Friends have never regarded [worship] as an individual activity. People who regard Friends’ meetings as opportunities for meditation have failed to appreciate this corporate aspect. The waiting and listening are activities in which everybody is engaged and produce spoken ministry which helps to articulate the common guidance which the Holy Spirit is believed to give the group as a whole. So the waiting and listening is corporate also. This is why Friends emphasise the ‘ministry of silence’ and the importance of coming to meeting regularly and with heart and mind prepared.
John Punshon, 1987; QFP 2.37
The first that enters into the place of your meeting … turn in thy mind to the light, and wait upon God singly, as if none were present but the Lord; and here thou art strong. Then the next that comes in, let them in simplicity of heart sit down and turn in to the same light, and wait in the spirit; and so all the rest coming in, in the fear of the Lord, sit down in pure stillness and silence of all flesh, and wait in the light… Those who are brought to a pure still waiting upon God in the spirit, are come nearer to the Lord than words are; for God is a spirit, and in the spirit is he worshipped… In such a meeting there will be an unwillingness to part asunder, being ready to say in yourselves, it is good to be here: and this is the end of all words and writings to bring people to the eternal living Word.
Alexander Parker, 1660; QFP 2.41
I have been very much struck recently by the clear distinction between the practice of contemplative prayer – in my case based on the Jesus Prayer – and meeting for worship, even the little times of worship Susan and I (and Tifa the cat) share each morning before breakfast.
When we settle into silence together, we settle into each others’ presence, and the Spirit links us, becomes a bright lake of being in which we rest; whose ripples join us together, and communicate to each, human or feline, our presence within that Spirit. In a truly gathered meeting on Sunday morning the same thing happens, only on a larger scale: there are long tides in the silence that ebb and flow among us, the little waves of Friends’ concerns lapping at our feet like the wash of some passing boat, far out on the mere of our shared stillness.
It seems to me impossible to plan for these connections, or to bring them about by any exercise of will; they are gift only, and the best we can do is try to ensure that we don’t allow the fretfulness of our own hearts to obstruct them when they do appear. Some of the best advice I have read on avoiding this is that given long ago by Isaac Penington, again in the earliest days of the Quaker movement:
Give over thine own willing, give over thy own running, give over thine own desiring to know or be anything and sink down to the seed which God sows in the heart, and let that grow in thee and be in thee and breathe in thee and act in thee; and thou shalt find by sweet experience that the Lord knows that and loves and owns that, and will lead it to the inheritance of Life, which is its portion.
Isaac Penington, 1661; QFP 26.70