Virtual Worship III

May 29, 2020 § 3 Comments

Virtual worship—I take it back—again.

Looking forward to the first virtual meeting for worship hosted by my meeting, I wrote a blog post in which I said that I thought it would be worth doing but that it would really be a kind of group meditation, not a meeting for worship. I proposed calling it something like “Meeting for Virtual Community”.

Then, after that first Zoom worship, I took all that back. It was so great to see my Friends’ faces, hear each other’s voices. I felt such a strong sense of community.

But now I’ve attended a number of these meetings and I feel my original concern has been confirmed. These meetings are good, really good, in some ways. But I don’t think they really are worship, not in the deepest sense, anyway. In the sense that we are meeting at the same time to turn together toward the Spirit, we can call it worship. But in the sense that we are collectively turning toward the Spirit in our midst . . . about that I’m not so sure.

Or, to put it another way: I can’t imagine a virtual meeting for worship being gathered in the Spirit. Can you? How would you know it’s gathered? How would you “sense” the qualities that are such a blessing in a gathered meeting?

Thus—for me—if a virtual meeting cannot be a medium for a gathered meeting, it rather strains the meaning of meeting for worship. I want to dig deeper into this question in the next post by looking at the qualities of the gathered meeting. But here I want to explore the more mundane aspects of meeting virtually and how they impact the quality of worship.

The holy communion that we feel with God (however you would describe this Mystery Reality) and with each other in the gathered meeting seems to depend on the subtle perception of small signals working with a mysterious extra-sensory capacity for psychic connection.

Sound. Take the quality of the silence. It’s not really silent in the meeting room. People shuffle, a horn is heard outside, maybe birds in the summer. In the meeting room, we share this quiet ambient auditory environment. The vocal ministry carries through a room whose acoustics we all share.

By contrast, here in my study, I hear the annoying grinding of the timer we have on lights we have in the windows. I hear the horns and sirens of my neighborhood, and so on. You my fellow worshippers do not hear these things. Your vocal ministry comes through not quite in real time accompanied by the acoustics of the room you are in (though at least I can usually hear you). My local “silence” is my own, our shared “silence” is artificial and dead, until someone speaks. Then it is artificial and yet oddly immediate.

Sight. Then there’s the visual—on Zoom, a gallery of little faces that it is wonderful to see, but weirdly static. In our meeting’s meeting room, my vision becomes increasingly unfocused; the room itself dominates and most folks are far enough away not to see very well (Central Philadelphia Meeting is large and our room is large). I keep my eyes closed much of the time, but when I open them, I am still able to continue sinking into the Deep because it is relatively easy to “unfocus”.

On Zoom, I’m looking at a small screen—a short-range focus full of inviting images. I am tempted to look at face after face, and to zoom through the panels to see the other faces not displayed on the screen. This pulls me up and out, not down and deep. And each worshipper’s background is another inviting distraction. If I keep my eyes closed, I am in my study with my sounds and not with you.

Activity. Occasionally in the meeting room, someone gets up and leaves. And of course, there are always latecomers. (How I miss those latecomers now.) On screen, people move around, pop in and out. I pop in and out to answer my spouse or whatever. People eat and drink, which they would not do in the meeting room. We seem to feel free to mix our worship with other activities when sitting in our own homes and using an electronic device.

Smell. Who knows what role the shared but subtle odors of the meeting room play in our worship experience?

Auras. I have said before in my pamphlet on The Gathered Meeting and in this blog that I believe one of the mediums for the psychic dimension of the gathered meeting is the human aura and the entwining of auras in the meeting room. This is pure speculation. But presumably there is some medium that makes psychic experience possible, and whatever it is, I doubt that it works through the internet.

This gets to the heart of what we’re doing in worship—collective focus on the Mystery Reality behind our spiritual and religious experience—and its consummation in the gathered meeting. As I said above, I want to look at that in the next post.

Vocal ministry. But first a final word about vocal ministry. It seems to me that the vocal ministry in my meeting has gotten noticeably better since we’ve been meeting virtually. Fewer people speak. The messages seem more concise. And often they seem to come from a deeper place.

Why is this? Is it the gravity of the circumstances that are keeping us from each other? A heightened sense of our feelings for each other and the need to be of spiritual service? A paradoxical effect of the technology that makes our messages more immediate because we are speaking to faces rather than to a room, and we ourselves are so visible to our listeners? All of the above?

I would like to know whether my readers are having the same experience with the vocal ministry in their virtual meetings for worship.

§ 3 Responses to Virtual Worship III

  • Thecla Geraghty says:

    I agree with QuaCarol. I have felt the Power recently via Zoom,WhatsApp and telephone, with Friends and others. But I do find that my sense of connection is beginning to get a bit thinner as time goes on and think I would be better for at least a top-up of real presence

  • You’re right, Carol. However, if there is a God who is sentient, compassionate, and paying attention (to my meeting’s worship, for instance), and who is powerful enough to use the internet to gather us in (His?) Spirit—then I have a complaint.

    Why are you missing in action? Are you too busy bringing peace to the Middle East? Or waking up your evangelical believers to the corruption in the White House and the Senate and their own religious ideology? Or inventing new viruses?

    Either this God’s power is, in fact, quite limited (my own opinion—but purely speculation, of course, like most opinions about (Him?)), or (His?) character is seriously flawed (also a possibility—is he the same God who commanded Saul to utterly wipe out the Amalekites, man, woman, child, and beast?).

    My own experience of God is not of a sentient, autonomous, motivated, and acting-in-the-world Being defined in terms of power. And if I did experience a Being with such power, I suspect my nervous system would explode—unless of course (He?) decided to contact me without destroying me. I would welcome that. So far, I’m relatively content being an empirical mystic, basing my religious life on what I have actually experienced.

    And I take a phenomenological approach: Given the phenomenon of the gathered meeting, what best explains what’s going on? Any answer will, of course, be purely speculative, and therefore, perhaps, interesting, but not foundational to my faith. My experience is that gathered meetings happen, and they are mysterious in both their cause and their full character, but they prove that Something Is Happening that is transcendental, transformational, and full of love, gratitude, and joy.

    If I experience a gathered virtual meeting, I will adjust my speculations once again. But it seems unlikely to me that a Being who’s paying attention to the whole world would zoom in to Central Philadelphia Meeting’s meeting for worship, seize the internet, overcome the obstacles I describe in my posts, and exert the power of the Lord over all. If such a Being exists, then of course (He?) could do it. But if it happens, I suspect that (He?) will not wear a name tag and, after the joy has melted away and we begin to wonder, we will be left again to speculate about what just happened .

  • QuaCarol says:

    You seem to be putting limitations on the power of God, Steve.

    Why can’t the medium that makes psychic experience possible work through the internet? What’s your underlying assumption there?

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