The meeting room for Corvallis Friends looked a bit different this morning. Big sheets of newsprint were spread around the floor. All who came were invited to lie down and be traced around, yielding a body outline.
A special invitation had been issued to children, letting them know that worship would be designed to include them. A few adults, seeking a quieter space on this Easter Sunday, chose to absent themselves. Some probably chose to join the early walk and outdoor worship, which gathered at 6:20 am in a local park.
After many body outlines had been traced and some posted on the walls, I explained that the markers, yarn, ribbon, flowers and glue could be used at any point during worship to add to the image of one’s body. I asked Friends to notice how the feelings within and recognize them. I explained that George Fox had written about this process many years ago and that contemporary Friends, some of them in our meeting, were rediscovering the ways our Teacher is present in our hearts and bodies.
Perhaps I should have read from Fox’s To all that would know the way to the kingdom: “…here’s thy teacher, when thou art walking abroad, ’tis present with thee in thy bosom,” or from a 1997 Experiment with Light meditation by Rex Ambler, using quotations from George Fox:
Mind the pure Light of God in you, which shows your sin and evil, and how you have spent your time; and shows you how your minds go forth.
As the Light opens and exercises thy conscience, it will let thee see invisible things, which are clearly seen by that which is invisible in thee. That which is invisible is the Light within thee, which he who is invisible has given thee a measure of. That will let thee see thy heart.
Even though we had the unity of our meeting behind us, the two of us coordinating this were apprehensive. I’d had a bad dream about it early this morning. She had been hesitant in her announcements of it. The silence of our worship is a rigid form, which unprogrammed Friends are quite reluctant to flex or bend–even to suit what our needs might be.
So often the message to children is that the meeting room is a place that’s not for them. If they enter, they must do so only on pain (For some, it’s a definite pain.) of eternal stillness, to be broken only when the Spirit moves an adult to do so. The alternative is child care or Sunday school.
When child care is outgrown, what is a Quaker youth to do? What is her or his role in a local meeting? Too often, no role is recognized. Thus Quaker youth find Sunday experiences elsewhere, possibly to return with some adult role in the future.
So when do we adults welcome children and youth? With what expectations? Today’s worship was a modest experiment in flexing this form to include some children with roles that were easier, or perhaps more natural to their stage of life and subculture.
Part way through today’s quiet worship, children were invited to leave. In their own room they added to the images of their bodies, had a chance to talk about what they’d been feeling and how they pictured it and hid some eggs for the toddler and some adults to find later.
At the rise of meeting, no adult responded to my invitation to speak about the experience with graven body images, so I’m not sure how others experienced this worship. I noticed a few new sensations, including an inward pressure to the right of my solar plexus. It seemed to be green and violet. Over the course of meeting its intensity lessened and it moved leftwards.
The two of us are ready with a few more ideas. I wonder if the meeting will let us try them out during that consecrated Sunday hour?