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Singing in Quaker Worship

Stanford Searl
On Art (March 2020)
Inward Light

Recently, I visited Herndon Friends Meeting in northern Virginia. (I live in Culver City, California, and am Clerk of Santa Monica Friends Meeting). My wife and I were visiting two of our granddaughters, and I skipped away to attend worship.


I sat settling in the silence that followed the hymns we had sung prior to worship. I became absorbed in the silence. Then a fresh hymn drifted into my heart, “Holy Spirit, Truth Divine,” words by Samuel Longfellow, younger brother of the famous poet. I felt this hymn flowing along inside me, helping me open, settle, drift into a more centered place of worship.


Then, across the gathering of three dozen people, a man stood and offered a pithy message, describing God as an unquenchable fire, never to be extinguished. This message lodged in my heart. I recalled the second verse of my hymn: “Holy Spirit, Love Divine! / Glow within this heart of mine; / Kindle every high desire, / Perish self in thy pure fire.” I clung to the last phrase, reflecting on the refiner’s fire, on how the self can become one with the Divine in this fire.

I heard, listened, and waited. An anecdotal message was shared about a beloved mentor. I heard, listened, and waited. Then, after a cushioning silence, I stood and sang the second verse of “Holy Spirit, Truth Divine.” Then I sat down, shaking.

Afterwards, driving the borrowed car back to my family, I vowed to learn the words to a few more hymns, so that I might better assist with devotional settling in my home meeting. Opening to the Spirit, I prayed that
those songs would allow my meeting to deepen our potential to be gathered together.  

Stanford Searl is the current Carroll Research Scholar at Pendle Hill, where he is studying the meaning of gathered worship. He is a member of Santa Monica Meeting (PYM).

Gathered Meeting music singing

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