The gathered meeting and Jesus the Christ—some questions
July 5, 2013 § 24 Comments
A couple of commenters a while back raised the question of why I have focused so much on the Christ as the gatherer of the gathered meeting. The answer is that I don’t really know why. Or rather, that this is the direction in which I’ve been led, all unexpected. I have not been systematic in my approach to this series. Rather, I have been following trains of thought and publishing them when they seemed seasoned enough.
I have explored ways in which I feel that the consciousness of the gathered meeting corresponds to the glimpses we get in Christian scripture of the consciousness of the Christ, which has led me to speculate about the Christ as consciousness. In this regard, I can say that I believe we are “gathered in Christ” when we find ourselves in the gathered meeting, though I have not directly experienced Christ in that way.
So Friends in all ages have said of the gathered meeting, that they were “gathered in Christ”. But how exactly does the Christ “gather” a meeting? On the surface, this looks like a question that can only lead to what early Friends called “notions”, airy speculation that is, at best, only a shadow of the truth. But for theistic Friends, for whom this talk of consciousness misses the point, that Jesus the Christ is a distinct divine person active in the world and in our lives and in our meetings and capable of relationship, not some vague “consciousness”, then the question of how Christ gathers a meeting seems to me more than just a diversion.
Presumably, if he exists (and I believe he does) and he is present in the meeting, and the worshippers sense his presence, then some kind of “hub and spoke” connection gets made between the Christ and the individual worshippers. But what about the “rim”? How does the presence of the Christ enable the worshippers to sense each other in a gathered meeting? For this is one of the signature characteristics of the gathered meeting.
The answer might be that the Christ acts as a conduit for communication between worshippers, that our consciousnesses flow through the Christ as the hub of a wheel, as it were, and then on out to the other worshippers along the “rim”, to whom he is present also. To use a cybernetic analogy, we communicate with each other through the Christ much as computers communicate with each other through the server in a computer network.
The Christ consciousness serves the worshipping community as the medium through which we become spiritually present to each other. (I am tempted to explore John 15 along these lines: “I am the vine, you are the branches”; or John 14: “I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.”)
But I have reverted to my consciousness language again. This, as I said, may not satisfy the more theistic Friends among us, who, I suspect, focus more on communion with Christ than they do on communion with each other. They may have no such speculative and metaphysical approach to a “Christ consciousness” in the gathered meeting, but are satisfied simply to say that Christ gathers us and leave it at that.
I think I feel encouraged to pursue this consciousness angle because I have no direct experience of the Christ as the gatherer of the gathered meetings I’ve experienced. Moreover, I am hungry for more; the gathered meeting is all too rare among us these days. So I am seeking for ways to improve our chances of being gathered. I am looking for elements of both faith and practice that might foster the gathered meeting.
And I suspect that Christ is one of the key factors of faith. I can hear my Christian readers saying to themselves, no, Christ is THE key, the indispensable factor. But isn’t this just a confession of faith? Where is the evidence? Are there not gathered meetings in which no one experiences the Christ? Certainly, one does not have to believe in a divine Jesus Christ to experience the gathered meeting. So, in terms of actual experience, it’s not clear that a traditional faith in Christ is necessary. But that doesn’t mean that the Christ isn’t necessary.
In fact, I am inclined to agree that Christ is key. As I have said, I believe that Jesus the Christ actually exists, though I have not experienced him as such myself. Thus my own experience leads me to relax and expand my understanding of who and what the Christ is to explain what actually happens. This exploration of consciousness is part of my effort to do that.
I guess I’m evangelizing a new way to think about Christ. How did I end up here?