For the first time, I found myself asked to explain my faith and practiice to coworkers. Not due to any spiritual revival, but because a cable TV program has a Quaker character. Unfortunately, it was not Fox’s compelling and revolutionary insights that fascinated them. Instead they were stuck on one point - “You sit for an hour and do nothing?”

I explained that we pray, we meditate, but most important, we listen.

“So, you really don’t do anything for an hour.”

I spoke of continuing revelation, prophetic openings and inspired ministry.

“For a whole hour, a WHOLE hour, you just sit?”

They just couldn’t get past the idea of “doing NOTHING” for an HOUR. Clearly not a “people waiting to be gathered.” There was work to do in the clinic, so I moved on.

I spent most of that day working with a disabled man in crisis. He was new to our clinic; there was no established relationship of trust. His wife of many years was seen for the first time and immediately hospitalized with no expectation to live out the week.

On following First day I found myself sinking into God’s healing love. I felt an overwhelming gratitide, both for the Divine and  for the Friends gathered round me.

I realized that “doing nothing” in meeting make me much better at my job. I could listen and I could wait with him. I could avoid the sometimes overwhelming temptation to try and fix things. I could wait for openings rather than challenge unwise decisions that arose from his grief and shock. I could do nothing and yet do everything by just being there. I could quietly set up safety nets.

I know from past experience that “doing nothing” in isolation is not enough. Part of being a Quaker is being in community. I need to attend meeting each week because “doing nothing” with my Friends supports me, nurtures me and challenges me. The absence of any one member diminishes the gathered meeting in subtle but vital ways. I say a prayer of gratitude for each Friend sitting with me “doing nothing” and sustaining my faith. For me, it is everything. 

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Comment by Jeffery Agnew on 2nd mo. 21, 2011 at 5:58pm

In the third sentence, what did you mean by  "Fox" the TV network or George Fox? I don't know of the program.


Perhaps, your colleagues would understand better if you were share a reflection on the Gospel story of Mary and Martha followed by the passage with Elijah's still small voice. Then its simply a matter to add that we listen for God to speak to us through others as well, for which there are many examples in Scripture.

Comment by Rosemary Gould on 2nd mo. 22, 2011 at 8:22am
Thanks for this post. I also have family members who are horrified by the idea of an hour of "just sitting there." I am finding that just spending a few minutes a day "doing nothing" alone is also helping me a lot.
Comment by Stephanie Stuckwisch on 2nd mo. 22, 2011 at 11:47pm

Rosemary, I also find "doing nothing" on a daily basis to be essential.

Jeffery, by Fox I meant George. It didn't even occur to me that anyone would think Fox network. My reporting of the conversation is very abbreviate. We spoke for close to an hour. Neither of them would have identified with Biblical references. Nor do they show inclination towards the contemplative side of life. Hopefully I sowed a few seeds.

Comment by Paula Deming on 2nd mo. 23, 2011 at 9:38am

Would the term "waiting worship" be of use? Or focusing on the community aspect of waiting worship? Perhaps putting the emphasis on worship would take the focus off of the more passive "listening," even though that is also what we are doing.

However, I see that you say that we pray, so perhaps "worship" wouldn't be any more convincing. I, too, have trouble explaining to people what we "do." Take my words as musings rather than examples of what actually works. :)

Comment by Forrest Curo on 2nd mo. 23, 2011 at 12:11pm
"Do nothing till you hear from Me?"
Comment by Stephanie Stuckwisch on 2nd mo. 24, 2011 at 12:43am

Paula, it is hard to explain what we "do". I'm not sure the word 'witness' or any other words would have helped. Contemplation and waiting is the antithesis of 'doing' as society defines it. It felt a bit like being a tourist guide.

"Do nothing till you hear from Me?" I like that one, Forrest. Sounds like a mantra for use in meeting for business.



Comment by Paula Deming on 2nd mo. 24, 2011 at 9:38am

You are absolutely correct, Stephanie. And therein lies the problem. Our culture values "doing." We are no longer human beings but human doings. That's why I was trying to come up with some vocabulary that might address the "not doing" and make it more active.

Comment by Margaret Bienert on 2nd mo. 24, 2011 at 11:15am

Forrest,  I also like "Do Nothing till you hear from Me."  That is my watchword these days.


I am pretty good at 'doing nothing' in my own practical everyday life.  It might be considered laziness,

but I think there is also a listening and waiting and focusing involved in my seeming passivity.  As you suggest, Paula,  the challenge is to make this an 'active" and productive  time of doing nothing.  Quite a riddle there!  That is where some of the disciplines I am learning from Friends  about silence are very helpful.

Comment by Paula Deming on 2nd mo. 24, 2011 at 11:36am

Hi, Margaret,

You are right that there is challenge in making "doing nothing" active. But my sense is that this is what Quakers are doing all the time. We understand the riddle.

My point was more particularly how to make our "not doing/being" be more acceptable to people who insist that we must be obviously "doing" all the time. That is the problem Stephanie has presented to us. No matter what she said to her co-workers, and no matter how "active" she made her language, sitting in meeting for a WHOLE HOUR DOING NOTHING is all they could hear.

Recently I went to a brief funeral. The minister told us near the end that we were going to have a brief period of silence in which to think about how the deceased had done special things for us. He must have talked about this silence we were about to receive for 3 minutes, pointing out how it would be 90 seconds of silence. When the silence finally arrived, it was filled with a rather loud and affected version of Amazing Grace.

People don't know how to handle a life without a soundtrack anymore. Not 90 seconds, and certainly not an hour. And that doesn't even speak to the problem of "just sitting."

Comment by Rosemary Gould on 2nd mo. 24, 2011 at 12:10pm


That happened to me, too. I was asked to talk about Quakers to a Unitarian Sunday school class, and at the end the teacher suggested that we "try out" silent worship for five minutes. But then she proceeded to give the kids instructions throughout, "you can think about..." That was several years ago. If it happened now I would interrupt her immediately (gently, of course) and explain that we don't instruct anyone in what to think. It isn't "guided meditation." Not that you could have done that in the middle of a funeral!

I wonder if asking questions might be a helpful response to such inquirers at work or wherever. "Oh, does that sound strange to you? I wonder why." Or "what is it that bothers you about it?"



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