In my last comments regarding spoken ministry, I described the specific emotional process I use to discern when it is appropriate for me to interrupt the silence of meeting with a message. In this entry, I wish to explore the idea of preparation for ministry. How is it achieved and who is capable of achieving it?
The simple answer is that I don't have a clue. Everything I write is merely a musing. No reasonable person could mistake my ramblings for anything but. Certainly, I could not expect that my pattern of ministry (spoken and otherwise)is right and proper for anyone other than myself. That's important to note from the get-go.
I agree wholeheartedly with other Friends that the "quaking" feeling I get, though apparently shared by many and a part of the recorded historical tradition, cannot be a litmus test for the genuine nature of any given spoken ministry. I assume that it works for me, as I mentioned in Part 1 of this series, because it provides a counterbalance to the head-centered self-control I apply to the rest of my life. I also think that my physical/psychological nature tends to be more turbulent beneath that practiced self-control. (And I wasn't fooling about those seizures either.) I have to assume that there are other methodologies that make much more sense for others. I think of us as instruments for the Divine Musician. Some of us are played as trumpets and others as flutes. Some of us are beaten like drums and others of us strummed gently. We play different parts in the orchestra and this is why Friends' cannot be summed up easily. We are not a jingle. We are a symphony.
If I were to give serious advice to Friends about what to wait for before offering up a spoken message in meeting for worship, I would suggest that they experiment with the discipline of silence for as long as possible before speaking but I would not suggest that there is some perfect moment for spoken ministry any one of us can identify. Stay quiet as long as you can until you know the time is right. And how will you know? I can't answer that. I only know how I know. You're on your own there. And I think we'll all mess this up at least once. We'll speak when we should have been still. We'll be still when we should have spoken. We'll add an unnecessary flourish or edit when we should have barged ahead with the seemingly ill-formed and insensible. We are merely children together in this. Part of our work is play and our learning requires error.
It is not necessarily the content or the discipline of the delivery (intellectual, mystical, emotional, etc.) nor even the apparently profundity of the words (there is great meaning in the mundane too) that indicates that the message is true. So how do we know? In one word, my answer is "depth." We must learn how to seek it, learn how to use it, and learn how to lose ourselves to it. How do we achieve depth? Preparation.
Spoken ministry, even when it arises out of that quaking, almost purely emotional space is far from unprepared. I advocate study in history, theology, science, and philosophy as a general background for any Friend whose intellect craves it but I do not think such studies are universally necessary. In fact, I think we require Friends whose approach is entirely different. Let us not neither idolize intellectual achievement nor fall into anti-intellectualism.
I focus on the scholarly approach because that is the approach used by the ministers of my childhood. I have great respect for a well-prepared and researched message. As a public speaker, I spend many hours of concentrated study before I deliver an address to my audience. But as I understand it, in meeting for worship, we are not speakers so much as we are instruments. While our brains and the words we arrange and deliver are limited, the Source beyond is not. Our task then is not to prepare ourselves to deliver messages that glorify ourselves but to keep ourselves well-tuned for the Great Musician who may have need of us.
We can never know when we will be called upon to speak. If we wrote our own speeches in advance, it is akin to saying that we have the power to predict the Source's intention. Nor can we expect to resonate with the Divine Voice if we spend the week in shallow and selfish pursuits heedless of the possibility that we may be called upon to act as vehicles of the Divine Word. How can one be ready to speak without preparing a speech? I almost wrote that when we speak, we should "dig deep" but this is not what I mean. That oversimplifies it. We should dig deep during our daily lives. We should dig deep in our research and our relationships. We should dig deep in our meditations,our prayers, our charities, challenges, doubts, passions, and fears. We should live lives that dig deep. Every day. In all things. Our psychic hands should be calloused from the digging. Let us not be masters but laborers who having dared ourselves all week to use our whole lives to peer into that Abyss that human reason can glimpse but never illuminate. If that is the case, on First Day, when we silently draw inward, the Abyss will be there waiting for us, terrible, heart-breaking and beautiful. We need only the courage to fall into it.