As I was walking out of the meetingroom this past First Day, I approached a Friend whom I have not seen at worship for several years. It was a Friend I had met only a few times before she had stopped attending, so I didn't expect to get involved in any sort of deep conversation.
It may have been a New Year's resolution on her and her partner's part to return to worship more regularly, and she expressed that it felt good to be among Friends again. She asked if I came regularly to that particular meeting for worship, and I answered yes, a couple of times a month, in addition to attending the worship group that's been around for a few years.
The Friend asked me how that was going and how large a group it was. When I told her we were rather small--but still growing--she joked that perhaps it was "worship for introverts." I laughed too, but then I added:
Actually, we've had someone come once who said the worship group wasn't for her because it was so intimate, and she felt she couldn't be anonymous there. I think it's not so much about being introverts as much as it is that, as a worship group, we are very much about seeing one another and about being seen, by God.Spiritual intimacy can be the result of worship experiences that are grounded in corporate seeking as well as in sharing what our understanding is of how we are being called to serve and what we are wrestling with, both as individuals and as faith communities.
But spiritual intimacy must not be taken for granted. Our meetings and worship groups must be intentional about creating and safeguarding opportunities where we can ask one another how our relationship with the Divine is going; what we are wrestling with; where and how we are finding spiritual nurture. When those opportunities are reduced or dropped altogether in the place of social exchanges, peace rallies, and committee meetings, the foundation of our covenant community can begin to crumble.
Even our potlucks can undermine the knitting together of our covenant communities, if the meals morph into solely having a good time without discovering how it is within one another's souls and how we are faring with living into our measure of Light.
What's more, as new families and new attenders arrive at our meetings, they typically will pick up on how the rest of us engage with each other outside of worship: Do we talk about our Quakerism? Do we talk about our children? Do we talk about our week at the office?
If we restrict to waiting worship our reflection and expression of our spiritual encounters with the Divine, and if we dedicate our post-worship time to peace-and-justice announcements and activities, is it no wonder that those who are new to Friends come to see our meetings for worship as a place where what matters isn't so much about God in our lives as it is about having the hour of "silence" together, followed by the activities that encourage our apparent shared values?
Not that that's a bad thing; just that there is more to being a Friend than being able to sit in silence and then "go invisible" afterwards. There is the journey of learning to be obedient to the Spirit, and the acceptance of the very real possibility that at any moment, we can be changed, we can be transformed by the Light that shines within us.
OTHER POSTS in the series on Spiritual intimacy:
The next post (part II)
The post after that one (part III)
Members One of Another, by Thomas Gates.