I have been interested to read contributions from Friends recently (flagged up by Craig Barnett on the Quaker Renewal Facebook Group) about faith and social media – like Facebook, Twitter, or this blog, I suppose – and the implications of online culture for our worship and our sense of community. There have been excellent contributions from, among others, Rhiannon Grant, Michael Booth and pilgrim52.
It is in this last blog post that the following paragraph occurs:
… Quaker worship is so important. In Quaker worship, one day out of 7, we are supposed to sit in silence and come face to face with all that tries to take our attention away from loving our neighbours, caring for and nurturing our families, taking care of the poor and needy, and yes, loving ourselves. We are to face our limits and realize what a poor imitation we make of trying to stay relevant to a social audience. We spend money to make ourselves more conspicuous, sexier, and younger. Always desiring an audience will temporarily fill us with satisfaction, but it will leave us wishing for more and is never ultimately satisfying. How scary it is to give all that up and face who we really are when no one is watching, but I would offer: how more fulfilling! We might even be more creative.
I am struck, of course, by pilgrim52’s remarks on humility (I have written about this myself elsewhere) but it is her mention of our facing our own limits “one day out of 7” that caught my attention, as you might expect from my last couple of posts.
In his 1985 Swarthmore Lecture, Steps in a Large Room, Christopher Holdsworth writes:
It may seem otiose, if not downright stupid, to talk to Friends about silence. We alone (we sometimes think) among Christians regularly use it in our corporate worship … But, although we use silence as the medium through which we become aware of the divine presence … there are many indications … that we do not make a quiet place in our daily lives.
We need both worship and prayer in our lives. They are not the same thing, and they cannot replace one another. I for one can’t survive a whole week on the remembered presence of God in Sunday’s worship – whether in silence or in ministry – and yet I know that I need my Friends in Meeting to worship with, not only because worship is a thing we do together, but because their different personalities, the different ways they experience and express their encounter with the Light, keep me sane and grounded where I might too easily become victim to what would in the 18th century have been known as religious enthusiasm!
Prayer, by which I mean a regular, intentional practice of seeking God, is essential not only to our own life and growth in the Spirit, but to our community, as Christopher Holdsworth (op. cit.) wrote: “I am convinced that the vitality and practical effectiveness of our Society, as of any other church, is directly related to the degree to which each of us manages to find time to explore our inner space during the week.” Rhiannon Grant has more on our own personal spiritual practice, together with some useful book recommendations, here, and Stephanie Grant has a moving and practical description of her own practice here.
Social media tend, for all their usefulness, to work against humility and the solitude in which prayer and silence grow. We need, as pilgrim52 points out, to learn to be nobody in particular. Hiddenness and ordinariness are the fertile soil in which our spiritual lives grow, and we need somehow to reconcile this fact with the imperative to communicate our faith and our discoveries in the land of the Spirit.
Elsewhere on her blog, pilgrim52 quotes Ben Pink Dandelion quoting Ray Stephenson:
[Discernment] means accepting great risk, because what a situation needs could mean self-sacrifice, and we are loath to open ourselves to that. Even Jesus in Gethsemane found that hard: no wonder it was said that he sweated blood. But his final prayer there – ‘not my will but thine’ – feels like the ultimate example of a prayer of discernment. It implies a total laying-aside of self; yet Jesus wouldn’t be Jesus without this crucifixion of personal wants. This example matters, because it is true for every one of us. We all need the humility, and the courage, to lay self aside and make space for the Divine to do its work. Then we will be our true selves, and yet enable something greater than ourselves.
If we can begin to do this – and I think we shall need all the resourses of both worship and prayer at our disposal – then we may be able to navigate the treacherous waters of the social media just as early Friends negotiated the opportunities and the whirlpools of the young medium of print. Pilgrim52 reminds us of Elizabeth Fry’s remarks,
My life has been one of great vicissitude: mine has been a hidden path, hidden from every human eye. I have had deep humiliations and sorrows to pass through. I can truly say I have ‘wandered in the wilderness in a solitary way, and found no city to dwell in’; and yet how wonderfully I have been sustained. I have passed through many and great dangers, many ways – I have been tried with the applause of the world, and none know how great a trial that has been, and the deep humiliations of it; and yet I fully believe it is not nearly so dangerous as being made much of in religious society. There is a snare even in religious unity, if we are not on the watch. I have sometimes felt that it was not so dangerous to be made much of in the world, as by those whom we think highly of in our own Society: the more I have been made much of by the world, the more I have been inwardly humbled. I could often adopt the words of Sir Francis Bacon – ‘When I have ascended before men, I have descended in humiliation before God.’
Elizabeth Fry, 1844, Quaker Faith & Practice 21.09