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25    Silence and Freedom

(2 Corinthians 3:17)

"Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom". Leaving aside for now all the social aspects of the problem of freedom, and focusing on the time of worship, there is no doubt that whatever form of worship is followed in good faith bears the fruit, small or great, of that Spirit of freedom.

And to us, who prefer the Quaker form of silent worship, it seems that the fewer the repetitive formulas in the worship -- including the hallowed ones of the Lord's Prayer and the Apostles' Creed -- the greater the enjoyment of that freedom.

Having once experienced, almost tangibly, the sense of the presence of God in worship, the comfort of his invisible hand that comes to cover our sin, it is good to get fully into that experience, without being distracted by anything at odds with the meditative focus.

For this reason, in silent worship no one speaks out loud before ten or fifteen minutes of gathered centering, and when one does so, one must feel "freely" moved to say something truly felt, briefly and in a somewhat subdued voice so as not to distract those who may have their thoughts turned elsewhere.

But, through the working of the spirit, one may notice related or parallel thoughts running together, echoed in one or more of the things spoken (called ministry — service), and the thoughts of many may naturally flow in a spiritual direction pointed to by one of those things spoken.

All this has nothing in common with the necessarily single direction of the sermon delivered by a preacher, who must have selected a theme, and asks all present to concentrate on it. In many cases, this is an excellent thing in itself, and certainly valuable for Biblical study - that even Quakers undertake during the week, when and where there is the opportunity.

Silent worship also has risks and requirements. Whoever wants to preach must leave that desire at the door. Whoever is too disturbed, and unable to find peace even in the silence of worship, will be uneasy during all that long gathered centering, and may prefer to leave.

There are those who, though relatively calm, do not wholly manage to participate spiritually, and do not relate to anything that is said; yet seasoned Quakers do not scrap even that kind of worship: they thank God for having participated somehow, and not having wasted their time elsewhere.

God certainly accepts as well the lament of those who do not manage to offer him heartfelt worship.

Then there is the freedom to stay quiet. Sure in everyone's equality, even those with the fewest words of all are pleasantly surprised to find the courage to say something. This is another form of freedom from fear.

Verbania, 28 VIII 1991

We have thought of the widespread exploitation of economically underdeveloped peoples, and of those industrial and other workers who are exploited and heavily burdened. We must therefore work for a larger measure of liberty in political and economic life. For not only is this at the heart of the Christian message, but we have seen that peace stands on a precarious footing so long as there is unrelieved poverty and subjection. Subjection, poverty, injustice, and war are closely allied.

Epistle of the London Yearly Meeting, 1937

English text by Simon Grant, based on the translation by George T. Peck revised 2008-03-09
[Original Italian by Davide Melodia]

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Please send any suggestions for alternative translations of any of these meditations to Simon Grant.