October 31, 2008


My sweetie and I went to Florida this past week to see family, and I viewed it as an opportunity for retirement, in the Quaker sense of the word:

Friends have known since our beginning that times of retirement from outward activity nourish the soul and allow us to sink deeper into an awareness of God's work in our lives.
--Friends Center of Ohio Yearly Meeting

Times of retirement are the times when we pull back from the chatter and busyness of our outward lives, enter that amazing sanctuary, and allow our inner wisdom, the Inward Teacher, to rise up in us... We have to pause, let the static quiet, so that we can hear.
--Pat McBee's article on Quaker disciplines
I was glad to be away from the day-to-day responsibilities that have been weighing on me back home, but spiritual retirement to me is more than that.

It involves intentionally reflecting on the condition of my soul and my heart.

Where in my life is the sense of the Presence strong or abundant? Where in my life is the Spirit lacking and what can I do to give more attention the Spirit in those places? What brings me joy; what diminishes it? Where do I feel I am being faithful to what I've been given, and where do I feel I could be more faithful?

It's this last question that has worked on me while I've been away.

A while ago, maybe two or even three years now, I was encouraged by a few Friends to write more extensively about Quaker identity, what it is, how it's shaped, how it's sustained. I've had a number of false starts, but the sense of feeling "required" to pull something together, something more substantial than individual blogposts, has been consistent and compelling.

I've taken some time--on the plane ride home, during the layover, before turning out my light and pulling the covers over my head (in my own bed!)--to look at what I can do to hold myself more accountable to this writing project.

Two months ago I began work with a writing coach who specializes in spiritual and faith-based writing. While this has been an important step in a much larger process, my recent time of retirement illuminated for me that it is not enough. I have a few other "next steps" to do:

1. Discipline myself to avoid looking at email until the afternoons, so I can focus on blog writing, blog reading, and the more intensive writing for me to do on Quaker identity.

2. Write daily, even if a writing session is only one hour or less. I'm hoping this will be like priming the pump, so that I get in a groove and won't have to "start cold" every time I feel ready to write a segment.

3. Keep at it, keep at it, keep at it. Just like I continue to go to meeting for worship even when I don't feel like it, I push myself to go anyway, so I don't fall into acedia: not caring that I don't care.

Retirement can certainly provide refreshment at the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual level. And in my case, it has provided protected time and an interior personal space for me to be shown the Way forward, and to be given understanding as to what has been in the way of being faithful.



Martin Kelley said...

Hi Liz: thanks for the update, I've been thinking it's a bit quiet and good to know there's work behind the scenes.

That's a great regimen you're attempting (smile). You might be doing this already, but I've found that reading some good Quaker writing from someone not too very close (chronologically or theologically) can also help me see something fresh. The posts that come from this reading tend to be of a threshing nature, as it's an engagement with that other Friend.

It's interesting that you set email apart from blog reading. There's a pretty strong continuum between my blog and my email correspondence. It's like the iceberg, with the blog being the visible 10% of the Quaker talking I'm doing (with Twitter, Facebook, and private IM's adding a bit). But I realize that my email correspondence is tied to my blog identity. I get a lot of a certain few kinds of emails--mostly people coming into or about to leave Friends. I wonder if it would be possible to court a certain demographic or theme of email correspondence? Just a thought.

Liz Opp said...

Hey, Martin!

My own email correspondence tends to focus on committee work, either for the monthly meeting or for the worship group. At least, that's what's typically in the inbox. ...There aren't too many folks writing me to ask about what helps them strengthen their Quaker identity! smile

My outbox sometimes includes emails to friends and family, but even those exchanges seem to go dormant from time to time.

I also appreciate your suggestion/encouragement for me to get back to reading something by early/earlier Friends. Just last night, I was asking myself what got in the way of my doing that very thing, since it seems there was a very distinct time when I stopped reading.

The answer...? I got an iPhone (what I fondly think of as my iGadget) about 18 months ago, and for the past five or six, I have had it next to my bed overnight! Instead of reading Quaker things before drifting off to sleep, I was playing Scrabble or writing one last email.

The fact that your suggestion and my awareness coincide within close to twelve hours of each other--literally--has grabbed my attention.

It's good to hear from you again.