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13    The Circle of Worship

The Quaker choice of a circle around a small table, on which may be found a bible or a bouquet of flowers, corresponds to the age-old practice of people to level with each other in discourse. It is not a technique for seeking originality or a different form of religious suggestion, but rather a proven means of communion between people in a closer and more sensitive relationship. Those of different backgrounds and levels of cultural experience feel themselves more humble and more open - all equal before God.

The distances from the pulpit to the first and last benches brings with it separation between people and the hint of a limited subjection to whoever presides over worship. Worship in a circle wipes out the isolation of the one who must communicate from a fixed place every Sunday. There is no pulpit except the ideal one of Christ and so no element of distraction.

Outward silence is a strong help in quieting the mind which wanders less than usual, argues less, and does not have to judge which is coming from the pulpit. There is no worry about speaking out or not. Certainly there remains hearing, listening to familiar things that sifted through the silence become either more interesting or definitely insignificant.

Meeting after meeting, formal spirituality gives way to a spontaneous sense of the holy as experienced with neighbours and intimately with God. Other friends' concerns and the freely expressed worries of a soul in pain become the burden of all. "I" becomes "we" and finally we can understand how God can be in us.

Knowledge of the word of God is no longer delegated to one person. Any one at all can quote Scripture as the distillation of thought. Sometimes quoted verses shine with their own light. It is absolutely astonishing how silent worship can be interrupted more than once and yet one's own meditation not be disturbed. Both are equally and sincerely part of silent worship. There is no dialogue between two people. If it does take place, insofar as people forget that they are parts of a communion of worship, the exchange breaks the atmosphere of gathering. However, this rarely happens among experienced Quakers.

A feeling of tenderness unknown in other forms of worship creeps in the participants in silent worship. One becomes conscious of it at the end of meeting when everyone shakes hands. How much ill will, dislike and egotism is cancelled in that one gesture which is really a program!

Florence, 9 IX 1988

Educate men without religion and you make them clever devils.

Attributed to Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington

Translation by George T. Peck

[Original Italian]

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