For the first time in about five or six weeks, I attended the midweek evening worship at the monthly meeting. It felt like the first time in about that long since I actually had some time to myself and wasn't doing committee work or rushing to get out of town on a trip or returning someone's phone call.
During worship, I found myself reflecting on just where the month of September went:
I hadn't done much blogging--reading or writing.
I hadn't done much gardening.
I hadn't done much socializing.
I hadn't been at worship regularly, either at monthly meeting or at the worship group.
So what had I been doing? ...A camping trip in late August. ...Helping prepare and host a large barbecue for 40 people. ...A trip to Massachusetts in early September.
But why was I feeling so drained? Some of those things were fun and even restful.
The answer came easily unfortunately: I've been drained because the events of the day have taken my focus off of God. I have instead been sucked in by news stories about the U.S. economic downturn and the craziness of this year's presidential election. I had lost my Center bit by bit.
Many Quakers--but not all!--caution one another about distractions, diversions, and temptations, but historically that's often meant gambling and drinking. More recently, it's included tobacco and even caffeine among some Friends.
Iowa Yearly Meeting Conservative raises this sort of caution in its Advice and Query on personal responsibility. North Carolina Yearly Meeting Conservative does so too, in its query on our manner of living.
ADVICE: (excerpt) ...Joining secret organizations, gambling and using addictive and/or consciousness‑altering substances were recognized as practices which diverted resources from useful purposes, distracted attention from the Inner Light, and placed obstacles in the way of Friends seeking to lead lives of integrity. We recognize the spirit of these testimonies and endeavor to apply the same principles in our lives today. ...We need to free ourselves from distractions that interfere with our search for inner peace, and accept with thanksgiving all that promotes fullness and aids in service to the divine Center.North Carolina:
QUERY: (excerpt) How do we center our lives in the awareness of God the' Spirit, so that all things may take their rightful places? How do we structure our individual lives in order to keep them uncluttered with things and activities? How does Meeting help us examine our personal lives for simplicity?..."
"QUERY: (excerpt) Do we choose those activities which will strengthen our physical, mental, and spiritual life; and do we avoid those harmful to ourselves and others? Are we mindful of Friends testimonies against alcoholic beverages, tobacco, and other harmful drugs; and do we refrain from using them or dealing in them, realizing that abstinence is the clearest witness against overindulgence? Do we seek to avoid all kinds of gambling and places of diversion that tend to be demoralizing?..."
So in worship tonight, I recalled my time at NCYMC this past summer, when their query was read and we heard responses and then spoke out of the silence. Some of us spoke about how investing in the stock market may be a form of gambling. Others spoke about the use of computers, television, and video games as being modern forms of addiction or diversion.
And that's what I discovered about myself and these past few weeks: Television and the media became distractions for me. God was no longer at my Center, but the drama of politics and money were.
So tonight in worship, I lay before God my confession of my actions and I began to feel the slightest bit lighter. In that seed of being transformed, I began to consider what my patterns are like when I am focused on God and when God is at the core of my life.
Ultimately, three words were given to me:
When I feel my life is more attuned with Gospel Order, I am doing more to serve the Spirit, or others or both, than I am to serve myself.
When I feel my life is more aligned with God's desire, I find it is easier for me to cherish those around me, even during difficulty.
When I have been faithful in service and loving towards others, I find I am more easily refreshed when I also give myself time to retire.
And retirement, in the Quaker sense of the word, doesn't mean sitting in front of the television for three or four hours straight, watching CNN.
It's time for me to get back to God. It's time for me to tune in again.