open myself to new light on what I hoped for, asking if it is right for me or for the meeting. Most often, though I try to meditate, trying to drop my ego, again and again, to let my eyes see more clearly, to let my heart feel more compassionately, to accept myself as part of the problem but also part of the solution, and to “live peace, live love” through the matter before the meeting. And, I acknowledge, too often in dry times I have just waited for an empty silence to end, just going through the motions of discernment in the meeting.
We may be able to do all these in “a few moments” but I still wonder how those few moments of silence work in us. Is “a few moments” – often less than a minute – enough to take us into that state of grace where we can discern God’s calling in the matter before us? My soul longs for more time to feel the divine presence. I long to still the inner chatter, clear my hearts to love the difficult people, open me to the divine presence in the midst. How do we make the silence a living silence, a creative moment of grace?
Is there a way for us to sit in truly worshipful silence to prepare ourselves to conduct business? Do we need more time? Do we need to practise silence more? I don’t have a sure answer. What I do know is that I can’t expect a living silence in those few moments if I have not quieted my soul in the weeks and months before. I need to live in that silence every day, the quietness of the soul. I need to practise focusing on the divine presence in all I do. Perhaps that is the lesson for me – to strive in every moment to live in the divine presence, so that the silence (and the meeting that follows it) can be filled with light.
I am a Quaker.
In case of emergency,
Please be quiet.
Thank you, Duncan, for expressing this so clearly. I, too, have felt yanked out of my preparations for Meeting for Business’s ‘moment of silence’ well before silence has begun to prepare me for the business. Some clerks are very sensitive in discerning when the assembled Ffriends are ready for business, and they also call for silence during the Meeting when we lose our way. For me, those clerks are good servants of the Meeting and of God, and help me be of better service, too.