I just wanted to pass on some thoughts from the last couple of weeks which have been a real highlight for me.Among the most powerful words in this letter were "'silos' of isolation." It's sad but probably not uncommon for many of us to come to worship encased in a "silo" of privacy and autonomy; I've done it myself. Is there anything that participants in the meeting might--can--should do to break through?
Last two Sundays I've been in two different Friends meetings hundreds of mile apart, yet closely resembling each other. Here's the scene: I'm attuned to the strong presence of the Holy Spirit as I'm watching a few dozen people make their way forward 'down' to the front. People are crying, people are bowed down- some are prostate, some are standing with both hands lifted high- tears running down their faces. Then I see others come forward laying on hands, surrounding, nurturing, supporting- being present.
Come to find out that most of those coming forward are not new Christians, or even Christians who are returning from lean spiritual years away from God, they are mostly committed Christians coming forward to pour out their hearts in front of Jesus- begging and pleading-asking Jesus for help, for encouragement, for healing.
I'm especially moved in my spirit as I see people ministering to each other- not judging, not condemning, not speculating, only loving, only caring. This is the stuff of healing that Jesus brings. The environment is one of humility, brokenness, desire, passion, and unconditional love. The air is thick with it and it's raining down all around. Everyone broken and hungry for a touch from Jesus, and He is there comforting, teaching, and healing.
Many times I think we are reserved in making 'call down' invitations during our times for meeting. We might think or assume that everyone present is mostly saved, so why make the space for inviting people to come 'down' for salvation. Other times we might also be concerned about promoting emotionalism', to which I would say that human beings are emotional creatures and we need emotional stimulus--not just intellectual stimulus.
I believe that although Jesus is always present 'save', He is also present to 'heal'. I'm convinced that the sweet healing power of Jesus can be found in a 'called down' community where we gather, weep, praise, nurture, re-commit, confess, and bask in the Present Love.
I know that it's hard for folks to receive that sense of the sweet healing presence of Jesus during the weekly meeting from their places out in their seats, which can sometimes become 'silos' of isolation. Spiritual interaction can happen from there, but will typically grow cold if the kindling of 'invitation-to-come-down' is not thrown on the embers.
Two meetings, hundreds of miles apart, the fruit of the Spirit in full display- it can't be coincidence. I sense that is has to do with humble, authentic environment. Every meeting Jesus is present to save, but He is also present to heal.
Gar refers to the tradition in many Friends yearly meetings of inviting people, as they feel led, to come to the front of the meeting room for a time of focused prayer. A pastor or another minister of the meeting might pray for these people--who might be experiencing the joy or agony or inner turmoil of a conversion, or a recommitment, even a need for healing. Or they might simply pray for each other. I've seen times when the rest of the congregation surrounds and prays for those who came forward. Sometimes tears flow freely. Sometimes forgiveness happens. My point is that someone feels authorized, whether by local practice or by the movement of the Spirit, or both, to invite people out of their individual experiences into a community immersion--even a baptism--in the Holy Spirit.
Other Friends meetings, both programmed and unprogrammed, have never experienced the like, or maybe the practice stopped several generations ago. Of those meetings, I suppose some are sure they never will have such an experience. Why be so sure?
(An architectural aside: for Friends who meet in a hollow square or a circle, is there a place to invite people to come "forward" or "down" to? I suppose that, when it happens, the place will be obvious.)
We Quakers have learned to get along with a minimum of ecclesiastical apparatus. I'd like to believe that we've chosen this low-overhead approach because we cherish the immediacy of the Holy Spirit's presence. In place of hierarchies and procedures, have we sometimes substituted our own prejudices, certainties, and fears? Or, to put it more positively, when we gather to worship, are we available for whatever the Spirit might ask of us, even if it doesn't fit the established culture of our meeting? Am I willing to respond honestly if a minister invites me "down" for prayer or healing, and, deep inside, I know I desperately need it, and am called to be public about that need? What if my willingness to respond is really important to assure someone else even more timid than me that the sky won't fall in? And (scariest of all!), what if I am the one being led to invite others to get out of their seats and gather for prayer?
I'm honestly not too worried about undue emotionalism and manipulation. Most Friends meetings I know, whatever their labels ("liberal," "evangelical," "holiness," "conservative," and so on), are deeply allergic to theatricality. I doubt we're in any danger of adopting compulsory cheerfulness or any other form of on-cue behavior. Although George Fox warned us in no uncertain terms against quenching the spirit (see the quotation in my "religious behavior" post here), he and other early Friends also laid great stress on lowliness, self-examination, rootedness in Christ, and Gospel order. Look here for a great example from Margaret Fell. But here's the thing: if some other Christians seem tempted to fake inspiration, are we sometimes faking our lowliness? And does our studied diffidence serve to keep our doors closed to others who yearn as much as we do for Quaker simplicity and peace, but whose emotions are just closer to the surface than a stereotypical Friend's? I want to throw those doors open, because we need the freedom that we claim and they might just have!
Robin M. addressed some related themes in this post from a couple of years ago. Read the comments, too. My comments there included a link to this helpful issue (PDF) of the North Carolina Yearly Meeting (Conservative) journal.
Here's an NGO training/game Web site I heard about at a recent meeting at Friends House Moscow: World of Grassroots.
"Accommodationist and Proud Of It"--also see the discussion questions after the article itself.
On Stalin's image inside and outside Russia, according to Russians. (And this report from a government-linked news service: Stalin portraits won't be hung in Moscow on Victory Day, after all.)
When should a Christian leader say "I don't care"?
Goshen College and the "Star Spangled Banner," together for the first time.
Remembering Oscar Romero.
Otis Spann in a Muddy Waters concert, "Cold Feeling Blues." This is a repeat, but I think the original link is gone. I never need an excuse to honor a man whose music I've loved for forty years, Otis Spann ....
Cold Feeling Blues - Otis Spann and Muddy Waters Band
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