“Building a Fire,” by Doug Bennett

Excerpt from a message given at Durham Friends Meeting, November 17, 2019

I’ve been thinking that Meeting for worship is a little like building a fire.  It takes at least a few of us gathered together in worship.  One person alone can hardly do it.  Even two or three doesn’t feel like quite enough, though I suppose it can be. 

When I’m here at Meeting and watching people come into the Meeting room, it fills me with gladness to see us gather.  Oh there’s that person and that person; I was hoping they’d be here.  There’s so-and-so: I wish we saw her more often.  Ah, and some folks I haven’t seen before, that’s terrific.  It takes all kinds to build a good fire, one that will catch and burn for a while. 

As we gather and seat ourselves, I can see us building a fire together. We have to leave room for God, or the Spirit.  Perhaps that’s why we ask that there be silence between spoken messages.  That silence is like the oxygen the fire needs.  Together we invite the presence of God. 

There’s magic in the fire, but we make the preparations that invite the magic. 

Britain Yearly Meeting’s Faith and Practice has this Advice: “We can worship alone, but when we join with others in expectant waiting we may discover a deeper sense of God’s presence. We seek a gathered stillness in our meetings for worship so that all may feel the power of God’s love drawing us together and leading us.” 

“A gathered stillness:” that’s what we need.  A gathering in stillness.  If you want to put a fire out, you pull it apart; you scatter it.  Scattering chases away the magic.  Once a fire dies down, it takes effort and time to make it blaze again. For us, scattering is latecomers, the opening and closing of the doors, bustling about, people entering and leaving after we’ve gathered. 

We want to welcome and encourage everyone to come, but we want everyone to remember we are building a fire together. 

A Southeastern Yearly Meeting Advice says “Be prompt and diligent in attendance at meetings.” That discipline is what it takes for us to build a fire together: to be prompt in gathering and then to join together in stillness.” That means:  Come on time to meeting.  Once in the room, settle yourself for the hour or so.  Stay settled; Together, in stillness, we invite the presence of the Divine. 

An old hymn says,

Lord, I have shut the door, Speak now the word Which in the din and throng Could not be heard;

Hushed now my inner heart, Whisper Thy will, While I have come apart, While all is still.

Without that stillness, we may not find our way to God.

In the stillness, the fire can ignite.  God is invited to come near. 

[A copy of the full message can be found on River View Friend.]

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