Have you ever been to a Quaker meeting? A Quaker meeting (worship service) is a community of people sitting in a deep silence. There aren’t any designated pastors or musicians. The only person who is appointed is the time keeper. Together they sit in silence and expectant waiting. They wait and listen, seeking divine guidance or inspiration, offering prayers of personal thanksgiving or need, confessing or reflecting. Sometimes, the Spirit moves someone to share aloud and they trust that while the auditory sharing might not be for everyone, it is for someone.
The part of this practice that is not often talked about is the value of Quaker people to come to that meeting steeped in the Word of God. This means that each of those egalitarian meetings are preceded by a lifetime of discipline and practice. It means reading the Bible on a regular basis, talking to others (or reading their work and thoughts) about faith, and regularly practicing to be selfless.
I am not good at discipline. I once bought a new pair of jeans because the number of pants I owned meant doing my laundry once a week. And I don’t much like routine (another reason it’s not my calling to raise kids, who thrive on routine). But ever since I became a preacher I’ve been forced into a routine and discipline of reading scripture and studying God’s word.
Every week of the year I spend at least 1/3 of my time with the word of God. This always includes the Bible, usually crossreferencing many parts. But it also includes a lot of other things: books of commentary on the scriptures, podcasts, articles online, magazine and newspaper stories, and all your words in our conversations and which you put out there publicly in one way or another.
Sometimes I’m not very faithful to this part of my life. I don’t read the central scripture until Wednesday or I don’t challenge my own ideas about the scripture by reading thoughts from other authors. But when I look beyond the immediate whim of the Spirit and stay faithful to my discipline of reading scripture and all the conversation that exists around it, it changes my life.
I read these words from Paul: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God-- not the result of works, so that no one may boast.” And it changes the way that I interpret the rest of my day.
I read these words of Bonhoeffer: “Every human wish dream that is injected into the Christian community is a hindrance to genuine community and must be banished if genuine community is to survive. He who loves his dream of community more than the Christian community itself becomes a destroyer of the latter, even though his personal intentions may be ever so honest and earnest and sacrificial.” I come up with different solutions to the problems that I encounter.
And when it comes time to share myself with the world, to proclaim God’s love, to respond to another person, to serve other people, I’m coming from a completely different place. I’ve been influenced and formed by something that opens me up beyond my own ability and experience. I find that I have greater capacity for patience and compassion. I have more energy for the things that bring life and less fear of the things that break us down.