Sunday, May 31, 2009

Filled with Light

When the Feast of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Without warning there was a sound like a strong wind, gale force―no one could tell where it came from. It filled the whole building. Then, like a wildfire, the Holy Spirit spread through their ranks, and they started speaking in a number of different languages as the Spirit prompted them. Acts 2:1-4.
For a for a few years beginning when I was about five years old, my family attended a charismatic nondenominational church. People danced and sang, fell before the Lord, and prayed intently for the rapture. It was a little disconcerting.

One of my earliest church memories is of people speaking in tongues. This was a frequent occurrence at the church, to the point that in my Sunday school class, we had a workshop dedicated to helping those who did not know how to speak in tongues to learn. I did not know how to speak in tongues, so my classmates and I prayed together that God would give me the ability. I never did get that particular gift.

I mentioned to a few Quakers that today is Pentecost. They said they didn't really know what that meant, so I briefly described the story of the Holy Spirit descending on the apostles, allowing them to speak in tongues. They said, "Oh, Pentecost, like Pentecostals."

It makes me feel a little sad that it seems like one group gets to be associated with Pentecost, and that in my circle of liberal Friends, those associations are generally negative. Although they wouldn't come out and say it, I think the assumption is that all people who speak in tongues are closed-minded conservatives.

I still do not speak in tongues, but I see many parallels between Pentecost and Quaker worship. We gather and wait in a house for the Holy Spirit to come upon us, and we speak as the Spirit prompts us. We may not literally see tongues of fire above each others' heads, but we do believe that there is the Light of God in every person.

I sometimes think that Quakers are too comfortable in our silence, that we are not paying attention the call of the Spirit in our lives. I pray that when the Spirit gives us words to speak, that we will be bold and share our good news, so that others will look at us and ask why.


  1. I think one of the "wrongs" of the Quietist period was the de-emphasis of vocal ministry. I believe that in many Meetings, especially smaller ones, there is not enough "training" in vocal ministry. I know that sounds like an oxymoron: Training in Ministry. However, I mean that we do not encourage persons to speak during Meeting, especially when there is usually no vocal ministry to speak of (pun intended) Often the preliminary speaking is from the mind or from "trivial" or political observations. It is then that "eldering" needs to take place. NOT to rebuke or discourage such utterances but rather to accept the comments and then hint at a more "spiritual" direction that the comment might have been taken. This takes a good deal of discipline and concern, but the result is probably worth it.

    Meeting for Worship is usually talked about as Silent Worship and I believe we need to emphasize Listening. Listening to ourselves which can be shared even at a personal level, Listening to others, sharing quotes, things heard during the week, etc. and Listening to the Still Small Voice, which takes patience and encouragement and the openness of the group to encourage risk taking.

  2. I think training in ministry is a good idea. One thing we did at University Friends Meeting during one of our retreats was to split into two groups, those who identified as vocal ministers and those who did not, for a fishbowl exercise. The vocal ministers went first and described what happens to them when they feel led to speak. Then the Friends who did not identify as vocal ministers described what happens to them in the silence. It was a rich discussion and I think improved the quality of worship at UFM.

    I think the same sort of discussion would be good for other kinds of leadings as well. Training could involve talking about what it feels like when the Spirit leads you to do something. Talking about this in the community would also increase accountability---if others know how you experience leadings, they will be in a better position to help you discern whether something is a true leading.

    I agree that at the heart of all of this is listening, which is not easy, but is worth it!

  3. Our own theology, if we were to honor it, is quite similar to that of Pentacostals, except that they fall short by imposing too many external teachings, while we've fallen short by neglecting to give these our attentive respect!

    There was a man at Pendle Hill, giving his final term presentation, talking about a chanting practice he was doing in private... sort of a spiritual jam session, only solo. I think this would be a wonderful thing for us to practice together (as we tried when he suggested it.) But we would have to let ourselves be a lot less tightassed, a lot less spiritually prudish! And this, I think, is a large part of what that "speaking in tongues" was all about!

  4. The evidence indicates that early Quaker meetings had a much more charismatic quality than most any unprogrammed meetings today. Pentecostals count early Quakers in their heritage. The Assembly of God early adopted the peace testimony, directly quoting early Quakers in support. They unambiguously saw themselves as spiritual heirs of Quakers.

    A few years ago, I attended a School of the Spirit alumni retreat on prophetic ministry. Worship there took on a charismatic/pentecostal quality, even including speaking in tongues.


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