Silence Is Golden?
Of course, it all depends on context. In married life, it’s pointless to argue over trivialities, but suppose the issue is important. If I don’t bring it up with my wife because I want to avoid an argument, I may feel quietly resentful. My wife will probably sense that resentment and withdraw emotionally from me. Then I feel more resentful and withdraw in turn. So begins a never-ending cycle of marital damage.
Better to calmly present my grievance and come to some resolution of the problem. Of course, if the issue can’t be resolved, open discussion may also impact the marriage negatively. If there are enough unresolved problems, outing those problems could—admittedly—result in divorce.
A similar dynamic applies to liberal Quaker meetings, where members hold a variety of diverse spiritual beliefs. To preserve equanimity in the meeting, Friends may not divulge their inmost thoughts; but the result is probably a hurtful emotional distancing among members.
Better to allow beliefs to show themselves in vocal ministry or in group discussions so that members come to know one another more intimately. Better to embrace transparency and vulnerability so that Friends can profit from different viewpoints and find the same God or Depth from which all those spiritualities flow. Better to risk honesty, which is—after all—a bedrock Quaker virtue. Yes, open discussion may result in separation and members withdrawing from the meeting, but the alternative is a simmering, hidden conflict.
~ Richard Russell
Silence and Words
God is to be worshipped in spirit, in his own power and life, and this is at his own disposal. His church is a gathering in the Spirit. If any speak there, they must speak as the oracle of God, as the vessel out of which God speaks; as the trumpet out of which he gives the sound. Therefore there is to be a waiting in silence till the Spirit of the Lord move to speak, and also give words to speak. For we are not to speak our own words, or in our own wisdom or time; but the Spirit’s words, in the Spirit’s wisdom and time, which is when he moves and gives to speak.
~ Isaac Penington
The Greek sentence pictured above means, “The Word was God.” In Christian theology, that Word is identified with Jesus of Nazareth; but the word of God can simply mean a message from God to humankind. The message might be written down, as in the Bible; or it might simply be spoken by a prophet and never actually recorded.
So, when Friends give vocal ministry in meeting, what they say is presumed to be from God or inspired by Spirit or—for non-theists—spoken from the depths of their being. Of course, Friends who think they’re giving genuine vocal ministry may be mistaken. They may be speaking a shallow, personal utterance that is not at all prophetic.
Thus, Penington recommends “a waiting in silence till the Spirit of the Lord move to speak.” Silence, then, is a preparation for vocal ministry; but silence per se is not the main point of worship. I’ve known several Friends who are annoyed when someone speaks in Meeting. They feel that their personal worship or meditation has been disturbed by words, be they ever so profound or spiritual. But Quaker worship is supposed to be communal, not a purely personal devotion.
Certainly, there are gathered meetings which pass entirely in silence and in which the entire worshipping community is moved by Spirit; but usually it is the spoken word that inspires people. Language is a distinctively human quality. It is language that separates us from animals and makes us “a little less than angels.” God uses words to communicate his will to us, and we must listen when God speaks.
Of course, Friends giving vocal ministry should not be over-proud of themselves. They should not feel they are special or more important than anyone else. God gives different gifts to different people, and ministers of the word are only “faithful servants.” I myself frequently speak in Meeting, but I’ve known several Friends who have never given vocal ministry but are better Quakers than I’ll ever be. As 1 Corinthians 13 says,
Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. (NKJ)
Love, then, is the criterion by which we should measure the genuineness of a message spoken in Meeting. If the words given bring us together and heal divisions, they are from God.
I pray that Spirit give us many such messages.
~ Richard Russell
The reflection quoted below is from the Sunday’s Coming feature of The Christian Century. I thought about paraphrasing its content and perhaps making it more acceptable to those who stand outside the Christian tradition, but Michael Rinehart’s words are so powerful that I decided to simply quote him. For those Friends who are traditional Christians, Jesus’ tortured death on the cross is fundamental. I have my own, plain wooden cross from my Catholic Church days and plan to re-hang it on my wall near the framed minute that accepted me into Old Chatham Meeting. After all, without the cross, Jesus’ birth and resurrection lose their meaning. Resurrection is probably a concept that non-Christians cringe at; but by re-publishing Rineheart’s sermon, I invite non-Christians and non-theists to temporarily step into a world populated with Christian symbols. After all, it is the religious world in which George Fox and the early Quakers lived.
~ Richard Russell
With an oversized finger John the Baptist points at Jesus on the cross in Matthias Grünewald’s Isenheim altarpiece.
Of course, John was beheaded long before Jesus was crucified, so the work is surreal, in a Late Medieval sense. John seems to be saying, “It’s not about me.” And then: “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world,” a passage which many Christians sing every Sunday as a part of the communion liturgy.
The same can be seen in Lucas Cranach’s portrait of Luther preaching and pointing to the cross (also from an altarpiece, in Wittenberg, Germany). It’s about Jesus and the cross. Crux sola est nostra theologia, Luther said. “The cross is our only theology.”
Creation reveals God. Beauty reveals God. This is most certainly true. But our picture of the world is incomplete if we don’t contend with the pervasive presence of evil in our world. Our picture is incomplete without an eyes-wide-open view of suffering, hatred, and violence in the world. We must tell the truth about the world.
“A theologian of the cross calls a thing what it is,” says Luther in the Heidelberg Disputation. The cross tells the truth about the world. It is a truth we must hear if we are to avoid a bankrupt, rose-colored-glasses theology.
I once walked into a “Christian” bookstore. In the gifts section were some boxes. On the boxes it said, “Something nice for you.” Inside was a tortured man who had been nailed to a cross.
Something nice for you. The cross stands for the world as a sign that God stands with the victim, not the victor. It is a powerful symbol that we have robbed of its impact.
Paul says the cross is a scandalon. The word is often translated “stumbling block,” but it is the word from which we get our word “scandal.” Origen referred to Jesus’ death as the mors turpissima crucis: the utterly vile death of the cross. The cross has power because it tells the truth about the world.
Great preaching always points to the cross. It’s about him. Great preaching reminds us that God is revealed in the hungry, naked, sick, and imprisoned. It points to the one who said, “Whatsoever you do the least of these, you do unto me.”
As we turn our gaze to the crucified people of our world today, we get a glimpse of what and who God cares about. Jesus takes away the sin of the world by revealing the sin of the world—by casting a spotlight on it. If we could just remember that. We need Easter, but as long as we live in this world, we also need Good Friday.
Every Sunday we are John the Baptist: “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”
- Michael Rinehart
Quaker, Quaker, Liar, Liar
All people are liars. Quakers are people. Therefore, Quakers are liars. But, there are lies; and there are lies. There are categories of lying. Some lies are compatible with the bedrock Quaker principle of Truth. Others are not. Those lies that Quakers shouldn’t tell are self-serving and—according to Arash Emamzadeh—include the following types:
So, what kinds of lie can a good Quaker tell? Well, if the lie is pro-social or altruistic, it’s permissible. Suppose you accidentally meet someone you don’t really like. If you say “Glad to see you,” that’s pro-social and not really un-Quakerly. Or, if you tell a young child that Santa Claus brought the gifts around the Christmas tree, that’s altruistic and needn’t trouble your Quaker conscience. Unfortunately, I suspect that all Quakers sometimes tell lies that fall in the nine self-serving categories. After all, Quakers are human!
~ Richard Russell
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