Primitive Christianity Revived, Again
There is a lot of discussion in Philadelphia Yearly Meeting right now about the lack of African Americans and other minorities in the membership and leadership of the Religious Society of Friends. Current thinking is that racism and white supremacy may be playing a role. I think it is always beneficial to examine our prejudices. This is what Jungians would call shadow work and it is an essential component of Jungian spiritual development. I wonder, though, if the problem might not be something more structural.
After all, it isn't just African Americans who we are having trouble attracting to our meetings. We are also struggling to involve other whites, families, teenagers and college students. Is prejudice the decisive factor with all these groups?
Quaker worship, according to Jungian type theory, might be described as introverted and intuitive. We sit in silence, turn inward and wait to sense the prompting of the spirit. Quaker worship developed as a compensation or counterpose to the worship of the Anglican church. We forget sometimes just how radically different our worship is from that of other religious groups, both white and African American.
Worship in other churches is much more extraverted. Worshippers' focus is directed outward toward the priest conducting the sacraments, the minister delivering a sermon or the choir singing an anthem. There is organ music and hymn singing. In some traditions there may also be sacramental dress, statues, stained glass, processions, images and symbols. Worship is also particularly sensate, that is, appealing to all of the senses. Liturgical "smells and bells" are probably the foremost example of this.
African American worship, though varied, appears to be particularly extraverted and sensate. A real community event abounding in the free expression of emotion, spontaneous physical movement and the call and response between preacher and congregation.
So, why would people so accustomed to the worship I have described be drawn to entering an unadorned Quaker meeting house to sit in silence for 60 minutes? Why would they want to come?
Compare the offerings of the average unprogrammed Quaker meeting with other mainline churches which are likely to provide a meditative service at 8:00 am, a family service at 10:00 am and contemporary service complete with rock band at 7:00 pm!
I am not suggesting that we abandon silent worship. But I do think that we need to realize that the population we are most likely to attract (introverted intuitives) is the least numerous personality type in American culture which tends to be overwhelmingly extraverted and sensate.
The bottom line, it seems to me, is that we will always remain a minority or marginal religion in the total scheme of things. Perhaps, that is our fate and gift to the world.
The question that needs asking is this: What is missing from a truly intersectional analysis of what is happening? As Chuck Fager noted to me in another discussion, asking about matters of class is like a shark fin appearing above the water at a crowded beach. We have not figured out how to have this conversation in our concerns about gender and race. We are therefore crippled in our analysis.
As an "introverted intuitive" (INTJ) I identify with many of these comments. However, I grew up the son of a Quaker pastor and did not "participate" in unprogrammed Friends worship until I was nearly 30 and moved from the Midwest to NJ. I have felt one of the major "shortcomings" of "quiet" meetings is the loss of preparation for Meeting. My father would say that he did not "work"on Sunday but shared in the worship, and that his "job" was to work himself out of a job. If a Meeting provided before or after Meeting for Worship activities (Meetings for learning, sharing in music, speaking, reading, etc.) which included interactions or actions that were truly meaningful, this might help. However, I do feel that the rise of "African Friends" with their many Yearly Meetings does have something to do with their very active and interactive Meetings.
It is also of note that I clerked the laying down of a Friends Meeting in the 60s and the clerked the "laying down" of a Quarterly Meeting to be replaced by "Regional Meetings," both events were influenced by the "loss of community" in the sense that travel was much easier to go a distance to different meetings or churches rather than interact with those who lived in your community.
I've heard the "Those people don't like this kind of worship!" argument raised many many times -- and I suspect what it covers is a much deeper gulf: People whose lives have space for waiting in silence vs people whose present pain and urgency tempts us to flee to a safe emotional distance.
Jesus recommended leaving "the dead to bury the dead"; and that is very likely the way this divide looks from the other side.
It takes divisions and differences to make a meaningful reunion possible. But now that we've got that, we could gain a great deal more by coming together and sharing what we've developed in isolation. If we equate "silent" with "intuitive" and "expressive" with "emotional" -- That is a grave misunderstanding, deep as our mutual conceit that only our way is "Spiritual."
Thank you Scott for putting into words the truth about our spiritual tradition that perhaps most of us sense deep inside.
It is not surprising that the reality of a religion which is based on the mysticism of Jesus (in its rawest form) is not popular with the masses. Neither was the spiritual practice and realizations of Jesus himself grasped in his day until his message was eventually popularized to a point that most people could relate to it in their daily lives. Mystics and mystical traditions have always been 'loners' because their spiritual practice is mystical, inward, and not of the things most of the world values. Yet these traditions are beacons that are valued by the mainstream religions that eventually emerged from them.
Two thousand years ago - for many of those who first listened to Jesus himself, the mystical experience and realization he communicated was just too much. And we all have noticed the same phenomenon with our liberal Quaker meetings' mystical silent worship. In the case of my particular liberal Friends meeting, we have hundreds of people who love our message of love and light, our emphasis on living a spiritual and compassionate life each and every day, and our egalitarian community that is always present to welcome and support all in their spiritual journeys. Yet, there are at most a few dozen worshippers on Sunday. Still, the meeting house and grounds are financially supported, visited and nurtured - so that this beacon of light and love is sustained and available in the community should any feel drawn to a mystical experience with others.
Perhaps this is purpose enough.
Howard, clearly there was a strong mystical center to Jesus' Messages.
Equally clearly, they didn't hang him up for teaching people Centering Prayer -- but for his ongoing aid and comfort to those people suffering too urgently from the "filthy rotten system" of his day -- which on close examination looks all too similar to the filthy rotten system of modern times, which Dorothy Day also condemned. Contemporary Quakers have worked within that system far too comfortably, have become far too complicit in it -- and so have far too many churches of the exuberantly-vocal sort. The clientelle of those churches, however, are largely people with sufferings too urgent to wait, yet forced to wait... and wait -- and needing to cry out their emotions to keep the stones from having to do it.
Perhaps the stones will have to do it before we can?
A few comments:
I think this is an insightful post. It resonates with my own experience and history. In general I think Quakers who practice silent prayer underestimate how difficult it is for people to enter into this kind of worship. And not much guidance into this domain of interior silence is offered to newcomers. I think the Quaker tradition has the resources for such guidance, but for some reason it does not seem to be offered in a way that makes it a little easier for people to access.
Forrest -- there are examples of people who have been arrested and imprisoned for teaching the prayer of interior silence. The entire episode of 'Quietism' in Europe gives us many examples. Miguel Molinos was arrested and died in prison for this kind of teaching. Madame Guyon was imprisoned 4 times. Malaval was forced to recant his own teaching. Fenelon was driven from Paris, etc. I know this surprises us that such a simple practice would generate such a strong reaction; but historically there are many examples.
In other words, I tend to agree with Howard that the mysticism of Jesus was a causal factor for the hostility surrounding Him. It may not be the entire story, but I think it was a significant factor, just as it has been in history and remains so today. There are, for example, traditional Catholics who very hostile to Centering Prayer, and there are Protestants who argue that interior silence is of the Devil. This surprised me when I ran across it, but it is a widespread and rather intense critique.
Catholic Spain considered mystical practices heretical, as personal efforts to approach God directly rather than through the sacraments and/or the help of a priest. That was a highly-charged political issue in that time and place.
1st Century Israelites (and their religious authorities) had no political objections to holy men, so long as they didn't enter the Temple and prophesy its destruction in words used by Jeremiah before the 500-years-ago destruction of the First Temple ("den of thieves" being an implied criticism that the priestly hierarchy operating that establishment may have been inclined to take personally -- and a reference no Israelite would have missed to this passage):
"Do not trust in these deceptive words: 'This is the Temple of the Lord, the Temple of the Lord, the Temple of the Lord.'
"For if you truly amend your doings, if you truly execute justice one with another, if you do not oppress the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own hurt, then I will let you dwell in this place, in the land that I gave fof old to your fathers forever.
"Behold, you trust in deceptive words to no avail. Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, burn incense to Ba'al, and go after other gods that you have not known, and then come and stand before Me in this house, which is called by My name, and say 'We are delivered!' only to go on doing all these abominations? Has this house, which is called by My name, become a den of robbers in your eyes? Behold, I Myself have seen it, says the Lord. Go now to my place that was in Shiloh, where I made My Name dwell at first, and see what I have done to it for the wickedness of My people Israel. And now, because you have done all these things...
"I will do to the house which is called by My name, and in which you trust, and to the place which I gave to you and your fathers, as I did to Shiloh."
Jeremiah was very nearly killed for those words; then Jesus alluded to them in the Temple built over the First Temple's ruined site; was that apolitical mysticism"?