June 2023 – Expectation of Transformation

by Mary Linda McKinney

Some of our Quaker ancestors held an expectation that they could be transformed by Spirit while in meeting for worship with Friends. Using my own understanding and language I would say they might be guided to wrestle with their egos and inner shadows while the Light searched them. They were sometimes “broken open” during worship and had life-changing experiences in which they were guided to become more fully who they were created by Spirit to be.

Contemporary Quaker worship, at least for Friends in North America, does not usually make space for this kind of encounter with the Divine. The Light we experience tends to be warm and easy.

Has God changed or have we? I’m gonna do a little theologizing and suggest that the Spirit remains consistent but our understanding and expectation of it and our encounters with it change as we, as individuals and as collective bodies, do. In general right now, I think we don’t trust ourselves, the space we call meeting for worship, or one another enough to take spiritual or emotional risks to be fully present to the “more” that Spirit may have for us. We don’t allow the possibility of transformation to happen in our Quaker worship so it doesn’t happen. Or maybe it does happen on occasion, but we don’t have opportunities to learn about it or share our experiences with one another, so mostly we are unaware of it.

Faithful Meetings creates opportunities for Friends to talk about what happens for us in worship and outside of it. During the opening retreat, we listen to one another as we each share about spiritual experiences that have formed us. Throughout the program, we will have many moments of worship sharing in which we are invited to say what needs to be spoken about our recent experiences of worship, the meeting community, and what is spiritually alive for us. These worship sharing sessions are created to give Friends a trustworthy space to share about problems, joys, struggles, or powerful experiences that relate to the inner work the community is doing together. As we enter into worship, I may ask a question like:

  • What did you experience in worship?
  • Does anything feel unresolved for you about our gathering today?
  • What are you holding about this community or what  we’ve done together today that needs to be shared?

I give permission for folks to share negative or neutral, as well as positive experiences. And I say this isn’t a space for fixing problems but for listening. If “fixing” needs to happen between individuals, they can find one another later; if it would be useful, they can  invite an elder or two to join them. If a problem involves the community, we can move into deeper worship and listen for Spirit’s guidance in how to address the situation.

I’m not yet far enough along in the program with any community to see the fruits of this practice, but I do see new growth and blossoms of trust. Friends in the two communities I’m working with have told me they are experiencing new depth in meeting for worship, finding spiritual formation groups to be really juicy, and discovering new life in spiritual practices. When I gather with each community, I feel Spirit’s presence guiding and encouraging us, inviting us to consider the “more” that is always possible.

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