Quite often a newcomer or visitor to a Quaker meeting will comment that they like the ‘peace and quiet’ of our meetings for worship.
This bothers me.
I don’t mind that people find peace and quiet in our meetings. I don’t mind that they like peace and quiet. But I worry that people may think that peace and quiet is what we are about, that it is what we are there for.
I hope that it isn’t.
I don’t think we are aiming for peace and quiet.
We try to quiet our bodies and our busy minds in order to listen to that which we find hard to name, to pay heed to something within or beyond ourselves, to attune ourselves to something more important than our individual selves. It can be easier to do this in a space that is ‘quiet’ in the sense of being without distractions, auditory or otherwise. But it is our long term aim to be able to do it anywhere – including amid the noise and haste of everyday life.
We are aiming for peace, not in the sense of a few calm moments, but in the sense of an deep inner serenity and a right relationship with other people, on individual, social and global scales. We need the inner peace in order to achieve a better relationship with others, and a better relationship with other people in order to build a deeper inner serenity.
In the silence of meeting for worship we may become aware of the challenges we face in achieving this aim and this can be very troubling. In a truly gathered meeting we may be very disturbed, very far from ‘peace and quiet’. But if we persist we can also find the strength to face those challenges and to grow in our faith and to make a difference in the world, however small.
Sometimes I am glad to sit in meeting and find a bit of ‘peace and quiet’ – but the reason I keep going is that I am challenged and supported by what happens in the gathered meeting.