January 28, 2008

2007 report to Laughing Waters Friends

About a week before I read Peterson's post that includes his sort of "year in review," I had been preparing to share my own, in part because the online community of Quaker blogs has helped me articulate what has had been laid on my heart and how to address it.

What follows below is a report I presented recently at Laughing Waters Friends Worship Group, which has minuted its support of the call to ministry into which I've been living. I was unexpectedly very tender as I read this in front of the group: there is something about putting myself out there and being received with such love and presence.

I continue to carry the hope that more of our meetings will receive reports like this so we can gather a sense of how the Spirit is moving among us... and so Friends can become more aware of an otherwise invisible process about the support that is available when wrestling with leadings and struggling to be faithful, so that they too might feel encouraged in their striving to be obedient.

After all, it was only when I heard another Friend from another meeting share her report with her care-and-accountability committee (the Friend had invited me to sit in on it)--who in turn made a report about the Friend's obedience to the Spirit that ultimately was shared with the larger body--that I began to understand the importance of hearing from one another how the Truth is prospering among us.

My life as a Friend has never been the same since.


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First Month 2008

Condition of the call

How do we make explicit our faith and convey its traditions to one another, to newcomers, to young families who find their way to our meetings? What helps us sustain and strengthen our identity as Friends when we are surrounded by a culture that is in effect counter to Quakerism?

--excerpt from my 2006 report
One of the things I sit with as I prepare this annual report is the condition of the call, of the concern that I have been carrying over the past year or so. Does the concern still have Life? Am I still under the weight of it?

The inward answers to these questions bring up a sense of sadness: I know inwardly that the work that has been laid on my heart is not done, and even as I labor and share among Friends, I see more of the remaining work that needs tending.

It is like bringing a candle into an immense darkened ballroom or banquet hall: at the start, the first few feet from the entrance, if that, are all that are illuminated, and we may hesitate to move on. Yet by moving forward with the small light we are given, our memory of the entry will join itself with the experience and new memory of seeing evermore of the hall; and the farther we move into it, the greater the awareness of the space into which we travel, such that we may be nearly overwhelmed with the size of it—though the size of the spacious room itself has been there all along. Instead, what has changed is ourselves and our awareness, now we have had the room, the space, the work enlightened unto us. We are innocent no longer. We can blow out the candle but the new darkness will not extinguish the memory of what we had entered, what we had seen. Nor will it change the existence of the room itself and its vastness.

So it is that the spiritual room to which I have been called, the work which has been laid on my heart to carry, remains with me and seems all the larger, whether I am traveling among Friends or not. The carriage in my heart remains: to encourage one another to examine our faith tradition and share our understandings of the foundations of our practice; to encourage us to restore the Light of God to the center of our discernment; to remember that Love binds us to one another and that tender listening strengthens those bonds that would otherwise suffer and tear.

Faithfulness and being loving

A major theme that arose during the latter part of this year for me has been the intersection between being faithful as a Friend and being loving. When I was in the midst of exploring this topic, I wrote about my musings* on The Good Raised Up:
…Why haven't I internalized the message of "Be love" to the same degree that I have with "Be faithful"?

I could point to my religious upbringing and say I wasn't raised in the Christian faith, where perhaps [Jesus’] message of radical love would have been reinforced... but that wouldn't explain why I have internalized and embraced other parts of the Quaker discipline.

I wonder now if it's because as Friends we often encourage one another in our faithfulness by affirming, "Thee was faithful." My gosh, how many times have I myself commented on another's post, "It sounds like you are being faithful to what you have been given"?!

Yet I don't recall a time--ever--when I heard one Friend say to another, "Thee was loving."

Do I need to hear the words as well as see the actions that express and connote love? Am I that obtuse, that human, to need such repetition and reinforced modeling by so many others over such a long period of time?

Apparently so.

At the same time, I am struck over and over again by the tenderness, care, and love expressed in the letters and epistles of early Friends like Penington, Fox, Woolman. (The book I'm reading now, Quaker Spirituality, is feeding into all these questions I am having about the (unnamed) testimony of Love.)

A Hebrew prayer, revisited

For the last few weeks of 2007, for a reason that is apparent only now, I have found myself recalling bits and pieces of a Jewish prayer known as the V'ahavta: (see also Deuteronomy 6:5-9)
You shalt love the Lord Your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might... And these words which I command you this day shall be upon your heart... and you shall write them upon the doorposts of your house and upon your gates....
I find I am being called to remember that it is not enough to be faithful or to speak the Truth as it is revealed to me. It is important to be faithful, to speak the Truth ...and to do so in Love.
I cannot dismiss how much internal work I have before me, to truly bring Love—God’s Love and God’s Love expressed through me—to all that I do, whether seeking or finding, speaking or discerning, laboring or listening.

Even as I yield to the Spirit and continue to give my life over to the service, I am often reminded by the Friends who serve as elders on my care-and-accountability committee that I focus too much on my own needs, my own views, my own judgment. I am reminded to stay low, to give my concerns over to God, to get out of my own way so that Spirit may breathe, break through, and transform whatever personal barriers I have created, reinforced, or imagined as real.

Maintaining the blog The Good Raised Up

The Good Raised Up continues to carry a sense of meaning for me and is helping me sustain a sense of faithfulness and a tenderness towards those who read it and comment on it, despite the fact that I have written fewer posts this year.

In addition, reading the blogs of other Quakers also has helped broaden and deepen my own understanding of Quakerism, across the branches and across the generations. I read others who lift up their concerns and questions, and we share our journeys in striving to be faithful to what we’ve been given, while also being loving.

What gifts did God give me this year?

The opportunity to serve as clerk of the Workshops Subcommittee for the 2007 Gathering of Friends General Conference brought me an unforeseen joy over a period of 14 months or so. By being faithful to how God was asking me to serve, and by leaning on the advice and counsel of others connected to the Gathering Committee and to FGC, myself and the rest of the sizeable committee of Friends from across the continent were able to maintain a refreshment of Spirit and a comraderie of fellowship over the year. I myself felt very well used during this period, and I also feel I have left a solid foundation on which subsequent committees can build.

I also count as a gift the challenge, care, accountability, and support of the committee of elders from the monthly meeting that has met with me every 4-6 weeks for two years now. These Friends help me stay rooted in love while striving to be faithful to what I’ve been given, whether I’m clerking a committee, participating in a retreat, or struggling with my humanness.

I equally count as a gift the steady nurture, care, and presence of Friends who worship with me weekly at Laughing Waters Friends Worship Group. Without your care and spiritual nurture, I would not be so readily sustained in the work I am given within the monthly meeting and elsewhere.

What is God calling forth in me?

As 2007 draws to a close, I am aware of two new openings for me to consider, test, and live into, at least for a while. One is a growing push or prod for me to “get what is in me out of me.” As far as I can tell, this is about starting to put onto paper many of the understandings, thoughts, and concerns I have stored up about Quaker identity. Instead of focusing on creating a manuscript proposal for a publisher to look at—which I was encouraged to do in 2004 or 2005—it’s become clear to me that I should write for the sake of writing, for the sake of getting my thoughts and ideas out of me and onto the page, whether electronic or paper.

The other opening I’ve had has been around eldership and spiritual companioning. I’ve had opportunities to provide spiritual support and to be a prayerful presence to a few people in 2007, including a traveling minister who visited with a few Friends in the area in July; and one Friend's request and invitation that I be part of an on-stage worshipful presence during her performance piece, Witnessing to a Murder.

The most surprising opening, though, came to my attention at the FGC consultation last November, when Friend Jan Hoffman was leading a small group in which I was participating. Here is how I described it in a personal correspondence:
[When] my small group leader during the consultation said to me, "You have a powerful gift of eldering," I froze. I have felt such a thing within me but have been cautious to point to it as anything in particular. Now I feel seen and exposed in one sense (by this Friend), but very invisible in another (by the meeting, which doesn’t formally recognize or acknowledge elders).
I also find that since this naming, I seem to yearn even more greatly for nurture and support if indeed I am to be called and called-out in this way.

So I sit with these openings and will wait to see how they might turn and evolve.

In service,
Liz Oppenheimer

*NOTE: The entire post on being faithful and being loving is here.


Robin M. said...

Oh Liz. Thank you for sharing this report. I think I have experienced some of that same tenderness in sharing what is so precious even with those who care about us.

Your care (and gifts) in eldering has been apparent to me since I first encountered your blog, and more so since I first met you in person.

I pray that you will find the nurture and support you need - from God, from Friends, from inside yourself.

Peterson Toscano said...

Liz, I like the format of your report--gives me some ideas.

Liz Opp said...

Robin -

Thanks, as always, for taking the time to read and comment. I treasure where these blogs and our friendship have taken us!

Peterson -

I've gleaned different topics for these reports from different places... Some from Brian Drayton's reports that he included in his book on gospel ministry; others from reports I've filled out on behalf of FGC's yearly meeting visitor's program.

Of course, I also just sit with a blank computer screen or blank piece of paper in front of me for a long time, wondering how I'll be led to fill it. smile