Dear readers, dear Friends.
I have been reluctant to write another post for The Good Raised Up, and it has taken me some time to articulate why. But when I spoke with my partner the other morning about all the stress I have in my life and shared that I have felt the tickle of the Spirit asking me to write, I said:
I feel as though I am being asked to write about how I am being exercised by the Spirit, but I don't want to say too much because of the people involved in the situation, so I haven't written anything. And I need to.I don't know for sure that what I've been experiencing is in fact me being "exercised by the Spirit," but it's language that speaks to my condition.
I first came across that phrase, I think, when I was reading a little John Woolman. I haven't heard Friends in the monthly or yearly meeting--or anywhere, actually--use that phrase. But it certainly feels like I am being stretched, like I am being asked to do things with my spiritual life, with my faith, with my being, in ways that I haven't moved, practiced, stretched, or "been" before. And I feel a bit heart-sore as a result.
It's a soreness like the day after I've started a new fitness workout, and my body is so sore I just want to stay in bed or get a massage or take a long, hot bath... and certainly, absolutely, not have to move my body again, at all, for at least, say, about 60-90 days.
But I have to roll out of bed and get busy doing God's work again--being faithful--no matter how sore I feel. And I moan and groan at first, and the soreness catches me at unexpected times, like when I reach for a book on the shelf or when I go up a flight of stairs or when I pick up the cat (he is, after all, 16 pounds).
So. What's been going on with me that I can share here; what does God ask me to share; what does God ask me not to share...?
My recent "exercise of the Spirit" has revolved around the question
"How might I be faithful to the True Authority and not fall sway to an individual's worldly authority?"My heart still aches over that one, given the details of who has been involved and what reactions I have been met with when I have said to a Friend, "But God does not ask me to do this thing you ask of me..."
And so I found myself drawing on a number of resources and individuals for G/guidance and support:
I have understood this practice to be based in the belief that no single individual knows the Truth; that God is still speaking to us and that if we quiet ourselves enough, we will understand more clearly what that still, small voice is saying; that many individuals are needed to test how pieces might fit together and see if they are consistent with the Truth, in part by testing if those pieces are consistent with Scripture, with tradition, with experience, and with each other; that by seeking right action together, as a body, there is accountability to the group (and to the historical practices of Friends) and therefore, supposedly, less chance that an individual will take her or his own good "imaginations," run with them, and possibly spoil the reputation of Friends, a la James Naylor.
I have had to slow myself down, to listen to the discernment of other Friends, to weigh with them a variety of options, and to seek the way forward as best as possible.
If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.
My guess is there is more for Scripture to show me; there is more Scripture for me to be opened to, but this is the passage I know and this is what came to me.
Our worship is a deep exercise of our spirits before the Lord, which doth not consist in an exercising the natural part or natural mind, either to hear or speak words, or in praying according to what we, of ourselves, can apprehend or comprehend concerning our needs; but we wait, in silence of the fleshly part, to hear with the new ear, what God shall please to speak inwardly in our own hearts; or outwardly through others, who speak with the new tongue, which he unlooseth, and teacheth to speak; and we pray in the Spirit, and with the new understanding, as God pleaseth to quicken, draw forth, and open our hearts towards himself.
We often struggle to differentiate between God's voice and our own. A group that listens well can receive our thoughts and our emotions and assist us to sift them for the presence of God. Perhaps that's a vital part of the process that we have lost as we have moved away from the regular practice of "threshing meetings." It was at such meetings where people could come together and without the pressure to make a decision, share their thoughts and questions and opinions, gain information regarding the facts of the situation, and get a sense of where other people were coming from. Time was then spent over the course of the week, carefully holding this awareness in a prayerful attentiveness to the fullness of the issues involved.
When I remember myself as an inexperienced Friend, a sense of compassion and concern is restored within me for the Friend with whom I am journeying right now. And it is thoughts like these that illuminate the question I have been carrying since starting this Quaker blog:
How do we convey our faith, how do we talk about our practices with one another?Not just me; not just Robin M. or Barry or Quakerism 101 teachers, but our meetings as a whole.
Well, I began this post when I was in the midst of the exercise, and now the exercise seems to be almost over. My concerns have been shared with Friends within the appropriate committee and I am feeling a bit unburdened.
I am grateful for those Friends and non-Friends from whom I have drawn support over the past 2-1/2 weeks. Friends have gently weighed, threshed, and tested options with me, options that would demonstrate care and respect for those involved. When I lamented to one Friend that I did not see an easy or "clean" way to resolve the concern that I am facing, she gently reminded me:
There may be no way for this to be easy, so at least you can be faithful.Despite the soreness, I sense that there is something deep within me, alongside my sore heart, that is healing. And also despite the soreness, or maybe because of it, there is another something within me that seems to be growing and... maturing, ripening.
Maybe it's my heart muscle.
. . . . . . . . . . . .
This was not an easy post to write, given the nature of the concern; yet I felt the call to bring forward what I could. I don't even know if there is enough "meat" left on the "bones" of this post--bones I have picked over quite a bit in the past 48 hours or so.
[UPDATE: For another, more detailed pass at describing this experience, see my lengthy remarks in the comments section.]
Thanks for reading me.