19 October 2011

The Gathered Meeting

I remember the first time I encountered "The Gathered Meeting," Thomas Kelly's eloquent description of a meeting for worship that comes under the plenary, conscious sway of the Holy Spirit. The small pamphlet, now available online and as a chapter in Kelly's The Eternal Promise, was distributed as a gentle form of eldering, if I remember correctly, at the 1975 Friends Conference on Religion and Psychology at Haverford College.

As a new member of Ottawa Meeting in Canada, I had come to the conference on the invitation of the editor of the Canadian Friend, Elizabeth Oxlade, who was well-acquainted with this annual event. Apparently at one plenary session the discussion got somewhat out of hand, because the next morning this pamphlet was distributed to remind us of our spiritual grounding. With all the Jungian and Zen and Teilhard de Chardin references flying about the conferences, I remember feeling grateful for a little confirmation that we had not entirely left the Quaker orbit! But most of all, I loved this little pamphlet for its passionate testimony to the reality of whole-group encounter with God. In those years, cultivation of our individual spiritual capacities was all the rage (sometimes with the implication that the spiritual practices of distant cultures must be not just instructive for us, but definitely superior to anything in the Christian garden). But in the gathered Friends meeting, our individual experience is secondary:
And we know not only that we stand erect in the Holy Presence but also that others sitting with us are experiencing the same exaltation and access of power. We may not know these our neighbors in any outwardly intimate sense, but we now know them, as it were from within, and they know us in the same way, as souls now alive in the same areas and as blended into the body of Christ, which is His church.
Evidence of this extraordinary unity can occasionally be dramatic:
John Hughes once told of two Friends sitting side by side in such a gathered meeting. The secret currents of worship flowed with power and then encountered a check. One man moved nervously but did not rise to his feet. Finally the other Friend arose and spoke a few words of searching power, and the meeting proceeded in a sense of covering. After the meeting had broken the man who had spoken nudged his silent neighbor and said “Next time, Henry, say it thyself”.
But as Kelly goes on to consider common features and helpful disciplines of gathered meetings, he doesn't want us to be overly diverted by such "striking side-phenomena" but to stay with the main point: the encounter, however intense or diffuse, of our community with the One who gathers us.

It may not have risen to the level of "striking," but I vividly remember an Easter Sunday at Ottawa Meeting during which nobody at all spoke, and when the meeting was ending, it seemed that many of us had joyful tears in our eyes. In pastoral meetings, I remember times when the pastor completely abandoned the sermon because it became clear in the gathering silence that the Holy Spirit was moving among the people and assembling quite another sermon. And another 35-year flashback: in one of my first visits to Philadelphia, I noticed a posting for a Fifth-day morning meeting at one of the downtown meetinghouses. I wandered in and found two middle-aged men sitting in silence in different parts of the large room. For a beautiful little segment of eternity (fifteen minutes? an hour? I couldn't tell), I sat there, feeling encompassed by the love flowing around and between those two men. By their speech and appearance, I guessed that these men had very different careers and life journeys, but I caught the sense that this weekly communion gave a unity that went way beyond what any sort of social similarity could offer.

Tomorrow Judy and I leave for Kremenchuk, Ukraine, for a gathering of Russian-speaking Friends from seven countries. One of the organizers, Sasha Gorbenko, came to me a few weeks ago and asked me to prepare a talk on this good essay he had been thinking about.... Yes, it was "The Gathered Meeting." Just as I was despairing at my ability to do justice to the assignment, last night's e-mail brought a draft translation of Kelly's words into Russian, by Natasha Zhuravenkova of the Friends House Moscow staff--a true labor of love that gave me new hope. So that's what we're up to this weekend. I'm not asking for "striking side-phenomena," just a tender-hearted discussion of how Kelly's description of the features and disciplines of a gathered meeting might apply--or adapt--in Russian-speaking contexts, and how we can claim, with integrity, the unity that Kelly describes.



"Women's hearts are sometimes sore."
On the one hand, we read that we are God’s children, just like our brothers, and that the Holy Spirit dwells in us, just like our brothers, and our hearts rise to the challenge and joy of bearing public witness to the love of God, and then we find that we are not allowed by the traditions of the church. We suffer in between the “yes” of God and the “no” of our religious culture.
Al Aqaba, Palestine. "I've been a journalist all my life. I think this is a pretty good story."

There's no place like poem. (This obscure tag is NOT Nancy's fault!)

Rachel Stacy walks cheerfully into Turkey and Iraq with Christian Peacemaker Teams.

"I am a Pentecostal pastor. I am very well aware of my background. I like signs and wonders, but I love justice more." Thanks to Brian McLaren for the reference.

A beautiful tribute gallery from Yaroslavl's ceremonies honoring their fallen ice hockey team Lokomotiv.

Lots of missiological gems, some downloadable, in this bibliography/sampler from the "Reading the Bible Missionally" module of Redcliffe College's MA in Bible and Missions.

"Learning to Pray"--an interview with Pete Greig.

Evgeny Morozov: "Five Books" on the philosophy of technology.

More on "Occupy"--orderly civil disobedience vs "the chaos seems to work." (Thanks to Stephen Dotson via "Occupy, Quakers!" on Facebook.)



Lightnin' Hopkins had a great blend of musicianship and attitude:


9 comments:

Marshall Massey (Iowa YM [C]) said...

Thank you for posting about this subject (the gathered meeting)! It always does my heart good when a Friend returns to the basics this way —

Nancy Thomas said...

"There's no place like poem." I love it! Thank you for this post. I've been looking for a copy of The Eternal Promise. I've never read it.

Johan said...

Hello to you both, Marshall and Nancy, from the Russian-speaking Friends gathering in Kremenchuk. In a few hours, I have to give my reflections on Kelly's work. Still polishing it up....

Thanks for your kind words!

Bill Samuel said...

Kelly's words express amazing truth.

I am wondering about the ability to have a gathered meeting for worship when those gathered are not physically in the same place, and not even simultaneously electronically connected.

I am particularly thinking about this in connection with how to offer spiritual support to a Friend from Ethiopia who is currently a refugee in Djiboouti.

Anyone with insight on this, or who feels led to be in contact with this Friend, can contact me at billsamuel[at]verizon.net.

Jeremy Mott said...

Thomas Kelly's words do express amazing truth. Obviously, he was inspired when he wrote. I wonder how many experienced Friends, like me, have never read this piece before, at least not all the way through.

I can't offer any help to Bill Samuel for the problem that he raised. However, I do ask him to pass along my prayer to the Friend.

Love, Jeremy Mott

Robin M. said...

Dear Johan,

Having just returned from travel among Aymara speaking Friends in Peru & Bolivia, I am more tender than usual to the need to have the best Quaker writing available in the native languages of Friends. So much good work, hard work to be done. And I am looking for ways to better keep track of all the translations that are done so as not to have to repeat work that has already been done. I would welcome your suggestions and prayers.

Robin Mohr

Bill Samuel said...

To Robin's comment, I know effort has gone into Spanish translation, but my understanding is that the majority of Latin American population has a native language as their heart language, not Spanish. Is that right?

Bill Samuel said...

I meant to say Latin American *Friends* - I was speaking of them not the population in general.

Jeremy Mott said...

In Bolivia, Bill, and in Peru, the native language of almost all Friends is Aymara. For a few, the native language is Quechua or Spanish (still ethnic Aymara, of
course). Aymara Friends do a great deal of work translating from
Spanish to Aymara. Some of their university students, often supported by Bolivian Quaker Education Fund, major in linguistics, which in Bolivia means Aymara, Quechua, Spanish, and English (sometimes Portuguese as well).
In Guatemala the situation is quite different. Many people there speak Mayan languages, but almost all Friends there speak Spanish.
So, except for Brazil, which at pressent has almost no Friends, knowledge of Spanish almost completely covers the language needs of Friends. (Remember that any Aymara-speaking Friend with even a primary-school education will know Spanish.)
This makes life convenient for Friends---just two languages, English and Spanish, for our hemispehre.
Peace, Jeremy Mott