27 April 2017

"On the Vocal Ministry"

I'm speaking with my Ottawa Quaker mentor Deborah
Haight around the time of this story.
Do you remember the first time you stood up and spoke publicly in a religious gathering?

For me, it was the closest thing to a baptism I'd ever experienced among Quakers, and it happened about forty years ago. It wasn't even in my home meeting (Ottawa, Ontario); it happened while I was visiting the meeting in Downingtown, Pennsylvania. During the worship, a local Friend stood up and gave ministry that included a reference to the oil crisis that had started a year or so earlier. I was suddenly overwhelmed by the power of God -- and was given a phrase or two that I knew I had to say out loud. Nothing more than a dozen or so words came to me, and I was given no time to rehearse or elaborate in the safety of silence. Up I stood, as if pulled up by my armpits. One corner of my consciousness was observing myself with surprise as I began speaking about a Power that wasn't subject to shortages, that could not be embargoed or rationed, unless we ourselves blocked or rationed it.

I can't remember all that I said, and I'm sure that the world is none the poorer! But if you've been holding back from speaking in worship, fearful that the fragments you've been given are somehow not good or polished enough, my experience is that it's enough. The necessary words will come. If they stop coming to you, then just stop and sit down again, and the continuation will come through someone else, or through the Holy Spirit's action in silence.

In the years since that first experience of vocal ministry, I've spoken many times among all sorts of Quakers. I've also heard many others speak ... some who needed reassurance that their unrehearsed fragment was truly prophetic, and others who might have needed a gentle hint to wait a little longer before assuming that their message was God-given. (I'm sure now that I've sometimes been in that second group.)

All of these thoughts and memories came back to me today upon re-reading Ruth Pitman's essay "On the Vocal Ministry," which was one of the very first Quaker pamphlets I picked up at Ottawa Meeting. Whether I read it before or after my oil-crisis sermon I can't now remember (my diaries back in the USA might have that answer), but it gave me a wonderfully balanced and sensible introduction to the place of speaking among this quiet fellowship that I'd so recently joined. Her calm and unaffected treatment of spiritual reality reminds me of a mostly-bygone Quaker culture that, at its best, reflected an extraordinary lifestyle of everyday discipleship. Its weakness may have been its sheltered quality, its inability to figure out how to provide access into this culture for a wider range of people and conditions, but I suspect that's now our job.

Maybe this is where people like Jonathan Martin come in. He's the reason I went looking for Ruth Pitman's essay. I remembered her as I was reading his blog post "on the art of preaching (or on Russell Westbrook, stand-up comedy and getting to the inner yes)." You might assume that Ruth Pitman's advice is most suitable for unprogrammed Friends and Jonathan Martin is for Friends who have programmed meetings, but I think they supplement each other beautifully. I'd love to think about what the two of them would say to each other. (I'm also aware that they might well rub each other the wrong way -- neither one of them strikes me as a shrinking violet!)

The assumption Martin probably makes is that his advice is for those who preach regularly, probably because it's their job. But his attentiveness, intuitiveness, avoidance of pose, Scripture-saturation ... all of these things are equally applicable to regular participants in Quaker community, who might just live this way as a matter of course, and then one day find themselves hauled to their feet with just a phrase or two already on their lips.

Russia's Jehovah's Witnesses in the immediate aftermath of the ban.

Why Eastern Orthodoxy appeals to Hank Hanegraaff and other evangelicals. (Comments welcome!) The summary and accompanying podcast studiously avoid questions of enmeshment of church and state, and power issues generally, but still touch on many interesting questions.

Arkansas executions bring Sister Helen Prejean's death penalty fight to the fore.

Beethoven rolls over in our Elektrostal classroom. (In the class sessions, we listened to Chess recordings of Little Walter as well as Chuck Berry and the Beatles, as we discussed the article.)

Samantha Fish...


Bill Samuel said...

I just wonder why Jonathan Martin doesn't want to be read. I couldn't take the light grey on white - not enough contrast to read without pain.

Johan Maurer said...

Hi, Bill. So you had the same experience. On that blog page, I did what I usually do with pages like that ... block select as if I were going to copy.