January 9, 2007

Spiritual intimacy

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.


Tania said...

Thank you for this. It's taken me a while to figure out what's been bothering me about my Meeting, and your post finally made me realize what it was.

Liz Opp said...

Hey, Tania--

I'm glad this post has helped you in some way. I truly believe that naming a dynamic is an important step in beginning to understand it and then address it.


RichardM said...


You are right on target about how a healthy meeting will be a place where people feel free to talk about their spiritual lives. This is more likely to happen in small meetings or in small "meetings within the meeting" in larger meetings. We should be ready to answer the question "How does Truth prosper among you?" and without this intimate knowledge of each other we couldn't answer. To keep an eye on the spiritual life of the meeting was and to some extent still is the responsibility of the elders. (Yes, we're back to that topic!) In our YM we expect the Clerk to write a State of Society report which tells the YM as a whole how that MM is doing spiritually. Sometimes Clerks cop-out and just write a list of activities the meeting engaged in. When I do the report I do it off the cuff and just speak from what I know. We also have a body of Ministers, Elders and Overseers which is supposed to especially responsible for just this sort of oversight. At the moment I've been feeling a kind of push in the direction of lighting a fire under our MEO to get them to really focus hard on monitoring and reporting on the real spiritual dynamic of the monthly meetings. I'm not sure about this leading yet and Way doesn't seem to be opening on it since I will miss MEO due to summer teaching as things now stand. But your post is feeding that feeling in me right now.

Liz Opp said...

Richard M,

Your comment touches something deep in me, and I am too tired and too focused elsewhere right now to delve into it.

That aside, when I re-read your comment, I want to caution you to take the time to "be cool in thy own mind" and to speak and act out of that grounded, "cool" place to be certain it is the Spirit guiding you and not your own emotions. Perhaps that is what you mean by writing, "I'm not sure about this leading yet..."? And perhaps the "push" to "light a fire" comes from the fact that the Way does seem shut for now--I know how I feel when I come upon a closed door that is in MY path.

But I wouldn't be surprised if I'm lifting up for you something you already regularly consider for yourself. My apologies if I come off sounding pedantic or patronizing. I'm really just relating to you right now, and need to take to my own heart the counsel I offer here and elsewhere...


P.S. How can I reach you by email? There may be something bubbling up that will best be tended to "offline." I can be reached at lizopp AT gmail DOT com.

Robin M. said...

All right, I had a long and eloquent comment about how some folks in our meeting have been hurt by society and for whom privacy is more important than spiritual intimacy but that I cherish my sense of being known and loved in my meeting and hope my children one day are conscious of the same thing.

But it didn't go through and so now I'm just writing really fast to see if it will stick.