Sitting in a room silently for an hour may not seem like it was something all too special. And I guess to some, it might not be. During the summer of my junior year in college, my roommate, another friend and I decided that we would go to a different church every Sunday and try to catch of glimpse of what some of these practitioners were up to. Our first stop was a Christian Science church that was up the road from our house. We put on our Sundays best, got blasted and pulled into the church parking lot. After a few minutes of laughing at the congregation who were quite advanced in age, we entered the doors and took a seat.
We thought we had entered during a prayer, but as time passed we realized that the silence was part of the service. It was an awkward and somewhat grueling silence that never seemed to end and then, without a shred of warning, the entire congregation stood up and started reciting quotes from Mary Baker Eddy. It was weird and just as fast as it started, it ended and everyone took their seat again for more silent prayer.
We left that day with no real idea as to what they were doing and why the hell it was so quiet. In fact, I seem to remember mocking them many times even though the congregation was tremendously kind to us after the service. We laughed then because we didn't understand why a service would include that much silence. All of us had been raised in a Protestant setting and were used to a more institutionalized service and religious structure. The Christian Scientists were not typical and differed greatly from why we all knew. In fact, it was so odd that we canceled the entire church-going plan.
The Quakers are the same way in that conventional Protestant methods of worship aren't practiced. They don't have to read scripture and recite prayers during their worship. The Bible (just like prayer recitation or singing) is just one of many ways to have a relationship with God, but the silent time spent with Friends in the Weekly Meetings is the most important.
As I sat there yesterday, I looked around and really got a taste of the beauty hidden in this style of worship. The Meeting house is simple just as the services are. The message isn't hidden and you don't have to memorize prayers to take part. It actually gets back to how I view the origins of Christianity. It's wonderfully primitive insofar that it puts all the frill to the side and touches on what's important.
We've all had moments were we wish for a simpler life. Maybe we want to move to the countryside or retire early and take up fishing. The desire for a quiet life of simplicity is nothing new to humans. I can't remember the exact quote, but I'll retell the story that Thoreau told in Walden. He said that a women came to his home and offered him a mat for him to wipe his feet on when he entered his very humble home. He refused the offer with a simple yet brilliant (and paraphrased) response.
"Why should I wipe my feet on a mat when I have sod next to my front door that does just a good of a job? Do I really want to spend time shaking off the mat? Couldn't that time be better spent on other things?"Thoreau sought a more simple and primitive life where he could focus on the more important things in his life rather than wasting time managing the extra stuff that life throws at us. He wanted to understand his own true nature and its relationship to the world and his surroundings. Spending an hour in silent prayer might sound funny or like a waste of time to some, but in reality it is one of the more pure and primitive forms of worship that I have ever had the privilege to have taking part in.
It's an hour of intense spiritual searching and we get to do it with Friends and like-minded people who also seek a simpler peace on this world. I see no reason why worship must be jam-packed with singing, standing, repeating and bowing. God is within all of us and I believe the Quakers have a really unique and amazing way of tapping into His true power and joy.