When I first became a Quaker, I attended a large unprogrammed meeting that some called a "popcorn meeting” because of the high level of vocal ministry and the way people seemed to “pop up” immediately after another person spoke, without leaving time for silence.
In that meeting, it was customary to maintain silence for the first half hour, but after that, there was little silence. The meeting was so large that someone always seemed to rise as soon as another speaker sat down. It was not unusual for someone to speak for five, ten or even fifteen minutes.
One Sunday, I felt deeply connected to Spirit during the silence, but once vocal ministry began there was so little time to reflect between speakers that I lost my sense of connection to the Divine. It struck me that some worshipper’s needs were being met, while other worshippers’ needs were not. Those who wished to speak could do so, but those who wished to wait in silence between speakers could not do so. I began to feel a strong impetus to “stand for silence.” I wondered if it would be okay to stand and advocate for a few minutes of silence if I felt led to do so?
Though I felt a strong leading, I was afraid to act on it for fear of committing a "Quaker faux pas." I was afraid that I would be chided or judged. I was also afraid that I was misinterpreting the inward prodding. It seemed Quakerly to ask for silence, but I was concerned that I might have turned my own wish for silence into a leading. Five minutes passed, and the feelings did not go away. I felt almost pushed to stand up and speak. I tried to center down and connect with the Light. But still, I felt impelled to act.
I finally accepted that I was being led by something greater than my ego or desires. By something that was of more importance than what people would think or say, that mattered more than exhibiting the "proper" Quaker behavior. So I stood up and said, "I would like to stand for silence." Standing there, I felt a power, or energy, filling me. I seemed to quiver, or vibrate, with this power, my ears roaring from the pressure within me. I stood for a minute or two, although it seemed an eternity. Standing, I felt the strong connection to Spirit I had been missing. The silence, spoken ministry, and my yearnings for communion with the Divine coalesced into an experience of benediction. I felt loved, affirmed, and validated by a sense of grace. I sat down and the spoken ministry continued.
Nearly twenty years later, I don't remember anyone's reaction to my spoken ministry. What I recall is that acting despite my fears reminded me of why I'm a Quaker. I remember why it’s important to be open to leadings, to trust and follow my own integrity, to strive for connection with Spirit, to engage in self-examination, and to allow myself to be led where I’m afraid to go.