The gathered meeting—energy, presence, knowledge, and joy

June 26, 2013 § 4 Comments

Whatever else the gathered meeting is, it is an extraordinary consciousness. In my experience, this consciousness is one of energy, presence, knowledge, and joy.

The gathered meeting is exciting, thrilling, even, not just psychically or emotionally, but often physically, as well. In the gathered meeting, my body has felt charged, as though my whole nervous system was lit up. My head, especially, has felt like it was somehow pressurized, as though it wanted to burst, though not in a painful way. I have quaked.

The sense of presence has been very strong, but oddly generalized most of the time. I could sense the presence of the other worshippers quite palpably, but not usually the presence of any specific person in the room. There sometimes have been moments, though, when I did become more fully aware of individuals, but this hasn’t lasted very long.

And there was something else, too, a power or depth to the sense of the presence of the other worshippers. I am tempted to call it a synergy of the consciousnesses of the worshippers, a consciousness of the meeting, but that’s getting too specific about what is really just too mysterious to properly describe. All I know is that there is an extra aspect of power and depth that accompanies the sense of presence in the gathered meeting. I call it the Holy Spirit, as a way of saying that I sensed the presence of G*d, not as a discreet psychic entity with a personality, as we usually think of Jesus, and certainly not as a Supreme Being, as many people conceive of God, but rather more “generalized”, as a beatific energy and consciousness.

The gathered meeting brings “knowledge”, also, but like the sense of presence, this knowledge is indistinct, at least when the gathering happens in a regular meeting for worship. It doesn’t feel the way holding the knowledge of a fact in your mind does. It feels more like an extended sensation of discovery, the way you feel when suddenly something comes clear to you when reading a book, for instance, when you know you have just learned one of those things that will change the way you look at the world. You’ve had that experience of reading a book that opens you up. . . . It’s a special kind of “aha”, a discovery that carries a special sense of thrill and depth and significance.

For me personally, it resembles very closely the way I feel when I have a breakthrough in my Bible study and some puzzle or mystery comes clear. This has happened to me quite often, and some of these moments have remained with me quite vividly. It’s thrilling, that feeling: it swells your heart. It makes me eager to go find someone and tell them what I have just discovered. And it lasts for a while, minutes, sometimes many minutes. And it flashes back sometimes when I recall it, or especially, when I do eventually tell someone about it.

Yes, the knowledge that comes with the gathered meeting feels like that. But, unlike a discovery in Bible study, there isn’t any content to it. Just the feeling of knowing something important.

Unless we’re talking about a gathered meeting for business in worship. The gathered meeting for business in worship carries the same energy and sense of deep presence, but the knowledge is specific, intelligible, and capable of articulation. After struggling, perhaps, to find unity, maybe even in the face of deep divisions, suddenly the body knows what its decision is. Perhaps some powerful vocal ministry has drawn the Truth up from the Well in our midst and the meeting, upon recognizing it, suddenly precipitates into unity. The clerk or the recording clerk presents a minute and everyone acclaims their approval with extra enthusiasm, knowing that at last, they know the way, for it lies open before them.

Each of these aspects of the gathered meeting—energy, presence, and knowledge—inspire joy. The psychic and physical thrill are joyous. The sense of presence—of each other’s presence and the deeper something extra—gladden the heart, awakening a unique kind of love for each other and for G*d. And the knowledge, too, is deeply satisfying—to know that you have found something holy, that is, whole-making, however ineffable, or that, in doing G*d’s business, you share in the community’s communion of unity.

What a blessing the gathered meeting is.

§ 4 Responses to The gathered meeting—energy, presence, knowledge, and joy

  • Howard says:

    Thank you Steven for this “testimony” of your experience in a gathered meeting. If I was as articulate as you, I would have almost used the exact same words to describe my experience of gathered worship.

    We liberal Friends need to be willing to share more about this experience during worship that mirrors the outpouring of the Holy Spirit that occurred upon early Christians during their gatherings.

  • treegestalt says:

    “Certainly not as a Supreme Being…”? What, it tells you “Ain’t no Supreme Beings around here!”? It sounds like you get a more intense Woomph! out of these occasions than I normally do… but are you really sure that what’s behind it can’t be, also, what people before us have simply called “God”? — or are you merely saying that you don’t find such descriptions credible therefore & don’t think they apply?

    • In keeping with my experience-based, or “evidence-based” if you will, approach to “theology”, I just don’t want to presume what lies beyond what I experience. I can speculate, and I do, but I try to keep that in its proper perspective—merely my own ideas.

      Meanwhile, I don’t think that conceiving God as a Supreme Being has any value. A being that is absolute on all channels—omni-present, omniscient, perfectly good, all-powerful (this is the one that seems to matter most to people), etc.—is by definition unknowable. Therefore irrelevant.

      Maybe such a being exists. How would I know? Why would I care?

      If you did experience such a being, you would explode into spiritual sub-atomic particles instantaneously. No way a human nervous system could absorb absolute power and attention. Oh, I suppose an absolutely powerful deity could downscale enough for me to experience, but then it wouldn’t be absolute anymore, in any meaningful terms, would it? Anyway, that’s Jesus’ job—and that of all the other avatars that have arisen to teach us.

      Anything anybody says about an absolute god is pure speculation. There’s no such being even in the Bible.

      What “God” actually is for me is a subject for another post. Or, more likely, a whole bunch of posts.

      • treegestalt says:

        How about “Seems to be larger than a breadbox”? Not limited by anything we can imagine, constrained only by its own nature and form? “Infinite” means simply not-finite — or in this case not even quantitative…

        If you’ve encountered the mind/heart of the universe, you can conceive of it as “like” your own, or “unlike” your own — because both descriptions can apply, depending on which features of it concern you at the moment. If you haven’t — You can talk about one person’s abstraction or another’s and be amused at whatever logical hash this conveys to your mind, but “God is not a concept of God.” The creative intelligence at the core of all existence makes itself compassionately accessable — not as some sort of philosophical sideshow freak, but as the life that (among other things) is experiencing our ‘experiences.’

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