25 March 2010


I appreciated receiving, through the Northwest Yearly Meeting e-mail list, these words from Yearly Meeting staff member Gar Mickelson, posted here with his permission:
I just wanted to pass on some thoughts from the last couple of weeks which have been a real highlight for me.

Last two Sundays I've been in two different Friends meetings hundreds of mile apart, yet closely resembling each other. Here's the scene: I'm attuned to the strong presence of the Holy Spirit as I'm watching a few dozen people make their way forward 'down' to the front. People are crying, people are bowed down- some are prostate, some are standing with both hands lifted high- tears running down their faces. Then I see others come forward laying on hands, surrounding, nurturing, supporting- being present.

Come to find out that most of those coming forward are not new Christians, or even Christians who are returning from lean spiritual years away from God, they are mostly committed Christians coming forward to pour out their hearts in front of Jesus- begging and pleading-asking Jesus for help, for encouragement, for healing.

I'm especially moved in my spirit as I see people ministering to each other- not judging, not condemning, not speculating, only loving, only caring. This is the stuff of healing that Jesus brings. The environment is one of humility, brokenness, desire, passion, and unconditional love. The air is thick with it and it's raining down all around. Everyone broken and hungry for a touch from Jesus, and He is there comforting, teaching, and healing.

Many times I think we are reserved in making 'call down' invitations during our times for meeting. We might think or assume that everyone present is mostly saved, so why make the space for inviting people to come 'down' for salvation. Other times we might also be concerned about promoting emotionalism', to which I would say that human beings are emotional creatures and we need emotional stimulus--not just intellectual stimulus.

I believe that although Jesus is always present 'save', He is also present to 'heal'. I'm convinced that the sweet healing power of Jesus can be found in a 'called down' community where we gather, weep, praise, nurture, re-commit, confess, and bask in the Present Love.

I know that it's hard for folks to receive that sense of the sweet healing presence of Jesus during the weekly meeting from their places out in their seats, which can sometimes become 'silos' of isolation. Spiritual interaction can happen from there, but will typically grow cold if the kindling of 'invitation-to-come-down' is not thrown on the embers.

Two meetings, hundreds of miles apart, the fruit of the Spirit in full display- it can't be coincidence. I sense that is has to do with humble, authentic environment. Every meeting Jesus is present to save, but He is also present to heal.
Among the most powerful words in this letter were "'silos' of isolation." It's sad but probably not uncommon for many of us to come to worship encased in a "silo" of privacy and autonomy; I've done it myself. Is there anything that participants in the meeting might--can--should do to break through?

Gar refers to the tradition in many Friends yearly meetings of inviting people, as they feel led, to come to the front of the meeting room for a time of focused prayer. A pastor or another minister of the meeting might pray for these people--who might be experiencing the joy or agony or inner turmoil of a conversion, or a recommitment, even a need for healing. Or they might simply pray for each other. I've seen times when the rest of the congregation surrounds and prays for those who came forward. Sometimes tears flow freely. Sometimes forgiveness happens. My point is that someone feels authorized, whether by local practice or by the movement of the Spirit, or both, to invite people out of their individual experiences into a community immersion--even a baptism--in the Holy Spirit.

Other Friends meetings, both programmed and unprogrammed, have never experienced the like, or maybe the practice stopped several generations ago. Of those meetings, I suppose some are sure they never will have such an experience. Why be so sure?

(An architectural aside: for Friends who meet in a hollow square or a circle, is there a place to invite people to come "forward" or "down" to? I suppose that, when it happens, the place will be obvious.)

We Quakers have learned to get along with a minimum of ecclesiastical apparatus. I'd like to believe that we've chosen this low-overhead approach because we cherish the immediacy of the Holy Spirit's presence. In place of hierarchies and procedures, have we sometimes substituted our own prejudices, certainties, and fears? Or, to put it more positively, when we gather to worship, are we available for whatever the Spirit might ask of us, even if it doesn't fit the established culture of our meeting? Am I willing to respond honestly if a minister invites me "down" for prayer or healing, and, deep inside, I know I desperately need it, and am called to be public about that need? What if my willingness to respond is really important to assure someone else even more timid than me that the sky won't fall in? And (scariest of all!), what if I am the one being led to invite others to get out of their seats and gather for prayer?

I'm honestly not too worried about undue emotionalism and manipulation. Most Friends meetings I know, whatever their labels ("liberal," "evangelical," "holiness," "conservative," and so on), are deeply allergic to theatricality. I doubt we're in any danger of adopting compulsory cheerfulness or any other form of on-cue behavior. Although George Fox warned us in no uncertain terms against quenching the spirit (see the quotation in my "religious behavior" post here), he and other early Friends also laid great stress on lowliness, self-examination, rootedness in Christ, and Gospel order. Look here for a great example from Margaret Fell. But here's the thing: if some other Christians seem tempted to fake inspiration, are we sometimes faking our lowliness? And does our studied diffidence serve to keep our doors closed to others who yearn as much as we do for Quaker simplicity and peace, but whose emotions are just closer to the surface than a stereotypical Friend's? I want to throw those doors open, because we need the freedom that we claim and they might just have!

Robin M. addressed some related themes in this post from a couple of years ago. Read the comments, too. My comments there included a link to this helpful issue (PDF) of the North Carolina Yearly Meeting (Conservative) journal.

Other links:

Here's an NGO training/game Web site I heard about at a recent meeting at Friends House Moscow: World of Grassroots.

"Accommodationist and Proud Of It"--also see the discussion questions after the article itself.

On Stalin's image inside and outside Russia, according to Russians. (And this report from a government-linked news service: Stalin portraits won't be hung in Moscow on Victory Day, after all.)

When should a Christian leader say "I don't care"?

Goshen College and the "Star Spangled Banner," together for the first time.

Remembering Oscar Romero.

Otis Spann in a Muddy Waters concert, "Cold Feeling Blues." This is a repeat, but I think the original link is gone. I never need an excuse to honor a man whose music I've loved for forty years, Otis Spann ....

Cold Feeling Blues - Otis Spann and Muddy Waters Band
Uploaded by newcanadian. - Watch more music videos, in HD!


Bill Samuel said...

Johan, thanks for sharing the report and your reflections. Friends in many places have a great fear of emotion in worship. It is right to be cautious about stirring up emotion in our own power, but it gets carried to blocking the Spirit by only allowing it to be expressed in limited, approved forms. While usually not an explicit prohibition, it does tend to be communicated and effectively enforced. It then is a legalism and blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.

The divine-human relationship is the greatest love relationship possible. What kind of love relationship is free of emotion?

I think there's also a middle class educated Anglo-Saxon reserved cultural bias operating. This culture frankly tends to quench the Spirit. This may not be deliberate or conscious, but it does function that way due to the inhibitions integral to that culture.

Early Friends sometimes wrote about the "tendering" that takes place when we submit to the Spirit. What is described is one way that tendering may be manifest in the gathered worship community.

Sometimes the tears stream down my cheeks when I am in worship. This is a natural reaction when my heart recognizes the amazing love of God poured out on me without me doing anything to merit it.

Johan Maurer said...

Bill, your thoughtful comment leads me to add one more brief thought: Freedom of emotion will always look different for different people. With total freedom to express how we feel, some will still seem calm and still; others will be far more outwardly expressive. I'm not arguing for drama, only genuine freedom--which will sometimes look dramatic, sometimes not.

Anonymous said...

Good post. I'm currently in a meeting in which the pastor only occasionally does altar calls to the dismay of many people who were accustomed to them happening more often with a previous pastor. While I believe that salvation and healing can happen in the pews, I'm struck by your comment about our "silos of isolation". While I think we are in a culture in which people want to do things on their own terms with a minimum amount of attention being called to them, there is the argument that some make that everyone that Jesus called, He called publicly. Also, this post makes a good point about community and if everyone's decision for salvation, repentance, etc. is made in their seat with no sharing with those around them, it keeps it all very private and leaves no room for others in the body to come alongside to encourage. So, it's a catch-22. What's the perfect answer? I suppose as with anything else, there is no one right answer except to be open to the Spirit and keep our personal preferences out of it.

Tmothy Travis said...

Thanks for this provoking (to me) post. I have been around the block, or should I say, down the sawdust trail, a time or two and watched others do this kind of travel, as well.

And I sometimes hear Friends talking about "the silence" as though this silence was the point, in and of itself, as though basking and bathing in it is the "Quaker experience."

When I think about this kind of thing, I recall what a Native American shaman said in a movie from my younger days, "Sometimes the magic works and sometimes it doesn't."

In the end I go with Friend Penington when he wrote about the "sum and substance" of our religion.

I am one who doesn't care if one paints oneself blue and wears mismatched sox--it's the fruit, the outcome that matters. It's the building up of the good within us and the pushing down of that which is not.

If spilling emotion or stolid silence brings about the transformation described in Galations 5:24 (and elsewhere) then the Holy Spirit is at work, Christ is in one of his offices and it's open for business.

When people rise from their precious silence, or walk away with their arms around one another, wiping tears away, the validation of their experience will not come from how they "feel" about it--even whether they feel "loved" or ecstatic or not.

That validation will be rooted in whether or not they leave with changed hearts--not changed minds or changed moodes--and whether they have taken another step toward perfection and, over time, whether that shows and inspires the rest of us.

Thanks again for encouraging people whose spiritual maturity may be edified by the participation you describe. And for validation of whatever else (or instead) may equip us to live in that realm which both is and is becoming.

Anonymous said...

hi johan.
you changed your format!!! i like this one better; it's an easier visual organization for my eyes.

so wowity-wow-wow, you're hitting my topic here. i mean, i quit going to quaker meetings because i felt unincluded and like how i WAS, wasn't exactly appreciated. you and i have spoken about this before.

i wear my emotions on my sleeve, i guess. there is nothing wrong with these emotions. they are god-given, and i don't really know how to be different and still be true to myself. i tried pretty hard to find a place there, but it just didn't happen.

the meeting you attended with the people crying and such. well, i've never seen such a thing, so not sure how that would feel, but my first thought was that i might find it scary.

hi over there!!

Nancy said...

Thanks, Johan, for opening this discussion. I want to add here an observation about Latin American Friends, who are every bit as much Quaker as we are. Among Andean Quakers, every worship service ends with people coming forward to pray at the altar. It's probably the highlight of the service for most of them. Everyone prays out loud at once, and rather than confusion and chaos, it sounds like music. Worship music. Emotion is a part of life and, in spite of anthropological descriptions of Aymaras as being cold and hard, tears of worship and prayer are an integral part of Friends worship.

We have things to learn from our Quaker brothers and sisters in Latin America, Africa, and Asia.


Bill Samuel said...

Nancy, once I visited Alaska Yearly Meeting and they have something similar, only no altar so they do it at their seats or at the walls. It did seem like music wafting up to God. I loved to stay until everyone was finished.

Once during the YM sessions, they got word of a tragedy in one of the villages while a pastor was preaching, and the sermon was immediately stopped and everyone prayed. Seemed like they had their priorities right.

My wife is Korean, and says they have a similar practice.

Susanne said...

At this time in my life, I miss joy the most. But there have also been times when I have wished for a "Mourner's Bench" from the Salvation Army. A place where a worshiper could go to express their sorrow over a wrongdoing, and an elder would join him/her so s/he wouldn't be alone at this time of grief, and then experience forgiveness and release.

Is this the new Quiteism, where any human emotion needs to be carefully hidden away?

Marshall Massey said...

The intent of Quietism is not to carefully hide emotion away, but to still the mind and heart so that the still, small urgings of Christ in the conscience will not be drowned out by thoughts or passions.

Just sayin’.