God continues to surprise me. All the Holy Spirit has to do is blow through, and I am back to square one; the sand castles that I have built are swept away by the tide, and I am left without fortifications before God. I suppose it could be frustrating to realize that most of the things I have worried about for months do not really matter. But all I feel is joy. I see with stunning clarity that God is not like me at all. Though I am characterized by grasping and self-centeredness; God’s character is one of self-giving, healing and mercy. God’s presence is power to receive forgiveness, and to be remade in the image of Christ.
This presence and power was very much in evidence at the sixth annual gathering of QuakerSpring in Barnesville, Ohio. QuakerSpring is a unique, Spirit-led retreat conceived as an alternative to the frantic programming of some other Quaker gatherings. Rooted in deep worship and shared discernment, QuakerSpring unfolds according to the community’s sense of God’s call.
I was surprised by the spiritual intensity we experienced this year. There was a palpable sense of connection to God, but also an awareness of spiritual darkness. At the heart of our time together was a deep sense of our human brokenness, and of Christ’s presence within, calling us to deeper faithfulness. Our spiritual burdens felt like a heavy weight, but as we sat together in Christ’s presence, much of this darkness was revealed, brought into the light, and purified in the “refiner’s fire.” Both individually and as a group, we experienced real transformation.
During QuakerSpring, I personally became more aware of the burdens I had been carrying. I saw more clearly that I was struggling with a spirit of anxiety and confusion around issues of financial security and support. I was so caught up in worry about the future that I had lost sight of my present ground and source, Jesus Christ.
Fortunately, an elder was able to name what was happening. She expressed her sense that the adversary was loose in our midst. When she said this, I knew immediately that it was true. I perceived the spirit of confusion and anxiety for what it was — a spirit that was not from God — and I felt an immediate release. In what felt like a miraculous moment of spiritual house-cleaning, the darkness, confusion and anxiety cleared out of me. I give praise to God for using this elder to name what was happening, and to reveal the dynamics at play that were keeping me in bondage.
One thing that struck me this week was the prominence of what I would describe as almost “charismatic” expressions of faith. The reality of darkness and evil emerged as major themes of our worship and conversation. At the same time, there was a deep sense of Christ’s inward power that is breaking out of forms and structures and transforming us in ways that we could never have predicted. God is doing a new thing, though it is still unclear what this new creation will look like.
At QuakerSpring, I experienced a community that is grounded in the Spirit, listening and seeking to be obedient to the voice of Jesus Christ within. This is the kind of community that I want to be a part of. It is a kind of Quakerism that could truly be relevant for 21st-century post-modern America.
While many of us wish there were some sort of “technical” solution for the challenges facing the Religious Society of Friends today, I am convinced that there is no quick fix that will produce faithfulness and awareness of God’s presence and power. Rather than developing a technique or a process, God is gathering a people.
Based on my experience of QuakerSpring, I am more convinced than ever that rebirth within the church will not be the result of our human plans and strategies. There is a new creation that we can sense, and Christ himself is creating it.
Have you experienced the Spirit drawing a new community together? What does it feel like on the growing edge of a faith tradition? Where is the intersection between what God is doing in each of us individually, and the ways that God is at work in the body as a whole? How do we give this new creation space to breathe and develop, avoiding the temptation to suffocate it with our own ideas and agendas?