The Calm Has Grown Bigger

An Animation and Reflection by Ella Quainton

FSMN’s 21-22 Quaker Voluntary Service Fellow



Watch the video below for a short animation centered around a student quote from meeting for worship.

In lower school meeting for worship, there is always a candle at the center of the worship circle. The candle provides a warm glow and central point in our circle.

Some worships are unprogrammed, which means there is no query asked and we sit in shared silence. While other meetings are focused around a specific query. In those meetings, people might share what is resonating for them from the query.

When describing meeting for worship, people often assume it is like meditation: a brief period of letting thoughts come and go, mostly in silence. There are aspects of meeting for worship that are similar, but it is different from meditation. The student quote featured above about “the calm” itself growing bigger gets to the heart of what distinguishes Quaker meeting for worship from other forms of mediation, worship, or prayer. 

In my experience with Quakerism, I’ve most often felt called to speak in a meeting for worship when I experience something that I can only describe as a moment of “internal heat”—a moment of mental or emotional clarity—that I know, by virtue of all of us reflecting on the same query, I should share.

The student quote describing the calm growing bigger felt like a familiar concept to me. I googled the history of the word calm. The root of the word calm in Greek and Latin relates to “heat.”  In this case, the calm is generating a feeling of aliveness, igniting something new within us.

The symbolism of heat resonates with me because the etymology of calm illustrates how a Quaker meeting for worship is not necessarily a passive time of letting go. While it can be an experience of settling into our spirit, mind, and body, it can also be a time of active connection with something tucked deeply within us. We learn to pay attention to that something: something we know is true without needing external validation or confirmation.

Worship briefly takes us away from the noise of a digital world, where our attention is pulled in many directions and skewed by algorithms and countless online opinions.  Instead, worship draws us into simplicity, a core Quaker value. It is so easy to become disconnected from ourselves when we live in a culture of self-curation via social media, that reduces our contradictions, flattens our multitudes, and allows little grace for our imperfections. Allowing time for students, all of us, to become in touch with our inner truth and inner light, our inner “heat,” sustains us so that we can live into fuller existences.

Meeting for worship is about deep presence. It is not about striving for perfection, or perfect stillness, but instead about learning to sit and be with our imperfect selves.

Instead of running from ourselves, we learn to pay attention to what we have to say, to our own intuition and voice, arguably the most simple and yet difficult thing to do.

It is a gathered experience of calm that makes space for our unique perspectives and experiences. Worship is about learning to discern what is happening in our bodies and around us, to learn to notice that “heat,” and to allow that personal and collective calm to grow bigger.

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