Sunday, February 24, 2008

Programming My Unprogrammed Worship

The Quaker Meeting I attend is unprogrammed, and I greatly value unprogrammed worship. But gradually over the past couple of years I have been struggling a bit, not with spiritual dryness, exactly, but something I would better describe as spiritual frozenness. Unprogrammed worship has generally been very powerful for me, as in the worship I have often felt "melted down by God's love" (I think this is a paraphrase of a quotation from Thomas Kelly).

Two weeks ago I again experienced that melting, for the first time in quite a while. Last week I felt locked up in frozenness again.

But back in January, I attended an evening retreat entitled "A Year of Living Intentionally." We worked on formulating our intentions for the year, and at the end of the retreat were given a jar filled with questions on little slips of paper. We wrote out our intentions and taped them to our jars and were encouraged to use the questions in the jar for journaling. I came home and experimentally pulled out one question, which evoked dismay and guilt for how deeply "off" I was feeling at that time, and so I put it back in the jar and stashed the jar out of sight and almost forgot about it.

Meanwhile, other exercises from that retreat have been very helpful to me, even playing a significant role in my recent breakthroughs.

Suddenly today I remembered the jar. I pulled it out, and opened it, and dumped out all of the slips of paper, and read through them all. They are great questions. As I read through them, I thought that they would function very well as Quakerly Queries. About a dozen of them immediately and powerfully shook the rigid framework of my freezing-up-again soul.

And so I thought to myself: "Maybe I should use these as Queries to 'program' my own unprogrammed worship experience in Meeting."

One should, of course, program one's unprogrammed worship very carefully and tentatively! But what I really mean is "preparing heart and mind." I am not really going to force myself through a pre-planned structure no matter what else happens in worship. I need to be open to and sensitive to how the spirit moves among us.

But if I feel frozen, I will hold these Queries like a blow-torch (or at least a candle) against strategic points in the icy walls freezing up around my soul.

Here are some of the ones that speak to me this week. I may share more in the weeks to come. I will not share my own responses, but just the Queries themselves, in case these should speak to others as well:

  • What inspires me these days? How can I follow this and be shaped by this energy?
  • How can I support myself in becoming the person I want to be?
  • Who or what gives me energy?
  • What or who do I need to say yes to this week?
  • What or who do I need to say no to this week?
  • In what ways am I holding back in my life?
  • How do I want to feel today?

Admittedly, this set is "I" focused. But sometimes a person's major spiritual challenge is to reconnect in a living and vibrant way with God's love. It is hard to bring God's love forth into the world through your life (to "let your life speak") when struggling with the frozen-soul syndrome that depression sometimes is. It is these kinds of Queries that, right now in my life, powerfully speak to me and help me get back in touch with a version of myself whom I like: a version of myself who does feel in touch with God's love. And so I offer these in case others find this approach helpful too.


  1. The Quaker Meeting I attend is also unprogrammed, and like you I greatly value unprogrammed worship.
    Spiritual dryness and spiritual frozenness???
    I am finding for me its not so much about spiritual dryness or
    spiritual frozenness but coming to terms with my understanding of the Holy and worship.

    There is a big part of me that has always want a esoteric
    and mysticalQuaker experience
    in worship.
    For a long time I thought it was spiritual dryness or spiritual frozenness.

    But over time, I come to understand the Holy in new and different ways.
    A good Friend shared these words with me,''Whether one understands this as divine love, fellowship, affection, or the Spirit of Christ, it is still love.''

    I shared these words on another blog,However encounter it, we aspire to live in ways that help grow compassion and love.

    I fall short of these aspirations each day.
    When I go to Meeting it is in the spirit of these words of the late A. Powell Davies when he said,
    "I go to church ... because I fall below my own standards and need
    to be constantly brought back to them ... I must have my conscience sharpened--sharpened until it goads me to the most thorough and responsible thinking and action of which I am capable."

    The mystical part of Quaker Worship for me, is not what I do or not do
    but the work of the Spirit in the

    The Holy uses the holy silence to sharpened are conscience over and over so we can live in ways that helps us to grow in compassion and love.

    My view of Quaker worship is more rooted in a sacramental approach
    in which the communal silence not the individual is the center.

    Paul R

    Silence gives us a new outlook on everything. We need silence to be able to touch souls. The essential thing is not what we say but what God says to us and through us.
    Jesus is always waiting for us in silence. In that silence, He will listen to us; there He will speak to our soul, and there we will hear His voice.
    Mother Teresa

  2. Thank you, Paul, for writing. I very much appreciate your words. I totally agree that aspiring "to live in ways that help grow compassion and love" is centrally important. I also appreciate your words: "The mystical part of Quaker Worship for me, is not what I do or not do, but the work of the Spirit in the silence."

  3. Gosh, I've been away from so many Quaker blogs for too long, and it's uncertain when I'll be able to get back to it with any sustainable regularity...

    That said, I like what you've shared here and I often lament that the monthly meeting where I worship has not been clear to live into a similar "year of intention." I think there would be many surprises and new openings for us as a community, but the Way is not open; the meeting is not ready.

    As an individual, I find that when I want to go more deeply into worship--especially during a fallow time, for example--that I repeat to myself the words of another Friend:

    Go deep. Go into the Deep Place. Go deep and open...

    Somehow that piece of counsel helps me.

    Liz Opp, The Good Raised Up

  4. Thanks, Liz, for writing! I appreciate your suggestion, and will try it.

    It is amazing how a specific phrase or a specific image can sometimes have a powerful effect on us, opening us up in new ways. Or sometimes the effect is not immediate, but something haunts us about the image or phrase and it works its magic on us over time.