“The Quaker meeting I attended on Sunday has been gathering since 1657. Nowadays only a dozen or so people attend every Sunday, pretty modest compared to the tens of thousands that flock each weekend around the likes of Joel Osteen, Rick Warren, and T.D. Jakes. These megapreachers’ megachurches boast live bands, jumbotrons, and theater-style seating. In this meetinghouse, the seats are hardwood pews and the most advanced technologies are the oil lamp and the wood-burning stove.” (from “Fluent in Silence” by Stephen Prothero, Killing the Buddha, 02/03/10)
Prothero was writing here of a Quaker meeting he recently attended in Massachusetts. The contrast between his experience there in a spiritually quiet place in contrast to a humanly noisy place is an interesting difference to contemplate. Quiet is the primary million year mileau in which our DNA was formed and from which our particular and specific genetic codes all evolved. Noise- constant and electrically enhanced is a fairly recent development and I wonder what it is adding to our perceived levels of stress and environmental discord?
We are so insulated from absolute quiet that we are often uncomfortable without the television or an iSomething playing. I’ve even been told (not often, but with regularity and friendly emphasis) that there are those in church who don’t like the one minute of quiet I try to have during the primary prayer. (Many others have indeed told me they appreciate it.) A Quaker meeting will last about 90 minutes. Oftentimes, after about 45 or 50 minutes, someone will have something to say, as they filled move by the Spirit to say something. Or someone will pray, or someone will begin to sing. Or not.
Notice the “quiet” of the Quaker meeting room’s physical nature above, too. It appears that the lighting is the only electrically driven enhancement to the room. And the pews aren’t padded. The meeting room which Prothero attended was warmed by a small woodstove in the center of the room, which was attended to several times during the hour he was there.
The desperate desire for quiet is the source of the one experience most of us have had with Quaker meetings:
Quaker meeting has begun.
No laughing, no talking,
no chewing bubble gum.
It’s a meeting that is introduced with a pleading demand, and it is a meeting which lasts (normally) all of 30 to 45 seconds, on average. But it’s a start, and the fact that the children’s ditty gets passed on from generation to generation is evidence that the desire for Quiet is in us- we need it. we seek it. we must (I think) have it. We must.
Mary Dyer, Quaker, being led to the gallows on Boston Common, June 1, 1660. She was hung for being a Quaker after the birth of her stillborn and deformed child confirmed for the Court and Church of the Massachusetts colony that she was an undesirable heretic.