Does the term “Meeting for Worship” put off people who are “Spiritual, but not religious”? Jan Arriens in The Friend suggested “Meeting for Stillness”, and Peter Jarman dismissed worship as “what happens in other churches”.
As an Anglican I believed in God the Eternal Father, Whom I worshipped. Just before I came to Quakers I found Matthew Fox’s explanation of Panentheism, God suffusing all that is, and later William Blake’s statement “Everything that is, is holy”. Rather than worshipping, I was communing- with the Mystery, with that which is greater than myself.
I took a combative line as a Christian against the non-theists: it’s a Meeting for Worship, we must be worshipping something, and was referred to Old English: weorþscipe, meaning worth or dignity: noun, not verb. But I still think Quakers have always used the term as a transitive verb. We worship God. What of those who reject God, as refugees from the Churches, or consider God a superstition? Meeting as a spiritual practice has value, and does not depend on belief.
Some might come to us having meditated, as a Buddhist or even non-religious practice. We tell them our meeting for worship is not meditation, as it is something we do together. Well, Buddhists meditate together, but in Meeting someone may feel moved to speak in love for the others gathered there, and for the World.
Jan referred to David L. Saunders’ article saying stillness is so much more than silence, which is merely the absence of speech or noise: it is about Presence. Be still and cool in thy own mind. In stillness, Saunders says, we seek the place of being, encounter, power.
There is no silence outside an anechoic chamber. Friends can worship at a noisy demonstration. There will always be distraction: I try not to be distracted, and sometimes the distraction inspires me.
Stillness is also a deceptively simple concept, the absence of motion. I sit in stillness for what happens in stillness to my perceptions, of my surroundings, the others with me now, and my accumulated experience of life in the world.
In a “Meeting for Worship” I still think you must be worshipping something. I turn outward to the mystery of all that is outwith myself, and inward to what is within me but beyond my ordinary conscious experience. What do I worship? If forced to put it in a simple phrase, I would say the “Mystery of being”, but the phrase does not satisfy me. I want a phrase which is immediately understandable- like, “Meeting for Stillness”- but which leads the enquirer attender or member into new depths. If I said I worshipped God, I would mislead some, and deter others. I am not a theist.
I do not like the word “Meeting for Worship”. I thought of “Meeting for Contemplation”. Meeting needs our concentrated attention, and diligent practice.
Another alternative is simply “Meeting”. At the moment it is shorthand- we go to Meeting, we say. It could be the whole term. Meeting what? Each other, or- something else, perhaps.
I thought of “Holy Meeting” or “Sacred Meeting”- a time set apart from worldly concerns- but these words remind me of the Christianity which at least since Constantine has been used to oppress people and maintain worldly control, and I support the seeker’s rebellion against that.
Meeting. Or, Meeting for Stillness. A practice of Love which helps human beings reach our full potential as individuals in community.
Quakers in Britain have a similar issue having rejected the word “Overseer”, meaning, roughly, pastoral carer, but not agreed on a single preferable term yet. We should check the terms we use periodically: might they mislead, or put off, someone who might otherwise join us? Are they accurate descriptions of the things they refer to?