The Gathered Meeting—A call to ministry?
May 31, 2013 § 11 Comments
Over the past several posts, and over the past several weeks, I have quite unexpectedly become obsessed with the gathered meeting. I have discovered that, for me at least, the gathered meeting is the quintessential Quaker experience—and the essential Quaker experience. Not only does it embody all that we have to offer the world and to our members and attenders, it also is really the essence of Quaker religion—direct communion with the divine, both for the individuals present and for the gathered body as a whole.
With all the other stuff I’ve been saying, it seems I may have been working my way to the realization that I am called to a ministry of—ignition, I guess I’ll call it, a ministry of speaking, teaching, and traveling in the service of the gathered meeting—helping Friends develop a spiritual practice of listening and deepening that will prepare them to bring a full bucket to the gathering, and helping meetings develop spiritual nurture programs and religious education programs that would prepare those meetings to be gathered.
Who cares, really, whether it is the Christ who gathers our meetings? I don’t think he cares whether we recognize him or not. What matters is that we find ourselves in the Presence, that we truly are transformed, as individuals and as communities, that we feel the joy of unity of purpose, that we are open to God’s opening, that we revel in the overflowing of the Spirit, within us and among us.
Who cares what the metaphysics behind the gathered meeting is? I mean I’m interested. I’m really interested. But that feeling is nothing compared to the feeling of being gathered itself! What I really care about is what concrete things we can do to make the gathered meeting more likely in our meetings—like showing up to meeting on time and sitting close together, two simple, mundane things that seem to really make a difference.
I am thirsty—spiritually hungry and thirsty. Most of the world is hungry and thirsty for the presence of God in their lives. But I have drunk from the well. And I know where the well is. Right here inside my chest; right here in this meeting room.
In the center of our worship is a well that goes deep down to the Source itself. And each of us comes with a bucket. We come for the water of life, but we come with a bucket. The bucket is our attention, and our intention. The bucket is our preparedness and dedication. The bucket is a mind and a body seasoned in the practice of silence and attentive waiting. Our bucket is our faith—our knowledge—that direct communion with the divine is not only possible, but our heritage and birthright as Friends.
So I can bring my bucket, hopefully a large and tight and seasoned bucket, to the well of living water waiting in my own devotional practice and in the Quaker meeting for worship. I can lower it down and know that it will come back up filled to the brim.
But this is the wrong image, really. I do not have a bucket so much as I am a siphon. If I drop my mindsoul into the well of living water and my mindsoul is already primed, already holding at least a little Spirit, then when I draw upon that inexhaustible well, the Spirit will begin pouring out and it will seek to fill all present with its cool refreshment, until it has floated all that is buoyant within us, until its light has illuminated all darkness.
But it doesn’t just happen. I must prepare. I must rededicate myself to my own spiritual seasoning, so that I do come to meeting already primed. And I must help to prepare my meeting. I have never experienced a gathered meeting in my meeting. I know that many of our members and attenders have not either. Some do not even know what I’m talking about.
But my meeting has one of the two essential prerequisites—love. We really care for each other. We have great joy in each other’s beings. All we need is a little faith and knowledge that this glory is waiting for us, and a critical mass of Friends whose own inner lives are deep enough to reach the well with some regularity.
For this is our great gift to the world—direct experience of God. And writing about the gathered meeting has given me a mission—to evangelize this gift and to work to make it a much more common occurrence.