The Quaker choice of being in a circle, seated around a table on which one may find a bible or a bunch of flowers, corresponds to an ancient human custom of meeting to communicate with each other at the same level.
It is not a gimmick, trying to be different, or just another form of religious suggestion: it is a proven means of communion between people in a relationship that is closer together, more aware, more tightly bound.
Those of different social backgrounds or levels of cultural experience feel themselves more equal with each other, more humble and more open, and all equally placed before God.
The distances between the pulpit, the preacher, the front pews, the back pews, which imply separation between people and an (even if slight) suggestion of who presides over the worship; the isolation of the anguished individual who does not manage to communicate from his static Sunday place; these have vanished when one worships in a circle. There is no pulpit except the ideal one of Christ; there are no elements of distraction.
Outward silence is a great help towards silence in the mind, which wanders less than usual, has less internal discussion, does not judge what has just been said from the pulpit, and does not worry about whether or not to speak. Certainly there is listening, a re-listening to familiar things that come by themselves to be sifted by silence, when they either become more interesting or are revealed as definitively insignificant.
Meeting after meeting, formal holiness gives way to a spontaneous sense of the holy, in holy relations with one's neighbour and intimate ones with God.
Other friends' concerns, the freely expressed worries of a soul in pain, become the burden of all. I becomes we and finally it is understood how God can be in us.
Being familiar with the Bible is no longer delegated to anyone. Anyone can quote it in the worship, whether or not it follows on from a train of thought. Sometimes quoted verses shine with their own light.
One wonders how on earth, even though it is silent worship, it can be interrupted more than once and yet one's own meditation not be disturbed; and that is it still honestly considered to be worship.
There is no two-sided conversation. If there is, in that the two have forgotten that they are worshipping together in a group, the conversation disrupts the gathered atmosphere. However, this does not happen among experienced Quakers.
A feeling unknown in other forms of worship, tenderness, pops out amid the participants in silent worship, and it is noticed at the close of the meeting, after an hour or so, when everyone shakes hands. How much ill will, dislike and egotism is cancelled in that one intensely symbolic gesture!
Florence, 9 IX 1988
Educate men without religion and you make them but clever devils.
Attributed to Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington
Please send any suggestions for alternative translations of any of these meditations to Simon Grant.