Recently members of our Quaker Meeting were involved in a series of three study groups, the outline of which had been provided by Quaker Life. At the first we were asked to consider what a Quaker Meeting needed to offer participants. One of the first words to be mentioned had been “safety”. A Quaker Meeting needed to offer a space where participants could feel safe. Very valid, particularly for some attending at the beginning of their Quaker involvement. We all need to feel that safety to be able to provide our ministry to the Meeting, whatever that ministry may be. While appreciating the need for safety, there is an aspect of that word that I do not welcome and that is the aspect of comfort. As the conversation developed along that aspect I threw in some more provocative words, the first was “sacrifice”, the second “discipline”. I can’t say that either word was well received!
Both words are uncomfortable. But what I was hoping to discuss with the word “sacrifice” was something that has been important to me ever since the first Meeting for Worship that I attended, thirty odd years ago. For me the silence of the Meeting for Worship has always been sacramental. As Quakers we do not use symbols, so the sacramental is not represented by a set form of words or by the bread and wine, as it is in the more formal Christian church service. When we look beyond the words and the symbols then the sense of sacrament is, for me, the same.
Sacrifice is seen in the sense of the story of Abraham and Issac. The father believing that he was being commanded by God to sacrifice his son, the son who meant everything to him, who was long-awaited, who was the future, who was greatly loved. The story as it appears in the Old Testament is a strange one, much argued over, but particularly strange in that Issac, the son about to be sacrificed, is totally inanimate. He is merely an instrument being used by the storyteller. The drama, the unfolding story, is one between Abraham and his God. That seems to me to be an essential in looking at the sacramental aspect of worship. It can only be about the relationship of the individual worshiper and that which they worship. Belonging to a worshiping group is, clearly, communal but, I would suggest, has to be based on the relationship between the individual and the divine.
In Quaker worship we try to listen to the Spirit, to “stay in the Light”, to wait, in silence, for direction. George Fox had seen “that there was an ocean of darkness and death, but an infinite ocean of light and love, which flowed over the ocean of darkness.” How does the worshiper stay in that ocean of light? That light that lays all things bare? If there is discomfort in that situation one has to approach change, you cannot avoid it and stay in that light. Change is the worshiper’s side of the sacramental offering, the other side of this is being given the strength and the will to make those changes. This is a transaction that can only happen between the light and the lit. There is no room for self-justification, for excuses, for blame to be placed elsewhere. To do so removes the light, shades it with a rickety structure that can only provide the briefest respite
Sacrifice is being prepared to give, to give of yourself for the greater good, the strengthened, determined individual can now look, almost before all else, to their community, accepting that our individual well-being can only be achieved once the well-being of the community is confirmed. It is being prepared to act in solidarity with your Friends, the worshiping group that you have become a part of.