Thursday, October 9, 2014

Expectant listening, with Friends

While living in Bloomington, IN, home of Indiana University, we often wondered about the modest Friends Meeting House near campus. It looked crowded on Sunday, with cars parked all over the lawn. One Sunday we got up our nerve and walked in. This was an "unprogrammed" meeting, which means no music, no preacher, no sermon. Chairs were arranged in rows so we all could see each other. Since nobody was "in charge," how did we know if worship had started? A sign on the door said, "The meeting begins when the first person enters and turns his thought to God." Gradually the room filled up, with people and silence. Quakers are convinced we all can hear the voice of God, if we just listen. So they listen in silence for about an hour.

For the first 15 minutes, I thought about lunch and shopping that afternoon. But after 30 minutes I ran out of distractions, and actually began listening. A roomful of people spending an hour in silent prayer is better than any tranquilizer. Calm replaces worry and fear. You actually feel at peace and refreshed! After an hour, one member shakes the hand of the person beside him. Others do the same and we all adjourn to the next room for refreshments.

It was during refreshments that I noticed how modest they all are. Nobody dressed to impress. If you asked an older man what he did for a living, he might say, "Oh, I'm a teacher." Later you learn he's an IU professor emeritus of Greek literature. And he came to Meeting on a bicycle.

What do Quakers believe? In a nutshell, they believe it's possible to have direct, unmediated communion with God, and they are committed to living lives which outwardly attest this inward communion, instead of reciting creeds. If you have five spare minutes, here's a video of Quakers explaining what silence (or expectant listening) means to them.

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