My goal in this post is not to answer the question, "What is Quaker Worship." Rather, I would like to delineate four metaphors or viewpoints that might serve as a starting point for discussing the range of answers Quakers have given to this question.
To say that Quakers have seen worship as a form of spirit possession may seem odd to some, but I don't think the idea would be all that preposterous to many early Friends and even some Quakers today. Read descriptions of early Quaker worship with its characteristic quaking, moaning and trance states and the idea of spirit possession is really not that far fetched. The widespread belief today that vocal ministry should be preceded by trembling seems to me a holdover from this earlier spirit possession viewpoint.
Today you are unlikely to find much quaking in a Friends meeting, but you will still hear Quakers use language similar to spirit possession to describe their experiences. For example, "My sense is that the spirit is calling us to..." Some Friends speak as though they literally communicate with spirit.
But for other Quakers, the language of spirit possession seems a remnant of a bygone age and difficult to square with our modern view of the world. Some of us seek a more naturalistic way of speaking about what happens in worship.
I often hear Friends refer to worship as meditation. I doubt if early Friends ever used the word "meditation" but if they did I am sure it didn't have the connotation then that it does today with our exposure to eastern religions. When Friends meditate in worship today they often have in mind a process of trying to slow down or perhaps even stopping their thoughts. Some even sit cross legged in their chair or on the floor.
While I value meditation, I have to wonder why we have vocal ministry if our goal is to stop all thoughts? Could it be that we have superimposed the idea of eastern meditation on a basically Western process that actually valued human thought and did not see it an antithetical to spirit.
Some Friends own that what they are doing in worship is thinking. Some are reflecting back over the events of the week to see how the spirit might have been working. Others may intentionally direct their thoughts to spiritual subjects, like imaging a golden light surrounding everyone in the meeting.
I have always liked the idea of Quaker worship as "baptized thinking" and feel that this describes my experience much better than the notions of spirit possession or meditation.
But what exactly do we mean by the word "baptized?" Do we mean baptized in the sense of spirit possession?
Carl Jung described two different kinds of thinking: directed and non-directed or fantasy thinking. Directed thinking is thinking in words or language for a specific purpose. Non-directed thinking, however, is where we simply allow thoughts to rise to consciousness and they often take the form of images.
Could the "baptized" quality of the thinking we do in worship be of a non-directed type, a free-floating awareness in which thoughts and images freely float up from the unconscious? Is this natural process of reverie just "monkey mind" and to be avoided? Or could it be that spirit can work through our imagination?
What metaphors would you use to describe your experience of Quaker worship?