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September 14, 2007

Waiting to surrender

I'm not sure where I first heard the term "waiting worship" - maybe in a blog post, maybe in Lloyd Lee Wilson's Essays on the Quaker Vision of Gospel Order. I definitely remember the "aha" moment when I heard it, feeling words finally start to capture what my experience of silent worship in Quaker meetings had been.

While there are days when I fear that some people waiting in meeting are waiting for the end of the meeting (as people in churches often seem to wait for the end of the sermon), "waiting worship" describes both a longing for God and an understanding that God, the Light, isn't always just there when we turn around, ready to provide guidance and support. God, the Light, is always there - but we're not always so close.

"What are we waiting for?"

God. Silent contemplation is an opportunity for us to clear ourselves of the barriers we place between ourselves and God, to listen to the Light and let ourselves be lifted.

A recent post by Robin reminded me that this basic message seems to have survived the various changes to Quakerism over the centuries:

It is our job to trust that God will transform us into what or whom we are called to be. It is God's job to do the transforming.

George Fox and James Nayler preached transformation and submission to God, letting God work through us. So did the Quietist Quakers who came after them, and so did 19th-century revivalists like Hannah Whitall Smith, whose The Christian's Secret to a Happy Life inspired Robin's post. I'd suggest that most modern Quakers, whatever the details, still keep a similar thread near the heart of their worship.

Following this path is more difficult than contemplating quietly in meeting - it means letting God lead, a terrifying prospect that puts all we have at risk. (One of Quakerism's wisest aspects, it seems to me, is providing a framework for when we seek the help of others to discern what leadings came from the Light, and which came from the confusion of our own wants and needs.)

Letting God lead seems, however, to be the path to peace, both inward peace and outward peace. Our greatest strength lies in surrendering our strength to God's strength, leading when called to lead, serving when called to serve.

"Giving your life to God," in this context, doesn't necessarily mean becoming a monk or a nun or a priest or a missionary, but rather listening to God, discerning what God wants in your life and following that leading. It might even suggest a path forward with that most challenging bit of scripture, Matthew 5:48:

Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.

"We can't be perfect," people complain; "Why does God have to be so demanding?" And the imperfection of humans seems to be widely accepted, even by George Fox. Where then, can this perfection come from?

From God - if we listen, and follow.

September 3, 2007

How much leading?

I know Quakers have developed a framework for testing leadings, and that there seem to be many distinctions among leadings, but I tripped over the words to a popular Christian song this weekend because it suddenly didn't seem right. I've sung it many times before, and like it, and hope not to make a mountain of a molehill here, but:

Here I am, Lord. Is it I, Lord?
I have heard You calling in the night.
I will go, Lord. If You lead me.
I will hold, Your people in my heart.

You can find the whole song, "Here I am Lord," at many places on the Web. Dan Schutte (who appears to be a Jesuit priest from St.Louis, among "the fathers of contemporary American liturgical music") wrote it in 1981, and I sang it Sunday in a Methodist Church in western New York. We've also sung it at Cornell International Christian Fellowship many times.

The part that struck me was one word in this line:

I will go, Lord. If You lead me.

Shouldn't that If be a When? Or are leadings really that unusual? (I could make up an extra but inappropriate verse: "If you don't lead me / I will wander / I will backslide / I will live a worldly life" - which sounds kind of like we're telling God to lead, instead of ourselves to listen.)

To be fair, I can read the song as being about leadings to serve on foreign missions, and those may well be rarer, but that's not the context I usually think about it in.