What are Quakers trying to achieve when sitting together in silence? A Gathered Quaker Meeting is a particularly powerful experience.
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- Have you ever experienced a “Gathered” Meeting for Worship? What was the experience like?
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The potential for this worshiping experience that you’re going to be walking into, it’s one of the most inspiring things that I’ve ever witnessed and been part of, which I think is the reason I’m still Quaker with all the things that I struggle with. It’s that potential that keeps us there. But the potential is this thing that we call a “gathered” meeting or a “covered” meeting.
Quaker Meeting for Worship Pt 3: A Gathered Meeting
If I was to describe what a gathered Meeting is, I first need to talk about the purpose of Meeting for Worship.
It is human response to Divine initiative. But in a Quaker Meeting for Worship, it’s not individual meditation or individual prayer. It’s really a communal mystical experience. It’s an opportunity to experience for the group as a whole to encounter the divine presence in our midst.
So the gathered Meeting for worship describes a quality that might be achieved in a Meeting for Worship in which the body is gathered together. I imagine the arms of the holy spirit, the arms of God gathering us together.
A Gathered Meeting, in my experience, is one where all of our openness to the Spirit and therefore our availability to each other unites and there is a communion. There is literally a communion of Spirit in the room, and you can feel it. It feels as though the air gets thick and the silence has a quality about it that is very very different. It’s almost like you could cut it with a knife.
An Emerging Presence In the Room
For me, a Gathered Meeting is when we, as a community, are together, and very strongly feel the presence of God’s Spirit in the room.
We start to become more sensitive to the folks around us and their process and what they are going through. As that communication, that nonverbal communication, increases, there starts to be this emerging presence in the center of the room.
There’s also a tendering aspect of it, where the individual members become closer to one another as they are gathered up together closer to God.
There’s this feeling like you are not just you, that you are with and are, maybe, those other people, and the way that you start feeling that and experiencing that is that what is being shared, it’s like your own heart that’s being shared out loud. But you’re not even the one sharing it. And then you’re seeing—from the peoples’ reactions, maybe their face, maybe their body language—that it’s actually resonating with those around you too.
There comes this point where your will starts to bend in the direction of that presence. Up until that point, you feel like you’re in control and you’re the one that’s processing what’s going on and you’re the one that’s making decisions about the content of your mind or you’re making decisions about what your prayer looks like… but then something happens. Something shifts. Something emerges, that you’re not in control anymore and there’s just a gravity that you start to circle around.
It’s just an act of grace that we can all just fall into something that is effortless, that is not about any of the things that we do to try and make something happen in our worship experience or in our relationship with God—we just fall into the arms of God together.
Being Carried Into Something That Wasn’t There Before
I can feel a subtle vibration in my body and throughout the room and it’s deeply nourishing. Deeply, deeply nourishing and wonderful.
Maybe like you’re listening to really loud music and it’s kind of this vibrating, and everyone’s there feeling it. So that inspiration is being shared and it’s your heart and it’s out there. And then someone else will stand and it’s your heart again and it’s another level. And you guys are building this wisdom, this shared experience. You’ve come together and you’re being carried as one whole, forward into something that wasn’t there before.
And I don’t know why that happens sometimes or how it happens, but it’s a little like Alice into the rabbit hole. You just stumble on it and fall and you’re in something different that you didn’t know was there, which is a powerful thing to get to experience with a group of people.