What is the gathered meeting?

April 27, 2013 § 2 Comments

Toward a “Theology” for Liberal Friends, Part 7

The following is an excerpt from an article I wrote for New York Yearly Meeting’s newsletter Spark. The January 2013 issue was devoted to the gathered meeting and you can read all the articles on the gathered meeting in that issue here: Spark, January 2013. You can read my article in its entirety by clicking here: The Gathered Meeting.

We have two wonderful discussions of the gathered meeting in Quaker writings, that of Thomas Kelly in his classic little pamphlet of that title, and William Taber’s discussion in Four Doors Into Quaker Worship.

I would like to add my own observations and meditations, based on my own experience of the gathered meeting.

Several of the gathered meetings I’ve experienced have occurred during a meeting for worship with a concern for business, in moments when seemingly insurmountable obstacles to unity suddenly melted away and the body was able to go forward in joy, usually following some powerful vocal ministry.

In that moment, the worshippers are present to each other, aware of each other’s presence, and we share a unity of mind and spirit: we see our way forward together and the sharing fills us with a kind of joy. Joy—that is the hallmark of the corporate religious experience of gathering—a thrilling sense of knowledge, a bonding of the worshipers in a shared consciousness of presence, unity, and joy.

This shared consciousness, this meeting of the worshipers’ consciousnesses, this intimacy between our minds and our spirits, this being conscious of each other’s intention, creates a supra-consciousness—a living synergy of mind and spirit that is greater than the sum of our individual consciousnesses. This “greater-than-ness” suffuses us individuals with a fullness of mind, a fulfillment of spirit, and a transcendental joy.

In the gathered meeting, we are lifted up, and when we look around us, we see that others have been lifted up, as well. And we all know.

We know the truth, the truth of that moment, a momentary miniature of a transcendent truth that is deeper than what we are experiencing at the moment and yet one with it. Usually, this t/Truth comes through some inspired vocal ministry. When experienced in the meeting for business in worship, this vocal ministry gathers all the threads of seeking together into a bundle of greater truth that opens the way for the meeting into unity of purpose.

In the silence of a meeting for just worship, it can come as a cascade of increasingly powerful vocal ministries, in which each offering sinks us even deeper into that peace that passes all understanding.

In that moment, we also know each other. Not in some outward sense, but inwardly and psychically. We sense each other as present. We each know the truth of that moment, and somehow we also know that the others know! And they know that we know. And we know that they know that we know. We all have been gathered up into a cloud of all-knowing—not that we know all, but that we all know.

All this is real. We know that it is real because we have suddenly found ourselves in unity and in joy.

And yet it is transcendental. It transcends the senses, certainly, since no one has said or done anything to confirm its reality—we just know. It transcends usual consciousness. And it transcends individuality—it is a collective experience.

And this knowing of each other and of the Truth and the joy that comes with it—this is knowing God. Or, to turn the semantics around, the mystical collective knowledge of God is, for Friends, the concrete experience of being gathered, of being lifted up into the cloud of all-knowing in the gathered meeting for worship.

So I’ve brought God into the conversation again. In the next post I want to be more specific. I want to connect the gathered meeting to Jesus the Christ.


§ 2 Responses to What is the gathered meeting?

  • barbarakay1 says:

    willingness to ditch the agenda

  • treegestalt says:

    Meetings like you describe here — are, in my experience, most frequent in large gatherings or during extended programs — ie yearly meeting sessions etc where particularly spiritually-attuned individuals are probably present in unusual numbers & density, and where worshipful activities are happening more often and/or for longer periods than in our typical lives. We get a period in which we may be intensely aware that the Spirit is present and active… but then we return to normal mode, disperse to our accustomed lives, lose that awareness.

    Last year, there was a meeting for worship early in an all-day gathering, planned and intended to help clarify what the Meeting should become in our newly-finished meeting house. One woman shared a powerful message, several visitors were drawn to give messages of similar impact — As someone remarked, “This was a real Quaker meeting!” And then it dissipated. Few of those who remained for the rest of the day really wanted or could sustain that degree of openness; the planned activities that had been intended to promote spiritual connection, a sense of our proper direction, etc., fell flat as most of the group reverted to “figuring-out” mode.

    What is needed to help keep us, after touching the heights this way, from reverting to our “normal” wrong minds?

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