Welcome to this Online Meeting for Worship. Below you will find songs, scripture or poems, and a short message to frame and guide your time in worship. Each week by Friday I will be publishing a new worship outline. The scripture used generally (though not always) comes from the weekly Revised Common Lectionary, connecting the Friends tradition to other Christian traditions around the world. For some of you this worship space may be a place of sanctuary when you are away from in-person worshiping communities. For others, this worship space may help you prepare for your weekly Sunday or mid-week worship.
I suggest that you open each link in a separate window and play through the beginning of the songs to get over any ads, preparing for your worship time. (Though you may want to first check to see if ads play while the songs are embedded in the post. Sometimes they do and sometimes they don’t!) You may also want to have a candle and a journal nearby. Since this worship is designed in the manner of Programmed Quaker Worship, it includes a period of waiting worship. There are several communities around the world that host online unprogrammed Quaker worship, for which I have included links. These communities worship together at certain times each day and week, so you may want to plan your worship around theirs.
If you would like to set up a regular time to worship through this site or if you have specific prayer requests to be held by my home worshiping community, please contact me through this site. If you would like to leave a message on this page, perhaps a message that rises for you during your worship, please comment below. Messages are filtered to counter spam attempts and it may take me up to 24 hours to approve a comment. Thank you for joining me in this weekly online Quaker programmed worship, if you would like to receive an email each week with a link to the week's worship outline, please subscribe at the bottom of this post. May your time in worship be deep and faithful.
Thinning the Veil
Centering Silence: Take a few moments to center yourself. Perhaps light a candle, find a comfortable place to sit and put away any distractions. Take a few deep breaths as you center yourself for this time of worship. Feel your body relax as your breaths become deeper. Turn your attention to the presence of the Divine throughout your body and throughout your life. When you are ready let the following worship elements guide your worship.
O Lord, you are my God;
I will exalt you, I will praise your name;
for you have done wonderful things,
plans formed of old, faithful and sure.
For you have made the city a heap,
the fortified city a ruin;
the palace of aliens is a city no more,
it will never be rebuilt.
Therefore strong peoples will glorify you;
cities of ruthless nations will fear you.
For you have been a refuge to the poor,
a refuge to the needy in their distress,
a shelter from the rainstorm and a shade from the heat.
When the blast of the ruthless was like a winter rainstorm,
the noise of aliens like heat in a dry place,
you subdued the heat with the shade of clouds;
the song of the ruthless was stilled.
On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples
a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines,
of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear.
And he will destroy on this mountain
the shroud that is cast over all peoples,
the sheet that is spread over all nations;
he will swallow up death forever.
Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces,
and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth,
for the Lord has spoken.
It will be said on that day,
Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us.
This is the Lord for whom we have waited;
let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.
— Isaiah 25:1-9, New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
Scripture: Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.
— Philippians 4:4-9, New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
Message: Thinning the Veil
It’s that time of year here in New England when the leaves change color and drift off down to the ground. Days are gradually getting cooler, pumpkins and mums adorn the steps up to houses, and the smells of warm spices permeate the air. As Halloween (also known as All Hallows’ Eve or Samhain) approaches, many people feel that this is a “thin” time of year—a time when the spirit world feels close. “May Pagans believe a membranelike veil separates the world of the spirit from the physical world and that it thins the most in late autumn. Things pass through that membrane. Those things might be spirits, faeries, or even the departed ones we wish so much to see again.” (Samhain, Rajchel and Llewellyn, 2015, p. 15-16)
Samhain, a Gaelic tradition, is a holiday that includes both the solemnness of seeing loved ones who have died and the revelry of celebrating the end of the harvest season. Halloween has taken on the revelry part and Christian traditions have instituted All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day that follow Halloween in part to preserve the solemn part. All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day are days to remember people who have passed over to the spirit world. This time of year is thought to be a time when the veil between the worlds thins and we can talk to, honor, and feel the spirits of those who have passed on.
The concept of thin times or thin places is not a new one, though I’ve been hearing it more and more in the Quaker community as if it were. New York Times writer Eric Weiner describes thin places as “locales where the distance between heaven and earth collapses and we’re able to catch glimpses of the divine, or the transcendent or, as I like to think of it, the Infinite Whatever. Travel to thin places does not necessarily lead to anything as grandiose as a ‘spiritual breakthrough,’ whatever that means, but it does disorient. It confuses. We lose our bearings, and find new ones. Or not. Either way, we are jolted out of old ways of seeing the world, and therein lies the transformative magic of travel. It’s not clear who first uttered the term ‘thin places,’ but they almost certainly spoke with an Irish brogue. The ancient pagan Celts, and later, Christians, used the term to describe mesmerizing places like the wind-swept isle of Iona (now part of Scotland) or the rocky peaks of Croagh Patrick. Heaven and earth, the Celtic saying goes, are only three feet apart, but in thin places that distance is even shorter.” (Eric Weiner, “Where Heaven and Earth Come Closer.” New York Times, 6 Mar 2012.)
I think people actively seek out these thin places in different ways. Some travel to find thin places, but others feel them in the cycle of the seasons or in their everyday lives. Some of us may find that worship is a thin place; others of us have to do a lot more work to find them. Simply, thin places are when we feel the distance between us and God grow close.
In the passage this week from Isaiah we read, “And he will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations; he will swallow up death forever.” The words for shroud and sheet in this passage are sometimes translated as veil, so we can read this as God destroying the veil that is over all people and all nations—and therefore destroying that which keeps us from an intimate knowing of God.
Isaac Penington writes about this veil: “It was promised of old, that God would take away the face of the covering cast over all people, and the veil spread over all nations. (Isaiah 25:7) Dost thou witness the promise fulfilled to thee? Dost thou know the difference between reading the Scriptures with veil on thee, and with the veil off? Are the Scriptures opened and unlocked to thee by the key of David (Isaiah 22:22, Revelations 3:7), so that thou readest and understands them in the light of God’s Holy Spirit; or is it thy own understanding and will at work of itself, in searching into the Scriptures?” (Isaac Pennington, “The Sum or Substance of our Religion.” From The Works of Isaac Penington, volume 2, p. 449)
Quakers don’t have a two kingdom theology, which means that we don’t believe that there is the kingdom of people—that is, earth and our common reality therein—and then a separate kingdom of God, which we go to when we die. Most Quakers instead believe that these two kingdoms are integrated. Our choices and our actions and our beliefs allow us be perpetually entering into the kingdom of God. It is an active state of transformation, transformation of this world into the world God wants. You could see it as two worlds superimposed onto each other, separated by a thin veil. Our calling is to thin that veil out of existence and bring about the kingdom of God here and now.
Job Scott, another of the first generation of Quakers writes, “How the divine life so unites with humanity, as to be capable of suffering, is a question too high for human wisdom; but it is the truth, and the only true way to salvation, learnt only in the rending of the veil, and in removing the covering that, in the first state, is spread over all nations. (Isaiah 25:7)” (Job Scott, “Remarks upon the Nature of Salvation by Christ.” From Essays on Salvation by Christ, p. 31)
But how do we thin that veil? As Friends, as Christians, as people in this world today, how can we thin the veil between this world and the world that God wants? The second passage of the week begins to outline the answer for us. In Philippians 4:4-9, Paul writes, “The Lord is near.” And then he writes a list of things to do that if we do them, “the God of peace will be with [us].” Those things include:
Rejoice in the Lord
Let your gentleness be known to everyone
Do not worry about anything
Pray from a state of thanksgiving
Think of things and pray of things that are true, honorable, just, pure, pleasing, commendable
Walk the life of Christ and God will be with you
So as you settle into worship, I invite you to hold us and ponder how you are thinning that veil between you and God. How is your community participating in thinning that veil? How is this world actively or could be actively living into the Kingdom of God on earth?
Silence-Waiting Worship: This is a time for you to turn your attention fully inward. The songs and passages and the offered message have prepared you to listen deeply to the Divine. Spend at least 20 minutes in silence listening for that still small voice of God. You may want to join an online waiting worship community. A few links for these can be found below.
When you have come to a place of closure in your waiting worship, continue on to bring your time of worship to a close.
Afterthoughts: Afterthoughts are thoughts that rose for you during waiting worship that didn’t completely form into a message. Perhaps you discerned that what was rising for you in waiting worship was a message for you alone, something not to be shared with others or perhaps you only received fragments of a message and it didn’t come together completely during the silence. Take a few minutes to journal these afterthoughts so that you can look back at them another time. Perhaps God is speaking to you through these partial messages and the fullness of their meaning will be revealed in time.
Joys and Concerns: It is traditional in Programmed Quaker Worship to have a time for the sharing of joys and concerns. Take a few moments to write down in your journal a few things from this week that you are thankful for and a few things that you are holding in prayer. Feel free to post these in the comments below as well (though remember that it may take up to 24 hours for them to be available to others to read) so that others can include your requests in their prayers and celebrate your joys alongside you.
Closing: Take another few moments of silence to close your worship time. Breathe deeply and give thanks for your time in worship today. When you feel ready, end by praying out loud, either a prayer of your own creation or the following: “O Holy One, help to bring my awareness to the thin places around me. I know that God is in the falling leaves, the cool crisp air, and the warm hearth. Open the eyes of my heart so that I can see you, both in the extraordinary and also in the everyday. Help me transform my life to live into the Kingdom that you so desire. God, I pray that you instill in each and every one of us on this earth your desire for transformation and peace. Amen.”