(A preemptive caveat: No, I’m not saying attending a Quaker meeting is to experience perfection. Read on.)
For the 7-8 months I’ve been in DC over the course of the last 15, I’ve somewhat sporadically attended some Quaker meetings for worship held at the Friends Meeting of Washington. If you’ve never been to a Quaker meeting for worship, there are both programed and unprogrammed meetings, and FMW is of the unprogrammed kind. However, that doesn’t mean there is not attempted at structure, at least to a minimalistic point. The idea for the meeting I’ve attended in DC is that it will run about an hour, with the first 20 minutes as a hoped for centering time for all people where no one really speaks. After this time, children typically leave for a First Day (Sunday) School, and others continue waiting expectantly for the Spirit to move inside, which may then prompt them to speak to the larger community assembled called a “vocal ministry.”
Depending on the number assembled and movement of the Spirit, there might even be no one who speaks (as I experienced in a meeting I went to in Toledo, Ohio last fall where about 10 of us assembled) but at the meeting in DC, every visit has included at least two or three people giving a vocal ministry. Today, I can’t say I kept track of speakers, but I think there were about seven or eight in total, which is a substantial total. And while it may be hoped for that first 20 minutes be silent, vocal ministries began today after about 10, which I think is good, actually, as it gives the children a chance to hear them, too.
Being an unprogrammed meeting, there are no readings or even a topic set forth for meditation (though they do provide printed “queries” that can be a guide), so you never know what one might say. Today, the first vocal ministry revolved around the idea of striving for but never attaining perfection and a realization that that itself is actually a positive thing, and his vocal ministry gave way to an hour spent meditating upon and hearing vocal ministries regarding the idea of perfection.
The next speaker shared a quote by Robert Browning: “What’s come to perfection perishes.” Bringing in my own personal thoughts to this vocal ministry, I was turned to contemplate the idea that then possibly what perishes accomplishes perfection.
Many who shared vocal ministries today reaffirmed that, in a sustained way, at least, perfection is unattainable on earth. However, one of the members who I find quite perceptive of the Spirit also spoke today, and she shared that she does, in fact, believe in perfection on earth, in those fleeting moments where we truly do love unconditionally, which may be easier for a child than an adult, where we love in the way that God loves us and wants us to love God.
She quoted Matthew 19:14: “But Jesus said, ‘Suffer the little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for to such belongeth the kingdom of heaven.’ ”
“When we are truly giving and receiving unconditional love from those around us,” she said (and I agree), “we are truly experiencing the kingdom of heaven here on earth.”
And if it’s possible for fleeting moments now, it then is not a large stretch for one to believe that after our hearts have stopped beating, we might then experience eternal and continuous unconditional love. Let us all pray that such is so.