Another week and another tragedy. And yet most of us continue on our daily routine. How do we process these events? How do we feel? How do we heal? How do we deal with everything? How do we find power which admits the powerlessness?
As I prepared for this week's worship, I came across a page that lists the "deadliest" shootings in the United States since 1984. It seems like just yesterday we were reading about the Orlando and San Bernardino shootings. Sandy Hook, Columbine, and Virginia Tech weren't so long ago either. People of color, gay, trans, and otherwise marginalized people are killed everyday by people using guns. In an instant, life is extinguished. In an instant, generations of pain are seeded among the victims’ loved ones. In an instant, someone becomes a killer. In an instant, worlds are changed forever.
So as we come together for worship this week, I offer up a different format for our time together. I encourage you to take some time apart from your daily life. Light a candle for our breaking and hurting world. Take some time in silence, feeling in your chest your reaction and your feelings towards the world. Then, when you are ready, listen to each of the songs and read each of the passages, spending time in silent prayer after each one.
Faces in the Darkness
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.
Scripture: Then God spoke all these words:
I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me.
You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.
You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.
Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work.
Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.
You shall not murder.
You shall not commit adultery.
You shall not steal.
You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.
When all the people witnessed the thunder and lightning, the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking, they were afraid and trembled and stood at a distance, and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, or we will die.” Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid; for God has come only to test you and to put the fear of him upon you so that you do not sin.”
— Exodus 20:1-4, 7-9, 12-20, New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
Reading: Our principle is, and our practices have always been, to seek peace and ensue it; to follow after righteousness and the knowledge of God; seeking the good and welfare, and doing that which tends to the peace of all. We know that wars and fightings proceed from the lusts of men (as James 4:1-3), out of which lusts the Lord hath redeemed us, and so out of the occasion of war. The occasion of war, and war itself (wherein envious men, who are lovers of themselves more than lovers of God, lust, kill and desire to have men’s lives or estates) ariseth from lust. All bloody principles and practices, we, as to our own particulars, do utterly deny, with all outward wars and strife and fightings with outward weapons, for any end, or under any pretense whatsoever. And this is our testimony to the whole world.
And whereas it is objected: “But although you now say... ‘You cannot fight, nor take up arms at all, yet if the Spirit move you, then you will change your principle, and you will sell your coat, buy a sword, and fight for the kingdom of Christ.’”
To this we answer, Christ said to Peter, “Put up thy sword in his place;” though he had said before, he that had no sword might sell his coat and buy one (to the fulfilling of the law and the Scripture), yet after, when he had bid him put it up, he said, “He that taketh the when the sword, shall perish with the sword.”
And further, Christ said to Pilate, “Thinkest thou, that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels?” And this might satisfy Peter (Luke 22:36), after he had put up his sword, when he said to him. “He that took it, should perish with it;” which satisfieth us. (Matthew 26:51-53)
And in the Revelation, it is said, “He that kills with the sword, shall perish with the sword; and here is the faith and the patience of the saints.” And so Christ’s kingdom is not of this world, therefore do not his servants fight, as he told Pilate, the magistrate, who crucified him.
And did they not look upon Christ as a raiser of sedition? And did he pray, “Forgive them?” But thus it is that we are numbered amongst transgressors, and fighters, that the Scriptures might be fulfilled.
That the spirit of Christ, by which we are guided, is not changeable, so as once to command us from a thing as evil and again to move unto it; and we certainly know, and so testify to the world, that the Spirit of Christ, which leads us into all Truth, will never move us to fight and war against any man with outward weapons, neither for the kingdom of Christ, nor for the kingdoms of this world.
— George Fox and others, A Declaration from...Quakers against All Sedition, Plotters, and Fighters in the World..., 1660
Faces in the Darkness
Let us take some time, in silence and in song to remember those who have died, those who have killed, and those who have lost loved ones. In remembering, we connect to the greater web of humanity available to us. We re-member—reassemble—our souls, by keeping those who we have lost alive in our memories. To feel is to find the energy to make change. To feel is to push back apathy. To feel is to have hope.
APRIL 16, 2007: 32 killed, 17 injured in Blacksburg, Virginia
DEC. 14, 2012: 27 killed, one injured in Newtown, Connecticut
JUNE 18, 2015: 9 killed in Charleston, South Carolina
JUNE 12, 2016: 49 killed, 58 injured in Orlando nightclub shooting
OCTOBER 1, 2017: 59 killed, more than 500 injured in Las Vegas, Nevada
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, cry with us as we bring forth the names, the places, and the faces of those who have died from mass shootings. Help us feel the pain and grief of our human family. Help us move through those feelings of pain and grief to feelings of motivation and movement for change. Holy One, have mercy on our country. Have mercy on our communities. Have mercy on those who feel the need to kill and have mercy on the fallen. Help us change this world, O God. Help us change. Amen.”