In recent days, one of my Quaker "buttons" has gotten pushed a few times, so I thought I'd pay attention to it and write about it.
It's the one about to what extent we listen deeply to another Friend's spoken message, whether given during worship, during a committee meeting, or over a potluck meal. How often do we ask ourselves if a particular minister is embodying the voice of God that says:
"You, in the corner: This message is for you."A few weeks ago, during the part of our worship where "messages that didn't rise to the level of vocal ministry" are welcome, I found myself rising to speak to the metaphor of babies in the river and how that relates to social change. I didn't know that I would be moved to tears as I was telling the story. Clearly, though, Something had been working on me during worship.
When worship ended, a number of people approached me to "thank" me for what I had shared. Most of them took time to affirm me for the good work I was already doing and told me not be hard on myself for not doing more.
As I recall, only one Friend mentioned that the message I offered that day had given her something to think about. And she is already in her 80s, has worked in the Congo, and has been a long-time war-tax resister.
I had already begun wrestling with the question if I'm called to "go upriver" or if I'm called to "pull out the babies" (see the above link), but I left that Meeting for Worship wondering how many worshipers would consider what Light may be in that story for them to wrestle with. I felt disconnected from all but that one person who had approached me after worship. Why?
And then I realized that I worry about and am anguished by the possibility that many Friends who worship in the unprogrammed tradition--many, not all--seem to keep themselves an arm's length away from considering the question, "What Light or Truth might be in that Friend's message for me?"
These days, it's unlikely that we're going to have the experience that Anne Wilson and Samuel Bownas had, when she arose during worship and spoke plainly.
Here's what Samuel writes:
...fixing her eye upon me, she with a great zeal pointed her finger at me, uttering these words with much power: "A traditional Quaker, thou comest to meeting as thou went from it, and goes from it as thou came to it but art no better for thy coming; what wilt thou do in the end?"In Samuel's case, he was able to listen to the message--if not right away, then at some point later--and not blame the messenger-minister for literally singling him out (if not right away, then at some point later!). He was able to allow the Light to work on him inwardly and over time, and ultimately he grew into his own measure of Light.
But as Liz Gates asks in remarks she made in 2005:
How many of us sit on the bench next to Samuel, comfortable and quiet?Indeed: How many of us would think that the message Anne gave was only for Samuel, since she pointed directly to him?
Sometimes I fear that we don't listen deeply to a message from a minister because we really don't want to be changed, challenged, or exercised spiritually.
Or if we do open ourselves to the possibility of growth and change, so often it's got to be on our own terms--during summer vacation, or after the baby comes, or after I get done with painting the house.
Have we lost the discipline of coming to waiting worship, expecting we could be changed?