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.