Tuesday, July 2, 2013

The Need for Intimacy in Quaker Worship

I wrote this piece for The Canadian Friend Summer Youth Issue, which is being mailed to Friends across Canada and beyond this week. 

Do we know our fellow worshippers? Do we know the people with whom we are filling Christ's request for His presence in the Book of Matthew chapter 18? Christ says in 18:20, " For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them"

The Canadian Friend Summer Issue Cover
Often our monthly meetings do not function as a close caring group of Friends. I attended a large meeting for well over a year and one day during worship I looked around the room to count the names of people who were there. Even though I attended regularly and was active in organizing the Young Adult Friends, I was embarrassed that I only knew half of the names of the people gathered that day. After attending another Meeting regularly for six months, I was called by a member of the Outreach committee and was asked if I was still attending worship. Even though I have a more positive experience with this particular monthly meeting and had knew most of the community, I had never met the caller. Furthermore when I asked the clerk of the meeting if she could point out the person, she could not recall who this woman was.

Recently, I read an article in Friends Journal recommending that the Religious Society of Friends talk about having a testimony of intimacy. I agree with the need to talk about intimacy in our community, but this Friend referred only to sexual intimacy.

I utterly reject using intimacy to mean only romantic relationships. By relegating this word to just mean one kind of relationships, to mean just one of its definitions, we are losing a valuable aspect of our community. When worshipping together was considered a criminal act, early Quakers know what being intimate with each other meant. Then during our Society's isolationist period - in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries - when Quakers lived in their own communities away from others, they knew each other and set up ways to monitor each other. This is why we have traveling minutes and marriage certificates. Both of these traditions were introduce partly as ways to watch over people to make sure that our collective faith stayed pure. Friends were definitely involved with each other in an intimate manner.

I am definitely not arguing that we go back to our isolationist period, but our spiritual ancestors definitely knew who they worship with every First Day. Do we? Can you name everyone in Meeting on Sunday? If so, do you know what their recent struggles and triumphs are?

Quakers do not believe in outward forms of sacraments. Rather, we believe in sharing the holy communion inwardly with each other. Through waiting worship should be offering each other the proverbial bread and wine. It is a communal experience. If it isn't, why do we gather each week? Why pay for the upkeep of our Meeting Houses? Instead we could just stay at home and mediate alone. Sharing God's body with fellow worshippers each Sunday is an intimate act. Do we treat each meeting for worship as a sacred time? Do we come to meeting for worship expecting to be changed through this weekly time for sharing inward sacraments with each other?

One of my favorite meeting for worships happened in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy that hit the eastern coast of the US last October. The Sunday after Sandy hit, the Meeting House was still without electricity. Yet we gathered on a rather cold morning. We huddled together around the fireplace for an hour of waiting worship. Our bodies were touching as well as our souls as we gathered in God's presence. That day, I felt a part of this worshipping community in a whole new way.

By the next Sunday, the electricity to the Meeting House was restored and we returned to our usual seating pattern spread throughout the room, with two or three on a pew, instead of a dozen. The only people who sat close together were couples and families. Months later I still miss the intimacy I felt that one cold Sunday morning as we huddle together simultaneously seeking the warmth of the fire and the Holy Spirit.

How can we reclaim intimacy within our faith community, before we just become strangers who gather together for personal time of mediation?

1 comment:

  1. What a great question/query. In our small meeting we do all know each other rather well, but even we need to have intentional times of sharing to keep each other 'in the loop.' I wonder if larger meetings consider how to have any intentional times of sharing.