So is Quaker meeting for worship the same
as meditation? Is meditation practice the same as sitting
in meeting for worship? The short answer is no, they’re not the
same thing. Not at all. The other short answer is yes, there’s a
lot of overlap. And I think both Quakers and Buddhists or
meditations practitioners would appreciate that “yes and no” answer. The question about the difference and the
common space between meditation and meeting for worship is a really important question
and it’s something that I struggled with initially. The meeting for worship can be mistaken for
meditation. If you bring a background or intention in
meditation to it, that’s what it’ll be. But I think over time as you listen to messages
coming out of the silence, you probably will begin to shift your understanding of what’s
going on to something that maybe includes meditation but is also something larger than
that. There’s a difference in intention between
meditating and gathering for meeting for worship. While it’s true that I can meditate in a
big hall with a hundred people, for the most part each of those hundred people is in their
own experience of meditation. I’ve seen for Zen Buddhism when you sit
in meditation there, oftentimes they have you sit facing a wall. It’s explicitly not looking into the center
of the group. But I find worship to be a central… it’s
like there’s a prism of light that we’re all focusing together in our center. So it’s invaluable to have other people
there. This is not just disparate people that decided
to show up on a Sunday morning or whatever. We’re here and we’re engaged in an act
of being in the presence of something that is quite mysterious. Mystery. Sacred. The point of reference of worship is a transcendent
God, the divine—or perhaps another non-theist understanding of what that transcendent reality
is—but something we’re giving worth to in the basic meaning of worship, “worth-ship”. For me, the Spirit is my high priest, or my
high priestess if you will. The Spirit is the one who guides the worship. The liturgy—the works—depend on what the
Spirit wants me to do. So I come in with one intention (on a good
day) and that intention is to be faithful. We gather together as a faith community and
as a faith community open our minds and hearts to receive whatever Spirit, God, the universe
has for us in that intended hour of worship. It’s kind of like I go through my individual
experience, and I think we all do that to reach that common thing that’s in the center. A voice that we all can hear, and we’ll
hear it differently and that’s fine. But in the worship, by clearing out our chatter
I think what we find is a stillness that enlightens us. Sometimes it’s completely silent for an
hour, but most of the time there is vocal ministry. And so it’s different in that way than meditation
as well. So I’ll hear somebody give a message, or
I’ll be moved to give a message myself. Valerie Brown: When I first started, everytime
somebody would stand up to speak I got irritated, like, “You’re interrupting my meditation
here with words!” But over time I came to understand and got
it a little bit that in meeting for worship, this is a practice of waiting and a receptivity
as well. I use actually a lot of my meditation skills—my
mindfulness skills—to center down, to get prepared. I’ll follow my breath, I’ll feel my body,
I’ll scan through my body and release where I’m holding tension as a way of saying I’m
open to divine revelation. Meditation can teach you—and there’s a
lot of different forms of meditation—can teach you disciplines that allow you to remove
your focus from where it normally sits. So there’s overlap in any case with meditation. Sometimes worship is work, you know? Turn. Feel. Sense. “Oh crap, there’s another thought in my
head.” Turn my mind to God. Turn my mind to love. Turn my mind to that healing energy. Turn my mind to that small voice and feel
the love, the growth, the creativity. And so it does take a discipline. It’s takes a capacity to notice that the
mind has wandered to Tahiti, or wherever I’m not. Here. And to, with a sense of awareness and compassion,
to bring back that wandering mind, to refocus. There are many ways to meditation but the
basic Vipassana meditation is to do as little as possible, just meeting each moment, any
object that arises moment-by-moment for your attention, you meet it with your attention
and see what’s here. But the idea is not to connect to anything
in particular, or be inspired by another being or a divine being. And so in Quaker expectant, waiting worship,
there is this sense that altogether, here we are. What do you got for us today, God?