In my hospital chaplaincy program we are reading a book called Eyes Remade for Wonder, but Lawrence Kushner. It is a compilation of Kushner’s writings over the years, integrating his spiritual writings about the Hebrew alphabet with stories and revelations from his life. Kushner opens his compilation with an exploration of the hebrew letter Aleph. Aleph, he writes, is the pronounced somewhere between silence and sound. It is an inbetween letter, a letter that is full of potential, full of the not quite.
It is that space in between that I feel called into, in Quaker worship. Quaker worship is not silent, in terms of the absence of sound. But its also not full of words. Quaker worship is not quiet nor is it loud. Some Friends say that Quaker worship is waiting worship, waiting for the Spirit to speak. Other people have described worship as at time of wrestling, discerning whether a message is for you alone or for you to share to the community. For still others, worship is a time to contemplate their week, process what happened, and seek the beauty and divine in their lives. When friends of mine have said that worship was the same as mediation, where the goal is to remove all external distractions and empty the mind, I have pushed back. “We are doing something here!” I’ve exclaimed. “We are engaging, participating; we are active.” So in that place between silence and sound there is a rich life.
In that same chapter, Kushner talks about Makom, the place of God that can be found in the inch behind your heart. It is an indwelling of the Divine. If you place a Ha, in front of the word makom, Hamakom, the word means “The Place of God” capitalized, and is one of the many Hebrew names for God. This is not unlike the Quaker concept of “That of God in everyone.” So as we sit in worship and attend to that active life within, we are finding that place of God inside of us that speaks to that of God in others. It is that small still voice that we are waiting for, listening for, hoping for. That small still voice that will rise up out of that rich life between silence and sound and speak wisdom and revelation. And in lovely synchronistic fashion, the root of the word, Makom is Kom, the Hebrew word that means to rise.
So what does rise up? How do you discern if that small still voice is speaking just to you alone or is pushing you to rise and share with the community? Part of the process is the asking. Asking that voice, that presence of the Divine, that heart center, if you are led to share, to speak, to give forth. More often than not, the quiet revelations of our hearts are for us alone. A glimpse into meaning, purpose, connectivity of two or three or four pieces of our lives. An ah-ha moment that leads us to sigh, to sink into the comfort of being among friends, to smile and know that things make sense, things will be ok or alternatively, know what you need to do next.
And then there are those time, times when the words rolling through your mind, coursing through your veins, bubbling up from your heart, won’t leave you alone. You might begin to shake, you might begin to feel like you will explode if you don’t share, you might not feel anything at all expect the rightness that this message is for everyone to hear. It is in those moments when a gate appears in front of you, a way opens, and you are swept up through that gate into the call to minister, the call to share. You are a vessel for this message, a messenger of the divine wisdom, a friend among those who believe the truth you have to share.
And when you have shared, when the message has gone out from you and you sit down, sometimes you can still feel the tremors of the words coursing through your body. Sometimes you still shake with the thrill of being called. And most times you settle into that quiet rightness that you were faithful to the still small voice that resides in the Makom, the place of God right behind your heart.
Those are the good days. The experiences of worship where you listen, hear, discern, and respond to the life inside of you. Those of the times when everyone in this room feels connected, gathered together like a thread connects each of our hearts and when we sit together that thread brings us closer and closer to each other and to the Divine. But this is not everyday, not every Sunday. There are many times when the roar of life outside of us drowns out the life inside of us. When we are more concerned with making announcements, being heard, being seen, relaying information than we are listening to that rich activity inside. There are times when we rise to speak when we decide that the message that we are given is not eloquent enough, not comprehensive enough, not good enough to match our expectations or those expectations that others have for us. In those moments we talk too long, add too much, muddle the messages that have been given to us and ultimately outrun our guide.
What is beautiful though in all this humanness, is that we keep coming back. There is some sense of searching, some sense of hunger, some sense of belonging that keeps us coming back into the worship. We come back to listen, to quiet down, to hear what there is there, what wisdom, what message is available to us. We ask the question, is this for me? or is this for the community? And if prompted we respond to the later by rising and speaking. And when we are done, our community thanks us not for our message, but for being faithful to the message within us. We come back to be gathered together in a community of seekers. We come back to belong in this room, to belong in that heart room, to belong in the place between, between silence and sound.