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Bill Samuel, August 4, 2002
Bill Samuel

Expectant Listening
by Harold B. Confer
Originally published November 1, 1998 at

Harold B. Confer is a longtime active member of Adelphi Friends (Quaker) Meeting, Adelphi, Maryland, USA, and has served in a number of capacities in that Meeting. He also has been long active in the work camping movement.

Quaker worship is traditionally called expectant waiting, waiting upon the Lord with the expectation that God will be present and will be made manifest if we but listen.

William Stringfellow speaks of liturgy as a way of life. He says that all faithful Christians have a liturgy which has three characteristics:
  • It is rooted in a worshiping community;
  • It is Biblically based;
  • As it remains true to that base and expression of the community it becomes sacramental.

Not only worshiping in silence but the Bible was central to early Friends. They read it faithfully and the gospel was clearly understood. God reaching down in human history and putting his son among us was the most significant Holy intervention in human history. In theological terms, Jesus was all man, all God. He was the incarnation of God.

He was crucified by the powers of Israel and Rome. He showed us the way to live but demonstrated that even the son of God is subject to death at the hands of principalities.

Powers and principalities are as prevalent and consuming of humankind today as during the life of Jesus. Quakers, as a small religious sect, have had a remarkable history of doing battle with the powers and principalities of this world. At one time in the early history of Friends, it was estimated that fully three quarters of the society were in prison. This was not because they were lawbreakers but because they were faithful in their listening and to their understanding of their testimonies and how those had to be lived out in the world; they were faithful to their understanding of the Word of God.

"The single most important credential needed for comprehending the Bible is the intention to listen to the Word...A person must come to the Bible quietly, eagerly, expectantly---ready to listen." (Stringfellow)

In our liturgy of silence we become vulnerable to the Word, just as when we truly listen to each other we become vulnerable to each other. To be vulnerable is not just the desire to hear the other but to be free to hear the other.

A final few words from Bill Stringfellow: "One must approach the Bible realistically---rather than superstitiously, recognizing that access to that same Word of God that the Bible bespeaks is given to us in the versatility of the presence of the Word of God in common history: in the event of Jesus Christ, in the incessant agitation of the Holy Spirit, in the constitution of creation itself (See John 1:1-14). Insofar as we do this, listening happens.. Then the Word of God in the Bible can be heard in the Word's own integrity and power and grace."

Listening in Meeting (expectant waiting), listening while reading and studying the Bible (expectant listening), allow us to realize that this gathered community is a sacramental community. This worship is a sacramental act, and the living out of the testimonies due to the clearness gained through waiting and listening is a matter of the Word in history.

    Dear Lord,

    We come before you eager to hear your messages for us. We study the history of your people and become aware of your calling and leading your people. Lord, as we are confronted by you in the person of Jesus, we are thankful for that life and that message which redeems the world.

    Help us, in your gathered community, to find that of you in all people, to affirm and celebrate that, and to walk, as we are able, in the footsteps of the carpenter of Galilee. Help us to be builders and doers. Help us to look for your continuing revelation in our time.

    Lord, we face a scary world. The weapons of the powers and principalities that mow down innocent non-combatants and justify such as a "holy war" are as frightening as any thing we have seen since the beginning of time. As they worship death, they see death as good. The death they would rain on people becomes their own self-fulfilling prophesy.

    Give us the courage to love them as Jesus loved us all. Give us the courage to respond in the love that has your power to overcome all principalities and all powers in all time.


© by Harold B. Confer

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