Imagined Christ, Real Christ (a report on extended worship at Gathering)

A long standing article of faith for me is that God cannot be captured by my imagination. The times when I have felt most uncertain about my faith in God were those times when I found myself imagining a God who seemed improbable, or who didn't act in the ways I thought God should. Or when I thought God's existence should be something readily demonstrable to everyone's satisfaction (particularly mine) and that simply did not seem to be the case.

But God does not need to meet any of the conditioned demands produced by my imagination. His presence is real enough, or knowably real enough, when I worship. Recently I attended the extended worship at the FGC Gathering. We worshipped in stillness for two hours daily, and then opened for discussion for an hour. I was astounded to learn that the second hour of worship was not merely a continuation of the first. It was qualitatively different, as if God were saying, "oh, so you've decided to stick around? Now I'll show you something!" The first hours helped me to get relaxed, settled, receptive for the "main event" in the second hours.

During one of those second hours I found an unexplored cavern, a place in my soul that had provided a source of survival and navigation through life, but where, as it came to me in worship, "love had not been." This was a quiet but highly significant revelation, as I instantly recognized this cavern as the source of too-familiar, longstanding spiritual and emotional difficulties.

During another I encountered, or strikingly experienced, what it might mean to say that Christ was "fully human and fully divine." This was the marriage of a "doctrinal" idea with actual experience: I felt it and knew it firsthand. And it was not merely an assertion about Christ, but a sense of what it meant when he said, "I in you and you in me." All this was a dramatic and firsthand confirmation of Fox's assertion that scripture would be opened to us when we are in the spirit which gave it forth. Coming back to "normal" worship with my meeting, I have found that the wheels set in motion at Gathering continue to turn.

A related aside: my standard for giving vocal ministry is not to do so as long as there is any question whether it is from God. I will not "decide" that this is the case, and will speak only when I find myself on my feet and already speaking! This occurred for the first time in many years after returning from Gathering.

I share this not to revel in a personal experience, but simply as testimony that in extended periods of stillness (a term I prefer over "silence"), Friends may indeed find the true Life and Power that early Friends encountered. I wonder how many of the too-human difficulties experienced by and among Friends might be effectively resolved were we to return to our tradition of extended worship? How might our meetings, our lives, and our witness to the world, be different?

Views: 29

Comment by Rosemary Gould on 8th mo. 7, 2010 at 8:50pm
What a wonderful post. Thank you!
Rosemary
Comment by Bill Samuel on 8th mo. 7, 2010 at 9:04pm
Thank you for this testimony. I also have had powerful experiences in extended meetings for worship - sometimes planned as extended and sometimes when the Spirit overrode the clock.
Comment by Robyn Josephs on 8th mo. 7, 2010 at 9:36pm
We should call an hour of worship, abbreviated worship. Sabbath is be for meeting and family. Let's make it 3 hours.
Comment by Forrest Curo on 8th mo. 7, 2010 at 10:28pm
Very grateful you had this experience and shared it!

And now I'm wondering, how can I convince others... except, perhaps to try being a one-person extended-worship worship-group in hopes of soaking up enough spirit to communicate the value and need to others!
Comment by Lola Georg on 9th mo. 29, 2010 at 9:50pm
I regularly attend extended worship for two hours, three hours, or sometimes more. And like David, I have found that the first hour is more about settling into the stillness and the second or third hour are more about divine messages. I have been so moved by extended worship, that we regularly have extended worship at my meeting once a month. Truly, this is an experience that transcends mere words.

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