Is Quakerism worship for introverts? A non-Quaker teacher I have at Fox was telling me that his daughter, also from another tradition, now attends a Quaker meeting of worship. He told me she loves it because she sees Quaker worship as worship designed for introverts. As an extroverted person, I am not as in tune with these themes she is sensing in her experience with Quaker worship. I suppose the intentional and prayerful choice of music, and the style it is presented in at her meeting may be a factor. Surely, the process of centering in open worship can lend itself to an introspection many introverts would appreciate in a Christian worship world that often tries to cram the worship time full of activity. Mainstream Christian culture seems to embrace a sense of urgency in the worship experience. Mainline denominations can seem to “enforce” a scripted liturgy that “must be finished” and surely the stripped down way in which Quakers—even programmed ones—worship might seem like a breath of fresh air to introverts who love to reflect and refocus on God’s Presence. However, to be fair, we all have our liturgies. No matter how “low church” you fancy yourself, if you try and change worship too much, people will make quite clear where the lines of liturgy are drawn. For all our talk of form and symbol, we Quakers still cling to our particular recipe of worship whether programmed, unprogrammed or “semi-programmed.”
To me this introversion theory sounds perfectly reasonable, yet is that all there is to it? Is the contemplative style of Quaker Christianity simply like our northwest coffee shop culture, where we gather socially to ignore one another in “community?” Do we just fancy a “safe environment” where we can see people, but not really have to deal with the pain of real relationship? I am of course not trying to say that introverts ignore one another per se, yet the coffee shop experience we embrace in this part of the world has a certain isolation/community balance that is all very hands off and consumeristic. The culture here is one of anonymity and privacy. We like the predictable shallowness of programmed responses like “how are you doing?”…”fine.” Silence surely does not have to be, but can easily become a barrier, a nice social buffer.
As an extrovert, I love the times of fellowship before and after our gathering. And frankly, I love the open worship time as well, and not just when a message of vocal ministry is brought. I love the silence and experiencing God there. It is a rich time for me, one I long for throughout the week when I am apart from my worshiping community. On the surface, I can see the introvert appeal, yet there is a great deal more going on in open worship than sheer navel gazing and intuitive creativity of expression. I do not see open worship as either an introverted or extroverted thing, but often those who share vocal ministry are more extroverted by nature. Does their willingness to talk free them more to bring God’s utterances, or do they just feel less comfortable with long periods of silence? Or, am I simply and shallowly making too much out of these modern pop-psychological distinctions?
At times, I wonder if I would get more out of open worship if I were more introverted. Do people of this orientation have a deeper connection with God because of this bent? Surely, some of the greatest spiritual masters through time have been introverts, people like Merton or Kelly. Another one of my professors, who is a big proponent of the MBTI personality typology, told me that one of the greatest weaknesses of introverted people is that they often aren’t very good listeners. This seems counter-intuitive because of their quiet nature. People assume that extroverts are terrible listeners because they do so much talking, but they actually make good listeners because they do not need to think as much about what they will say before they begin to say it. However, introverts do not listen as well because, while the other person is talking they are usually still formulating what they will say next when the opportunity arrives instead of actually listening, because they need time to reflect and have everything worked out in advance before they begin to speak. I am sure we all do this to some extent, yet what does this mean in silence to an introvert, as they seek contact with God’s Presence. Over time have introverted Quakers remade worship in their own image, or is there something in the silence that transcends the ways in which people are energized or depleted in community?
While looking back on history, one can often simply project their own personality types or spiritual gifting into what they see, but what has been the role of extroverted people in our movement? James Naylor, William Penn, and John Woolman were most certainly extroverted in my reading of history. Yet I could be wrong. Was Fox the deep introverted mystic who experienced God in solitude, or was he the extroverted firebrand who stormed steeple houses and preached over the priest’s sermons there? Both I guess. How we see him and what we emphasize may be simply what we want to see in the end. We do need each other though. We all bring different strengths and gifting into the family of God. We are—introverted or extroverted— simply two sides of the same human face of God. Yet the question remains, is the Society of Friends just church for introverts? Do the different denominations really tend to attract certain personalities to themselves, with perhaps Pentecostalism being at the other end of the introverted/extroverted extreme? Or is it a crudely contrived generalization to think that Quakers might be more introverted than other groups just because we have historically frowned on things like dancing?
As an extroverted mystic, I have never thought much about these things, or what the experience of my opposite might be like. I am glad this girl has found a comfortable place to worship, a place she can be herself and grow in community. Yet I am now wondering what the effects of a possible “segregation by preference” might be robbing us of. Are we embracing “the testimony of equality” in its true fullness in our worship style, making room for the “other” to be comfortable as they grow in who God has created them to be? Or have we, like so many groups before us, simply grown exclusive, with a chorus of like-minded voices pushing us toward an extreme of preference?