Lately I have been reading a small paperback book on Quaker Spirituality. Although I can’t embrace much of their points of mysticism, I find some of the Quaker writings to be quite inspirational. One of the most famous Quakers is John Greenleaf Whittier, sometimes included as one of the Fireside Poets.
The Quaker faith had many subgroups, much like Baptists have; there are Missionary Baptists, Primitive Baptists, Fundamental Baptists, Southern Baptists, and so on. The Quaker group that Whittier belonged to had a traditional type of service format in which the “brethren”, including women (some of which were lay preachers), would gather in silence, without program or an assigned speaker, and the group would sit in long periods of silence which was broken only when/if someone felt “inspired” with a Word from God to speak or share. In his poem, “First Day Thoughts”, Whittier described such a meeting.
In calm and cool and silence, once again
I find my old accustomed place among
My brethren, where, perchance, no human tongue
Shall utter words; where never hymn is sung,
Nor deep-toned organ blown, nor censer swung,
Nor dim light falling through the pictured pane!
There, syllabled by silence, let me hear
The still small voice which reached the prophet’s ear;
Read in my heart a still diviner law
Than Israel’s leader on his tables saw!
There let me strive with each besetting sin,
Recall my wandering fancies, and restrain
The sore disquiet of a restless brain;
And, as the path of duty is made plain,
May grace be given that I may walk therein,
Not like the hireling, for his selfish gain,
With backward glances and reluctant tread,
Making a merit of his coward dread,
But, cheerful, in the light around me thrown,
Walking as one to pleasant service led;
Doing God’s will as if it were my own,
Yet trusting not in mine, but in His strength alone!
John Greenleaf Whittier (1833)