Planning? Freedom?

Last Friday night was a moving experience for me. Some friends had a gathering at their house, inviting a good group of people from Newberg Friends. I’ve known some of the people for 25 years, while others have become friends in just the last couple. We shared grill space on the barbecue, caught up on summer stories, and generally enjoyed being together. And then it happened.

Our hosts gathered us around an outdoor fire pit…which, frankly, was running a little hot for a 90 degree day. 🙂 They took a risk, pushing into vulnerable territory and teetering along the edge of cheesiness. The husband told of their desire that the party be a celebration…a celebration of what God had done in their family’s lives. When planned, he said, they didn’t really know what they would be celebrating. This summer has been challenging. But now, it was crystal clear how good God had been; there was plenty to celebrate.

Pulling out a box of surplus Fourth of July sparklers, he set the stage and invited us to join. Lighting the sparkler, he shared with simplicity, honesty, and vulnerability what he was celebrating. Then, he walked around the fire, handing each of us our own sparkler, inviting us to share what we were celebrating, too.

The result was deep, rich, beautiful worship.

Ever since, I’ve been kicking around many thoughts. Why doesn’t that kind of spontaneous celebration and thankfulness happen more often? But wait…the spontaneity had a plan to it, an intentionality. Worship began and had a beautiful, open, Spirit-prompted freedom because this couple planned a time of celebration with friends, and then were vulnerable enough to grab sparklers and share and invite us to do the same. Hmmm….I began thinking that perhaps I, too, could take the risk of sharing my thankfulness, my celebration, in other groups. Perhaps that might give God the chance to birth another powerful worship experience.

I’m in the middle of reading a dissertation on William Hobson, the man who is mostly responsible for the existence of Newberg Friends and Northwest Yearly Meeting. Hobson experienced the upheaval among Friends in the mid 1800’s, the huge sea change from unprogrammed, Conservative Friends to the fire of revivalism that birthed what must have seemed (and still seems to some) the “where-did-that-come-from” child called “Evangelical Friends.” Before the revival movement, Friends couldn’t separate a strong belief in the Holy Spirit’s necessity for prompting true worship, from a fear of any human “creaturely activity” which by definition would keep Spirit-led true worship from happening.

Can the creature do anything to help true worship occur? Or must it always, by definition, destroy the power of the Spirit in the moment? My experience around the fire Friday night has given a present day moment to reflect on those 19th century questions…questions which are still current and relevant.

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2 thoughts on “Planning? Freedom?

  1. A friend of a friend died suddenly three days ago. When I heard the news, I stepped away from the kitchen, where the news was still being exclaimed over. I crossed the threshold into the dining room (perhaps 3 steps–we’re talking <1 second) and I felt myself pray to his soul. It flew up out of me. I noticed subsequently I was composing a prayer in words, a sentence along the lines of "good luck," but I recognized in that moment how futile the words were: I had already prayed automatically, corporeally. I should add that I consider myself an atheist.

    What to make of this experience, Gregg, which I've noticed I've done whenever I hear of a death to which I have some personal connection? I almost never feel sad when I hear of a death (but then, I'm fortunate: I haven't lost anybody I'm very close to who wasn't ready to go.)

    I think this automatic prayer is a version of what you are talking about in your post: the spontaneity. The worship. The sense of communion, even a small circle that would seem as if I were alone. The prayer emanated from me before my consciousness could catch up to it. It's interesting to think of prayer as a biological, rather than mental, impulse.

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  2. Thanks, Kathi!

    What to make of this experience? You’ll definitely be the one to answer that best, and I’m glad you’re reflecting on it a bit, not letting it disappear unexamined.

    I’m fascinated by your choice of the words “corporeally” and “biological”. Of course in my circles, we automatically assign the experiences you are describing to a third category…not biological, not mental, but spiritual. No guarantee we are right, of course. But I love the way we all have similar experiences, and how we describe/assign them so differently. Makes me want to examine more carefully how I categorize. I’m grateful to hear from someone with a different perspective, because I think it helps me see myself and the world more broadly. Thank you!

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