Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Worshipping Among Conservative Friends

Ceal and I visited the 309th Annual Gathering of the North Carolina Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends Conservative last week, and it was a wonderful, liberating experience. So many of my conversations with Friends revolved around either our personal spiritual lives, or the spiritual lives of our meetings. I found the Meetings for Worship to be very enriching and refreshingly devoid of political messages, and the Meetings for Worship with attention to business were also enriching. As one would hope with any gathering of Friends, it was a beautiful group of loving, welcoming, and nurturing people who made me feel at home immediately.

The thing I found liberating is that we all were speaking roughly the same language, so we could all speak openly about our experience in a deep way, instead of trying to translate it into vague, generic terms. We were able to sidestep all the discussion about tribalism, and "how do you define Quakerism" and discuss our life in the Spirit. After reading some of the comments about the gathering of Convergent Friends, I suspect many people had a similar experience there. LizOpp said this about the Convergent Friends gathering:

Convergent Friends seem to hone one other. We connect with one another around our common hunger and desire to delve more deeply into Quakerism, and the commonality is what carries us into the life of the Spirit, into the Stream. We move beyond words, beyond judgment...

The part about "hone one [an]other" really resonated with me, because I felt that so strongly at NCYM-C. That's really a key function of the community. That's why there are advices and queries, and why the NC conservative meetings labor to answer one of the queries as a community at every business meeting, and then read those answers at the yearly meeting. It is part of the process of honing.

I'm not saying that I think that liberal Friends need to become conservative Friends, but it does point out to me something that I think liberal Friends need to at least acknowledge: The more diverse people are in their spiritual experiences, the more difficult it is to convey them to other people in a deep, meaningful way.

I think the reason you see people coming to a Convergent Friends gathering and suddenly being excited and liberated while talking about Christ is because they have suddenly found a place where they can just let go and not worry about offending someone because they have different beliefs. If those conversations are anything like the ones I had at NCYM-C, they have absolutely nothing to do with excluding people or suggesting that other people's beliefs are somehow wrong. They have everything to do with trying to be a faithful servant to God.

It is much easier to just label these as tribal, or exclusive, or say that they really don't understand anything about Jesus, than it is to admit that they are excited because they have found something that had been missing from their spiritual life.


  1. For those of us who don't already know what Convergent Friends are or where to find them, could we have a link or reference?

  2. Mark,

    Meeting you and your wife was one of the highlights of this year's Yearly Meeting. You both blessed our hearts with your compassionate spirits and gentleness.

    This year's NCYM(C) was one of the most powerful Yearly Meetings I have attended. The closing Meeting for Worship was like being "lifted up into the third heaven."

    We hope to meet you again soon, f/Friend.

    Love and peace,
    Steve and Craig
    Friendship MM

  3. Mark,

    A shout-out to you & Ceal, and to Steve & Craig, and everybody I met at Yearly Meeting. It was my first one, and I met a lot of cool people. As you say, Mark, "it was a beautiful group of loving, welcoming, and nurturing people who made me feel at home immediately."

    You know, some people (maybe including me) are spiritual junkies, who are always willing to travel to retreats & such to get that peak "spiritual experience." What I found fascinating about NCYM-C were the many people who made their way there, even people like yourself who aren't officially part of this Meeting, even though this Meeting's time together was not devoted, like a retreat, to seeking "spiritual experience."

    To be sure, there certainly were opportunities for such experience, including several Meetings for Worship, but most of what we did consisted of Business Meetings. Not usually a big crowd draw!

    But these Meetings for Worship With Attention to Business -- like just about everything else during our time together -- were indeed quite tender and worshipful. Always -- even during my sleepy times! -- I had the feeling of everyone there holding each other safely in the Light of Christ. Our time together, no matter what we were doing, seemed devoted to ensuring a community which nurtured individual spiritual deepening and discernment of gifts. It is something which looks even more astonishing now that a few days have passed.

    I think that a common language did help this effect, and for basically "tribal" reasons. Even though traditional Christian language is not often heard in my Meeting, and even though I have no problem with using other language, I am tending more and more to use Christian language since it is language that I am familiar with, and -- as the language of Fox & Fell, etc. -- language with a certain depth. I am happy even if I am the only one to express myself in this language. But what I discovered at Yearly Meeting is that to regularly hear others use this same language as well creates an atmosphere in which we all key in, attune ourselves to the Spiritual, and give it a certain weight and substance. It's not that other language is wrong -- for, as Quakers, we know that language is ultimately superficial and inadequate for describing God and God's Works anyway -- it's just that our spiritual focus is regularized and intensified by staying in one channel for a while.

    I have much to think about!