Thought for the Week: Silence and worship

Rosalind Smith reflects on silence and worship

A Sunday. A Meeting for Worship. A gathered silence. This must surely be the ideal Meeting for Worship? Not too much shifting around, no one coming in late, winter coughing almost unnoticeable; just the occasional creaking chair, but nothing to prevent everyone in the room gently centring down and soon being absorbed into the powerful build-up of the silence – the Silence.

As I sensed the power of the Silence enveloping us into a unified whole, I began to contemplate the real meaning of ‘worship’. This might now be considered a rather old-fashioned term, a word sung enthusiastically in churches at certain times of the year along with ‘glory, laud and honour’. Perhaps these are not words that Quakers iterate freely, unless the habits of the more mainstream church services still cling about us – although why should we not use those words now and then? They’re all valid, they all express a longing for something beyond the mundane, the material world, the level at which, as Oscar Wilde put it: ‘We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.’

Worship is defined variously as ‘adoration of, or devotion to, a person or thing’ and ‘to have or express feelings of profound adoration’. But such descriptions cannot really express the depth of experience that can be achieved in our Meetings. I rather think I am trying to express the inexpressible: the momentary openness; the negation of self; the awareness of Awareness. The letting go…

For me, a deep, gathered silence is transformed into profound worship. During those precious moments, I often feel a need to go down on my knees – something akin to the early church practice of prostration. It would be quite unwise of me to do this, as I would definitely need help to get up again! So, it never happens, though I do wonder if some of the early ‘quaking’ Quakers found this happening to them. They seem to have been more demonstrative than most of us are now, and we can only respect their sincerity.

There are many translations and explanations of ‘love’ and ‘Love’ – many different meanings of this most powerful emotion that human beings can understand, whether it pertains to others or to a consciousness that is beyond ourselves and, yet, is still the integral part of us; something which we ‘know’ only dimly, and yet for which we reach out in times of need and despair. We ‘know’ in our inmost being that there is Something without which we, and all the world, would not exist.

So, in the depths of our silent Meeting, we approach the threshold of worship of this Something – for which there are many, many names. In this relinquishing of other thoughts, worries and concerns, in letting go of our egos, in the opening up of a space to be filled – both individually and with others – our silence can truly become worship. We are gathered together in Silence: the real meaning of Meeting for Worship.

You need to login to read subscriber-only content and/or comment on articles.