Forum September 2014

Viewpoint: Sliding into silence

​In the unprogrammed, silent meeting with which I am familiar, the richer (deeper) sense of stillness has become an interesting point for me requiring clarification.

A dictionary definition for silent or silence is “refraining from speech or from making noise.” Stillness, on the other hand, is defined in several ways, including being “tranquil, calm, and serene.”

​There have been times during a meeting for worship when those present agree at the rise of meeting that at some point we had moved into a covered meeting. But what did that mean? It seems to me that it may refer to a moment when all, or almost all, in meeting moved from silence to stillness, when “the still, small voice of God” could be heard. There may be different ways of describing the experience. And the dictionary definitions may be too limited to convey what is meant by “a covered meeting.”

​I feel that during any meeting for worship, it is possible for an individual to slide into the silence then move into a place of stillness. In that place a variety of experiences become possible. For one, it is a time when one can experience an epiphany or have a sudden insight into an unresolved problem. For another, the stillness provides the space and impetus for reaching a decision about some action that had been festering unresolved for some time. Each of these examples—and I know that there are many other possible examples—can be considered in retrospect to have been “the still, small voice of God” speaking.

​One life-changing moment occurred in this way. I had been considering all the pluses and minuses of going to live in Zimbabwe. I had telephoned a man who had offered me a job in Harare only to be told that he had had a growth discovered in his lung. He had resigned his position, and his board was unwilling to offer a position to someone they had not vetted. I came from that phone call into morning worship at Pendle Hill where I was a student and found myself on my feet at the rise of meeting to report the call. It had been a half hour of silence, then stillness, and I found myself saying, “But I’m going anyway.” Was it a still voice leading me to a difficult decision?

​Our custom of speaking of God’s voice in connection with times of worship seems quite restricting. God’s voice can come to us any time, anywhere, and in any form. It would be useful to broaden our expectations of when we can be reached by God.

Dyck Vermilye
Taos, N.M.



FJ Podcasts

Thanks so much for posting Jane O’Shields-Hayner ‘s “Naming God” as a podcast (FJ June/July). I’ve just recently discovered the Friends Journal podcasts and am eagerly listening to them. I hope Friends Journal posts many more articles in podcast format—I’m sure many Friends (and interested others) would benefit.
Susan Jeffers
St. Albans, W.V.

Eds: Our list of available podcasts and subscribing information can be found at


Alternatives to fossil fuels growing quickly

I noted with alarm John Spears’s letter asking us to consider that the world so needs fossil fuels, citing figures that the United States meets 82 percent of energy needs with fossil fuel while crediting wind energy for providing just 1.4 percent and solar 0.002 percent. But, retired from the industry, I just finished reading a report that showed U.S. wind energy at 4 percent of the total for this year, with Iowa and South Dakota leading the way, each generating more than 25 percent of its electricity from wind as of 2013.

More impressive is the progress of the European nations of Denmark, Spain, and Portugal. The Danes produced one third of all their electricity from wind in 2013, with a goal of 50 percent by 2020.  In Portugal, wind farms produced a quarter of that country’s electricity in 2013, and Spain had 21 percent of electricity from wind, just shy of their 22 percent from nuclear. Ireland is at 17 percent from wind in 2013, going above 50 percent at certain times of the year. And wind contributed 8 percent in both Germany and United Kingdom in 2013, both countries having enough wind potential to go 100 percent some time in the future.

According to Solar Electric Industries Association, solar electric production in the United States, despite a late start, has the fastest annual growth of all power sources. Four thousand seven hundred Megawatts of new photovoltaic (PV) capacity was installed in the United States just in 2013, a 41 percent increase over installation in 2012. Solar accounted for 29 percent of all new electricity generation added in 2013, up from just 10 percent in 2012. So no, we are not stuck with fossil fuels. Although the full transition will take time, I think it surely is worth supporting. Perhaps divestment will spur the United States to catch up with Portugal et al.

Steve Willey
Sandpoint, Idaho

Oil and gas companies are not absorbing the reality of global warming. It is a problem caused by their industry far more than any other, and the time to deal with it is right now, since we/they did not do so when global warming started being talked about a full 25 years ago. Oil and gas companies have more power to slow down the rate of global warming than do any other entities. So far, they have not exercised that power. They need to receive an urgent message, over and over, right now. The resistance is here, and it’s not going to go away.

The message needs to come from institutions (bigger investors) and individuals. It certainly hasn’t come from government, which appears to be unwilling to bite the hand that feeds it. And it definitely isn’t coming from within corporate culture, with apologies to Tom Steyer.

That leaves institutional investors, individual investors, and everyone else who isn’t an investor but who feels led to act. You can read a list of institutions that have divested on There are many other websites, books, newsletters, and blogs that have good information. They are too numerous to list, but f/Friends might want to start with Quaker Earthcare Witness, Earth Quaker Action Team, Quaker Institute for the Future, the Union of Concerned Scientists, the Sierra Club, or Climate Parents. This issue is so large that you can find a toehold anywhere you put your foot.

Exposure to new information will help Friends understand the divestment campaign and other aspects of the complex and interrelated issues. Changing one’s views is the result of growing in understanding, which Friends fortunately are good at. A short book with valuable information about the U.S. gas and oil boom in the twenty-first century is Snake Oil by Richard Heinberg. It goes a great way toward explaining what is going on, so that Friends can come to their own conclusions.

Karie Firoozmand
Baltimore, Md.

Rediscovered truths

Thank you so much for Lyndon Back’s “George Fox and the Gnostic Gospels” (FJ June/July) and indeed the entire issue. This issue is simply one of the best in recent years.

In the early 1980s, we were living in Mississippi, isolated so to speak. I happened on a copy of the Nag Hammadi and read it with interest as it presented many very different voices of the early church. Other readings followed ultimately leading to Elaine Pagels’s Gnostic Gospels. Her good scholarship—though not entirely my take on the writings—opened the idea that George Fox had truly rediscovered the truth of the early Jesus teachings. This article re-awakened the reality of that experience.

I have since moved toward Buddhism and the “tools” offered in seeking spiritual matters, but I remain deeply Quaker in my worship practice and Universalist in my outlook.

Charlie Thomas
Cascabel, Ariz.


Friends and God

On this first Sunday following our meeting’s worship influenced by the Friends Journal issue “Concepts of God” (FJ June/July), I am worshiping, pondering on my own beside the sea some kind of humble statement of what has come to me. Here is a query: Does calling myself someone influenced by the concept of God from many faiths and ways of worshiping diminish the God whom Christians have worshiped and experienced for all the years since the man we call Jesus, or the Christ, lived? For me, Jesus is still  the supremely reliable guide to the will of this God that he called Father. Jesus also called God loving, and by definition, I have always experienced that Force in my life most powerfully as love.

To answer this query, I intuitively look to my experience of this God rather than looking for words to describe the way this loving Force operates in my life. I experience this God each time I feel a coming together in understanding and a sense of connection with any other beings in the universe, no matter what their professed belief is about this God. I experience this God, perhaps most forcefully, as interpreted by the man in history who called God Father. Still, it is in trying to describe my beliefs about him that I fall into inadequacy and conflict with others. If I concentrate on my experience of the love of this God, my sense of the truth, affirmations about life that this Force presents to humans, and the beauty of the natural world, then I am moved to thank this God. Looked at this way, rather than being diminished, isn’t this God augmented? Isn’t this God acknowledged to have still more Force operating in our world?

Looked at this way, is it not better to think about this God as a Force we experience rather than a word we worship? Words can be misleading when they stand alone in framing our beliefs. Rather than struggling to define our words when speaking with others of different faiths, why not describe the experience we feel? I believe it is in our experience of this Force which seems to create and sustain truth and beauty and goodness that humans all over the world can come together.

Judith Reynolds Brown
Bainbridge Island, Wash.

Tiptoeing around ideas

Isn’t it interesting that the speaker in meeting for worship (or another Quaker gathering) is often asked to modify his or her words in order to appease the listener (“Religious Wounding: What Can Our Meetings’ Elders Do?” by Mariellen Gilpin, FJ May)? That leaves us tiptoeing around thoughts and ideas. Rather than having rich conversations, we have conversations where much of the meaning may be left to the side.

Even the parables of Jesus put a burden on the hearer, knowing that each person might hear and take away something slightly different from parables that were laced with meaning.

Jill Hurst-Wahl
Syracuse, N.Y.

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