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.
The Darkness Around Us
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: From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!” Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.” Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life (soul) will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done. “Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”
— Matthew 16:21-28, New International Version (NIV)
Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.
Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary:
“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
— Romans 12:9-2, New International Version (NIV)
Message: The Darkness Around Us
I’m writing this in the darkness of the night. My teething son did not want to go to bed tonight. After many attempts and some creative experiments, we are back to the old tried and true technique. I’m wearing him in the front carrier while I type on the computer. The computer is set on our high kitchen counter and we are swaying as I type. The only light around me comes from the dimmed computer screen and the not yet full moon that is streaming through the skylight. It’s a quiet darkness. It’s a peaceful darkness. It’s a welcomed darkness. And I have chocolate.
So while darkness is usually characterized as scary, bad, dangerous, and confusing (think bumbling around in the dark), darkness can have a rich and beautiful offering for us as well. It is a time when things cycle to bed, cycle to rest, and cycle to death in order to rise again.
For many creatures there is abundant life in the darkness. For example nocturnal animals who hunt by sound, smell, and the dim light of the night. Or desert animals who drink deeply the water that the coolness of the night allows to condensate. There are also flowers that bloom by the light of the moon and insects that light up in the moonlight. We grew some of those flowers in our backyard when I was a kid and once I got to get up in the night and see them blooming.
There are the bioluminescent organisms that you can’t see by daylight. There is the vast miracle of stars, planets, and constellations. There is also is the magic of the crepuscular time, dusk and dawn, the times between light and darkness, when animals move about more freely, plants open and close for the day, and the dance of light and darkness thins the veil between us and God.
Once, in my role as a hospital chaplain, I sat with a Muslim patient who shared with me his beliefs about life and death. He told me that each evening when he went to sleep he died. And each morning when he woke up he was reborn. His prayers in the morning were prayers of thanksgiving, thanksgiving for life and for new possibilities. And he also prayed for faithfulness. He prayed that for that day he could be fully who Allah desired him to be.
In the evening, his prayers were also prayers of thanksgiving, thanksgiving for the day, for what was and what is; thanksgiving for all the many blessings that he had experienced and the many lessons he had endured. His prayers were also prayers of tomorrow—that in his death there may be life. He prayed that his death may be deep, that those things that were not in alignment with God’s will would stay dead and that when he rose again he would be ready to be fully faithful.
Whether Jesus was afraid of death or not, we don’t know. But we do read in the text that he saw death as part of the cycle of what was to come. Jesus believed in this eventuality so much so that he pressed back against Peter who tried to dismiss death’s reality. Peter’s response makes me think of the platitudes that I have heard being used with my patients. Unhelpful statements like “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” or “Don’t worry, everything is going to be okay.” These statements are usually made to comfort the person saying them not the patient—they dismiss the suffering of the patient. In other words what is being said is, “This is too hard to talk about, so let’s ignore the hard stuff and not talk about it right now.” And for a similar inanity, Jesus rebukes Peter, saying to him, “Stop it! You aren’t being helpful right now. Your automatic dismissal of death and pain, which you have learned from society, is wrong.” (Matthew 16:23, Mark 8:33)
And it’s that piece about learning from society that Jesus focuses on. He speaks to the disciples almost in riddles: “For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?” (Matthew 16:25-26, NIV) Note that the Greek word used for both life and soul are the same word: ψυχή. Jesus is preaching that the disciples must actively work against what has been ingrained in them by society. They must seek to be, to act, to embody a deeper truth that will go against everything people expect and everything people know. Whoever wants to save their society-influenced life will lose their soul, and whoever wants to lose their society-influenced life will find their soul. To have your soul, you can’t have the life society deems successful or even moral, for God gives your soul, not the world.
Contemplation of this passage in Matthew made me think of a William Stafford poem:
A Ritual to Read to Each Other
by William E. Stafford
If you don’t know the kind of person I am
and I don’t know the kind of person you are
a pattern that others made may prevail in the world
and following the wrong god home we may miss our star.
For there is many a small betrayal in the mind,
a shrug that lets the fragile sequence break
sending with shouts the horrible errors of childhood
storming out to play through the broken dike.
And as elephants parade holding each elephant’s tail,
but if one wanders the circus won’t find the park,
I call it cruel and maybe the root of all cruelty
to know what occurs but not recognize the fact.
And so I appeal to a voice, to something shadowy,
a remote important region in all who talk:
though we could fool each other, we should consider—
lest the parade of our mutual life get lost in the dark.
For it is important that awake people be awake,
or a breaking line may discourage them back to sleep;
the signals we give — yes or no, or maybe —
should be clear: the darkness around us is deep.
For the first time I imagined Jesus speaking this poem to his disciples. All the same messages are there. Resist acting the way society has taught you, check even your smallest reactions and your slightest tendencies. Be the authentic bearer of God’s love and righteousness and justice. Embody the subversive Spirt of the Holy. Be different and live into it now!
“But really, how do I do that?” you might ask. Well, the second passage this week, Romans 12:9-12, outlines exactly what being different means. What does it mean to lose your society-influenced life and save your soul? What does it mean to be awake and not let the "the parade of our mutual life get lost in the dark"? Well, here's the job description:
- Love must be sincere.
- Hate what is evil.
- Cling to what is good.
- Be devoted to one another in love.
- Honor one another above yourselves.
- Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor.
- Be joyful in hope.
- Be patient in affliction.
- Be faithful in prayer.
- Share with the Lord’s people who are in need.
- Practice hospitality.
- Bless those who persecute you.
- Bless and do not curse.
- Rejoice with those who rejoice.
- Mourn with those who mourn.
- Live in harmony with one another.
- Do not be proud.
- Be willing to associate with people of low position.
- Do not be conceited.
- Do not repay anyone evil for evil.
- Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone.
- Live at peace with everyone.
- Do not take revenge.
- If your enemy is hungry, feed him
- If he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
- Do not be overcome by evil.
- Overcome evil with good.
So as you settle into your time of waiting worship, read through the list and think about which of these stand out for you. Which are hard for you to do daily? Which come easily? Open your heart up to God’s message for you during this time. What is God awakening in you? What is God awakening in the darkness? What ripe possibilities await the coming of the dawn?
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 in vocal prayer, either of your own creation or read out loud the following: “O Holy One, as we rest in the darkness of the night, prepare in us the life and desire for faithfulness that we need to be your subversive disciples. Help us resist the lessons, the patterns, and the traditions we have learned from society in order for us to live more fully into Jesus’ call to save our souls. Guide us to act and become more fully the people you have dreamed us to be. Awaken us to the dawn, rested and boldly different. Let us not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Amen.”