Sit, Still, Settle
by Heather Meehan
in dialogue with
“I was a kid who couldn’t sit still. But in meeting, I settled.” This is what my mother tells me when I ask about her first encounter with Quakerism.
My own experiences in worship are inextricably linked to my mother, sitting quietly beside me on a dark wooden porch outside our meetinghouse, trees rustling around us while adults coughed and fidgeted and occasionally rose to speak inside. My mother waiting beside me reminded me to be quiet but let me squirm as much as I needed to. Perhaps she saw her child self, who crawled out of her crib as soon as she could stand up and ran everywhere instead of walking, but felt a magic in meeting for worship that led her to self identify as a Quaker from the very moment she set foot inside.
At the time I don't think I questioned why my mother asked me to sit with her. It was just one of those things we did. It wasn't until I got a little older that I realized other kids weren't sitting in— or even next to— the meetinghouse. They were in First Day School, over in the next building, reading books or drawing pictures or (one memorable time) screaming their hearts out on the playground. My mother, however, had a leading that children belonged in meeting for worship, a practice she attributed to her own mother, who always brought her children along.
“My mother brought us to everything. We went to worship sharing sessions and the adults would ask us our opinion of whatever was being discussed. As a teen a group of my friends came with me and they were awestruck that the adults would listen to what they had to say."
This equal treatment, regardless of age etc., is a central testimony of Quakerism. In our home meeting, I was accustomed to feeling this in practice, being seen as an equal participant with all the adults in our community.
Yet often when we visited other meetings the adults were shocked and impressed by my ability to sit for the full sixty minutes and would come up to praise me during social hour. I found this highly embarrassing. It was praise for something that I didn’t view as an accomplishment. My participation was made possible by the community around me who created the container, a container that could host the holy spirit.
I do not necessarily share my mother’s conviction that children should always be in meeting since it’s not one I can justify on an intellectual level. But I feel the truth of her conviction that children deserve a place at the table. My mother is a woman who can barely sit still long enough to eat dinner. But she found something profound in the space of meeting for worship that empowered her to do just that.
Also, worship is about much more than sitting still. I recall watching my younger brother, barely two years old, crawling around our meetinghouse, exploring every corner. He greeted each Friend on facing bench and was met with smiles, joy, prayer.
“Anytime you kids made noises [in meeting],” my mother tells me, “people would come up to me and thank me for your joyful noise. They realize how beautiful it is.”
To put it another way, worship is not about being quiet. The silence is a practice that allows ministry to emerge. But Friends take our common name, “Quakers,” from the fact that many of us are moved by the Spirit to speak.
I've only spoken in meeting for worship twice in my life, and I can't remember what I said either time, but in both instances my mother was sitting beside me, a witness.
“The first time I felt moved to speak I was pregnant with you,” she tells me, “And my grandmother had just passed away. I can't remember what I said, but I felt connected. It was that simple."