Despite its beauty and impressiveness, the form of worship consisting of prayers, songs, readings, short pauses for reflection, and sermons - which Quakers call "programmed" - beyond emotional involvement rarely engages the participants deeply.
The switching between the various elements, the standing up and the sitting down, the silent reflection that lasts but few minutes or seconds, the preacher's learned theological speculations, all too often lead to a loss of focus or a psychological fragmentation. Sometimes preaching produces dependence on the speaker. Naturally there are exceptions.
The familiarity, which inevitably and continually grows with going to church, does not often correspond to spiritual growth, nor to a substantial change in the participant, nor to a new birth.
The greater the simplicity of worship and preaching, the greater the true involvement of the participants and the possibility of growing.
The greatest simplicity is reached, according to Quakers, with silent worship, inasmuch as the rare spoken interruptions, understood by each person as service, and as the expression of a certain inspiration, are a natural part of the whole and belong to each person.
Often in these short messages there is the answer to a problem or question, expressed or unexpressed, felt by many of those present. And the I becomes we, individuality turns into communion.
Whereas in programmed worship silence is secondary, often non-existent, in Quaker unprogrammed worship it is a central element, a formidable tool for research, introspection, self-examination, meditation, listening, confession, engagement with oneself, the real beginning of a change in one's way of being and acting.
Vertical communication with the Spirit of God is translated into horizontal communication with companions, who feel this both during and after worship, and with astonishment and joy you notice that something has really changed in you, that negative thoughts are progressively dispersing, that aggressiveness is gradually disappearing from the horizon, and that the highest values of life and universal religion are clear in your mind and heart.
Sometimes a few of those present do not break off from their own concentration, following the course of an edifying thought of their own, and such is its weightiness that it is undisturbed by what others say.
Usually, even if nothing exceptional has been directly or indirectly experienced by most of those present at worship, a true sense of fullness and peace fills one and all, and many everyday cares lose their gravity.
And those who have not found an easing of their problems or an answer to their personal questions, find a certain direct comfort in the realisation that others have found them.
Availability and openness to others is a direct consequence of constant presence at worship, and a caring for and sense of responsibility toward companions is and has been a very Quaker characteristic for centuries.
The light of divine truth, able to give an answer to queries that human culture cannot satisfy, does not shine visibly or tangibly, and may not correspond at all to the expectations of the believer; but surely a ray of charitable light peeps out from the heart of one who knows how to make the silent way fruitful.
The recognition that one has sought communion with God and one's fellows, and the knowledge that God welcomes that search, gives a meaning to participation.
As, however, it is not the only form of worship that God appreciates, the silent form remains just one note in the vast range of human piety, and it is good and right that everyone follows whatever is closest to his or her true nature.
Livorno, 22 I 1987
For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set me free from the law of sin and death. ... If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit which dwells in you.
Romans 8:2,11 - New Testament
Please send any suggestions for alternative translations of any of these meditations to Simon Grant.