February 22, 2005

Openings and the mending of the world

George Fox writes about some of the "openings" he experiences: a breaking through of the Spirit that brings new light, new awareness to an individual. And the new light seems to come out of nowhere, and we are forever changed.

It has been my experience that when I follow such an opening, I may either express the new Light that I have been given, or I may ponder that new Light for awhile and await to see how it fits into other parts of my life. The other evening, though, I had an experience that I cannot shake, where one opening led immediately to another, like unraveling a mystery, where the closer you are to uncovering the truth, the more urgent it feels to uncover it; or putting in the last 5 pieces of a large jigsaw puzzle, where you rush to have it done, to have the entire picture revealed... The other evening, something terribly small and wonderfully powerful occurred, and I have been led into a period of grace and awe as a result.

My partner and I met a stanger last night, coming home from the airport. The stranger was a woman in her late 20s and her 2-year-old child. As the woman boarded the bus in which we waited at the train station, she said to the bus driver that she had run out of change; could she board anyway? Thankfully, the bus driver allowed her to do so, no questions asked. ...Maybe it was the day-old 5 inches of snow still on the ground; maybe it was the hour of night; maybe she just caught him on a good day.

The mother and her child had spent the day at the Government Center, we would find out later, and she had taken the wrong bus from downtown, ended up at the Mall of America miles in the opposite direction of where she lives, and was simply hopping from bus to bus, hoping to get on the one that would take her northbound. Hours later, at 7:00 pm, my partner and I met up with this woman. She was still miles away from her home, at least another 90 minutes by bus.

The woman asked the bus driver if he went up as far as Such-And-So intersection in north Minneapolis. No, he said, you need the 24-J, which comes in 30 minutes. The woman's face sunk. "You mean that the 24s don't follow the same route?" My partner and I looked at each other and then at the woman. Out of concern, we asked her, How long have you been on the bus today? "I've been trying to make my way home since 4:00, and I keep getting on the wrong bus!"

Something deep within my partner and me cracked open, and God burst through. I said to the woman: Oh my, you must be hungry! We have an apple and some nuts and candy you can have...

But God did not let me rest with that offer, and I added: We have a couple of bus transfers you can use for the rest of the night...

And then again: Why don't we just give you a ride home, since we live so close to the train station? Then you'll be home in 20 minutes instead of another hour-and-a-half or two.

...I think my partner and I were both relieved when she accepted.

I've never offered a ride to a stranger before. But I was opened to do so that night.

There is a song that has a refrain like this:

What if God was one of us?
Just a slob like one of us?
Just a stranger on the bus trying to make his way home.

I don't know how it was that God spoke to all of us that night on the bus, but I felt as if a bit of the world was mended, if only for a moment. The bus driver didn't have to let the woman board the bus, without having any bus fare. My partner and I didn't have to offer our snacks or our bus transfers or a ride home, yet we felt compelled to.

In Quakerism, there is the concept of the kingdom of heaven is on earth, right here, right now. In Judaism, that same concept is called tikkun olam, or the repairing of the world.

Living in accordance to these principles sometimes runs parallel to--and sometimes goes beyond--the long, hard work of peace-and-social justice action. It goes right past the systems of oppression made incarnate by governmental bureaucracies. It isn't something that fits into the status quo of how things are, or the dull pattern of how things are done.

It goes directly into the hands and hearts of those who need it, right here, right now.

Having been raised in a Jewish household, last night was the most Christian I have ever felt. And it's the most Jewish I have ever felt at the same time.

My heart ached for this woman who asked little and expected less.


Larry Clayton said...

Liz, this is super
beautiful. I love it when a Friend is willing to be confessional in that way. In that way we gain the power to love each other and carry out the Lord's Great Commandment. Beyond that we are working at his final prayer-- that we all might be one. We become one to the extent that we know each other,and giving youself as you did here is a powerful way to do it.

I'm quoting here my response to your recent comment on my blog:

" At 5:30 PM, Larry said...

"Thank you, thank you, thank you, Liz. I am certainly delighted with your comment.

" It was especially pleasing to see Woolman using the same quote in his journal. My readers now have access to his journal, thanks to you.

" I appreciate your concern about the secular world and our faith tradition. With me it kind of works backward. I start with the faith tradition and try to make it intelligible to the secular population.

" We are both engaged in a ministry of reconciliation. It was God's good pleasure to bring us together."

Liz Opp said...

Larry, the phrase you use, "ministry of reconciliation," speaks deeply to me, at a variety of levels: reconciling personal relationships that are stressed; reconciling paradoxes within our faith tradition; reconciling our Quakerism with the secular world.... You get my meaning.

Thanks for being a mirror to me in this ministry.


Robin M. said...

Hey Liz, I never actually read this before or I would have told you that I heard (not for the first time, but the most important time) the Joan Osborne song you quoted on my way home from the doctor's office the day Silas ended up being born. I sang it to myself over and over and over again in labor, and later I bought the album to be able to give it to him someday.


Liz Opp said...

Wow, Robin, there are so few stories out there from mothers having such a clear intention--and something to focus on!--while being in labor. Thanks for sharing yours.