[The Lord of Silence: general index]

7    Liturgical and Silent Worship

Despite its fascinating beauty, worship consisting of prayers, songs, readings, silent pauses, and sermons, which Quakers call "programmed", rarely involves the participants deeply, other than having an emotional thrill. Too often the interplay of the different elements bring a form of deconcentration, a psychological splitting, and sometimes preaching produces dependence on the preacher. Naturally there are exceptions.

Knowledge which should increase continually with attendance at worship, often does not lead to spiritual growth or to basic changes in the believer or to new birth. The greater the simplicity of worship and preaching, the greater the true involvement of the participant and so the possibility of growth. According to Quakers, the greatest simplicity in achieved in silent worship, since the rare oral interruptions are heard as a service and as the externalization of a true inspiration. They are a natural part of the whole and belong to each one. Often these short messages are answers to a problem or question felt by many of those present. The "I" becomes "we", the individual, a community.

In programmed worship silence is secondary, even non-existent, but in Quaker unprogrammed worship it is the central element. It is a formidable tool for search, introspection, self-examination, meditation, listening, and confession. One's self-involvement can be the real beginning of one's own being and action.

Vertical communication with the Spirit of God is translated into horizontal communication with brothers and sisters who feel it both during and after worship. With astonishment and joy you feel that something has really changed in you. Negative thoughts have progressively dispersed, aggressiveness has gradually disappeared from the horizon, and the highest values of universal religion and life are clear in your mind and heart.

Sometimes a few of the attenders do not interrupt their own concentration in following their specific edifying thought. It is like a wall that is undisturbed by another's intervention. Normally, a true sense of fullness and peace fills one and all, even though the majority of those present may feel nothing exceptional either directly or indirectly. Many everyday cares lose their weight. Even though the worshipper may not have found an easing of his or her problems or an answer to an intimate question, there is a direct comfort in the sharing of an experience.

Availability and openness to others is a direct result of attendance at worship, and a prime Quaker characteristic for centuries is and has been the care for and sense of responsibility toward others. The light of divine truth which can answer to quests that human culture cannot satisfy, may not shine in a visible or tangible form or even correspond to the expectations of the believer; but surely a ray of loving light peeps out from the heart of one who knows how to realize the gifts of silence. The recognition that one has sought communion with God and one's fellows and the knowledge that God welcomes that search confirms a sense of participation.

Even though silent worship is not the only form of worship that God values and may remain just one letter in the alphabet of human piety, yet it is right and good that each follows his or her own genius.

Livorno, 22 I 1987

For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free of the law of sin and death... But if the Spirit of him that raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you.

Romans 8:2,11, N.T.

Translation by George T. Peck

[Original Italian]

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