Creative Nonfiction published in Friends Journal, 1999.
At our most recent Ministry & Oversight meeting, we dispensed with important business, then moved to the details of who would close meeting for the next month, like a sign-up sheet. As each of us perfunctorily took a First Day, I remembered my first Quaker meeting.
I was eighteen, at Oberlin, trying to find a religion without preaching. A friend took me to unprogrammed worship, where we sat on chairs in a circle of silence. I enjoyed the meditative silence, and the messages flowing through the silence.
But I was not prepared for the closing handshake. Emerging from meditation, I saw twenty friends shake hands on cue from God, in perfect harmony.
Without a benediction, I wondered, how could anyone know that worship was over? Yet this magic happened week after week.
Only after I joined the Quakers did I discover that a designated person closed meeting using clock time.
How naive I felt! How sad I was to lose those spontaneous handshakes! Yet meeting still felt as if God were guiding us with God-time, after all.
Much later I learned that following the Spirit wasn’t magic, but hard work.
Gathered meetings don’t happen to passive worshippers, they descend upon us — if we are working, if we are praying to become of one mind.
We have an active part in the Gathering of Spirit, and the designated Meeting Closer can help to open and to gather the meeting as well.
Now when it’s my turn to close meeting, I go early before anyone else comes to open the room as well. I may rearrange the chairs, turn up the thermostat, or open the curtains.
But the deeper process of opening the way is harder to explain. I call it Bringing in the Light. Whatever it’s called, a person anchored in prayer can set the tone, the ambiance for worship.
Sometimes I anchor a room with a rock in each corner. Sometimes I pray up a room by circling around, sending out light and love. Sometimes I talk to the corners, brushing away spiritual cobwebs.
Sometimes I visualize who sits where, and gently pull them in, mentally greet them on their way to meeting.
We all can sense a room which feels warm and open. We can create this friendly space with our minds, by concentrating our thoughts, by centering.
Holding or Gathering the Meeting
As people enter, I welcome them with my mind, and make way for them to be included in the circle of worship. It is as if we form an invisible web, and soon we are all threaded together.
Very delicately this thread can be pulled together to complete the web. It’s as if I hold the meeting in my hands.
Yet it is not I, but the Spirit using my physical hands in a physical room. The weaver is the Divine Weaver; I merely hold the invisible thread that connects God with the God-Within-Each-of-Us.
If someone comes in late, if someone is restless or disturbed, the web quivers and we can each feel it; but any anchor person can steady the web.
If someone sinks or drifts, the web can catch them. If someone spins a private web, the larger web can encompass it. Together we weave a design in which we each find our own meaning.
Closing a meeting is not looking at a watch, waiting for an opportune moment, and shaking the hand of the next person.
It is a releasing of the web, the web of Spirit woven during those minutes or hours of worship together. In some cases, the design is apparent to all: a gathered meeting.
Other times the pattern is different for each of us. Sometimes unprogrammed worship is like a hopeless snarl of yarn, and we try again another First Day.
In a gathered meeting, who has done the gathering? We have, and we’ve done it with the Spirit’s guidance. And our closing handshake comes from the heart-clock.