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´╗┐Title: An Interpretation of Friends Worship
Author: Toomer, Jean, 1894-1967
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.

*** Start of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "An Interpretation of Friends Worship" ***

           An Interpretation of
             Friends Worship


             N. JEAN TOOMER


              Published by
 1515 Cherry Street, Philadelphia 2, Pa.

        _Price twenty-five cents_


 Introduction                                                  3

 Worship and Love                                              7

 The Basis of Friends Worship and Other Inward Practices      11

 What to Do in the Meeting for Worship                        20

 Questions and Answers                                        28

 For Further Reading                                          35

                          Copyright 1947
                    Friends General Conference

Transcriber's Note:

    Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S.
    copyright on this publication was renewed. Minor spelling and
    typographical errors have been corrected without note.


I was not more than ten years old when I first heard mention of the
Quakers. The grown-ups of my family were talking among themselves,
speaking of an uncle of mine who lived in Philadelphia and operated a
pharmacy near the university. I had never seen this uncle and was
curious about him, so my ears were open. Presently a reference to the
Quakers caught my attention. I wanted to know who the Quakers were. What
was told me then I have remembered ever since. The Quakers, I was told,
are people who wait for the spirit to move them.

A picture formed in my mind. Many a time I had seen my grandmother
sitting quietly, an aura of peace around her as she sewed or crocheted
or did her beautiful embroidery work. So I pictured older people, most
of them with white hair like my grandparents, all with kindly faces,
gathered in silent assembly, heads bent slightly forward, waiting to be
moved. It never occurred to me that young people, boys and girls of my
age and even younger, might be present and participating.

As the word "spirit" meant nothing definite to me, I could have no idea
of just what would move the Quakers, but I had a sense that it would be
something within them, perhaps like the stirrings that sometimes moved
me, and I may have had a vague notion that this something within them
was somehow related to what people called God. I never thought to ask
what the Quakers might do after they were moved.

Had I been invited in those days to attend a Friends meeting for worship
I would have gladly gone. I would have gone because my picturings had
given me good feelings about the Quakers. I would have gone because,
young though I was, I liked to be silent now and again. Sometimes my
best friend and I would sit quietly together, happy that we were
together but not wanting to talk. Sometimes I would go off by myself on
walks to look at the wonders of nature, to think my own thoughts, to
dream, to feel something stirring in me for which I had no name. Or I
might withdraw for a time from the activities of the boys and girls and
sit on the porch of our house, my outward eyes watching them at play, my
inward eyes turned to an inner life that was as real to me, and
sometimes more wonderful than my life with the group.

Certain experiences I had when alone, certain experiences I had with my
young friends, attitudes and feelings that would suddenly arise in me at
any time or place--these made up the mainstream of my religious life.
Such religion as I had was life-centered, not book-centered, not
church-centered. It arose from the well of life within me, and within my
friends and parents. It arose from the well of life within nature and
the human world. It consisted in my response to flowers, trees, birds,
snow, the smell of the earth after a spring rain, sunsets and the starry
sky. It consisted in my devotion to pet rabbits and dogs, and to some
interest or project that caught my imagination.

I had been taught several formal prayers. One of these I said every
night, regularly, before getting into bed. But I am thinking of the
unformed prayers that welled up in me whenever I had need of them. I had
been read some stories from the Bible and some of the psalms, and from
these I had doubtless gained attitudes of reverence. But I am thinking
of the worship that spontaneously arose as I beheld the wonders of the
world which God created. Young eyes are new eyes, and to new eyes all
things are fresh, vivid, original.

It is sometimes asked if children and young people are capable of the
religious life. Certainly they are not capable of sustained effort
towards an unswerving aim. Certainly they cannot hold themselves to a
consistent discipline. They cannot engage in the religious life as a
conscious way of living. These abilities come only as we grow up and
subject ourselves to training. But, just as certainly, young people do
have religious experiences, and these often are more vivid and glowing
than those of the elders. That is it--children can glow. They can light
up. This capacity to glow is at the very heart of what we are talking

To be sure, people young and old need instruction. We need instruction
in the Bible, in poetry, in all literature that contains truth and
beauty. We need to be helped to struggle against our faults, to overcome
our imperfections. And we need to be curbed on occasion, as the only way
in which we may eventually become able to curb ourselves. But it should
not be forgotten that all people, especially young people, have poetry
in them. And, more than that, according to the faith of the Friends all
people have within them something of the very spirit that created the

Religious education, it seems to me, is on the wrong track if it assumes
that religion is something that must be drilled into people. It is on
the right track if it recognizes that the source of religion is within
us as a native endowment, and that the function of education is to call
this endowment forth, supply it with the nourishment it needs in order
to grow, and guide it in ways that promote maturing. People should have
reason to be assured that formal religion is not contrary to the springs
of innate religious experience and longing, but is in accord with the
life and light within, and simply seeks to direct and develop this
spiritual life.

Had a Friend approached me in those days with some such understanding
and assurance, and had I been able to understand what he said, I would
have had still another reason, and this a compelling one, for attending
a meeting for worship. And so I would have gone. I'd have sat there with
the others, feeling much at home, perhaps feeling I was in a holy place.
I'd have sat as quietly as any for the first ten or fifteen minutes. I
would not have worshiped in any formal sense, for I had not been taught
any form. But I would have practiced my kind of inwardness, thinking my
own thoughts as I did when alone, dreaming wonderful dreams, feeling a
life stir within me. Had there been a spoken message or two, I would
have listened attentively, tried to understand, and honestly responded.

Presently, however, I would have begun to fidget. Not knowing what I
should try to do in a meeting for worship, I would have had nothing to
fall back on when my thoughts ran out, no purpose for curbing my
increasing restlessness. Through the windows my eyes would have caught
sight of the world outdoors, and I'd have wished I were out there having
fun with the boys. Time would have dragged. I'd have asked myself, "Will
the meeting never end?" And when finally it did end, I'd have been as
glad for the ending as I had been for the beginning.

What should we try to do in a meeting for worship? What do we hope to
attain through it? Why is silence desirable? What is the main idea
behind the Friends manner of worship? It is true that Quakers wait for
the spirit to move them. Why wait? Wouldn't it be better just to go
ahead? Besides waiting, what more is to be done? Can we not pray and
worship when we are alone, or as we go about our daily affairs? Why is
it necessary to meet together? What is worship?

These are not questions that you answer once and for all. You continue
to think about them and continue to increase your understanding. But it
helps us to think if we put our thoughts in order and study the thoughts
of others. So I am going to write down some of the thoughts that have
come to me. We shall think about worship and the central faith of the
Friends, and let the answers come as they may.


Worship is the action of the spirit. It springs up from our depths, as
love does. It is a form of love, and just as desirable, and just as
necessary to human life at its fullest and highest. To worship is an
innate need of man. It is not imposed upon us from the outside, though
the way we sometimes go about it may make it seem an imposition.

Suppose you are hungry. No one has to tell you to eat. No one has to
force you to take food. Suppose you are in love. Must you be told to
think of the person you are in love with? Must you be forced to yearn
for the loved one?

Worship is a hunger of the human soul for God. When it really occurs, it
is as compelling as the hunger for food. It is as spontaneous as the
love of boy for girl. If we feel it, no one needs tell us we should
worship. No one has to try to make us do it. If we do not feel it, or
have no desire to feel it, no amount of urging or forcing will do any
good. We simply cannot be forced, from the outside, to worship. Only the
power within us, the life within, can move us to it.

But others can guide our preliminary efforts. They can help us to
prepare to worship. Such preparation, as Rufus Jones has said, is the
most important business in the world. Others can provide conditions,
such as the Friends meeting for worship, thanks to which the desire to
worship may spring up and grow. The meeting for worship came into
existence because the early Friends were powerfully moved to worship
together and meet the spiritual needs of one another. I use the word
_needs_. Their spiritual needs were more dynamic than ours--or
theirs--for food and shelter. Neither threats of violence nor active
persecution could keep them away from their meetings.

Why is it that some of us would rather go to a movie, or listen to the
radio, or see a ball game, or read an exciting book? One reason, it must
be acknowledged, is because our meetings today are sometimes dull and
unliving. We assemble in our meeting houses, but nothing happens. A
related reason is that many of us have not yet awakened spiritually. Our
bodies are active. Our minds are alert. But not our spirits. Such
awakening, however, will come in due time, if we encourage it, if we do
our part to prepare for it, if we live honestly and are true to
ourselves, face life with clear eyes, and continue growing.

The main reason why we do not worship, or do not want to, is that God is
not yet sufficiently real to us. He is not as real to us as our human
father. His power is not as real to us as the power of man's brain and
muscles, as steam power, as electricity. Worship expresses man's
relationship to God. How then can we worship if we are not aware of this
relationship, if the main party to it is unreal to us?

Some people speak of worshiping things that are not of God. God being
unreal to them, their relation to Him being unrecognized, they turn to
what is real to them, and engage in various so-called worships:
money-worship, hero-worship, ancestor-worship, the worship of material
power and machines, the worship of political States and their rulers.
These are false worships. God is the sole object of genuine worship--God
and His power which He manifests to us as love, light, and wisdom.

All forms of true worship arise from an experience of the _fact_ of God,
from the realization that God _is_. Men such as George Fox and John
Woolman had their first experiences of God early in life. Most of us
come to the experience gradually and later on, if at all. What are we to
do meanwhile? Most religions offer formal official statements of what
they believe God to be. They say what God's nature is, and set forth His
attributes. Friends make no such pronouncement; and I, for one, am glad
there is none. Man's words about God cannot substitute for a first-hand
experience of the living reality. Friends are directed to seek for the
reality within themselves. Meanwhile, we are called upon to have faith
that God exists and that it is possible for us to meet with Him. We are
called upon to prepare ourselves for this supreme experience. We are
urged to try to sense God's presence, daily to practice His presence. By
such practice, if we persevere, we shall surely come to have a
convincing experience.

Worship is our response to God's reality, a reality which is, to be
sure, within men, but which also is the radiant foundation of the entire
universe. In trying to worship, we turn ourselves Godwards. We yearn for
Him and endeavor to know His will. Our lives are pointed toward Him. If,
and as we succeed, we make contact with God, and by this contact He is
made real to us. When He becomes real to us we spontaneously love Him.

Can we see a sunset without responding to its beauty? Can we witness
those we love, in their goodness to us, without being touched and moved?
Can we hear the voice of our best friend on the phone without eagerly
listening and eagerly replying? Be sure, then, that when we come into
God's presence we will be touched and moved beyond our greatest

Nothing so deters us from wanting to worship as the notion that worship
is unliving. If it is unliving it is not worship. If it seems dull,
tedious or difficult, it is because we are not truly worshiping. We are,
perhaps, preparing ourselves to worship. There are difficulties to be
overcome in the preparatory stages. Or, we are but assuming the
appearance of worship, there being no life, no yearning within, we being
more dead than alive inside. Indeed it is dull and tedious to hold the
posture, if it is not backed up by a quickening life of the spirit.

True worship is a living experience. By and through it we enter into a
life so vital, so vivid, so large and glorious that, by comparison, our
life of ordinary activities seems narrow, dull, dead. By bodily action
the body comes alive. By mental action the mind comes alive. So by
spiritual action the spirit comes alive. Worship is spiritual action. By
means of it our spirits awake, mature, and grow up to God.

All human beings, except those who have been badly damaged by man's
inhumanity to man, are moved to love. Some love animals, some flowers.
Others love the sea or farm lands or mountains. Some love truth, some
love beauty. All of us want and need to love and to be loved by our
families and friends, and we would be happy were we able to love all
people everywhere. To love and be loved is a universal human urge. Is it
any wonder, then, that we are moved to seek God's love? It is inevitable
that we should desire this supreme form of love. The First Commandment
expresses our innermost desire as well as God's will.

There is nothing incredible about our wanting to love and to be loved by
God. The incredible fact is that it can actually happen, does happen.
Some day we will experience it. Then our doubts will end. Then we will
worship God through love of Him.

Here is what two religious men of advanced spiritual development had to
say of their experiences. George Fox wrote, "The word of the Lord came
to me, saying, 'My love was always to thee, and thou art in my love.'
And I was ravished with the sense of the love of God." Brother Lawrence
wrote, "You must know that the benevolent and caressing light of God's
countenance kindles insensibly within the soul, which ardently embraces
it, a divine and consuming flame of love, so rapturous that one puts
curbs upon the outward expression of it."

It is to this divine love that we are called. This is the high promise
of man's life. We are called away from indifference, from meanness,
malice, prejudice and hate. We are called above the earthly loves that
come and go, and are unsure. We are called into the deep enduring love
of God and man and all creation. Worship is a door into that love. Once
we have entered it, our every act is a prayer, our whole life a
continuous worship.


Some people believe that whereas God's nature is divine, man's nature is
depraved. God is good, but men are evil. God, according to this view,
exists in heaven, remote from us. We exist in sin, remote from Him, in
hell or next door to it. Human beings are completely separated from the
Divine Being. The only possible connection between men and God is that
brought about by the mediation of the church and its authorized
officials. Friends have never held this view.

Friends, beginning with George Fox, realized that something of God
dwells _within_ each and every human being, and that, therefore, He is
reachable by us through direct contact, and we are within His reach,
subject to His immediate influence. This is the well-known basis of
Friends worship.

Since God is within us, Friends turn inward to find Him. This is not a
matter of choice or inclination; it is a matter of necessity. Turning
inward, we turn away from all externals. Friends practice inwardness.
Rufus Jones writes, "The religion of the Quaker is primarily concerned
with the culture and development of the inward life and with direct
correspondence with God."

Some number of Friends in the early days of the movement not only sought
God but found him, though it would perhaps be better to say were found
by him. It was because they found God that they had such living worship,
such vital meetings. It was because they truly worshiped and had vital
meetings that they progressively discovered God and came increasingly
within his power. The one led to the other. Without the one we cannot
have the other.

That there is that of God in every man was, as already implied, more
than a belief or a concept with the early Friends. It was an
experience. It was a recovery of the living Deity. As he made and
continued to make this recovery in himself, George Fox went about his
apostolic work and laid the foundation of what came to be the Society of
Friends. What did Fox aim for? How did he regard his ministry? Let him
answer in his own words. "I exhorted the people to come off from all
these things (from churches, temples, priests, tithes, argumentation,
external ceremonies and dead traditions), and directed them to the
spirit and grace of God in themselves, and to the light of Jesus in
their own hearts, that they might come to know Christ, their free

Pointing as they do to the basis of Friends worship, these several
considerations do not, of themselves, throw light on the reason for
certain other inward practices. The basis of these other practices is,
unfortunately, less simple and less well-known. Why is there need of
particular occasions for prayer and worship? Why need we gather together
and sit quietly? Why practice waiting before God? If He is in us, why
does He not manifest to us continually, why does His power not always
motivate our actions? Why do we have to practice His presence, and why
is this practice so difficult? To answer these questions we are forced
to adopt a somewhat complex and non-habitual view of the situation.

Suppose we are approached by a person of inquiring mind who says, "You
say that there is that of God in every man. All right, I am prepared to
accept that as truth. But precisely where in us does the divine spark
exist? Is it in our bodies? Is it in our ordinary minds and everyday
thoughts and emotions? Do you mean to say that God exists in ignorance,
in man's prejudices and hatreds, in human evil?" How will we reply?
Obviously God does not exist in our trivial actions, nor in our godless
thoughts and feelings. Certainly He does not exist in our ignorance and
evil. But these things exist in us. They constitute a part of us. This
part of us, then, is separated from God, while another part is related
to Him. Insofar as we identify with the separated part and believe it to
be ourselves, we exist divorced from that of God in us.

The attitude, in brief, is this. There is that of God in every man.
Therefore man, in his entirety, is not separated from God. But man is
divided within, and against, himself, into two different and opposing
aspects, and one of these aspects is separated from God. This is my view
of the situation. If I understand the writings of the early Friends,
this was their view of the situation.

The early Friends had names for the part of us that is separated from
God. They called it the "natural man," the "earthly man." I shall
sometimes refer to it as the "body-mind" or the "separated self." The
early Friends called the part of us that is related to God and in which
God dwells the "spiritual man," the "new birth," the "new creation." I
shall sometimes call it the "inner being," the "spiritual self."

It is of course the separated self that presents the problem. It
obstructs our attempts to relate ourselves to God and to our fellow men.
It interferes with worship as well as with love. It is because of this
self that we do not pray and love as naturally as we breathe. The
separated self stands in the way. Therefore it must be overcome. For
divine as well as genuinely human purposes it must be subdued and
eventually left behind. Every real religious practice, whether of
Friends or of others, either directly or indirectly aims to enable human
beings to transcend the separated self in order that we may be united
with the spiritual self or being which is near God because He dwells

In the light of these facts we can understand the need and the purpose
of certain specific inward practices, such as the practice of contending
with oneself (Isaac Penington called it "lawful warring") and the
practice of gathering silently and waiting upon God. Since the separated
self exists, and is an obstruction, we must contend with it. We contend
with it so as to remove it and, at the same time, activate the spiritual
nature. Gathering in silence and waiting upon God is necessary for the
same reason, and is another means to the same end. More will be said of
this presently.

The early Friends, while proclaiming the good news that there is a
spiritual man in each and all of us, that God dwells in this part of
human beings and is, for this very reason, close even to the earthly
man, regarded the earthly man as unregenerate, sinful, blind and dead to
the things of the spirit. Only by rising above the earthly aspect of
ourselves can we pass from sin into righteousness, from death to life,
from that which exists apart from God into that which exists as part of
God. Only by yielding to God's power can the earthly man be regenerated.
To the degree that this happens, we are unified with our spiritual
natures. Thus we are mended and made whole. What formerly was a
separated and contrary part, becomes the instrument of expression of the
resurrected spiritual being.

If the earthly man is dead to the things of the spirit, then, as long as
he remains so, he obviously can neither truly pray nor truly worship.
Nor can we, as long as we remain identified with him. Should he try to
pray, he but prays according to his own ignorant and faulty notions.
Should he try to worship, he but worships in his own will, not according
to the will of God. Robert Barclay called this kind of worship

Will-worship was what the Friends condemned and tried to avoid. They
aimed for true spiritual worship. They wanted to worship God by and
through the workings of His spirit and power in their spiritual beings.
How were they to fulfill this aim? What, specifically, were they to do?
Try, by all available means, to quiet and subdue the earthly man, to lay
down his will, to turn the mind to God. But, having done this, they
found that something more was wanted. They discovered, as you and I have
or will, that it is one thing to still our habitual thoughts and
motions, but quite another to cause the spiritual self to arise. By our
own efforts we can subdue the body-mind to some extent. Few of us, by
our efforts alone, can activate our spiritual natures in a vital and
creative way. We need God's help. We need the help of one another. But
God's help may not come at once. Our help to each other, even though we
are gathered in a meeting for worship or actively serving our fellow
men outside of the meeting, may be and often is delayed as regards our
kindling one another spiritually. What are we to do in this case? There
is only one thing we can do--wait. Having done our part to overcome the
separated self, we can but wait for the spiritual self to arise and take
command of our lives. Having brought ourselves as close as we can to
God, we can but hold ourselves in an attitude of waiting for Him to work
His will in us, to draw us fully into His presence.

So the early Friends engaged in silent waiting, humble yet expectant
waiting, reverent waiting upon the Lord, that they might be empowered by
Him to help one another and to render to Him the honor and the adoration
which, as Robert Barclay said, characterizes true worship; that His
power might come over them and cover the meeting; that He might bring
about the death of the old, the birth of the new man.

Friends waited, both in and out of meeting. They waited for God to move
them, quicken them to life, make them His instruments. They waited for
the power of God to do its wonder-work, lifting up the part of them that
was akin to Him, gracing them with the miracle of resurrection. Waiting
preceded worship. Waiting prepared for worship, and the springing up of
new life. By waiting they began worshiping. The stillness of the meeting
house, the silence of the lips, the closed eyes and composed faces were
the tangible signs of the preliminary period of waiting.

It is instructive and reassuring to note how frequently, among the early
Friends, the practice of waiting did have the desired sequel. This
seeming inactivity led to spiritual action. Out of this chrysalis what a
life was born! God found them in the silence. Blessed and renewing
experiences came to Friends, experiences which enabled them to be agents
of the divine spirit in every situation of human life. It is instructive
because it points us, of this day, to a religious practice that is
effective. It is reassuring because from it we may have sound hope that,
if we rightly and faithfully engage in this and other inward practices,
we may reach and even surpass the high level of religious experience
and service attained by Friends in the days when the Quaker movement
really moved. In our present-day lives and meetings there can be
soul-shaking events. The Light can invade us. Truth can take hold of us.
Love may gather us. Above all, God himself may become real to us as the
supreme Fact of the entire universe.

We of this modern age are inclined to be more lenient in our views of
the earthly man. We are disposed to consider him a moderately decent
fellow except when under the active power of evil. This makes us more
tolerant, less intense. It makes us more likely to indulge our fondness
for the earthly world and its things and pleasures, less moved to seek
God and His Kingdom. Nevertheless if we examine our experience we shall
recognize characteristics of the earthly man that are similar to those
seen by the early Friends. The outside world has changed considerably in
three hundred years, but man's constitution is much the same now as then
in all essential respects.

The earthly man, whether we regard him as good, bad, or indifferent, is
evidently an exile from God's kingdom. Our body-minds, namely our
everyday persons, are out of touch with our spiritual natures most of
the time, hence out of touch with God. We, as ordinary people, are not
by inclination turned towards God, but, on the contrary, are turned away
from Him. Day in and day out we do not even think of the possibility of
loving God and doing His will, but think of ourselves, and are bent to
enact our own wills, have our own way. Whether we, as earthly men, can
truly pray and worship is a question about which there is likely to be
disagreement. But who will deny that when we are absorbed in our
affairs, as we are most of the time, we do not pray or worship?
Recognition of these several facts will lead us to a position similar to
that of the early Friends, and point us to the same needs as regards
what we must do if we would truly pray and worship, and, indeed, truly
live. We too must endeavor to subdue the body-mind and turn the mind
Godwards. We too must try to overcome the separated self and re-connect
with our spiritual natures. We too must practice waiting. We too must
strive to attain the Quaker ideal so well expressed by Douglas Steere,
"to live from the inside outwards, as _whole_ men."

When compared with bodily action, what could seem more inactive than
waiting upon God? The modern world asks, "Where will that get you?"
Young people say, "We want action." Yet, as we have seen, it was
precisely through this and other apparently inactive means that the
early Friends came into a power of whole action that surpasses anything
that we experience today. We say we are activists, but often lack the
spiritual force to act effectively. They said they were waiters, and
frequently acted as moved by God's light and love. I think that we in
this age of decreasing inner-action, of ever increasing outer activity,
have a profound lesson to learn from the early Friends. We had best
learn it now, and quickly, lest the faith and practices of the Friends
become so watered that they lose their character and flow into the
activities of which the world is full, and are absorbed by them, and
Friends cease to be Friends. I do not say we should go back to the old
days. That is impossible. Let us move forward, as we must if we are to
move at all. But let us build upon those foundations, not scrap them.
Let those past summits show us how high men can go, with God's help.

Friends are by no means the only ones who realize that the body-mind
presents a problem; that, in its usual state, it is an obstacle to
worship and to all forms of the religious life. Friends are not alone in
recognizing that when the separated self is uppermost and active, the
spiritual self is submerged and passive, and that we are called upon to
reverse this. All genuine religious people, whatever the religion, have
recognized the problem and have endeavored to solve it in one way or
another. Generally speaking, there are two ways of dealing with the
situation. One way consists of the attempt to lift the body-mind above
its usual condition, so that it may be included in the act of worship.
The body-mind is presented with sight of religious symbols. It is given
sound of religious music and of specially trained speakers called
priests or ministers. It participates in rituals, ceremonies,
sacraments. This way may be effective. When it is, the body-mind
actually is lifted above its usual state, the spiritual nature is
evoked. But when this way is not effective it merely results in exciting
the body-mind and gives people the illusion that this excitation is true
worship. Or it may result in a sterile enactment of outward forms.

The other way is just the opposite. It consists of the effort to reduce
the body-mind below its usual state, so that it will not interfere with
worship. All externals are dispensed with. No religious symbols are in
view. No music is provided, no rituals, no appointed speakers. The
external setting is as plain as possible, so that the body-mind may be
more readily quieted. Internally, too, the attempt is to remove all
causes of excitement, all of the ordinarily stimulating thoughts,
images, desires. The one thought that should be present is the thought
of turning Godward, seeking Him, waiting before Him. This way may be
effective. When it is, the body-mind is subordinated and ceases to exist
as the principal part of man. The spiritual nature is activated and
lifted up. When, however, this way is not effective, it merely produces

In both cases the test is this: Does the spiritual nature arise? Friends
have chosen the way of subduing the body-mind, of excluding it from
worship except insofar as it may act as an organ of expression of the
risen spirit. Having chosen this way, we are called upon to do it
effectively, creatively. If we succeed--and we sometimes do--our inner
life is resurrected, the whole man is regenerated, and a living worship
connects man with God. But if we fail--and we often do--the spiritual
nature remains as if dead, and, on top of this, we pile a deadened
body-mind. What should be a meeting for worship, a place where man and
God come together, becomes a void. There is no life, only a sterile
quietism. Sterile quietism is as bad as sterile ritualism.

Sterility, in whatever form, is what we want to avoid. Creativity is
what we must recover--aliveness, growth, moving, wonder, reverence, a
sense of being related to the vast motions of that ocean of light and


Definite periods for worship should be established because, constituted
as we are, worship does not occur as naturally as it might, and at all
times. Unless we set aside regularly recurring times, many of us are not
likely to worship at any time. We appoint times and places so that we
may do what something deep in us yearns to do, yet which we all too
rarely engage in because most often we are caught up in the current of
contrary or irrelevant events. Set times of worship not only aid us to
worship at those times but at others too; and, of course, the more often
we try to worship at other times, the more able we become to make good
use of the established occasions.

Among the people of our day, Mahatma Gandhi is an outstanding example of
applied religion. It might seem that he, of all people, would feel no
need of special times of prayer; yet this is not the case. There are
appointed times each day when he and those around him engage in prayer.
Whenever possible he attends a Friends meeting for worship. The
following quotation from the _Friends Intelligencer_ gives his view of
this matter. "Discussing the question whether one's whole life could not
be a hymn of praise and prayer to one's Maker, so that no separate time
of prayer is needed, Gandhi observed, 'I agree that if a man could
practice the presence of God all the twenty-four hours, there would be
no need for a separate time of prayer.' But most people, he pointed out,
find that impossible. For them silent communion, for even a few minutes
a day, would be of infinite use."

Each of us individually should daily prepare for worship and, now and
again, go off by himself in solitude. Fresh stimulus and challenge are
experienced when a man puts himself utterly on his own and seeks to come
face to face with his God. Aloneness may release the spirit. So may
genuine togetherness. Group or corporate worship is also necessary
because, as already mentioned, we need each other's help to quiet the
body-mind, to lay down the ordinary self, to lift up the spiritual
nature. Many a person finds it possible to become still in a meeting for
worship as nowhere else. Peace settles over us. Many a person is
inwardly kindled in a meeting for worship as nowhere else. The creative
forces begin to stir. When a number of people assemble reverently, and
all engage in similar inward practices with the same aim and expectancy,
life-currents pass between them; a spiritual atmosphere is formed; and
in this atmosphere things are possible that are impossible without it.
More particularly, we may have opportunity in a meeting for coming close
to a person more quickened than we are. By proximity with him or her we
are quickened. It is true that in a Friends meeting the responsibility
for worship and ministry rests upon each and every member; but it is
also true that Friends, like others, must somewhat rely for their
awakening upon those who are more in God's spirit and power than the
average. We minimize an essential feature of our meetings if we fail to
recognize the role of the sheer presence of men and women who are
spiritually more advanced than most and are able to act as leaven.

The meeting for worship should begin outside of the meeting house, on
our way to it. As we enter the house, we would do well to remind
ourselves of the meaning of worship, the significance of corporate
worship, the possibility of meeting with God. Be expectant that this may
happen in this very gathering. Lift up the mind and heart to the Eternal
Being in whom we have brotherhood. The hope is that by these initial
acts we will put ourselves in the mood of worship and kindle a warmth of
inner life that will continue throughout the meeting and give spiritual
meaning to all subsequent efforts.

Settle into your place as an anonymous member of an anonymous group. If
you have come to have a reputation among people, forget this and become
anonymous. If you have not made a name for yourself, forget this. The
opportunity to practice anonymity is a precious one. The meeting for
worship would be of great value if it did no more than make this
practice possible. If you are accustomed to feel yourself important in
the eyes of men, lay it down and feel only that you and others may have
some importance in the eyes of God. If you feel unimportant, lay this
down. If articulate or inarticulate, forget this. Lay aside all your
worldly relationships and your everyday interior states. In fine, forget
yourself. Surrender yourself. Immerse yourself in the life of the group.
This is our chance to lose ourselves in a unified and greater life. It
is our opportunity to die as separated individuals and be born anew in
the life and power of the spirit. Seek, in the words of Thomas Kelly, to
will your will into the will of God.

Quiet and relax the body. We should try to quiet its habitual activity,
to relax it from strain, yet not over-relax it. Though relaxed it should
not become limp or drowsy. It must be kept upright, alert, wakeful. What
we desire is a body so poised and at rest that it is content to sit
there, taking care of itself, and we can forget it.

Still the mind, gather it, turn it steadfastly towards God. This is more
difficult. It is contrary to the mind's nature to be still. It is
against its grain to turn Godwards. Left to itself it goes on and on
under its own momentum, roaming, wandering. It thinks and pictures and
dreams of everything on earth except God and the practice of His
presence. Even those who developed great aptitude for taking hold of the
mind and turning it to God found it difficult and even painful in the
beginning. If we expect it to be easy and pleasant we shall be easily
discouraged after a few trials. Brother Lawrence warns us that this
practice may even seem repugnant to us at first.

The mind of an adult is more restive and all over the place than the
body of a child. How are we to curb its incessant restlessness and stay
it upon prayer and worship? How restrain its wanderings and point it to
the mark? How take it away from its automatic stream of thoughts and
focus it on God? Only by effort, practice, repeated effort, regular
practice. It requires life-long preparation and training. We cannot hope
to make much progress if we attempt to stay the mind only on First-days
during meeting. We must make effort throughout the week, daily, hourly.

It is by stilling the body-mind that we center down. Put the other way,
it is by centering down that we still the body-mind. I would judge that
all Friends have in common the practice of centering down. This is our
common preparation for worship. From here on, however, each of us is
likely to go his individual way, no two ways being alike. This is the
freedom of worship which has ever been an integral part of the Friends
religion. We are not called upon to follow any fixed procedure. This is
creative. The individual spirit is set free to find its way, in its own
manner, to God. Yet it leaves some of us at a loss to know what to do
next. Some of us are not yet able to press on. We are unsure of the
inward way, and our available resources are not yet adequate to this
type of exploration. We need hints from others, suggestions, guides. To
meet this need, a number of Friends have written of what they do after
they center down. Among these writings may be mentioned Douglas V.
Steere's _A Quaker Meeting for Worship_, and Howard E. Collier's _The
Quaker Meeting_. In the same spirit I would like to indicate what I do.

Once I have centered down I try to open myself, to let the light in. I
try to open myself to God's power. I try to open myself to the other
members of the meeting, to gain a vital awareness of them, to sense the
spiritual state of the gathering. I try so to reform myself inwardly
that, as a result of this meeting, I will thereafter be just a little
less conformed to the unregenerate ways of the world, just a little more
conformed to the dedicated way of love.

I encourage a feeling of expectancy. I invite the expectation that here,
in this very meeting, before it is over, the Lord's power will spring up
in us, cover the meeting, gather us to Him and to one another. Though
meetings come and go, and weeks and even years pass, and it does not
happen, nevertheless I renew this expectation at every meeting. I have
faith that some day it will be fulfilled. We should be bold in our
expectations, look forward to momentous events. We should not be timid
or small but large with expectancy, and, at the same time humble, so
that there is no egotism in it.

I kindle the hope that, should the large events not be for me and for us
this day, some true prayer will arise from our depths, some act of
genuine worship. I hope that at the least I will start some exploration
or continue one already begun, make some small discovery, feel my inward
life stir creatively and expand to those around me.

Having aroused my expectancy, I wait. I wait before the Lord, forgetting
the words in which I clothed my expectations, if possible forgetting
myself and my desires, laying down my will, asking only that His will be
done. In attitude or silent words I may say, "I am before thee, Lord. If
it be thy will, work thy love in me, work thy love in us."

"O wait," wrote Isaac Penington, "wait upon God. Be still a while. Wait
in true humility, and pure subjection of soul and spirit, upon Him. Wait
for the shutting of thy own eye, and for the opening of the eye of God
in thee, and for the sight of things therewith, as they are from Him."

Sometimes, while waiting, a glow steals over me, a warmth spreads from
my heart. I have a chance to welcome the welling up of reverence, the
sense that I am in the presence of the sacred. Sometimes, though rarely,
the practice of waiting is invaded by an unexpected series of inner
events which carry me by their action through the meeting to the end. I
feel God's spirit moving in me, my spirit awakening to Him.

More often I come to have the sense that I have waited long enough for
this time. To forestall the possibility of falling into dead passivity,
I voluntarily discontinue the practice of waiting and turn my attention
to other concerns. I may summon to mind a vital problem that confronts
me or one of my friends, trying to see the problem by the inward light,
seeking the decision that would be best. I may bring into consciousness
someone I know to be suffering. This may be a personal acquaintance or
someone whose plight I have learned of through others, or people in
distress brought to my attention by an article in a newspaper or a
magazine. I call to him or them in my spirit, and suffer with them, and
pray God that through their suffering they will be turned to Him, that
by their very pain they may grow up to Him.

Hardly a meeting passes but what I pray that I and the members of the
meeting and people everywhere may have this experience: that our wills
be overcome by God's will, that our powers be overpowered by His light
and love and wisdom. And sometimes, though again rarely, I find it
possible to hold my attention, or, rather, to have my heart held,
without wavering, upon the one supreme reality, the sheer fact of God.
These are the moments that I feel to be true worship. These are the
times when the effort to have faith is superseded by an effortless
assurance born of actual experience. God's reality is felt in every
fibre of the soul and brings convincement even to the body-mind.

I would not give the impression that what I have described takes place
in just this way every time, or that it happens without disruptions,
lapses, roamings of the mind, day-dreams. Frequently I must recall
myself, again still the mind and turn it Godwards, again practice
waiting. All too often I awake to find, no, not that I have been
actually sleeping, but that I might as well have been, so far have I
strayed from the path that leads to God and brotherhood. And I must
confess, too, that during some meetings I have been buried under inertia
and deadness and unable to overcome them. Having meant nothing to
myself, it is not likely that my presence meant anything to the others.
My body was but an object, unliving, filling space on a bench. It would
have been better for others had I stayed away. A dead body gives off no
life; it but absorbs life from others, reducing the life-level of the

As I am one of those who are sometimes moved to speak in meetings, I may
indicate how this happens in my case. First let me say what I do not do.
I never try to think up something to say. I am quite content to be
silent, unless something comes into my mind and I am moved to say it, or
unless I sense that the meeting would like to hear a few living words.
In this latter case, I may search myself to see what may be found; and
by this searching I may set in motion the processes which discover
hidden messages.

I never go to the meeting with an "itch" to speak, though it sometimes
happens to me, as to others, that I am moved to speak before arriving at
the meeting house. Even so, I usually restrain the urge until we have
had at least a short period of silent waiting before God. One is vain
indeed if he thinks that his words are more important than this waiting.
If I have not been moved to speak before arriving, such an impulse, if
it comes at all, is likely to arise after I have been waiting a while.
It arises within my silence. An insight or understanding flashes into my
mind. A prayer or a pleading or a brief exhortation comes upon me. I
hold it in mind and look at it, and at myself. I examine it.

Is this a genuine moving that deserves expression in a meeting for
worship, or had I best curb and forget it? May it have some real meaning
for others, and is it suited to the condition of this meeting? Can I
phrase it clearly and simply? If it passes these tests, I regard it as
something to be said but I am not yet sure it should be said here and
now. To find out how urgent it is, I press it down and try to forget it.
If time passes and it does not take hold of me with increased strength,
I conclude that it is not to be spoken of at this time. If, on the other
hand, it will not be downed, if it rebounds and insists and will not
leave me alone, I give it expression.

If it turns out that the words were spoken more in my own will than in
the power, I feel that egotistical-I has done it, and that this
self-doing has set me apart from the other members of the meeting. I am
dissatisfied until again immersed in the life of the group. But if it
seems that I have been an instrument of the power, I have the feeling
that the power has done it and has, by this very act, joined those
assembled even closer. Having spoken, I feel at peace once again, warmed
and made glowing by the passage of a living current through me to my
fellows. With a heightened sense of fellowship with man and God, I
resume my silent practices.

I never speak if, in my sense of it, spoken words would break a living
silence and disrupt the life that is gathering underneath. But I have on
occasion spoken in the hope of breaking a dead silence. Spoken words
should arise by common consent. The silence should accept them. The
invisible life should sanction them. The members of the meeting should
welcome them and be unable to mark exactly when the message began and
when it ends. The message should form with the silence a seamless whole.

If the message be a genuine one, the longer I restrain it the better
shaped it becomes in my mind and the stronger the impulse to express it.
A force gathers behind it. Presently, however, I must either voice it or
put it from my mind completely, lest it dominate my consciousness
overlong and rule out the other concerns which should engage us in a
meeting for worship. It is good when a message possesses us. Our
meetings need compelling utterances. But it is not good when a message
obsesses us to the exclusion of all else. This is a danger which
articulate people, particularly those like myself who have much dealing
with words, must avoid. We miss our chance if we do not use the meeting
for worship as an opportunity to dwell in the depths of life far below
the level of words, rising to the surface only when we are forced to by
an upthrust of the spirit which seeks to unite the surface with the
depths and gather those assembled into a quickened sense of creative
wholeness--each in all and all in God.


WHAT MOVES US TO PRAY AND WORSHIP? Sometimes we are moved by a quickened
sense of a sacred Presence. Prayer and worship are our spontaneous
responses as we awaken to God's unutterable radiance and wonder.
Sometimes we are moved by a realization that, left to ourselves, we are
inadequate, that apart from God we are insufficient. Realizing that our
knowledge is insufficient, we turn to God's light and wisdom. And there
are those who pray and worship as a conscious means of growing up to God
and becoming firmly established in His kingdom.

WHY DO NOT MORE PEOPLE PRAY? Why do not all of us worship more often?
Many lack a quickened sense of a sacred Presence. Though aware of
material things, they are inert to the things of the spirit. They wait
to be spiritually awakened. Most of us persist in feeling that we are
self-sufficient. We feel we are adequate for all ordinary affairs, and
it is only when we find ourselves in overpowering situations that we
recognize we are not self-sufficient, and may then turn to God. But when
the crisis passes we are likely to lapse into an assumption of

does not the present chaos of the world show them that their powers and
knowledge are inadequate? It would seem that the leaders, despite all
evidence to the contrary, still believe that their own powers and
politics are enough to prevent war and to secure an ordered and peaceful

but for the sake of mankind I hope we learn soon. The people of all
nations would do well to suspend their ordinary affairs for an hour each
day, and, in concert, turn their minds and hearts steadfastly towards
God. The purpose of regeneration would be better served in this one
hour than in all the other hours of the day.

not, yet some Friends have fallen into the habit of saying that it is.
Jane Rushmore brought out this point in one of our meetings of Ministry
and Counsel. She reminded us that the meeting for worship is based on
the conviction that we can directly communicate with God, and He with
us. Silence, we believe, is a necessary means to such communion. For if
we are busy with our own talk, God will not speak to us. Stillness is a
necessary condition for practicing the presence of God. For if we stir
about in our own wills, God will not move us. In the meeting for worship
we try to obey the command, "Be still, and know that I am God." God is
the goal. A living silence is a means thereto.

Recently I was visited by three young Friends, thirteen years of age.
They had some problems to talk over. I asked if they felt they knew what
to do in the meeting for worship. Their happy confidence that they did
know was a pleasant surprise, as I have found many Friends, young and
old, who are in need of suggestions and guides. I asked these three what
they did in the silence. After some hesitancy, one brightened and
replied, "I talk over my problems with God." I told her that was a
splendid thing to do. For young people of thirteen or thereabouts, it is
enough that they talk over their problems with God, or engage in some
other simple and sincere exercise. For some older people one or two
simple practices are enough. I am in sympathy with those who would
worship in simplicity of mind and heart. But others are in need of more,
and the preceding chapter tries to speak to this need. Whatever the
means used, the important thing is that we spiritually awake and come
alive during the meeting for worship even more than at other times.

moved to. Age has nothing to do with it, though older people may be more
able because of longer practice. Education has nothing to do with it,
though education may facilitate verbal expression. The essential matter
is the inward prompting, under God's guidance. The Book of Discipline
says, "Our conviction is that the Spirit of God is in all, and that
vocal utterance comes when this Spirit works within us. The varying
needs of a meeting can be best supplied by different personalities, and
a meeting is enriched by the sharing of any living experience of God."

say. Put your mind on that, and take it off yourself. Do not be
concerned that your speech may be halting and imperfect. Do not compare
yourself with others, thinking that they speak fluently, you poorly. Be
concerned to communicate. Summon up your courage and break the ice. Try.
If you can once overcome an inhibition, you have broken its hold. It
will still be there, but you can overcome it more readily the next time.
Keep trying.

It is true that some people seem born with the facility to speak, but it
is also true that the ability, like other abilities, is developed by
practice. Most of those who speak well now, began with embarrassment,
self-consciousness, and an imperfect command of words. Friends can be
counted on to understand if at first your thoughts and feelings are not
expressed as well as they might be. They will attend more to what you
are trying to say than to how you say it. Here again the Book of
Discipline gives wise counsel. "One who is timid or unaccustomed to
speak should have faith that God will strengthen him to give his

to. We may be moved to speak near the beginning, midway, or towards the
end. The important thing is not the time but the moving. However, as
Rufus Jones once pointed out, it sometimes helps if, once we are really
settled, something is said that lifts the spirit, that raises us above
our worldly problems and gives impetus to our search for the indwelling

be answered for us, inwardly, if we are in the spirit of the meeting, if
the meeting is in God's spirit. We may speak of spiritual things. We may
speak of daily affairs and events, if these are given a spiritual
interpretation. We may speak of world problems, if these are seen in the
light of religion. Anything that comes from the heart is proper and
acceptable. We will not go wrong if we keep in mind the central purpose
of the meeting for worship, and are striving to fulfill this purpose.
Let your heart respond to the need of our meetings for a vital ministry.
Open yourself and accept, should it come to you, the call to an inspired

should be a due interval between them, a living silence in which the
spirit works deep below the level of words. Messages should arise from
the silence and return to it. Of course there are times when one message
arises from another. Even so, there should be pauses between them during
which the creative forces may operate in unexpected ways. Restraint of
speech improves both the speech and the silence. Read what Thomas Kelly
has to say of spoken words in his pamphlet, _The Gathered Meeting_.

    But more frequently some words are spoken. I have in mind those
    meeting hours which are not dominated by a single sermon, a single
    twenty-minute address, well-rounded out, with all the edges tucked
    in so there is nothing more to say. In some of our meetings we may
    have too many polished examples of homiletic perfection which lead
    the rest to sit back and admire but which close the question
    considered, rather than open it. Participants are converted into
    spectators; active worship on the part of all drifts into passive
    reception of external instruction. To be sure, there are gathered
    meetings, which arise about a single towering mountain peak of a
    sermon. One kindled soul may be the agent whereby the slumbering
    embers within are quickened into a living flame.

    But I have more particularly in mind those hours of worship in which
    no one person, no one speech stands out as the one that "made" the
    meeting, those hours wherein the personalities that take part
    verbally are not enhanced as individuals in the eyes of others, but
    are subdued and softened and lost sight of because in the language
    of Fox, "The Lord's power was over all." Brevity, earnestness,
    sincerity--and frequently a lack of polish--characterizes the best
    Quaker speaking. The words should rise like a shaggy crag upthrust
    from the surface of silence, under the pressure of river power and
    yearning, contrition and wonder. But on the other hand the words
    should not rise up like a shaggy crag. They should not break the
    silence, but continue it. For the Divine Life who was ministering
    through the medium of silence is the same Life as is now ministering
    through words. And when such words are truly spoken "in the Life,"
    then when such words cease the _uninterrupted_ silence and worship
    continue, for silence and words have been of one texture, one piece.
    Second and third speakers only continue the enhancement of the
    moving Presence, until a climax is reached, and the discerning head
    of the meeting knows when to break it.

to regard those who do not always speak acceptably to us, or are
overlong in their words, or who get up and repeat what we have heard
them say again and again? Instead of viewing them as objects of
criticism, separated from you, try to feel them as being together with
you in a common life, and pray that the Creator of this life may make
all expressions living expressions. Do not let your resentment build up,
but increase your humility by recognizing that the faults that others
display may well be your own.

WORSHIP? Here Douglas Steere has a helpful practice. Try to include
these distractions in one's worship. Instead of attempting to exclude
them, weave them into your efforts to practice the presence of God. Read
what Douglas Steere has to say of this in _A Quaker Meeting for

    But again and again before I get through this far in prayer my mind
    has been drawn away by some distraction. Someone has come in late.
    Two adorable little girls who are sitting on opposite sides of their
    mother are almost overcome by delight in something which is much too
    subtle to be comprehended by the adult mind, the drafts in the coal
    stove need readjusting, how noisy the cars are out on the highway
    today, the wind howls around the corner and rattles the old
    pre-revolutionary glass in the window sashes. Do these rude
    interruptions destroy the silent prayer? Well, there was a time when
    they did, and there are times still when they interfere somewhat,
    but for the most part, I think they help. The late-comers stir me to
    a resolve to be more punctual myself--a fault I am all too well
    aware of--and I pass directly on to prayer, glad that they have come
    today. The little girls remind me of the undiscovered gaiety in
    every cell of life that these little "bon-vivants" know ever so
    well, and they remind me too that a meeting for worship must be made
    to reach these fierce-eyed nine- and ten-year-olds, and I pass on. I
    get up and open the draft in the coal stove. Sometimes I pray the
    distractions directly into the prayer--"swift, hurrying life of
    which these humming motors are the symbol--pass by at your will--I
    seek the still water that lies beneath these surface waves," or "the
    wind of God is always blowing but I must hoist my sail," and proceed
    with my prayer.

your part to contribute to the life. Continue to pray that God will
quicken the meeting, shake it awake. Suppose you yourself are heavy with
inertia and feel more dead than alive. The only way to overcome inertia
is to become active. Since, in a meeting for worship, our bodies are
still, the only positive action is inner-action. We have already
considered several inward practices that facilitate inner-action. Engage
in one or more of these with renewed determination. See your deadness as
a challenge and resolve not to be overcome by it but to overcome it.
Struggle against it. Persist in the act of turning your mind and heart
Godwards. Kindle your expectancy. Wait before the Lord. Think of Him.
Pray Him to send His life into you, and into the meeting, and into the
people of the world. Should these inward practices prove of no avail, I
sometimes fall back on this device. There is always in us some theme
that the mind wants to think of, some fear, some desire, some problems,
some situation, some prospect. Though the theme is not a fit one for a
meeting for worship, I let my mind run on about it. Once the mind is
well started on this topic, I switch it and transfer its momentum to one
of the practices that prepare for worship.

HOW SHOULD WE COME TO MEETING? Reluctantly? No. Burdened by a feeling of
obligation to attend? No. Expecting something dull and tedious? No! If a
meeting evokes only dullness in its members it is a dead meeting and
ought to be laid down. A live meeting evokes life. Just the prospect of
attending such a meeting should quicken us. It were better to come alive
doing housework than to become deadened in a meeting house.

Come with the expectancy that, as you make effort to turn yourself
Godwards, the life deep within you will arise, and meet you half-way,
and call you, and draw you, gather you into God's presence. Come with
the hope that the Teacher within will teach you of spiritual things.
Come with the expectancy that as you meet with other Friends, in this
very gathering you and they will be shaken awake by the impact of God's
power, and made to tremble, and become actual Quakers. Come with the
prayer that one and all may be "brought through the very ocean of
darkness and death, by the eternal, glorious power of Christ, into the
ocean of light and love."

IN OUR DAILY LIVES? Practice the presence of God. Practice, as far as we
are able, the love of God and the love of man and all creation. But let
George Fox declare it to us, as he declared it to the early Friends and
to people of all ranks and conditions in two continents. "All people
must first come to the Spirit of God in themselves, by which they might
know God and Christ, of whom the prophets and apostles learnt; by which
Spirit they might have fellowship with the Son, and with the Father, and
with the Scriptures, and with one another; and without this Spirit they
can know neither God nor Christ, nor the Scriptures, nor have right
fellowship one with another."





CREATIVE WORSHIP by Howard H. Brinton




PRAYER AND WORSHIP by Douglas V. Steere

THE QUAKER MINISTRY by John William Graham

THE QUAKER WAY OF LIFE by William Wistar Comfort









THE QUAKER MEETING by Howard E. Collier



GOING TO MEETING by Leonard S. Kenworthy


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