In the second part of her short series on what happens in a Quaker Meeting, Katie Evans describes her personal experience (for part one see here)
There is a sort of attentiveness that can be present without grasping, that lets a flower unfold and delights in the bloom rather than plucking and dissecting the bud in a dissatisfied expectation of petals. The still, quiet attentiveness of a nature watcher in the woods that lets the wildlife emerge. This is the frame of mind, the mode of being, I hope to shift into in meeting for worship. And then I ask gently: what’s here?
My awareness of ‘what’s here’ often starts with what is within me, but it doesn’t stop there. It expands to an awareness (or at least to an openness to awareness), often wordless, of what is here within the gathering of people present that day, and sometimes to those not physically present too. Perhaps some people’s awareness expands even further to a sensitive attentiveness to the condition of society and the world at large. That isn’t generally the case for me, but I could believe that it is for others.
I’d describe the ‘what’s here’ of the group gathered in worship as analogous to an orchestra playing together. There is an endless variety of sounds a group of musicians can make, likewise every meeting for worship is different. Sometimes there’s a harmonious interweaving and the music swells and flows. Sometimes it’s unsettled and discordant. There might be a single instrument providing a dramatic central focus, or a motif might emerge from a subtler layering together of several instruments. Most, sometimes all, of this is a silent music, unvoiced. I often wonder if others are ‘hearing’ the same ‘tune’ as me in a meeting, but it feels awkward to ask this over coffee after meeting.
There’s another level to what’s going on in meeting for worship that I find even harder to articulate. Through this gentle practise of attending to ‘what’s here’, there dawns in me an awareness of a bigger awareness. A sense that the meeting I am attending to is already held in an expansive, encompassing, tender, compassionate attention. This is the pivot point where the balance shifts from us holding the silence to the silence holding us, from us shaping the silence to the silence shaping us.
Here is where I reach for the traditional language of God’s love.