This past First Day, after a few months of planning, the worship group hosted visitors from Decorah Meeting, part of Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative).
We've been experimenting with how to incorporate Adult Education into our First Day routine, using a short piece from Scripture or from Quaker writings as a prompt for discussion. This time, after greetings and introductions, we started with a piece from Britain Yearly Meeting's Faith & Practice about being good plumbers and helping ensure a clear channel for the Living Water. Then we were asked to reflect on the reading.
What I remember is the verse from Scripture that opened the F&P excerpt:
For My people have committed two evils:As others began sharing their own reflections on being spiritual plumbers, I found myself thinking back to where I was the night before:
They have forsaken Me,
the fountain of living waters,
to hew for themselves cisterns,
broken cisterns that can hold no water.
Jeremiah 2:13 (New American Standard Bible)
At the roller derby.
A group of friends that we've been getting to know through watching movies together had invited us to go and, to make a long story short, let's just say I agreed to go with Jeanne on that particular night and leave it at that.
The "legendary" arena where the event was held was sold out. Our friends and the two of us got free T-shirts and light sticks. I won a high-tech thermos by answering a trivia question about coffee. Another friend won a nice hooded sweatshirt. The music was loud; our friends and thousands of fans were yelling nearly the entire time. There were flashing lights and zealous announcers whose play-by-play calls echoed thunderously in the room.
And there were the rollergirls. Very hippy, very aggressive, very agile rollergirls, some of whom fell pretty hard while skating around what amounts to the same sort of short track that Olympian Apolo Anton Ohno excels on. But roller derbys are not held on an skating rink with nice people letting you go gliding by. The sport takes place on a hardwood oval track--and it is a contact sport.
At one point, I began to wonder what I was doing there. And when half-time came, around 8:30, I realized how overstimulated and overwhelmed I was. Jeanne was worn out too, so we called it quits and headed home. I was asleep by 10:15 that night.
And now it was the next day, and I was sitting in someone's living room, a very different arena, in a much more contemplative oval. The physical contact among us that morning had been warm and hearty hugs to greet the Friends from Iowa. Instead of watching where the lead jammer was and the hustle of the derby's pack, I was thinking about broken cisterns and not being able to hold and attend to the Living Water.
I felt a pang of sadness and I immediately understood how the roller derby had been a tremendous distraction for me at a number of levels:
I was caught up with the crowd, very detached from any sense of myself, let alone the Presence.
I was focused on possessions, rushing about to collect SWAG (Stuff We All Get).
And I was enraptured by the lights, colors, and action:
I was taken out of myself in a serious way, and I knew deep within me, that I could let myself become completely immersed in the roller derby culture, to the point of ignoring any attention-getting by the still small voice that I know as God Eternal.
In our worship sharing and discussion that morning, I was aware that there were other cracks developing in my cistern, not just because of the events from the previous night.
For example, as the spring emerges, so do new opportunities for me to travel among Friends and to visit family. It is only early March, yet I already have invitations and plans to travel to two events in Iowa, one event in Michigan, one event in Oregon, and events in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, and Indiana.
More cracks in the cistern.
Am I hewing my own cistern, taking broad, rough strokes at what I think will be opportunities to help nurture me and my spiritual life as a Quaker? Have I been so quick to dig a well that I have taken little care to check how well I am digging it?
I shared all this during Adult Education, and I added that I must take care in assessing where my cracks are and what causes them. The cracks must be mended if I am to be able to hold the Living Water and be filled, renewed by the Spirit.
After we each had a chance to share our thoughts about the reading, we entered worship.
A few minutes into the settling silence, there was a soft knock at the door. The woman whose house we were worshiping in stepped outside for a moment, came back in, went into the kitchen, and emerged with three or four eggs in her hand. She disappeared into the hall for half a moment before returning to the circle.
We resettled, and my thoughts returned to broken cisterns. And eggs.
Eggs are a certain type of vessel with a gift inside, I would share during our time of reflection after worship. We cannot know the gift until the walls of the egg are cracked and the egg is cracked open. I wonder if this is the same for we humans. We have spiritual gifts within us, and sometimes we cannot know the gift until the Spirit breaks us open.
Also, I have heard it said that when there is a break in a bone, for example, when the bone is knit back together, the area of the break is stronger than it was before. Perhaps that is true for us, too. When we are broken open by the Spirit, maybe something in ourselves is made stronger because of it.
I stopped speaking just then because I thought that was all I had to say. But then it seems I was Given a bit more, and I continued:
I also believe we must be humble and keep low in order to allow ourselves to be broken open. But sometimes, at least for me, my pride tricks me into believing that I need to protect myself from certain things, and I build up my walls, shore up my shell, thinking that I am becoming a better cistern and vessel for the Spirit as a result.
In fact, pride is not the best way to prevent cracks from forming, and pride only slows the inbreaking of the Spirit. It is humility that I need and a willingness to remain vulnerable to others and to the Spirit, because the inbreaking of the Spirit often starts with these sorts of cracks. And once I am broken open, and maybe after a gift has come to light for me, then I can allow for God to help mend me, too.
So there is a rich connection for me between humility, cracks, vulnerability, and being broken open that I hadn't fully considered before.
Thanks for reading me.