About a year ago, I was speaking with a cherished Friend about my difficulties with feeling accepted and welcomed at one particular meeting. The Friend replied, "It's hard to be a prophet in your own land."
It's taken me a long time to understand what that Friend meant, maybe because I wasn't raised in a Christian household. Maybe because, in my experience among Friends, I hadn't heard or integrated the phrase "prophetic ministry."
From Britain Yearly Meeting's Faith & Practice [emphasis mine]:
2.67Sure: there are times when Friends who have a prophetic ministry are invited to share their ministry--as long as it's not in our own backyard, on the front porch, or in the parlor.
...This is the ministry of inspiration, the prophetic ministry in the true sense, when the spoken word pierces to the heart of our relationship with God, unveils the living presence of Christ in the midst of the worshipping group and in its separate members, opens to our sight the way we must tread if we would realise that Spirit in and through our ordinary daily activities and find the creative response to the challenges of our time....
When a Friend or minister touches on a topic that "hits too close to home," challenging Friends to look at the foundation on which our faith is built, some Friends are reluctant or are unable to stay open to the message being given. It may threaten to "pierce to the heart," or to "open to our sight" the ways we have fallen short, have let others down, have been unfaithful.
House of cardsIn the Quaker identity workshop recently, Friends participated in an exercise to identify what they each saw as a core element of Quakerism. Each element that was named was written on an index card and placed in the center of the room. The group then began thinking of how to use these to build a symbolic house of cards, representing the foundations and supports of our Quaker faith.
Sometimes prophetic ministry makes us look at the house of cards we have built and calls on us to pull out a faulty card.
Sometimes it's the card that happens to be holding up the rest of the house.
For some, the fear or pain of watching our house of cards tumble is too great to bear, and we instead challenge or get angry with the minister; entrench ourselves further into the belief that there's no problem with our house; or leave the room--emotionally if not physically.
There's a vulnerability in being able to reply honestly to the prophetic minister:
What you say terrifies me. I fear that my house, my beliefs will collapse. How shall I live? How shall I ever have faith enough to rebuild...?But is prophetic ministry really a spiritual homewrecker?
Prophetic ministry as an opening for God's graceMy partner and I are homeowners and it's taken us time to acknowledge that there's too much sunlight and too much heat and too much moisture being collected in the upstairs of the house. We had to wait for water to be dripping in from the ceiling--during winter--and filling up a light fixture upstairs before we realized something significant was happening along those hairline cracks that we had convinced ourselves "were nothing."
We needed some help to understand what that "nothing" was, and we called in our contractor.
Who in turn called in an expert in humidity, air circulation, and the air-tightness of a house.
By being humble, by finally acknowledging that something was not in good order in our house, and by asking for additional help from someone else--who in turn was humble enough to ask for help from another someone--we could begin to address the high-humidity, lack-of-air-circulation flaw of the second floor. We were going to have to embrace the difficult task of taking steps to correct the situation, beyond the cosmetic fix of sealing up the current cracks and drying out the lights.
Grace can enter our lives when we allow ourselves to be "pierced to the heart," when we allow ourselves to be, not broken, but broken open.
Grace enters our lives when we can trust that when we fall, we shall be caught; when we are weary, we shall be carried; when we are broken open, we shall be companioned along the journey towards a new wholeness.
Prophetic ministry and restorationOur spiritual homes, of course, are not always as likely to give us such tangible clues when something is amiss. Part of the life, vitality, and significance of worshiping among Friends in a covenant community comes from being known at all sorts of levels: social, vocational, psychological, familial, emotional, and spiritual.
Consequently, part of the challenge and discomfort that comes with participating in a covenant community of Friends is that there will likely be times when a Friend approaches us when we are distressed:
Your spiritual home seems to be having some sort of trouble, Friend.
How often are we approached in such a direct manner, though? How many times must we wait for the cracks in our spiritual home to start leaking water, or for the Light to start to sputter and dim before we ourselves reach out for help, or before others notice and feel a need to say something?
I have only recently been reminded by the writings of Lloyd Lee Wilson that prophetic ministry calls us to restore God to the center of our lives; to have our lives revolve around God and not the other way 'round.
Yes, it is not the most pleasant of tasks to inspect the foundations of our home, of our faith. It is often inconvenient, to say the least, to have inspectors and contractors intrude in our house and in our personal lives, pointing out code violations, faulty construction, items for repair or replacement.
I certainly can wait for the leaks in my house to get worse, for the electricity to short-circuit. Or I can willingly invite inspection, aware that it may do me well to address the concerns that are brought to my attention.
Similarly, Friends can take a deep breath and invite the minister back into our own parlor for awhile, opening ourselves to the possibility of transformation and grace; an opportunity for the restoration of our spiritual home.
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P.S. I am posting this on the eve before I am scheduled to head to the annual sessions of Iowa Yearly Meeting Conservative. I expect to catch up with readers' comments after next First Day.