Jesus in the Midst
by Deborah Haines, Baltimore Yearly Meeting
“For there is the flock lying down at noonday, and the feeding of the bread of life, and drinking of the springs of life, when they do not speak words” —George Fox
Each summer an unusual small five-day gathering called Quaker Spring takes place. We have Bible study in the mornings, followed by worship. The afternoons allow free time for refreshment and recreation, small group conversation, or healing prayer. In the evenings we come together for prayerful reflection, sharing and discernment around some issue of concern to those gathered. The program is not planned in advance. We expect to find what we are most in need of, simply by gathering at the feet of the Inward Teacher.
The idea for Quaker Spring grew partly out of my personal frustration with Quaker gatherings that left me feeling over-stimulated and exhausted. They were wonderful in many ways, but I needed more open time and space. Why not try a totally different approach, and do away with the talks and workshops and activities? We could have worship space available for anyone who felt the need, day or night. Perhaps others would be drawn to pray with us, or perhaps not. We could let leadings and concerns rise up naturally out of worship, and address them under the direct leading of the Spirit. We could speak as we were led to speak, or just rest in God’s presence.
So back in 2007 we held our first Quaker Spring (then called Quaker Camp). Of course we did a little pre-planning. We decided to start each day with Bible study, as a way of centering and focusing together. We needed to schedule meal times, and wanted to have times when everyone was invited to join in gathered worship. The first year we even scheduled talks in the evening, to give the Friends from Friends Center of Ohio Yearly Meeting a chance to teach us about Conservative Friends’ deeply grounded understanding of Quaker ways. We have also settled on the practice of having a “listening committee” that meets over breakfast each morning to consider needs and concerns that have risen up, and to find ways to address them, by scheduling small group meetings, or writing queries to pose in evening worship.
I have been wonderfully refreshed by my experience at Quaker Spring. I have come to know that we can give over our hurry and bustle and desire to manage things for a time, and simply trust in God. On several different occasions during Quaker Spring gatherings, the words of Isaac Penington have been lifted up to us:
Give over thine own willing, give over thine own running, give over thine own desiring to know or be anything and sink down to the seed which God sows in the heart, and let that grow in thee and be in thee and breathe in thee and act in thee; and thou shalt find by sweet experience that the Lord knows that and loves and owns that, and will lead it to the Inheritance of Life, which is its portion. (1661)
I have also discovered through Quaker Spring a deeper appreciation for my own home meeting. I attend a small, unprogrammed meeting in Baltimore Yearly Meeting, where worship is often completely silent. There is a lot of theological diversity in the meeting, undergirded by a great love for each other. One day I was reflecting on what a friend of mine had said about longing to be part of a “Christ-centered” meeting, and I realized, with a great surge of joy, that my meeting is Christ-centered. It is Christ who gathers us and teaches us and heals us and opens our hearts to each other. I’ve always loved the old Quaker painting of “The Presence in the Midst.” It shows Jesus standing in a silent meeting for worship, with open hands. That image is very real to me now whenever I settle into my own little meeting.
I think some of us came to Quaker Spring hoping to find a community that fed us more deeply than our own meeting did. What I have discovered, or rediscovered, as a result of Quaker Spring, is Christ in my own meeting. Perhaps we fall into the habit of thinking other people will teach and nourish us, and thus we fail to fully attend to God. The Inward Teacher is among us, wherever we gather in worship, holding out to us the bread of Life. There, where the flock lies down at noonday, is rest for the weary, comfort for the lost and lonely, nourishment for the faint of heart, living water for the thirsting soul. There is total, trustful dependence on God, for everything we need.
Does this sound like something that would speak to you? Come join us at Quaker Spring. Accommodations are simple–dorm rooms or camping. The total cost is only about $35-$50 per day. Children and families are welcome. We are glad to have people come for the whole time, or just for a day or two. The registration form and more information can be found on this website, or you can e-mail questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.