I think it happens to everyone sometimes. You were late to bed last night, or something woke you up unreasonably early, or it’s been a long week, or there isn’t any obvious cause at all… and you’re yawning in Meeting for Worship.
It’s not easy to sit through the urge to yawn. If I want to cough, I can often swallow hard or at least keep it to a throat-clearing; even the urge to sneeze can sometimes be resisted if I focus on keeping my breathing steady. Noticing and focusing on the urge to yawn, though, only seems to make it stronger (in fact, I’m yawning just writing this, because thinking about it is part of the contagion. Are you yawning yet?). I can try and stifle it, keep my mouth closed and try and pass it off as a sigh, but I still end up yawning.
Because this just happens sometimes, it can become a space to look at how we react. Sometimes I find myself irritated by needing to yawn, or sneeze, or whatever. I blame it on my no-good body that can’t rest enough or at the right time or fight of a simple cold or whatever; or I blame it on my failure to plan ahead properly or resist the temptation to read another page. Sometimes I blame the Friend on the other side of the room who started it.
All of these may be real possible causes, or it might just be something which happens at random sometimes. In Meeting for Worship, I don’t think any of them is actually helpful – in every case, trying to find something to blame takes my attention away from the real focus of Meeting, doesn’t stop me yawning or sneezing anyway, and makes it harder to re-focus afterwards. This is good talk of the kind that I often don’t live up to, but I aspire to notice that I need to yawn, yawn quietly, and then set it aside, rather than letting it disturb my worship.
Perhaps there’s even a non-vocal, not-quite-silent ministry of yawning: a time when we bring our tiredness and vulnerability into the meeting, acknowledging the needs of our bodies and how that relates to our worship process.