Primitive Christianity Revived, Again
Hello! I've been kind of lurking on this site for a long time now but I've never really worked up the nerve to post anything. I gave up Facebook for Lent as a way to examine the role of social networking in my life so I figure its a good time o suck it up and finally join the discussions here.
I've been going to a Quaker Meeting for about 4 years now and one of the things I've never really figured out is how I should know when I am being led to speak in Meeting. I was wondering, do any of you have any ideas or anecdotes about how to know when you have having a God-given leading or if its just ego.
It is different for all, but I do understand why we are called Quakers. A true message makes me tremble. It starts in my fingers and spreads through my body. It might be a message that I have no clue as to why I'm saying it, or something I have contemplated. An elder once told me a true message would not have "I" or "me" or "my" in it. That makes sense. Ego would want to share a story about ones self. The Lord will use you as a messenger to speak His message.
I do not speak often as it takes courage for me to stand, and I cannot always do this.
I agree with Caroline. In addition, I believe that a lot of times Friends find themselves suddenly speaking without realizing they are doing so. In such a case, that usually means the Friend has been quaking for awhile and resisted the call to speak. God finally takes over.
I haven't had the feeling of trembling in the fingers; usually, I realize my heart has taken off and is wildly beating. That's when the "no, no! I won't speak!" resistance kicks in.
Ego is a real problem. You will probably notice times when a Friend speaks but wasn't led by God. We are human, after all. You will not be struck down if you speak wrongly. It's all part of the learning process.
Like Caroline, I have a story about an elder counseling a Friend about proper ministry:
A man rose to speak in meeting. His message began, "I've been thinking about a matter in my life..." After meeting, he sought out a Friend whose opinion mattered to him. Hoping for affirmation, he asked the Friend what she thought about his message. She replied, "Thee should not have been thinking."
If God is trying to tell you something... it probably will manifest as 'your' thinking-- because that's the process you have available for 'seeing' the truth of a thought.
If you examine any example of automatic writing, 'chanelling', etc., it quickly becomes obvious that the content is somebody's human notions, expressed without that person wishing to take responsibility for them.
Recognition that 'This is something God wants me to say' may indeed lead to starting a message with "I've been thinking" [as did Rufus Jones in Paula Deming's anecdote.]
There's a good pamphlet called 'The Quaking Meeting' available from Australia Yearly Meeting. The author points out that quaking is a pretty natural reaction to ~a lot of 'energy' passing through one's bod.~ And sometimes, when she has that experience, people have approached her with considerable worry: 'What's wrong with her? Should we call a doctor?' But quaking was never considered (even by early Friends) to be a necessary nor sufficient condition for a true message.
A message may (or may not be) 'about you.' Often, when I used to do readings, some poem based on what seemed the most idiosyncratic, personal, 'just me' experience, would be the one that brought a listener to talk with me afterwards about something he'd imagined to be 'only himself.'
If it leaves you wanting to cry with gratitude that "I've finally said it! Thank You for helping me do that!" then likely it was something you were led to say. A person's gotta do what a person's gotta do. (& no, this is not about having a 'leading' to endorse a candidate, a proposal, that lovely mockingbird song we're all listening to...)
Julie- as you can see by reading the responses to your post, there are various ways for you to know if you are being lead to share vocal ministry. I would take these responses as guidelines, not as rules that allow you or not allow you to share vocal ministry. The most important thing for you to do is to listen to that of God within you. Be courageous and follow what you are being told, either to remain being seated or to rise with a vocal message. After meeting, listen to how you feel and and to what is going on inside of you. If you feel at peace or if you feel like a burden has been taken off of you, it is a good chance you followed your leading. If you feel uncomfortable or restless, it is possible that you out ran your guide. Another option is to ask for a clearness committee to help you discern what you are being called to do. A spiritual friend may also be an option to help with discernment. But speaking from my own experience, I know that I had to learn to trust the prompting of God. If you are interested in reading more about vocal ministry, feel free to message me and I will find some reading options for you.
You may also test your leading to speak by offering the message after worship, during introductions. It is usually phrased "this didn't quite rise to share during worship...".
Sometimes a message may stay with you for a while until it becomes clear that you are to share it. Other times, you may not share only to find someone else doing it in your stead. Sometimes, you may find that you are so much a vehicle you aren't even fully aware of the words that come through you. There's no "right" experience for how one knows and I think it is never something any of us can take for granted or feel we fully understand.
I would add to Kristin's well thought words, Be Couragous with what is being revealed to you. The fact that you are asking this question is an indication that you are being thoughtful of your own place in the discerning process. It is also important to note that sometimes the spirit genuinely speaks to someone, but the message is for that person. Caroline made a good comment about finding the "I" or "me" in it, and that may be a useful guidepost. In the end, if I feel what is being opened to me would be of true value to other Friends, and coming from a proper place (that is, not ego, or some thought I may have carried in with me), fear not, and trust in your belief. You are in the arms of a loving community.
Hi Julie! This is such a hugely important thing to wrestle with, and sometimes I think it's the wrestling that's important, even if we occasionally choose wrongly. Just being present with God, acknowledging that I think Spirit might be leading me, and waiting for knowledge of what to do with it has been hugely powerful for me in my relationship with God. And if it turns out I'm actually being Led to speak, that's great! (albeit sometimes terrifying)
I agree about the physical manifestations, though sometimes I have just known that I am being Led to speak/sing/whatever without these signs. Sometimes I am very aware that I'm supposed to start giving a message but I won't know how it's going to end. I just start and God tells me when to stop, kind of like a light going out (or like Wiley Coyote realizing the ground's dropped out from under him.) I just realize that's all God's giving me and I shut up. Some people don't remember what they said afterward.
The good news is that there are no horrible consequences to choosing wrongly. (In my experience when I have wrongly chosen not to speak when I'm being Led, often somebody else gives the same basic message! That's always kind of embarassing, leading to kind of an "oops, I guess I screwed up that opportunity" moment with God in the silence afterward.)
I've taken a couple of days to put together an answer for you, because I was trying to track downs something I saw in my parents' meeting newsletter years ago. I asked my mom about it the other day and she said the meeting had decided to edit it anyway and take out a bunch of Quaker jargon that might confuse or turn off new attenders. She sent me the edited version:
Deciding to Speak in Meeting for Worship
Sit in the stillness and wait for God in the Spirit.
If you feel a message rise within you, consider if it is important enough to Break the living Silence.
Ask yourself if these words are from yourself or from God, the Spirit
Are these words meant to bring us closer to God, the Spirit, or meant to fill a personal need?
Is this message to be shared with others?
If the message continues to compel itself on you, it may need to be spoken, but this should not be done lightly.
Is this message to be shared at this time?
Allow a suitable time of silence after the previous message.
Speak what you have been given to say.
(Paraphrased from Tom Gates, The Gathered Meeting Revisited Philadelphia Yearly Meeting Annual Sessions, July 2006 From Thomas Kelly, Howard Briton, and Lloyd Lee Wilson.)
I seem to remember that the original brought up that God may sometimes give you messages that are meant just for you, or for you to share with someone in particular after meeting, rather than sharing vocally with the meeting. That's still huge and something to be thankful for! But it's one more possibility to be aware of as you sit with a message in prayer.
And now my ability to write about Spirit has just evaporated. I think you'll appreciate the reason why, so I'll share: my boyfriend has just come in the room and announced that scientists have discovered a species of enormous (> a foot long) insects is still around - it was previously thought that they were extinct but it turns out some hungry rats from a shipwreck had just feasted on them until their numbers were greatly diminished. Poof. Deep-thoughts Becky, in awe of the grandeur of Truth, is gone. Hopefully she was at least a little helpful before she disappeared. Dangit, Maslow...
Thanks for asking this question since I have found it very helpful to hear others' thoughts on this as well. I would like to add (just to blur the lines and in agreement with what Kristin Olson-Kennedy said) that nothing is hard and fast in my experience.
Once I felt a persistent strong nudge despite some anxiety about speaking, and something essentially lifting me to my feet, and that combination told me that I must be supposed to share this. However I know whatever the message it was filled with the word "I". It was essentially sharing a pain I have had with Quakers and a longing for God in meeting. Someone who came in late said at the end that they could tell they had walked into a gathered meeting at that point. I felt none of that -- just terrified and humiliated by speaking. I offer this just to redeem the reputation "I" is getting around here as a component of a message.
There is ego and then there is also the beauty of God within us and within our vulnerabilities. Sometimes it is precisely in or through your vulnerability and your humanity that people see the Light of God. No idea how this works but something gathers people in a gathered meeting and it's not about whether the person speaking felt comfortable or said all the "right" things.
I believe it is a weighty thing to break the Living Silence. I don't know that I've ever been 100% sure I was to provide vocal ministry before I did....but afterwards as the Silence surrounded me again...I knew I had "listened to the Light".
Only you and determine if you are to bring vocal ministry.