Discussion Guide for Session 4 on Brinton’s Friends for 350 Years

Friends for 300 Years

Howard H. Brinton, 1952 (republished in 2002 as Friends for 350 Years, available from Quakerbooks.org)

We are having a multi-part discussion series on Quaker History, using Brinton’s Friends for 300 Years as the starting point for discussion.  The next session is this Sunday, 8/26, at noon.  For the schedule for future sessions, see our calendar.  Reading the book is not necessary, but you may enjoy it.  Below is the content of the handout for the fourth session on 7/22/2012.  It provides paraphrases and notable excerpts along with queries for discussion.

Discussion of Chapter 4: – The Meeting for Worship

Facilitated by John Buck, 7/22/2012

Outline of the chapter:

1.     Introduction: p73-74
2.     Withdrawal and Return: p75-88
3.     The Way of Worship: p88-95
4.     Worship Outside the Meeting House, p95-100

1. Introduction

Paraphrasing and condensing the first section:

Catholic worship, focused on the altar, is like lecture-demonstration. The priest speaks of the divine and offers a sacrament. Protestant worship, focused on the pulpit, is like the lecture method. The preacher makes the nature of the divine known through scripture, hymn, and sermon. Quaker worship, with no physical point of focus in the meeting room, is like the laboratory method. We students of the divine are offered the chance to practice the presence of God, not as separate searchers but as a common project.

What methods do you use in the laboratory of meeting for worship to seek the divine? How do you share your research results with others? How do you learn and develop from the results of others’ experiments?

2. Withdrawal and Return

…The laboratory worker withdraws from the routine business of the world to contemplate and experience fundamental truths in a small interior, shielded from outside interference. He [or she] emerges from the laboratory to apply to the outer world the truth he [or she] has discovered. Such truth has a value of its own independent of practical application… But even pure science sooner or later becomes applied or practical as the history of science abundantly illustrates….

This process of withdrawal and return… is characteristic of all life. If we are building a house, we withdraw from time to time, study the blueprint and return more completely aware of the desired result….

…Worship can be looked upon as withdrawal in order to experience the divine Source of value and meaning. It is a purification of self-centered desires in order to discover and obey the will of God.

What does your blueprint look like?

…There is nothing in Quaker theory which would categorically exclude such rites as baptism and communion, provided these were, when experienced, genuine outward expressions of real and hold inward states. But any form which becomes a routine, the details of which are prescribed in advance, inevitably fails to embody what it purports to represent. The inward state is not within human control.  We cannot, therefore, predict the time and form of its outward expression…

Rudolf Otto finds in the silence of a Friends meeting a three-fold character, the numinous [note: supernatural or spiritual] silence of sacrament, the silence of waiting, and the silence of union or fellowship. … The silence of waiting “passes over naturally into the Sacramental silence.” … This silence is … primarily not so much a dumbness in the presence of Diety as an awaiting His[/Her] coming in expectation of the Spirit and its message.

What is your experience of silence becoming sacramental?

3. The Way of Worship

In the vast sum of Quaker literature there is very little which can be used as a guide in silent worship. This is to be expected. The true Guide is the Spirit that, like the wind, bloweth where it listeth.  Here Quakerism differs radically from Catholicism…[which] is often carefully guided in Catholic practice by a spiritual director.

…A common advice to Friends in meeting is to “center down” or “dig deep.” …The advice to “dig deep” refers to the parable of Jesus about the two houses, one built on sand, the other on the rock. The rock was reached by digging deep (Luke 6:48) in order to find a truth that cannot be shaken by surface storms.

Fox’s admonition, “Take heed of being hurried with many thoughts, but live in that which goes over them all” …is not easy to carry out at once. It takes time for the mind to settle. Fox does not tell us to eliminate the many thoughts, but to live in that which goes over them.

What methods do you use in thy spiritual laboratory? Do you “dig down” or “go over” or both or in some other manner?

4. Worship Outside the Meeting House

The Friends have throughout their history been aware that there is a form of prayer “which can be exercised at all times,” “a lamp continually lighted before the throne of God.”

Spiritual exercises, whether of daily silent waiting in worship and prayer, or in regular reading of the Bible or other religious literature, help in making the meeting for worship mean what it should mean. If the mind all through the week is occupied with secular affairs, it is not easy, when the meeting for worship begins, to enter into the life of the spirit in the time allotted.

Does the phrase “Pray without ceasing” have any meaning for you? Do you enter into your spiritual laboratory during the week? And, if so, it what ways?

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