September 13, 2007

Trying love and a miracle-mystery

Let us try what Love will do.
This popular quotation from William Penn is a favorite of mine. For one thing, in the secular world, I have learned to avoid the use of the word "try," as in "Try not to read this sentence."

Now, now: you either did read the sentence or you didn't. You didn't just "try."

Another example:

1. Take a pen or pencil in your hand.
2. Try to drop it.

You likely eitiher DID drop it or you DIDN'T drop it. There is no "try."

The use of the word "try" in William Penn's quote, Let us try what Love will do, however, means "put to the test" or "experiment with." Here is a story where my "trying Love"--or where Love has tried me--has helped me understand and appreciate the power of the practice.

A number of years ago, maybe four or maybe eight, I struggled and wrestled and labored with a Friend who viewed Quakerism and God and the world in a very different way from how I did. The more I sought to understand the Friend, his world view, and his theology, the more knotted my relationship with this Friend became.

Each time the Friend and I sat at a meal or attended an adult education session, my heart ached at the degree to which we disagreed--about where God was leading the meeting around a specific decision, about what the nature of worship was, about how Friends were to participate in the life of the meeting.

Some times I left our interaction with much anger; other times I left while weeping.

I could not see the way out; I could not see the way forward. And ultimately, I simply removed myself from the Friend's presence entirely as best I could. In a big urban meeting, that's pretty easy to do.

At the time that I was removing myself, I unknowingly was also giving the situation, the "knot" of the relationship, over to God. I had tugged at it, pulled at it, gnawed at it as much as I was going to. I had "tried" to resolve it on my own, and my efforts were fruitless.

Then, a few years went by. Years.

At that time, it happened that another Friend in the meeting had lost her partner to cancer, and there was a large memorial/reception/wake held. People were coming and going--relatives, neighbors, friends and friends of friends. And more than a few Quakers.

The house where the gathering was held was spacious, and it was only on my way out that I ran into the Friend whose presence I had been avoiding. I had thought to keep on walking but something deeper within me said not to. I greeted the Friend, and we spoke amiably--and I thought, comfortably--about how we were each doing, what we were each up to.

When I headed to the car a few minutes later, I reflected on that little "miracle-mystery": Without doing anything consciously at my end, I was quietly and unexpectedly reconciled with this Friend, who perhaps knew nothing of my own angst that had preceded that particular moment.

Since that reception/wake, the Friend and I continue to cross paths in the meeting. Though our respective views on God and Quakerism continue to differ, my heart remains softened and I feel I have been given a gift of the Spirit.



Robin M. said...

I suppose that there is also an element of time healing your wounds as well. And your own growth in spiritual maturity, which is also a gift of the Holy Spirit and not to be discounted.

But this is one of the main points in the book I'm reading now, The Christian's Secret to a Happy Life, that when we give over our burdens and trust completely in God, God will do the work. We just have to let God do it.

It reminds me somewhat of a mother trying to comb tangles out of a child's hair. The mother wants to do it, really it is for the child's benefit, but the child has to sit still in order for it to work. Otherwise, it may still happen but it will take a lot longer and hurt a lot more.

Nancy A said...

"Try" in Penn's quote could also mean the root of "trial," which means both to test and to do at the same time.

As an editor, I have to quibble with Yoda. There certainly *is* a "try" but it is inward, not outward. "Try" refers to our intention, not our results.

To paraphrase another Quaker, if an act of try fails, it is no less part of the divine life as an act of try that succeeds.

Of all the Quakers I've ever read, I find Penn the most quotable.

Lorcan said...

Well timed. I was involved in a talk with a group of Friends the other day, and all were not in unity with my contention that we should regard all others in our SOF with unconditional love. The reactions all mistook the definition of love as attraction... All ( other than I ) said there are those in the Meeting I do not love. One said, if I did love everyone in the Meeting and everyone in the world (as I do) that he hopes I will not be crucified. I was profoundly unsettled that among those Quakers present, every reflection stated around the circle did not express the definition on love on which our faith (then a Christian faith) was founded. This is not to say we need be disciples of Christ, but that the discipleship to each other in the definition of Friend, comes to our faith in the description of love which comes out of the teaching of Yeshua ben Joseph - called by some "the" Christ.

In Latin, there are different words for what we in English lump together in the word love. What most people described last night was attraction - "I don't love everyone in the Meeting" is to say, "I don't love vanilla ice cream, I don't love vacationing in Florida, I don't love punk music." To understand the meaning of love in the statement that we children of light love every thing in creation is to understand that love in that tradition is about discipline.

Our Meeting often seems to be adrift, without discipline. In some faiths there is hierarchical discipline flowing from an institutional authority and that institution's officers. In the Society of Friends there is a discipline which flows from the relationship of each of us being disciplined to each other. We became so wary of hierarchy that we stopped considering what proper discipline and discipleship mean, and seem surprised that we now have an undisciplined Meeting.

When I see a spreading youth movement in Quakerism, which self identifies as "Convergent Friends" expressing a need to address the lack of definition in Quakerism today, I wonder if they are not reacting to the lack of love in our Meetings rather than the lack of definition? Their response has been to try and reclaim the theology of early Quakerism. Frankly, I think we might do better to reclaim the discipline of love among early Friends as theology has shown itself to be divisive.

For me, Love is shared authority. Love is not turning away when hurt. Love is putting one's own agenda in the stream of the community's flow, not forward as a dam against other leadings.

Dearly with love

nicole said...

Dear Lorcan,
you wrote: "For me, Love is shared authority. Love is not turning away when hurt. Love is putting own's own agenda in the stream of the community's flow, not forward as a dam against other leadings."

Your way of associating Love (the capital letter, for me, indicates a universal divine source) together with "shared authority", with "not turning away when hurt", and "putting one's agenda in the stream of the community flow, - not as a dam against other leadings" has moved me in ways I can't quite articulate. All of the things you mention seem to be ways we have available to us of sifting and discerning between our "egos" or "own will" and that of a "will" greater than and more inclusive than our own. In real life, this can be very tricky, because we can only really "have" our own experience- and yet what we are reaching for is greater than that. Sometimes people refer to this kind of knowing beyond knowing, or experience beyond experience as 'divining', and I think I see why we might sometimes prefer that word or want to combine it, as in: "know the divine" or "experience the divine" to indicate our awareness that this is something shared, universal, available to all, but also more than the sum of its parts.

This discernment or sifting out is difficult in everyday life. There are different relationships that are involved in this discernment. Our relationship to god/Spirit/the divine/the Seed; our relationship to our community of seekers; and our relationship to all others we may come in contact with on the planet. Each of these relationships is constantly changing as we continue our journeys.

That is why your comment that maybe it is the lack of the "discpline" and "discipleship" of Love that we feel is missing, rather than a lack of definition, speaks so clearly to me. Thank you so much for your post.

I realize I have repeated many of your words. Please forgive me if I end up using them differently than the way you intended. But please keep writing.

in faith and friendship, Nicole

MartinK said...

Hi Liz,
The "try" reminded me of my attempt to be less definitive in my communication. When someone asks "Martin, will xyz be done by abc time" I try not to reply back "yes sir, sir" but to reply that I'll try or will do everything I can to make sure it does. It goes against the modern business ethos that we must always be projecting supreme confidence but it follows the Quaker ideal that we're God's servants first and ultimately on His time. One of the points I take from the Good Samaritan story is that there are times when we must put aside our plans to help those we would consider neighbors. Adding "try" also acknowledges that I am fallible and don't always manage to do everything I would want, so in that way it's a small act of humility. I'm sure there have been moments when my scruples have been interpreted as weakness. (Like you, I don't think this is quite what Penn meant in his famous quote.)

That's a fascinating story about the reconciliation of years. I think Robin and local gal Hannah Whitall Smith are right that sometimes we need to leave things up to God and that sometimes this will mean years of unresolved feelings. We grow through these sorts of trials too.

Mark Wutka said...

Dear Liz & all,
As I have been reflecting upon what Lor wrote with respect to love, I find my feelings reflected in what Robin wrote: we give over our burdens and trust completely in God, God will do the work. We just have to let God do it. It is difficult, perhaps impossible, to love everyone through human will. But in opening ourselves to the Holy Spirit and letting God's love flow through us to others, we will eventually find that it is possible. I say "eventually" because I know I am not there yet, but I have faith that it is possible to be there.

Love is patient, and kind. Love is not jealous, not boastful, not arrogant, not rude. Love does not insist on its own way. It is not irritable or resentful. Love does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

With love,

Liz Opp said...

Wow, I hadn't realized how far behind I have gotten with blog-reading, including comments made to The Good Raised Up.

Robin -

Y'know, we tend to look at our own growth last, don't we? Thanks for this reminder that even our own spiritual maturing is "not to be discounted."

And yes, I seem to learn the lesson over and over and over again, that when I get out of my own way and give my struggles and worries over to God, God does a much better job of handling things than I ever would!

Nancy A -

Nice to see you here again. ...I like what you lift up here, about the inward intention that is connected with the word "try."

At the same time, what I have found in my life is that when I set my intention to doing and not "only" to trying, as long as the doing is in harmony with God's will and therefore with the leading I have received, then I find greater satisfaction and joy in my doing than if I had only intended to "try."

Not sure if that makes sense or not.

The clearest example I have in my mind right now is when I was clear to set up a family meeting to share with everyone how disconnected I felt from my parents and siblings. I had considered just how to carry out that family meeting, and so I pursued and implemented those plans, rather than just "trying."

Maybe you and I are in fact saying the same thing, though, since I had released any sense of expectation on how things would work out. I held true to my inward intention--to share my heart and my concerns with the family--and didn't worry about the results.

Hmm, more to chew on, as always. smile

. . . . . . .

This is all I have time for right now, but I intend to return to the other comments and consider them as well in time.


Liz Opp said...

Lorcan -

I think many Americans don't understand the concept of unconditional love. ...I know in my own life, I was in my late 30s or early 40s before I began to grasp what unconditional love was and how it was different from attraction or desire.

I don't know Latin or Greek, but I have come across the words eros, philios, and agape--the difference between sexual desire, familial endearment, and unconditional warmth and affection towards one another.

Still, it sounds like a lonely place, to be so misunderstood by those in your faith community, both about agape Love and about the discipline of our faith tradition.

As to the Convergent Friends question, I am continuing to watch as nonjudgmentally as possible. I don't see it as solely reclaiming either an earlier theology or the discipline of Love. For me it is both of these things and more than these things. It is, in part, lifting up language, practice, and theology that have been on the brink of disappearing among some Friends. And it is a conversation that has transcended some of the schisms of our faith.

I am not the only Friend who might bear witness to how one's judgments--against Friends who practice in a form different from one's own--have been melted away by the Convergent conversation. And I would say that there is an increase in a sense of Love among many of us, so that is something to be grateful for.

Your comments about "we might do better to reclaim the discipline of love" reminds me quite a bit about a short post that Pam wrote, about whether or not Love should be lifted up as a testimony.

Thanks for taking the time to write and for giving me more to consider, Lorcan.

Nicole -

Glad you stopped by and added your "voice" to the conversation. Sometimes we need affirmation that we are in fact not crazy!

Martin -

Like you, I take care in how I phrase my agreement to take on a task or meet a deadline. My own linguistic choice has taken me down the road of using the word "plan," as in "I'll plan to get back to you tomorrow afternoon" or "My plan is to finish that up by the end of the week."

I think like many Friends, we're aware that we are sometimes called to spend our time and energy differently from what we had initially envisioned.

Mark -

How wonderful to hear from you again! And thanks for the reminder about the qualities of Love.