Over on Mark's blog, I left a comment on his post about speaking and listening in Meeting for Worship.
What I posted there got me to thinking:
What are the various Quaker disciplines that exist to help guide us in difficult times?
Are there disciplines or structures in our faith for us to draw upon, even during not-so-difficult times, when we know inwardly that there "ought" to be a way to respond but there's no particular testimony that speaks to the precise circumstance we face?
Aren't there times when any one of us might say to ourselves:
What's a Quaker s'posed to do at a time like this?"A time like this" might mean:
Living in America, so much of our media and so many of our peers insist that we do something now:
Take actions into your own hands! Protect yourself! Protect your investments! Don't wait! Act now! Walk away! Don't just stand there! You don't have to put up with that!
On and on, one exclamation point after another.
Many of these secular advices have been creeping into our meetingrooms, and they have crowded out the more challenging, traditional advices:
When in doubt, wait.
I know it sounds simplistic, but don't be fooled: there is much to be done while waiting. What I've been holding and considering is that perhaps interconnected with the discipline of waiting, there are in turn other Quaker disciplines with which we can engage, disciplines that extend beyond waiting worship.
Waiting for an openingAs we are waiting, we must be alert to any Openings that may appear. An opening may be an opportunity to speak with another fFriend about what is occurring, so that an additional point of view can be considered. Or an opening may be a new insight that is given, based on something we are listening to or reading or contemplating. Or an opening may be that the very fFriend with whom you are laboring calls you with some new insight that has tendered her or his own heart.
We must be careful not to speak or act prematurely, not to speak or act simply because we want to. Is there an opening to speak, an opening to take action? Is my own heart made tender so that I may speak and act out of love rather than judgement; concern rather than fear? Have I been opened by the movement of the Spirit?
Testing our leadingsIf we are disciplined enough to wait on the Lord, we may use that time more conscientiously to test our leadings and to discern what action, if any, is in harmony with God's will.
Such a waiting period is important, since Friends believe that if a leading comes from God, it will persist and the sense of rightness will increase over time. If, instead, we begin to doubt our initial thoughts or question our plans of how to respond to a chronic situation, it may be that we have not truly "given ourselves over" to the Spirit for guidance.
In many cases, testing our leadings while waiting also allows us to tap the community, or at least a segment of it (e.g. a clearness committee), to help us discern the way forward. Since Friends believe that Truth itself does not change, only our understanding of it does, and seeking the sense of even an impromptu clearness committee may shed more light on what is the rightly led course of action to follow.
Laboring with one anotherI often think that the discipline of laboring with one another is the hardest to engage in. I don't know if it's a reflection of America or a reflection of Quakers--or a reflection of American Quakers--but so many of us are uncomfortable dealing with conflict, being in disagreement with one another, not having an easy answer to resolve a complex and tense situation.
Such labor among Friends often begins when two or more people who care for each other, or for the process, or for the outcome--or for any combination thereof--find themselves not united around how to move forward with a decision:
Do we spend the money on improving the meeting's kitchen or on sending a few young Friends to a Quaker gathering halfway around the world? What if one Friend, but not another, wishes to approve membership for an attender who, for three years, has been coming regularly to worship but has never served on a committee or attended a Meeting for Worship for Business?
How do we move forward when our laboring with one another clearly indicates we are not united?
Laboring with one another requires an awful lot of waiting. We need to listen to one another; listen for the Holy Spirit's guidance; listen inwardly and honestly to our own human frailties; listen compassionately when another Friend brings her or his humanness to us.
We need to be able to explore completely where our desire to hold on and not let go comes from; where our fear comes from if we were to let go; and how it is that God asks us to be a servant to the Light rather than a servant to our own ego.
Sometimes the labor is as much about laboring with ourselves as it is about laboring with another person.
My favorite example of such labor, and the surprising results that come of it when we are able to wait for our labor, our difficulty, to find its own resolution, is the footwashing at Marlborough, which is also recounted in a pamphlet by Sandra Cronk.
Waiting to feel the inward motion of LoveThe discipline of waiting until we feel a sense of Love stir within us is perhaps the hardest to observe or learn about from others. That may be because such an inward motion is hard to articulate or point to, let alone observe empirically. It doesn't matter that so many Friends are familiar with John Woolman's words. If we haven't felt the inward motion of Divine Love for ourselves, I don't know that we can know it any other way.
And since we maybe don't know what the motion of Love feels like, it may be hard to wait while we are stewing over whatever the situation is that has set us off in the first place.
From my own experience, the motion of Divine Love often comes unexpectedly. I can't force it, I can't will it to come. It comes as I let go, as I surrender.
But even as I am "giving myself over," I am not doing so in order to beckon the motion of Love. That sort of "agenda" or objective won't work.
I let go because my heart has been made tender in my waiting, and there is room then for God's Love to do its work, both in me and through me.
And then I am more comfortable simply waiting.
Quakerism as a faith disciplineThis post started off as an exploration of various disciplines within Quakerism, and especially how we might engage in the disicipline of waiting. Of course, I want to acknowledge what might seem obvious:
We must keep in mind that sometimes what is required of us is to do nothing more than wait.That said, I sense that there is more to say about these and other disciplines, and about how Quakerism itself is a discipline. It's just that the more I write and explore, the more I want to keep writing and exploring!
Much like how our language of the Divine cannot encompass the Divine itself, so it is that I can't seem to wrap my writing around the essence of these disciplines. And, much like with learning a second language--"use it or lose it"--so too with these disciplines:
We must engage in them and practice them if we are to be able to be easy and "fluent" with them, not just within our meetings but also in our day-to-day life.
Thanks for reading me.