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.

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§ 3 Responses to Liberal Quakerism, Part 5—Jesus and I, Part 2

  • treegestalt says:

    How do you know “who someone is” in a dream? If you dreamed about Jesus, that’s probably how it would be: You would simply know it was him. One resurrection story even has a close friend meeting him physically and thinking he was ‘the gardener.’

    So, if a conventional Jesus-picture was a good form for communicating his identity — Why not?

  • Howard says:

    Thanks Steven. I too have had “supernatural” experiences during meeting for worship. I’ve had a common one for Friends where I was compelled to speak a message that seemed ridiculous to me, but had deep meaning for others. Just a few weeks ago, I recalled during worship a time 20 years ago when I had fallen asleep during worship, and when I awoke way back then to my own loud snoring, I found all the Friends in the worship room looking directly at me with loving smiles on their face. I was so embarrassed that after worship I asked the clerk of meeting why didn’t anyone wake me. She replied, “We assumed you needed the rest, and we were happy you were getting it.”

    Nice rememberance, I thought to myself. I then let it go, as I went back to my expectant waiting worship. After just a few minutes, I started quaking, and had an irresistible urge to share the story. In fact, I was so hesitant to share this humorous story, that something within me had to literally lift me to my feet to speak.

    I started by saying that I didn’t know why I was sharing this mundane story, but even though I didn’t want to, the Spirit was compelling me to do so.

    After the rise of meeting, a new visitor came up to me to share something astounding. She was sitting in an area where I could not see her during worship. She had fallen asleep, and upon awaking she said to herself how embarrassed she was, and wanted to just escape. The amazing thing was that I was compelled to give my message right at the point she awoke and felt embarrassed.

    Then a long time Friend came up to me and said that she hadn’t been to worship or committee meetings for awhile because she just needed a rest from all the responsibility. She interpreted my message as God telling her that Friends at meeting were glad she was getting a rest. It had removed, I suppose, some feelings of guilt for her.

    I’ve also had strong feelings before about who was going to speak and even the nature of what they were going to say. This has occurred only after I was literally consumed by the silent worship to the point where I lost my self.

    I have no doubt that the Spirit, embodied or not in Jesus, is literally active in the room as Friends worship. I have experienced it on numerous occasions.

    Even though I don’t like to talk about it, I too have seen something during quiet times of worship or meditation. I too wonder if it was just in my subconscious or minds eye. But these experiences seemed so real and have happened just two times or so in my life of 62 years. And it doesn’t really matter if they were “real” or not. They were what I needed at the time.

    Once when the meeting used an old, historic Baptist Church for our worship, I saw a semi-solid image of an old women come into the room and sit in the bench next to me. She bowed her head in worship as she joined the Friends who were present. I knew somehow that she was from the late 1800’s, and at that time had been very instrumental in the church. I knew that that church had been her life. And she was happy we were using it, because it had sat vacant for many years.

    On another occasion during my own silent worship in my home, I had an appearance of two men from the 1st century who said some meaningful and profound predictions to me related to my family situation that came true 10 years later. When I asked them if their appearance was real or just in my own mind, they laughed slightly at the question and one of them said to me, “Only you can answer that.”

    So I am fully convinced too that more is going on than we realize, and indeed we live surrounded by mystical happenings. God IS, and we can’t avoid him. And he will come through to us with just the smallest opening we provide. Most of the time it is through natural coincidences. However, if he has to use something supernatural he will use whatever form or spiritual being that might be meaningful to us at any given time.
    He only asks that we be open to his love and comfort.

    I’m trying to learn to just experience this grace, and not analyze it.

  • Thank you for taking the risk of sharing this experience, Steven. I’ve had similar experiences in meeting for worship. They have been pivotal points in my life, but I don’t often speak of them.

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