September 21, 2008

Mt. Toby Meeting and September reflections

I feel as though I've been in a time warp: How did it get to be the third week of September already?!?

Yet, I know it's been a number of weeks since I've been able to do any of my regular blog reading--in case anyone wonders why I haven't appeared in comments, let alone on The Good Raised Up.

Here's a little bit of what I've been up to, as summer has slipped into fall.

Being away

After my return from Iowa Conservative Yearly Meeting sessions, I rested for a short time before Jeanne and I went camping for three days and nights on the north shore of Lake Superior.

I wasn't raised in a camping family--more like a symphony-and-Broadway-theater one--but the campsite we had booked was, by some camping standards, "cushy," with a nice view of Lake Superior, a walking path down to the lake, toilets nearby, and a fresh water spring, practically next door, with a pump that was always flowing. The weather cooperated for the most part, and we had the requisite hotdogs-over-a-campfire and s'mores.

A couple of weeks later, we threw a big barbecue for friends and neighbors. We had nearly 45 people in our backyard... until it started to rain, and then we had 40 people in our living room!

I had thought I'd get back into my blogging routine after that, but not so. I've been dealing with allergies for the first time in my life, ever since coming back from camping. Plus, we've had some house projects going on, including upgrading our overall heating-and-cooling system.

Mount Toby Meeting

Just as things were quieting down again, we packed up once more and headed to visit family and Quaker friends in Massachusetts for a week. We were able to attend Mt. Toby Meeting in Amherst, and I was able, at long last, to meet Cat Chapin-Bishop and Peter Bishop.

(FYI, Cat gives great hugs, if you're ever able to get together with her and are in need of one!)

As a meeting, Mt. Toby is much larger than I expected it to be, with about 50-60 Friends attending worship in a space filled with benches rather than chairs. I saw some familiar faces among the worshipers, including a family from Northern Yearly Meeting territory.

Though the announcements ran for nearly another 20 minutes after worship broke (am I exaggerating...? I can't be sure), Mt. Toby has taken up a practice of inviting worshipers to stay behind and settle back into the silence for some additional worship and worship sharing. That practice intrigues me, though only a handful of Friends actually stayed that particular time.

Another Friend mentioned to me, during fellowship, that the next week would be the week they would permit no announcements at all, so that the meeting might hold worship a while longer and not become so unsettled by all the news of events, etc. It's a shame I wasn't able to worship with them the next First Day (e.g. today).

Now we've landed again and I don't expect to be traveling until mid- or late-October.

Sustaining my Quakerism

Today was my first time in several weeks when I have been in worship at the monthly meeting near my home, and I spent some time reflecting on my own condition. I became aware that I wasn't feeling as easy in worship as I usually do, and that much of my recent time had "disappeared" into watching and reading news about the historic 2008 presidential elections coming up.

I recognized that I had been feeling out of touch with myself a bit, and during worship, I understood that I had been away from my Quaker community for a bit too long this summer. Or was with it too sporadically. Or something.

As I sank a bit more deeply into that awareness, I was reminded again that the point of worship in the manner of Friends isn't to connect in the stillness with one's community--though that certainly may be a happy outcome of the time together.

The purpose of waiting worship is to strip away all that distracts one from knowing the Light directly, from receiving guidance and direction from the Living Presence.

And so I felt a small sting of conviction, that I had gotten too caught up in my travels and in my distractions-of-choice and had not taken the time to quiet myself and remember God.

Though my community reflects my Quakerism back to me--a mirror I very much need from time to time--my relationship with God is what sustains me; and ultimately, I am accountable to God in whether I am faithful or not.

The blessing of that awareness is the reminder that, though my community does not physically travel with me across the country, God always does.



Martin Kelley said...

Good to read the check-in. The meeting-is-everything police might get at you for saying that your relationship with God can trump the relationship with community, but I agree with you. Sometimes we're put into spiritual deserts and sometimes our work for the community puts us outside of the community. That's not a popular sentiment these days--maybe it never has been--but there's definitely a balance to be struck.

I find I need constant vigilance to resettle into the silence of God's company when life is busy and routines disrupted (which is all the time!) but that's an important spiritual practice. Glad to hear you're giving it attention. Glad to hear from you,
Your Friend, Martin

Liz Opp said...

Hey there, Martin.

I went back and forth on how to write about this reverie-conviction, given the tension between the role of the community and the centrality of God in our individual lives.

But as I sat with the draft and reworked it, I kept coming back to the fact that God is always with me... and if I'm not watchful, I could place the community at the center of my faith rather than God...

And that would inevitably lead to disillusionment and pain (as in, Been There, Done That).

Thanks for the comment.


Rich in Brooklyn said...


It happens that I will be visiting Mt Toby Meeting this week for the first time ever. You're one of the many blogging Friends I've hoped to meet someday, so it feels a little frustrating that our paths came so close to crossing each other without quite doing it. Still, I'm grateful for your description of the Meeting and for the link to its website.

In my case, I will be at Mt Toby Meeting because I am attending a memorial service for Mel Long on Saturday, staying over with a Friend in Amherst on Saturday night, and attending Meeting with him and his family on Sunday before heading back to NYC by bus.

It's comforting to me to make contact with local Friends Meetings when I travel for other reasons and find myself away from home on Sunday.
- - Rich Accetta-Evans

Anonymous said...

I'm glad to hear from you; I've missed you! And that camping spot looks divine!!

Thanks, through your own story, for prodding me to take another look at my own spiritual condition. Lately, I've found myself getting more and more wrapped up in the "business" of the meeting and less able to focus on the spirituality that is involved. I know that was not this post's intention, but I did want to let you know that it spoke to me in that way.



Molly Dove said...

How lucky you are to have a monthly meeting. I am an isolated Friend and it can be lonely here. Finding folks like you on the web helps a lot.

Molly Dove

Liz Opp said...

Hi there, folks.

I'm a bit embarrassed to say that some of your comments have slipped past my eyes as I scan my Inbox during these busy days.


How nice to hear from you. I wish I had seen your comment when you first posted it. Like you, I am eager to meet you as a fellow Quaker blogger.

Also like you, I find great comfort and a certain "treasure" in being able to travel and--many times, but not always--find Friends along the way, especially on any given First Day.

When I know I am traveling for a time, I don't like to put my itinerary online, lest others take advantage of knowing I am away. That said, if I find myself making plans to travel to the New York area (it could happen, since my folks live in New Jersey), I can certainly let you know by email.

...So: How was your experience at Mt. Toby? or what you can remember of it, since that was a few weeks ago.

Mia -

There are times when writing a blogpost is a bit like speaking at Meeting for Worship: I don't always know why I've been asked to say what I've been Given, but I've learned to trust that it will land in someone's heart or spirit and speak to that person in a way that will be helpful.

I'm always pleased to see you here and I appreciate what you add to the conversation, even if it's your own personal reflections on something that's been written.

Molly -

Like any relationship, being part of a monthly meeting isn't always peachy. There are lots of opportunity for bickering and nit-picking; though, yes: there is a certain "social safety net" that helps us in our daily lives...

I see that you have a blog too, and I wonder if you would write--either there or here--about what you do to sustain your own Quakerism.

How did you come into Quakers? Did you apply for membership while you were more involved in a Quaker meeting or church and then have to move away?

Or have you always been geographically isolated from Friends and requested membership through a non-traditional process?

...There are times in worship, Molly, when I consider George Fox's early struggle, his anguish over the disillusionment he experienced with priests and "professors" (e.g. those who "professed" the faith but didn't live by it). Fox himself was the epitome of an isolated Friend, don't you think?!?

I'm sorry for the loneliness that visits you from time to time. If the internet and blogs help ease that on occasion, I'm glad.

On a related note, I have read about an online meeting for worship, and I've taken a brief look at its website. I have no idea how active it is, was, or has been, but I can say that I recognize a few of the names of the Friends who are listed as "members" there.

I hope you'll continue to read, write, pray, and share your experience as a Child of the Light and as a Friend of the Truth.


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