As Mormon children we are taught a lot about reverence. In Mo parlance reverence doesn’t have anything to do with respect or awe, it’s about sitting quietly in your seat with your arms folded across your lap (and I’m not at all exaggerating about the posture) for the 3-hour block of meetings each Sunday. As children we are repeatedly told this and every week in the children’s Primary meeting there are ‘reverence songs’ to underscore these ideas.
I haven’t heard the word reverence discussed in Quaker circles, at least not in any memorable way. What did move me greatly recently, though, was this blogpost about a Silent Quaker Meeting that wasn’t silent. Because there was an autistic child experiencing silent worship for the first time and it was not a wholly comfortable experience for him. He spoke loudly and was somewhat belligerent. While I cringed just a wee bit at the spectacle aspect of this story, the author does a fine job of illustrating the difference between silence and silent worship. IMO, silent worship does not mean that there is an absence of sound (and anyone who’s worshiped in our downtown Santa Ana Meetinghouse can attest to the fact that street noises don’t preclude Silent Worship).
A quote from the article, explaining what occurred after the close of the not-Silent Meeting:
Friends greeted the mother and the boy. The mother attempted to apologize. No one was having any of that. We knew that we had experience a first rate Quaker meeting. We know that the purpose of meeting is not to escape from the world to a place quiet enough to listen, but to learn to listen well enough that we can listen anywhere, under any conditions. It had been a good and rewarding morning’s practicum. We were grateful. There was not a single kvetcher, not a single grumbler, not then, not later.
One of those present was a new attender, a new Christian, a new Quaker. She is a transgendered woman. She has lots of tattoos. She was checking us out, watchful. She had been burned by church people. She walked up to me after meeting and said “Well, hmm. I guess you really mean it. I guess everyone really is welcome, wow. Walking the talk, hmm.”
God told the psalmist, Be still and know that I am God. Quakers like that verse. Many think the stillness referred to means silence. It does not. The Hebrew verb means to relax, let go, stop trying so hard, release. In order to see God, you have to stop striving, stop relying on your own strength. You have to give up your notions of how things should be. You have to let go of preferences and pet peeves. You have to open yourself up to the uncomfortable.
Then God shows up.
Because I loved this post so very much and I wanted to share it with each of you, I intended to blog about it today. Perhaps it was just coincidence that I received an email message from my LDS ward this morning that illustrated the contrast between the Quaker approach to worship and the Mormon way. My ward’s bishopric sent out a notice to each of the ward members encouraging them to follow the guidelines for reverence set forth in this article by Orson Scott Card (a well-known SF writer and active Mormon). In this piece Card offers a list of simple rules to enforce obedience and reverence in children. He says that when a young child begins to be loud or unruly, their parent must remove them from the meeting immediately and physically confine them in their arms. Some of his instructions:
1) Hold the child firmly in your arms (but not so tightly as to hurt).
2) Hold him in front of you so that he is looking into your eyes. Don’t hold him at your shoulder, like a burping baby, or he’ll kick you mercilessly. And never hold him on your lap so he is looking away from you, toward all the pleasing distractions of the foyer.
3)His arms must not be free, and any limbs that he is flailing about must be made immobile. It is essential that you achieve this through persistence, not through pain. That is, don’t grip him so tightly that he stops struggling because it hurts. Rather grip him firmly enough that he can’t get his limbs free, but whenever he stops struggling there is no pain or even discomfort. In fact, when he isn’t struggling, he finds that he is merely being held close to the warm body of his loving parent.
Card also adds details of what the parents are to say to the child and then how to reward them for subsequent reverent behavior. He states that he has “never seen this fail” to produce the desired behavior modification in children and asserts
If all parents would establish clear rules for their children, and, by persuasion and longsuffering, labor to bring them into compliance with good rules of behavior, not only would our [church] meetings no longer sound like zoos, but within a generation our foyers would be empty because everyone would be in the meeting.
Our children and each new generation of adults, blessed with skills of self-control learned young, would find themselves living in a world that was more civilized because Mormon parents, at least, were no longer raising barbarian children.
Am I the only one who found his rhetoric a bit over the top? Sigh….[and to be honest, I suspect that the din on my ward is much more a product of an overly-large ward that needs to be split and not necessarily about unruly children…]
So John and I have amazingly well-behaved kids. Though I am reticent to take any credit for their goodness, I believe that a large measure of their ability to act appropriately–even in long boring meetings–comes from tolerance and respect. Not merely from learning to respect others, but from being tolerated and respected themselves. We have not tried to “break” the will of our children. Rather, we’ve relished each stage of their development and understood that it’s not appropriate to expect the same behavior of a 3 year-old that you expect from a 13 or a 30 year-old. Likewise, we have regarded our kids’ opinions and ideas highly and have tried to hear their frustrations rather than assert our own expectations on them.
And, honestly, I suspect that if Jesus were to visit my ward’s sacrament meeting, he wouldn’t be sitting on the stand and wishing for parents to more dutifully restrain their young ones.
Rather, I imagine him in his role as a mother hen (see Matthew 23:7), calling his children to himself, enfolding them in his arms and letting each of them know that they are loved, just as they are. And explaining that he instilled children with a sense of wonder and curiosity and strong voices. That these are divine gifts. And that these little ones have much to teach us.
Especially those of us who have forgotten what it means to ‘become as a little child’:
1 At the same time came the disciples unto Jesus, saying, Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?
2 And Jesus called a little child unto him, and set him in the midst of them,
3 And said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.
4 Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
5 And whoso shall receive one such little child in my name receiveth me. (KJV Matthew 18:1-4)