Reader Mary Linda writes concerning this post:
I would add that while my experience of gathered worship isn’t common–it doesn’t happen with frequency or regularity–it is also not that rare. […] Gathered worship isn’t contingent on everyone believing the same thing or sharing a common awareness or even expectation; it is really about everyone being open to the leading of the Holy Spirit, whatever they call it. I’ve even been in gathered worship during a business meeting with teenagers and at least one non-theist adult that was profound in its spiritual depth. It was possible because, in spite of our differences in understanding, we were all present to the work of Spirit and we trusted in that, even when we didn’t all understand what we were trusting in.
This is really insightful, and has made me rethink my original post. It is certainly true that the fact of people having their own perspectives doesn’t prevent their becoming gathered in worship. I suppose that the distinction between gathered and focused really comes down to what it means to be open to the leading of the Holy Spirit. Do we expect that turning our attention, or rather our most inward selves, toward God will change us? Or do we think nothing special is going on and we can proceed normally?
Francis Howgill famously described the experience of the first Friends thus: “The Kingdom of Heaven did gather us and catch us all, as in a net…” For me, that image points to what I’m getting at: if you’re swept up in a net, you’re off balance; you don’t have the same certainty about yourself and your surroundings as you did before. Part of what it means to be gathered is that uncertainty, that trust in something even if you don’t fully understand it. A focused meeting, by contrast, may have the same seriousness of purpose, but is more settled in what it’s doing and what it expects—as if resisting the net being thrown over it.