Sunday, June 10, 2012

Vocal Ministry

I usually know ahead of time when I am going to give a message in open worship.  Occasionally a message will come to me in the middle of worship, but more often, I have some advance warning.  This can be as much as a month in advance or just a few hours.  

When I first wrote here about knowing that I would have to give a message in meeting, a Friend asked why I was so certain I would have to speak.  My immediate response (not what I wrote) was that I knew because I felt terrible.  What I actually wrote was that I have spoken in meeting enough times to be able to recognize certain physical signs when it is likely that I will have to speak.  All of those things―my heart racing, a tightness in my stomach, difficulty breathing, and shaking―happen when I get a message ahead of time, they just last much longer.

Sometimes I will know that I am going to speak because a certain word, phrase, or image comes into focus, like a pinpoint of light, and that is all I can see.  Other times, I feel like I have the message in its entirety, but a clear sense that now is not the time to give it.  The hardest thing for me is having the feeling that I will give a message, but no wordsno sense of what that message will be.  Trying to figure out the content of the message just makes things worse.

The benefit to knowing that I will be giving a message in advance is that it gives me time to prepare.  I can look up Bible verses or quotes so that they are ready, and I have time to find support in the form of an elder to ground me, information about the schedule, or water and a snack to keep me going.  Sometimes I write down a few notes.

The downside is that I have time to freak out and question everything.  Just before worship is usually when what Jane Fenn Hoskens called "the reasoner" shows up.  Call it what you will―the forces of darkness or my own insecurities―this is the voice that tells me that I do not have a message and that I never have.  It says that I am delusional and self-aggrandizing―what makes me think I am so special that God would speak through me?

This voice is very convincing for a while, but one thing I have learned is that it makes mistakes and goes too far.  Eventually, it will say something like, "You know God isn't real."  And that makes me laugh.  Because I know that God is real and that the voice is desperate.  This helps me to find my center again and focus on the task at hand: delivering the message.

Then, finally, it is time to give the message.  I am always surprised by the messages I give.  Even when I think I know what the message will be, it changes.  Sometimes the messages that come before it shape my message.  Other times, I am led in a different direction than I expected as I am speaking.  I try to leave space before and after I speak, to make sure that I am following my guide.

Afterward, I almost always feel better.  It is a relief to have given the message.  I usually feel tired and vulnerable, and very hungry and thirstyempty in every respect.  I feel both terrified that I will have to do it again and terrified that I will never be asked do it again.  

It is an awesome thing to speak on behalf of God, and I am grateful to be a part of a faith community that believes that we can.


  1. the verb S-T-N in Hebrew from which we get the word Satan, does not mean devil or evil: it means to prosecute, to accuse, the Soten is the one who holds you responsible for what you've promised. I think there may be a midrash about why the Holy One, the Eternal created the satan in each of us (along with the Light in each one - there are those who think they're the same): to keep us humble, to remind us of our mistakes and weaknesses so that we will depend on the One, the True and to remind us to check whether what we say is for us or for God or whether it is True or just "a nice idea". And tho the Satan in Job is not a nice guy, he's doing the job the Holy One made him for: putting us to the test. We call it our conscience and those who don't have one make our lives miserable. So just welcome that self-doubt voice as the shadow side of your inner satan, the one who got a little too much of Sister Mary Discipline and thinks tearing you down is going to help you... As long as you can get back to center, realize the Truth ... and then laugh! Lucky you! Can you imagine living with that negative and exaggerated voice in your head ALL the time?!?! There are those... and see how badly they get along. What is truly sad is that many people have idolized that voice and think that's the way God talks. < sigh > Now that's something to worry about because a lot of them call themselves Christians and get a lot of press time.

    1. What a great perspective! Thank you, Pablo.

  2. I'm relieved I'm not the only person who knows in advance she's going to speak! I worry over whether that means that what I'm going to say is not really "of God." The last time this happened, though, I also knew, when finally at Meeting, not to say it right away. Then two other people gave messages developing the same theme, and mine was meant to conclude!

    1. You're definitely not the only one! I know someone who, when she first started giving vocal ministry, had to write the entire message out ahead of time, then read it in meeting.

      This is one of the reasons it is so important for us to tell the stories of how God *actually is* at work in our lives, instead of how we think God *should be* at work in our lives. (Can you tell I'm getting ready for the Pacific Northwest Quaker Women's Theology Conference?)

    2. I can indeed tell! I really worry about Quakers not talking about that stuff. My next blog post is shaping up to be something about how I *really* pray, what I *really* do in MfW, since it can be awfully confusing, and it's only through doing lots of reading that I have realized I'm not weird.

    3. I look forward to reading it!


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