When I am at Quaker meeting, I experience a kind of flow form in the dynamic of the silence.
When I rest my head on my beloved’s tummy, I can hear all the surprising internal churnings and gurglings, and the Quaker silence feels a bit like that. Digestion.
It feels like a negotiation or a processing, like water working out a way to flow through. And as the worship hour progresses, the silence goes through different moods and stages. It’s like travelling in a train through a changing landscape, perceiving new hills rising and sudden surprising valleys opening up, sudden glimpses of a herd of deer on an open field, or a glimpse of a lake cuddled in the hills or a stand of bare trees with the sun shafting through or frost persisting in a shadowed hollow. It usually begins with a certain feeling of milling about, as though souls are sorting themselves out and getting comfortable. About a third or half way through there comes a sense of descent – down… down… down… into a very deep gorge where silence flows as a cold river at the valley bottom. The way up from the depths seems idiosyncratic and is a challenge – questioning the soul, confronting weaknesses unknown before. But some people rise up easy, if their being is clear and light and they know this territory.
It’s not a frightening thing, and it is very loving and companionable, this silence.
Toward the end it plateaus out and there is the sense of folk gathering, sharing the treasures on the silence often in ministry in the last ten or fifteen minutes.
But always at the end, as the Friends emerge from the profound and active, living silence, there is this sense of triumph – to use D.H.Lawrence’s words: “Look! We have come through!”
The smiles on Friends faces, as they take each other’s hands then, are raw and honest; like the smiles of children or nuns or people close to death – they mean it. Some of the silence clings to their souls as they turn from its contemplation to greet one another – and that clinging silence is momentous.
“Look! We have come through!”
Some while ago now I was reminded by seekingmylord, who comments here sometimes, of the immense value of fasting. So I have gone back to a lapsed practice of a 24hr fast once a week. I go from breakfast to breakfast; so, about or 10am on one day to the same time the next day – on a non-fasting day I always anyway eat supper early (aim at about 6pm) and breakfast late (aim at about 9.30-10am) to give my gut a rest from input.
When I took up the fasting again, I found as I have in the past that it has a wrestling quality about it, a sea swell, the sense of the inner me heaving up (as in my soul and like the sea not my stomach and like being sick!!) its preoccupations and coming to a new accommodation in my internal world.
But what struck me was how very much it resembled the experience of the Quaker silence – just the same sense of plateaux and mountains and precipices and chasms and cliffs, austerely arid places and turbulent streams. And then, the long quiet flat-lining peace of the end, and the quiet sense of triumph, satisfaction – “Look! We have come through.”
And both the silence and the fasting seem to overhaul and service the rhythms of soul and mood in me, nourishing peace and nurturing the capacity for honest reflection.