Friends General Conference

Together we nurture the spiritual vitality of Friends

Spiritual Deepening

Grounding Exercise

Friendly Voices

Chicago Urban League Records, University of Illinois at Chicago Library. Used with permission.
  1. Therefore, my dear hearts, be faithful every one in your particular measure of God’s gift which he hath given you, and on the invisible wait in silence, and patience, and in obedience to that which opens to the mystery of God, and leads to the invisible God, which no mortal eye can reach unto, or behold.

    MARGARET FELL, “EPISTLE TO FRIENDS”, 1654, AS QUOTED IN BIRKEL, MICHAEL LAWRENCE. SILENCE AND WITNESS: THE QUAKER TRADITION. MARYKNOLL: ORBIS BOOKS, 2004. 15. PRINT. PUBLIC DOMAIN.

  2. Be still and cool in thy own mind and spirit -from thy own thoughts, and then thou wilt feel the principle of God to turn thy mind to the Lord God, whereby thou wilt receive his strength and power from whence life comes, to allay all tempests, against blusterings and storms. That is it which moulds up into patience, into innocency, into soberness, into stillness, into stayedness, into quietness, up to God, with his power.

    FOX, GEORGE. THE JOURNAL OF GEORGE FOX. PUBLIC DOMAIN.

  3. And this is the manner of their worship. They are to wait upon the Lord, to meet in the silence of flesh, and to watch for the stirrings of his life, and the breakings forth of his power amongst them. And in the breakings forth of that power they may pray, speak, exhort, rebuke, sing, or mourn, &c. according as the Spirit teaches, requires, and gives utterance. But if the Spirit do not require to speak, and give to utter, then every one is to sit still in his place (in his heavenly place I mean), feeling his own measure, feeding thereupon, receiving therefrom, into his spirit, what the Lord giveth. Now, in this is edifying, pure edifying, precious edifying; his soul who thus waits, is hereby particularly edified by the Spirit of the Lord at every meeting. And then there is the life of the whole felt in every vessel that is turned to its measure: insomuch as the warmth of life in each vessel doth not only warm the particular, but they are like a heap of fresh and living coals, warming one another, insomuch as a great strength, freshness, and vigour of life flows into all. And if any be burthened, tempted, buffeted by Satan, bowed down, overborne, languishing, afflicted, distressed, &c., the estate of such is felt in Spirit, and secret cries, or open (as the Lord pleaseth), ascend up to the Lord for them, and they many times find ease and relief, in a few words spoken, or without words, if it be the season of their help and relief with the Lord.

    ISAAC PENINGTON, A BRIEF ACCOUNT CONCERNING SILENT MEETINGS. THE WORKS OF ISAAC PENINGTON, A MINISTER OF THE GOSPEL IN THE SOCIETY OF FRIENDS. PHILADELPHIA, 1868. PUBLIC DOMAIN.

  4. And as many candles lighted, and put in one place, do greatly augment the light and make it more to shine forth; so when many are gathered into the same life, there is more to the glory of God, and his power appears, to the refreshment of each individual, for that he partakes not only of the light and life raised in himself, but in all the rest.

    Robert Barclay. An Apology for the True Christian Divinity, 1676. Public Domain.

  5. Such is the evident certainty of that divine strength that is communicated by thus meeting together, and waiting in silence upon God, that sometimes when one hath come in that hath been unwatchful and wandering in his mind, or suddenly out of the hurry of outward business, and so not inwardly gathered with the rest, so soon as he retires himself inwardly, this power being in a good measure raised in the whole meeting, will suddenly lay hold upon his spirit, and wonderfully help to raise up the good in him, and beget him into the sense of the same power, to the melting and warming of his heart; even as the warmth would take hold upon a man that is cold coming in to a stove, or as a flame will lay hold upon some little combustible matter being near unto it.

    Robert Barclay, An Apology for the True Christian Divinity, 1676. Public Domain.

  1. Meeting is the chance to escape from the trivial thoughts of everyday living, and to find answers from yourself or from God. Some people are scared of the silence. Without the noise that serves to reassure us, that blocks out thoughts we'd rather not have, we're vulnerable and find it's time to face ourselves. We can never hide from God, but it's easy to minimise the effect he has on our lives - except in the silence where he can be heard. Don't feel restricted by the silence, it is there to set you free from the pressures of life. No-one is judging your movements, your thoughts... Freedom of expression is the freedom to worship God on your own terms. Value the opportunity to think unguided by the world. Learn what you feel you need to know, let other information pass. No moment of silence is a waste of time.

    RACHEL NEEDHAM, 1987, QUOTED IN QUAKER FAITH & PRACTICE: THE BOOK OF CHRISTIAN DISCIPLINE OF THE YEARLY MEETING OF THE RELIGIOUS SOCIETY OF FRIENDS (QUAKERS) IN BRITAIN. 5TH ED. LONDON: QUAKER BOOKS, 2013. PRINT. USED BY PERMISSION.

  2. (The early Friends) made the discovery that silence is one of the best preparations for communion (with God) and for the reception of inspiration and guidance. Silence itself, of course, has no magic. It may be just sheer emptiness, absence of words or noise or music. It may be an occasion for slumber, or it may be a dead form. But it may be an intensified pause, a vitalised hush, a creative quiet, an actual moment of mutual and reciprocal correspondence with God. The actual meeting of man with God and God with man is the very crown and culmination of what we can do with our human life here on earth.

    RUFUS M. JONES, TESTIMONY OF THE SOUL. 1937. WHITEFISH: KESSINGER PUBLISHING, 2006. PRINT. USED BY PERMISSION.

  3. In silence, without rite or symbol, we have known the Spirit of Christ so convincingly present in our quiet meetings that his grace dispels our faithlessness, our unwillingness, our fears, and sets our hearts aflame with the joy of adoration. We have thus felt the power of the Spirit renewing and recreating our love and friendship for all our fellows. This is our Eucharist and our Communion.

    LONDON YEARLY MEETING, 1928, QUOTED IN QUAKER FAITH & PRACTICE: THE BOOK OF CHRISTIAN DISCIPLINE OF THE YEARLY MEETING OF THE RELIGIOUS SOCIETY OF FRIENDS (QUAKERS) IN BRITAIN. 5TH ED. LONDON: QUAKER BOOKS, 2013. PRINT. USED BY PERMISSION.

  4. The silence of eternity, 
    Interpreted by love!

    With that deep hush subduing all 
    Our words and works that drown 
    The tender whisper of Thy call,
    As noiseless let Thy blessing fall 
    As fell Thy manna down.

    Drop Thy still dews of quietness, 
    Till all our strivings cease; 
    Take from our souls the strain and stress, 
    And let our ordered lives confess 
    The beauty of Thy peace.

    JOHN GREENLEAF WHITTIER, "DEAR LORD AND FATHER OF MANKIND" 1872. PUBLIC DOMAIN.

  5. . . . really powerful hours of unbroken silence frequently carry a genuine progression of spiritual change and experience. They are filled moments, and the quality of the second fifteen minutes is definitely different from the quality of the first fifteen minutes. Outwardly, all silences seem alike, as all minutes are alike by the clock. But inwardly the Divine Leader of Worship directs us through progressive unfoldings of ministration, and may in the silence bring an inward climax which is as definite as the climax of the Mass when the host is elevated in adoration... (Words) should not break the silence, but continue it. For the Divine Life who was ministering through the medium of silence is the same Life as is now ministering through words. And when such words are truly spoken 'in the Life', then when such words cease the uninterrupted silence and worship continue: for silence and words have been of one texture, one piece.

    THOMAS R. KELLY, THE GATHERED MEETING, THE TRACT ASSOCIATION OF FRIENDS, 1997. USED BY PERMISSION.

  6. No clear impressions, either from above or from without, can be received by a mind turbid with excitement and agitated by a crowd of distractions. The stillness needed for the clear shining of light within is incompatible with hurry.

    Caroline Stephen, 1834-1909

  1. It is not busyness that destroys us. It is simply being perpetually busy with things that only scatter rather than deepen us (p. 10). . . . the spiritual person is the one who breathes in and out the spirit of God toward which they move (p. 31).

    JOAN CHITTISTER, "WELCOME TO THE WISDOM OF THE WORLD AND ITS MEANING FOR YOU." GRAND RAPIDS: WILLIAM B. EERDMANS PUBLISHING COMPANY, 2007. 10, 31. PRINT. USED BY PERMISSION.

  2. Meeting for Worship

    Worship in the tradition of Friends involves silent waiting on the Spirit, listening for the Divine Voice, and being obedient to the demands of disciple-ship. Utterly and severely simple, a Meeting for Worship convenes in silent expectancy at a previously appointed time and place to await the advent of that spirit that has power to unite a diverse group of seekers. Such services are always marked by a sense of awe and mystery, for worshippers never know beforehand how the seed each shares will become manifest. Yet they remain confident that any who feel led to speak from experience of the word of God, the Inward Teacher, may express sentiments in response to the deep even unconscious needs of those gathered together. During the early portion of a Meeting for Worship, the hurry and cumber of the world beyond may slowly become less and less important, and the seekers’ attention turns inward in listening for the Divine Word. This period of centering down creates a deepening silence, a living quality, making distractions evident only on the surface of the unity that has been created. The meeting may proceed to its conclusion in this state of silent worship, but more commonly one or more worshippers will sense a leading to share a message with the others present; although it is usually coherent, this sharing represents much more than a product of the merely rational mind. The words uttered develop naturally out of the common experience of the meeting at that special time, yet reflect the experience, personality, and background of the one who gives them voice. Under a leading to speak, a Friend should remember that the most fertilizing messages are often brief, even incomplete; one should not necessarily hesitate from fear of an inadequate insight. One may speak from deep suffering as well as deep joy, from questioning as well as clarity. In whatever form, words from the silence may be profound and concrete evidence of the emerging Spirit of Christ in that moment. Whether in silence or in speaking, the open awareness of worshippers may lead to what is called a “gathered” or “covered” meeting, when all feel the gathering unity of one Spirit moving through the meeting. What prevents the silent waiting of worship from being mere silence is the living spiritual activity of those waiting in silence. The quality of worship is enhanced by the practice of God’s presence in everyday life, the cultivation of the Spirit and actions taken in response to the Spirit. In this sense all life in the Spirit is preparation for worship, as worship is preparation for life. The Meeting for Worship, so unadorned in its organization and procedure, remains the central corporate experience of Friends. The Society’s existence would be impossible without the joining of the divine and human that occurs during a gathering of earnest seekers. Others may know of Quakers because of their activism; Friends know themselves because they have met in worship to encounter the Spirit that motivates. As George Fox announced, following the promise of Jesus and the tradition of early Christians, a Meeting for Worship marks the occasion when the Spirit called Christ is present to teach the people. The meeting is never complete until they respond.

    SOUTHERN APPALACHIA YEARLY MEETING AND ASSOCIATION OF THE RELIGIOUS SOCIETY OF FRIENDS, A GUIDE TO OUR FAITH AND PRACTICE 2012

  3. Songs of an Iona Pilgrimage

     

    Listen!

    God sings

    sausage-sizzle of surf-shifted sand

    ah of the sea’s vast sighs

    wild goose wing-strokes.

     

    Here!

    our sandcastle

    society suffers and grows each ferry

    love enmeshes and embraces

    this many-layered parcel.

     

    See!

    The Trinity

    In scented sisterhood: yeast creating

    Aluminum conveying, cumin uplifting

    Scrubbing and swearing side-by-side.

     

    Feel!

    Laces of faith

    firm on my booted feet

    I step open-eyed into swamps

    theological, metaphorical, literal, littoral.

     

    Rhiannon Grant, 24

    Nottingham and Derby Area Meeting, Britain Yearly Meeting

    United Kingdom

    Spirit Rising: Young Quaker Voices, Used With Permission, FGC Press

  4. Meeting for Worship

    Meeting for worship is the primary setting for the fundamental experience of the Divine Presence. Early Friends took literally the recorded words of Jesus: “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20). They understood that the Light Within could be experienced without the help of trained clergy and liturgy by all who seek it. God spoke to them and through them in the silence. Any— and all— of them were ministers of the Word of God, spoken and unspoken. They chose a form of worship that nurtures the direct encounter with the Divine. Such worship centered in stillness has endured for over 350 years.

    Each experience of worship is unique, and each worshipper approaches worship in a personal way. Friends understand that worship is continuous and each person who enters the meeting room joins in quietly, settling into the silence. In the deepening stillness, worshippers let go of thoughts and distractions, open their hearts to the Light Within and listen for what truth God might give them. Sitting together in silence has been called “expectant waiting” by Friends. Even in times of spiritual emptiness when unity and fulfillment seem distant, Friends find it necessary to be present with others in worship. Vital worship depends on a deeply felt longing for God.

    Friends find that meeting for worship:

    • Draws the community together out of our shared hunger to know the Christ Within and to care for one another;
    • Clears a space in our lives for God to enter, speak, heal, teach and lead;
    • Enfolds us in God’s infinite love and everlasting peace;
    • Gives us grateful awareness of our profound connectedness to one another and the natural world;
    • Opens us to repentance, forgiveness and guidance;
    • Renews us and prepares us for service;
    • Sends us forth with inspired vision and commitment.

    As Robert Barclay observed:

    And as many candles lighted, and put in one place, do greatly augment the light and make it more to shine forth; so when many are gathered into the same life, there is more to the glory of God, and his power appears, to the refreshment of each individual, for that he partakes not only of the light and life raised in himself, but in all the rest.

    There is no guarantee, however, that the movement of the Spirit during worship will proceed smoothly and without difficulty. Each Friends meeting is encouraged to examine its spiritual condition periodically in order to reveal any obstructions to which the meeting is prone. 

    At the close of the meeting for worship, we shake hands in acknowledgment of our commitment to one another and to the Light Within; and we go forth with renewed trust in the power and reality of God’s grace and love and of God’s presence in the world.

    Some meetings complement meeting for worship with a variety of practices before or after worship. Such activities include singing hymns, reading one of the General Queries, “afterthoughts,” news from the children’s program, sharing joys and concerns, welcome and introductions, and announcements.

    Preparing for Worship

    The worship experience is enriched when individuals come to meeting with hearts and minds prepared for worship through thoughtful reflection and listening to the Inward Teacher in the course of daily life. In support of their worship experience, Friends use a variety of personal spiritual practices such as daily prayer, meditation, Bible study, journaling, and gaining familiarity with the spiritual journeys of others. Additional practices include: mindfulness meditation; breathing and/or walking meditation; yoga and other forms of movement and sacred dance; contemplation of art, music and literature; and immersion in the natural world. These preparatory experiences, beneficial in their own right, often produce a quieting and a dropping away of concerns of the ego and prepare Friends for the living stillness that is meeting for worship.

    Such is the evident certainty of that divine strength that is communicated by thus meeting together, and waiting in silence upon God, that sometimes when one hath come in that hath been unwatchful and wandering in his mind, or suddenly out of the hurry of outward business, and so not inwardly gathered with the rest, so soon as he retires himself inwardly, this power being in a good measure raised in the whole meeting, will suddenly lay hold upon his spirit, and wonderfully help to raise up the good in him, and beget him into the sense of the same power, to the melting and warming of his heart; even as the warmth would take hold upon a man that is cold coming in to a stove, or as a flame will lay hold upon some little combustible matter being near unto it.

    — Robert Barclay, 1678

    Vocal Ministry

    Direct communion with God constitutes the essential experience of meeting for worship. Fresh insights may come to anyone out of the living stillness. Some insights are purely personal, providing guidance and inspiration to that individual. Other insights seem meant for the meeting as a whole.

    Friends find that vocal ministry:

    • Can arise in anyone who is present at meeting for worship;
    • Manifests itself in the individual as a “call”, described as an uncomfortable quickening or a profound silence before speaking and a sense of relief or release afterward;
    • Arises from the heart rather than the head;
    • Impels the worshipper to rise and share the message received from Spirit;
    • Does not break the silence but adds to it;
    • Takes many different forms, including prayer, song, story, testimonial or dance;
    • Cannot be readily reconstructed afterward by the one who responds to the call;
    • Is a conduit for God’s love and work in the world;
    • Is a call to faithfulness.

    Those who are hesitant should feel the meeting community’s loving encouragement to give voice to the message that arises within them. Friends who are frequent speakers in meeting for worship serve the meeting best when they, like all others, wait patiently for the prompting of the Inward Teacher. Friends need time to absorb each message, so it is important to allow space between messages.

    Friends are encouraged to welcome the movement of the Spirit in ministry. A given message may resonate differently among worshippers or become clear with time. Individual messages may converge toward a single, vital theme that becomes evident during the meeting; at other times, apparently unrelated messages are later discovered to have an underlying unity.

    Deciding in advance to speak or not to speak; feeling a duty to provide balance between silence and spoken word; or crafting a message to appeal to guests, children or some other audience interrupt the movement of the Spirit. We are reminded to trust the Spirit: even if not a single word is spoken, meetings for worship can be profoundly moving experiences for all present.

    Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, Faith and Practice 2018

  1. How to Use Grounding Quotes

    Here are some suggestions for exploring the introductory essays, texts, and videos in the Grounding section of each topic.  Be creative and consider using different processing techniques over time in order to spark the various learning styles of your participants: discussion, personal reflection, artistic expression, music, worship sharing, creative writing, and deep listening.

  2. Friendly Bible Study

    The Friendly Bible Study process applies to Scripture as well as other materials. This process is good for a group of newcomers and old timers, allowing participants to speak about what is exciting and what is problematic about the text. 

  3. Find the Truth

    Choose one idea or sentence that rings true for you.  Share with a partner an experience you have had that relates to that sentence/idea.

  4. What Do You Notice?

    Shorter variations might be:  What one phrase or idea sticks out for you?  Sit with it for a few minutes and see what rises for you.  Now journal/share with a partner.

  5. Art Response

    Draw or doodle in response to this text.  Allow yourself to be Spirit led – what color do you want to pick up, and how do you want to use it?  This is not art for to view.  This is exploration and expression.  Alternatively, invite participants to make a visual or 3D response to the text using art materials such as clay or play dough, magazines for collage, paint, mural paper, pipe cleaners, objects from nature (acorns, feathers, grasses, flowers, seeds, bark), or building blocks or Legos. 

  6. Visit the Text in Worship

    Sit in worship with this material.  Let it work on you.  Try not to “think” about it – just let it sit on your lap and soak in.  Now, turn to your partner and share something about your visit with this text.

  7. Journaling

    Write your reaction to the text, how it applies to your life today, what you’re grappling with, or what you’re grateful for.  Use one of the General Questions for Reflection or free-write.  In general, journal writing is kept confidential.

  8. Set it to Music

    If you have a group that is willing to be creative, break into small groups and ask each group to write a tune for the quotation or an excerpt (or assign a different quotation to each group).  Tunes are a great way to “memorize” quotations so that they will stick with you.  Check out Timeless Quaker Wisdom in Plainsong for some beautiful examples. 

  9. Homework

    Share a quotation, introductory essay, QuakerSpeak video link, or set of quotations with group participants.  In preparation for the next Spiritual Deepening group session, give the participants some “homework” to do.  This could include:

    • reflecting on the text during their daily spiritual practice or during Meeting for Worship
    • journaling about their response to the text
    • rewriting the message in their own words
    • writing a prayer about the topic
    • finding a song, object, or image that represents to them the theme of the message
    • creating a piece of art that illustrates their response

    As part of your next group sessions, invite participants to share or report back on their homework assignment.

  10. Worship Sharing

    Settle into worship and invite participants to speak into the silence and share their thoughts about a query.  Craft a query directly related to the text or choose one of the General Questions for Reflection.  A more detailed description of worship sharing can be found here

  11. Lectio Divina

    Treat the quotation as a holy text and pay attention to how it speaks to you.  Learn more about the Lectio Divina process

  12. Group Brainstorm

    Ask a question that will elicit one-word answers or short phrases.  On a flipchart paper, record the responses as participants share.  Consider questions such as: What word stands out to me in this text? What feelings arise in my body as I consider this message?  What question do I want to ask Spirit about this message?  Invite participants to comment on what they notice about the brainstorm list.

  13. Writing Prompts

    Invite participants to briefly contemplate the quotation and then respond to a writing prompt.  Create a prompt specifically related to the text or choose one of the General Questions for Reflection.

  14. Pair-Share or Triads

    Divide the group into pairs or sets of three to discuss the quotation.  Return to a large group and share any themes that arose.

  15. Group Discussion

    Ask a question directly related to the text or choose one of the General Questions for Reflection.

  16. Make it Personal

    Rewrite the quote in your own words or to reflect contemporary society and language.

  17. General Questions for Reflection:

    • How is the Divine/Truth/Love speaking to me through this text?
    • What experience in my life reflects the message of this text?
    • What do I have to learn from this message?
    • What resonates with me in this quotation?
    • What stands out to me in this text?
    • What surprised me about this message?
    • What questions arise about my life as I contemplate this message?
    • What canst thou say?  (What do I have to say in response to this message?)
    • What feelings arise in my body as I consider this message?
    • An image that comes to mind as I listen to this quotation is…
    • Where is the growing edge for me around this issue?
    • If I could rephrase this message in my own words, I would say…
    • This Truth tastes like… (smells like… sounds like… feels like… looks like….)
    • In relation to this topic, I used to be.…., but now I’m ……
    • I’d like to ask Spirit / the Universe / God / the Inward Teacher ……. about this message.
    • The point on my spiritual journey when this idea has been most alive in me was…