In a Quaker meeting, the congregation waits and tries to listen. Sometimes, the whole hour will go by in silent waiting and listening. Sometimes, someone or several will feel moved to speak to the group.
Twenty five years ago, my First Day School teacher shared with us how she knows it is time to speak. When her heart is racing and her body is shaking, she said, that is the time.
I didn’t know quite what she meant then, but I’ve felt it a few times since, a lot like stage fright with the pounding and the shakiness, and I try to follow it. If I feel it and yet I don’t stand, I regret it. If I think I have something to say and I don’t feel it, I can remain comfortable in my quiet sitting.
The other thing I always understood was that you really shouldn’t come to Meeting having already planned what to say.
But I think it’s ok to sit a while as the shaky feeling grows and come up with some idea of how you’re going to start, what you’re feeling moved to communicate in the middle, and where you’re intending to end up. Then jump off the high dive of speaking off the cuff to a hundred people, which is a bit easier if you can accept the community belief that it is not exactly you that is speaking, just as it is not necessarily (or at least not only) you that the message is for.
And although it’s not ok to write down what you plan to say and read it, I do think it’s ok to write down what you said, after the fact. So here is what I said this morning:
“I’ve been thinking about a morning a number of years ago, when my family and I found ourselves having breakfast with a Catholic priest. My son had a question for him. I don’t remember exactly what it was, but I think it was along the lines of, ‘Why do you have that upsetting image of a dead guy on a cross hanging up in your church?’ I remember the priest’s answer with more fidelity than the question, but I’m still definitely paraphrasing here. He answered, ‘That’s so that when I’m having a bad day, I can look up there and remember that my God is here with me in my suffering, that my God understands human pain.’
“And I’ve been thinking about the book The Life of Pi, which starts with Pi recounting his childhood in India and how he came to be a devout follower of all three of the major religions of his country: Hinduism, Islam, and Christianity. He had beautiful things to say about all three, but about Christianity in particular he said that the story of Christianity is a story of love. And he wrote about how preposterous the story seemed from the Hindu perspective, which was his first, how preposterous was the idea that a god would choose to give up their power, would allow themselves to suffer and to die.
“And I’m thinking about the protest that I went to recently, a protest against the family separation policy. I’ve been asked so many times over the past year and a half, what good does protest do? And I have a lot of answers to that question, but at this protest it felt like maybe the main thing we were doing was just saying, ‘We see your suffering, and we are with you.’”