Liberal Quakerism, Part 5—Jesus and I, Part 2
April 17, 2013 § 3 Comments
Jesus, the Presence in the Midst
Several times, I have sensed a presence in meeting for worship, quite distinctly in a particular place in the meeting room. Twice when I opened my eyes, I saw (was it in my mind’s eye only?) an “apparition” in the image of Jesus, a stereotypical image similar to a painting I know. He is always standing behind one of the worshippers. Each time, just as I become fully aware of this presence and the person with whom it is associated, that person rises and speaks.
This always has had an electrifying effect on me, convulsing my body—I was quaking, I suppose—and flooding me with a powerful set of emotions, basically the same as those I have felt in the gathered meeting: a fullness of spirit, a deep gratitude, and a great joy, Wonderful feelings.
These experiences all took place a long time ago, now. But they remain with me as confirmation of the promise that, “wherever two or three are gathered in my name, there am I also”. And ever since, I have imagined Jesus standing next to people when they rise to give vocal ministry in meeting for worship and I try to recover those feelings. It is how I now hold people “in the Light”.
Now we were not actually gathered in Jesus’ name in any of those meetings, and I suppose that the apparition presentation as a stereotypical image of Jesus could easily have been a projection of my unconscious. Fine. But the psychic prescience of knowing exactly who was going to speak and when cannot be explained away as just a projection of my imagination or unconscious desire for religious experience, or whatever.
Moreover, this kind of psychic experience has been, if not common among Friends, then at least not unknown throughout Quaker history. Something is going on.
It is this kind of experience upon which I want to build in this project to develop a “theology” of Liberal Quakerism. These experiences were real, they were transcendental, and they took place within the context of Quaker worship and Quaker tradition. Any attempt to express in new language what we believe, who we are, and how we practice must account for such experiences.
This is what I mean by insistence on “experience” as the starting point for this project. In an early comment, Micah Bales warned about Liberal Quakerism’s virtual deification of personal experience and the ranterism it has led to (I paraphrase). I want to honor personal experience, and yes, of course, my own experience in particular. But it is these truly transcendental, psychic, interpersonal experiences, like the ones I’ve described, and our collective experience in the gathered meeting that interests me most.
Individual transcendental experiences confirm us in our faith. But collective experiences, of both the interpersonal, psychic kind and the more inclusive gathered meeting, not only strengthen our faith as individuals but they also are what make us a gathered people of God. If we can articulate what these experiences mean to us in a way that builds upon our tradition and yet extends it or opens it, that makes it meaningful and attractive to Liberal Friends today, and—most important—true to the Spirit of Love and Truth that inspires them—that is my goal.
In my next post I will describe my experience of Jesus as the Comforter.