For those who practice silent worship, whatever branch of Quakerism you belong to, how do you "settle into the silence?"

I ask this question because I notice that my meeting is comprised mostly of people who enjoy silence and thinking for their own sake: scholars, artists, people who work outdoors. And yet "thinking" is not what we are there to do. On the other hand, most of my extended family, my siblings and others, react with horror at the idea. It's the very definition of excruciating boredom to them, an hour of silence. They have no idea what to do with their minds in that seeming emptiness.

I have experienced covered worship, both my own and my meeting. And I've experienced hours when I entertained myself with my own thoughts and failed to worship. Lately I have "resorted" to centering prayer, asking the Holy Spirit to gather us in and dwell in us many times throughout meeting whenever I became aware that I was not in a state of worship.

Sometimes I find the writings of early Friends, the kind of thing that Fox writes in his pastoral letters, powerfully evocative and helpful, but it is also highly mystical and metaphorical. I don't know how to "dig deep." I only know that sometimes I am brought deeper as a gift. And I don't think this command would make sense to most modern Americans. So I'd like to hear from Friends today what you do when you sit down. Can you describe what you have taught your mind to do in order to reach stillness?
Thanks so much,
Rosemary

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Here's something I tried last week:

I smile.

It might sound forced, fake, trite. I like it. I smile for the whole hour. Not a big smile, a little one, whatever's comfortable. Negative thoughts start coming, I smile at them.

I let nothing stop me from smiling because my choice to be happy is more powerful than anything in this world, and than any other thought.
I always found that hiding my head under the covers worked really well for keeping the monsters off.
To me what David S. is doing is similar to what Thich Nhat Hanh recommends. Making your face smile has an effect on your brain and induces serenity.
I'm an isolated Quaker, so my waiting worship is also solitary, but I practice a loose form of 'Lectio Divina'. I settle myself down, pray a bit, then read from Scripture. I invariably find a passage that speaks to my condition and I close my eyes and meditate on it, repeating it in my mind. When my thoughts interfere, I go back to the passage. With God's grace I enter His rest; the Scripture passage, thoughts, everything goes to God. At other times I sit around thinking. Whichever it is, praise the Lord!      

Kenneth,

Yes, I also have found so much help in Lectio Divina. Lately I have been "just waiting," at home each morning (mostly) and that has been even better. But I read a psalm each night and try to practice a bit of lectio then, even though I'm always pretty sleepy.

Thank you,

Rosemary

Hi Rosemary,

Your question is interesting, because I am one of the busy people of this world, and most people when they realise I go to Friends Meeting and have done for 25 odd years look at me like my head has dropped off!

At this time, preparation for meeting often involves an early morning phone call to my Quaker boyfriend who lives a LONG way away, and we usually talk about his MfW, as he gets there first on a 1st day - being 11-13 hours ahead of me. It might be about ministry that has been said in meeting, or about something he has read or thought about. Also, because I am likely to have read something or heard something during the week, I might well contribute from that perspective.  Often I will read him something from Faith and Practice that resonates with what we are discussing.  Also, we sometimes think that we should be on a "per word" rate on the phone as it is natural for us to fall into a reflective silence together.

If I am lucky, my preparation time continues with my best friend J (who I share a house with) making me coffee, while I sit and stroke my big tom-cat on my lap. J usually plans for a cycle ride or visiting with a friend over in the town where I go to meeting, so he will drive me over there, and I will generally take some crochet to do while I am a passenger in the car - the repetitious movement of crochet is very similar to use of prayer beads.

Our meeting is from 10:30 till 11:30, but people are generally coming in to settle from 10:10 onwards, so there is a respectful attitude to anyone who is already in the circle, and if any "business" is done it is done quietly, either in the kitchen or the anteroom.

 I've learned that I can't completely still my mind 99% of the time, so I practice mindfulness and avoid putting any judgement on the thoughts in my head as they rise up and fall away.  My mindfulness works better if I have prepared for meeting. I  use latin forms for mantras (I am showing my high Anglican roots here),  usually "Kyrie Elason Christi Elason" on inward then outward breath.

I find ministry starts rising like a bubble from the thought stream that keeps rising and becoming more pressing on my awareness...

 

I hope this makes some kind of sense...

 

Helen

 

I really don' think I do anything. Rather, I listen. Well, now, maybe listening is doing something. I have to think about that.

 

For me, Meeting for Worship is an opportunity to come with wholly (or holy) empty hands unto God. To listen to that still, small voice within. To practice dieing. Please note that I do not mean this in a morbid way. Rather, when we come to the end of our days, what is left? My only answer is a relationship between this world and the next. In Meeting for Worship, I can acknowledge that relationship. I can practice listening to the voice of the next world. I offer the Divine my empty hands, and unto God I commend my spirit. After that, what is left to do? Nothing. All I am left with is . . . to be.

Hi Helen,

Yes, your post makes great sense. I really like the idea of a conversation about mfw as a preparation. Sometimes a good F/friend and I take a walk on Sunday afternoons and we do something similar, talking about the messages in meeting and our own experiences during worship. It greatly enriches the whole day. For me the preparation on Sunday mornings is difficult because of children's needs, noise, etc. I should be more disciplined about getting up early!

Rosemary

Lola,

Thank you! This description really speaks to my condition. Practicing dying is a very profound way of entering into worship, I think. I will continue to meditate on this.

Rosemary

Hi, Mary. I often start off by praying for the people around me. If I am in a Meeting that includes people I know well, I include very individualized prayers. This helps direct my thoughts to the communal nature of the meeting for worship and gets me away from drafting a shopping list or thinking about my next knitting project or my homework assignments. It also serves as a way of opening my heart to the community and to God more deeply. After I have prayed for people I don't agree with, people I may not even like, it's easier to be open to God and conscious of my own dependence on Him because I am made aware of my own shortcomings. I'm also made aware that He is making me better, day by day.  

 

After I have done that, I am usually ready to settle in. When random thoughts intrude, I invite the Holy Spirit to dwell among the gathered Friends and I humbly ask God to help me keep my eyes on Him. 

I may pray. I may meditate. I may hold some people or situations in the Light. Eventually, sometimes sooner, sometimes later, I settle into an awareness of God's presence. Although my mind is occasionally distracted, I just notice it and go back to the Presence.

There is a wonderful spiritual guide called "The Practice of the Presence of God" by Brother Lawrence. He was a monk in France many centuries. The book is slim and simple, but very helpful. Any of us might find a lot of good hints to use in Meeting for Worship.

And of course the Quaker classic "A Guide to Inner Peace" has also been most helpful for me.

But I have to say that what I do the rest of the week - study, prayer, etc. - has a great deal to do with how Meeting for Worship goes. I can't expect to show up for the concert without having practiced the music. 

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