This is a series of short, c.500-word posts looking at the underlying theology of the Advices and Queries – forty-two pithy statements that collectively capture the British Quaker faith.
In worship we enter with reverence into communion with God and respond to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. Come to meeting for worship with heart and mind prepared. Yield yourself and all your outward concerns to God’s guidance so that you may find ‘the evil weakening in you and the good raised up’.
Married to a protestant, and with a heart for ecumenism, it is not unusual for me to attend worship where ‘communion’ is synonymous with ‘bread and wine’. As long as I’m not formally representing British Quakers, I always take part. I believe in the unity of the church – that Christ breaks all the boundaries we try and set – and see the ritual sharing of bread and wine as symbolic of that unity. I share this because the peace and connectedness I experience after taking bread and wine communion is the same as when I’m in Quaker worship. The spiritual communion is the same. Quakers *do* celebrate communion with God. What does it meant to enter this shared communion with reverence? It means to enter with expectation. We go to worship with the anticipation that God might bind us together more strongly, and with a readiness to respond to the Holy Spirit. Reverence may sound serious and sombre, but as C. S Lewis said, joy is the serious business of Heaven.
So we come with anticipation and readiness. We come with heart and mind prepared. In the previous A&Q I wrote about the connection between worship and sacrifice. As well as coming with a sense of expectancy, we also bring our offering – not a blood sacrifice but a prepared heart and mind. Every day we have the opportunity to prepare our offering, to harvest a daily crop of gratitudes, to confess an inevitable number of shortcomings, and hold ourselves and others in the Light. Then when we come together in our Quaker fellowship, we can heap all this thankfulness, confession and prayer onto the alter, and see what the Holy Spirit makes of it. A wise Friend once said to me ‘If everyone comes to meeting empty, no one can go away full.’ We bring our spiritual bread and wine and feast together with God.
However, we don’t come expecting to get something in return. Our offering is not a payment or a bribe. In expecting God to do something, in anticipating the Spirit’s promptings, we cannot then feel cheated if seemingly nothing happens. God doesn’t owe us anything. We prepare our heart and mind not in order to receive an enjoyable worship experience each week, but in order to be more open to whatever God has prepared for us, which may be joy, tears, judgement, consolation or apparently nothing. We prepare heart and mind during the week because one hour on a Sunday is not enough. If God is God, then worship is where we discover who we really are.
Yield! Relax and lay your burden down, for His yoke is easy and His burden is light. Yield! Put up your sword. Stop fighting. The war between God and creation is over. Remove yourself from the centre. Christ is the Prince of Peace – not only outwardly between people and nations, but inwardly. The Holy Spirit brings peace to the inner war of our divided selves and weakens the power of evil. The only power evil has is from our power for good. The best word for evil is perversion, for evil is our good gifts used wrongly. The perverted good within us must be weakened through being healed and restored, through being put to the refining fire and set straight. As I write this I hear the echoes of anti-gay Christian rhetoric, speaking of same-sex desire as a river that’s burst its banks. It’s unfortunate that ‘perversion’ has these connotations, because its the best word for evil I’ve yet come across. Evil as perversion must not be thought of only meaning sexual morality, as all our good gifts can be used wrongly. And all our misdirected efforts can be realigned if we yield our whole selves to the guidance of God and the illuminating power of the Light.