Is There a Role for Spirit-led Sound in Quaker Practice?

Waiting on God is the essential Friends' practice, and we had best not put obstacles between us and the realization of Spirit working in, among, and through us.

For this reason, several early Friends were moved to destroy their musical instruments, as distractions from their connection to Spirit.

For better or worse Friends can't be Early anymore. Our situation, condition, and practices are not the same, nor should we be the same in any way except in trusting God's love and power to manifest. Our Meeting for Worship has developed into a fairly stylized standard one-hour period of silence under the various protocols we've come to accept. (I believe those protocols have been too much influenced by our collective desire not to be disturbed. I can't say I like being disturbed, myself, or that it necessarily improves me -- but isn't this a sort of programming of worship emotional tone: "We'll have Bland-and-Upbeat today, if You please" ?)

The one-hour/silence really suits the people it suits, is a challenge for others, is a barrier to many more. It has its value and no doubt will be, should be continued.

But for some occasions we've added a supplementary practice called Worship Sharing. Where regular Worship tends typically to be: 'Me and you and he and she each linking personally to Spirit together', Worship Sharing offers an alternative mode: 'Me and you and she and he linking to God and each other together' (normally with a suggested prearranged theme and, again, protocols that probably do help to smooth things -- but should be taken to be "Made for our sake, not us made for their sake.")

Should there be a supplementary practice of Spirit-led, spontaneous devotional sound?

This would not be the same as being led to sing a known hymn during worship, a practice allowed (though seldom done) in Meetings of many Quaker flavors. Few of us have the training or practice needed for professional-level musical performance; many of us are shy and hampered by justified feelings of hopeless inadequacy in that realm. Some can join enthusiastically in group singing -- and I can't begin to hear all those people who, like me, just tend to move our lips and mumble sympathetically. And there are words to such songs which we may, or may not entirely agree with.

Are there messages in us too urgent to be carried by silence, messages about who we truly are and what we truly need that words can't contain? In the Bible we have: "The Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans too deep for words" -- but we aren't doing it.

Stuart Masters says [ ]:

"The Pentecostal nature of the early Quaker movement was revealed in the charismatic behaviour of its adherents. Rosemary Moore has argued that more than anything else it was the charismatic nature of their early worship that distinguished Quakers from other radical sects with which they shared many ideas (Moore 2000, p.75). Douglas Gwyn has noted that early Quaker worship was “strongly emotional, filled with dread, punctuated with inchoate sounds of sobbing, groaning, sighing and impromptu singing” (Gwyn 2006, p.122). The most enduring legacy of this charismatic behaviour was the name given to the movement ‘in scorn’."

Religions that don't leave God room to speak in the silence -- run the danger of ossifying, becoming doctrinaire, dogmatic, being misled by all too mortal minds. And that, I gather, is one reason Pentecostal movements tend to have a bad rep among us. Also, we've got too much dignity to roll on the floor babbling and howling.

Do we have too much dignity for our own good?

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