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Listening Beyond Words

Julie Harlow
On Separation (November 2019)
Inward Light

I travel to Moscow each year to participate in the annual meeting of the International Board of Friends House Moscow and visit the programs we support. I also attend Moscow Meeting for Worship. It generally draws a visitor or two plus the usual core of three-to-five regulars, including a Russian Orthodox priest who uses Quaker materials in discussion groups in his church.

Friends do not all arrive for worship at the same time, so a period of fellowship and sharing usually occurs while Friends are waiting for others to arrive. It starts with jovial greetings and gradually quiets. I do not speak Russian, so it is hard for me to tell when or whether worship has started; this slow, quiet sharing carries more of a sense of conversation than I am used to in my meeting. But whatever is happening, it has a deeply spiritual quality. On a recent visit, these words came to me during the experience:

Gentle voices in a language I do not understand create a peaceful babble like a brook. The stream of Friendly conversation draws me into a state of peace and harmony. I am listening “beyond words,” to “where words come from,” since the words themselves have no meaning for me. Punctuation is provided by a smile, a laugh, a nod, as the dialog moves around the circle, including each of us as speaker or as witness. A difficult point is raised, and queries are gently asked to help find clarity. A circle of soft laughter indicates agreement, or, perhaps, the decision not to agree.

Is this a meeting for worship? John Punshon says worship is “the only possible human response to the overwhelming Love of God.” By the end of their time together, it is clear that these Friends are quietly overwhelmed by their own openness, their trust, and their complete faith in their safety in this sacred space. ~~~

Julie Harlow is a founder of Friends House Moscow and has been the clerk of the International Board for several years. She is a member of Davis Friends Meeting (PYM). The “prelude” she describes flows into an hour of unprogrammed worship and another hour of lively fellowship and deep discussion.

Meeting for Worship Unity Fellowship

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