On Worship – Laying down our will and wisdom
Some of Barclay's words on worship are quoted often in Quaker books of Faith and Practice and in other descriptions of silent worship. But when I read the entire eleventh proposition I get a different sense of worship than I get in most Friends meetings today.
... the great work of one and all ought to be to wait upon God, and returning out of their own thoughts and imaginations, to feel the Lord's presence and know a "gathering into his Name" indeed, where he is "in the midst" according to his promise. And as every one is thus gathered, and so met together inwardly in their spirits as well as outwardly in their persons, there the secret power and virtue of life is known to refresh the soul, and the pure motions and breathings of God's Spirit are felt to arise, from which as words of declaration, prayers, or praises arise, the acceptable worship is known which edifies the Church and is well-pleasing to God, and no man here limits the Spirit of God nor bringeth forth his own cunned [researched] and gathered stuff, but everyone puts that forth which the Lord puts into their hearts: and it is uttered forth not in man's will and wisdom but "in the evidence and demonstration of the Spirit and of Power."
[Proposition 11, Section 6]
This is what unprogrammed Friends lay claim to, no matter how far short they fall in practice. Certainly I have heard much in meetings for worship that seems to be far more an evidence and demonstration of man's (and woman's) will and wisdom than a demonstration of the Spirit.
As there can be nothing more opposite to the natural will and wisdom of man than this silent waiting upon God, so neither can it be obtained nor rightly comprehended by man but as he layeth down his own wisdom and will so as to be content to be thoroughly subject to God.
[Proposition 11, Section 7]
Laying down our own will and wisdom is not easily done. It is not our natural will to be thoroughly subject to God. Our natural will always tries to put itself first. As we become better at centering and focusing on God during our worship, our natural will becomes more subtle in seeking ways to divert us from God or to speak from ourselves and not from what God would have us say.
For many thus principled, meeting together in the pure fear of the Lord, did not apply themselves presently to speak, pray, or sing, &c., being afraid to be found acting forwardly in their own wills, but each made it their work to retire inwardly to the measure of Grace in themselves, not only being silent as to words but even abstaining from all their own thoughts, imaginations and desires, so watching in a holy dependence upon the Lord and meeting together not only outwardly in one place but thus inwardly in one Spirit and in one name of Jesus, which is his Power and Virtue.
[Proposition 11, Section 7]
When people first come to Friends meeting we often give them hints on how to center down and settle their bodies, but do we go the whole way and say that they should try to center themselves so thoroughly that even their thoughts should cease? This practice is not unique to Friends and the instructions are not difficult. When I was perhaps 5 years old I remember putting myself to sleep by thinking the thought that I was not going to think any thoughts. I pretty soon go to the point that I could think just that thought and then think it slower and slower but I was totally frightened by what might happen if I stopped thinking even that thought. I was afraid that if I stopped my internal monologue completely that I would die. As an adult I have been able to get to that state a number of times, so I know it is possible and it hasn't killed me yet. I also know how slippery a state it is because as soon as you notice you are in the state of not thinking, you are thinking about it and so already coming out of it.
To be continued ...
Blessings to all.