March 9, 2010

Eggs, the roller derby, and hewing broken cisterns

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:
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)
As others began sharing their own reflections on being spiritual plumbers, I found myself thinking back to where I was the night before:

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.



Mary Ellen said...

Liz, this is a lovely reflection, with the spring-like images of flowing waters and eggs being broken open.

I, too, would have found the roller derby to be overwhelming and distracting - but also an interesting opportunity to view my neighbors in a setting I might never see again. (I enjoyed hearing the description about it, at any rate.)

Eric H-L said...

I was raised in a Jewish-atheist family, and have recently begun exploring Quakerism. Thank you for including your (mis?)adventure at the roller derby. It speaks to me when you are less centered. I am at the roller derby most of the time, but don’t know enough to walk out.
I was able to download a sample from the new collection of Elias Hicks’ journals. One entry, above all, reached out to me for similar reasons:
“Fifth Day: Attended our meeting as usual when at home. Was much cumbered in the forepart of the meeting with unprofitable thoughts, such as relate to our temporal concerns, which produce poverty of spirit in religious meetings and ought to be strove against in order to obtain a release from them. And although it is what we cannot do in our own time and strength, yet as we continue to strive and do not give over the struggle, but persevere in faith and patience to obtain the blessing-as Jacob did when he wrestled with the angel-we shall witness an overcoming in the Lord’s time and strength, and know our light to arise out of obscurity, and our darkness to be as noonday.”

Anonymous said...

So, if Jesus and the disciples were on a roller derby team, who would be the blockers, and who would be the jammers? : )

Liz, thanks for sharing. The cistern analogy is poignant. I remember watching this sport and "All Star Wrestling" as a kid growing up in Grand Forks. both are spectacular, physical events, made to be over the top in showmanship and theater. (the wrestling was fixed and correographed, but i dont think the Derby is.)

Mark Jacobson

Liz Opp said...

Mary Ellen -

...I hadn't considered the synchronicity that you raise, about spring, eggs, and flowing water. Thanks for your comments and adding to the conversation!

Eric -

I was raised Jewish too, but my parents and extended family seemed to have little understanding of the basis for certain rituals and traditions. Quakerism often strikes the right note for me, but since it's human beings who practice Quakerism (or Judaism), there are times when I'm disappointed...

Thanks for the Hicks' quote. I haven't read his journal and I usually like reading the writings of early Friends.

Can I ask where you're worshiping? And do you know about the online Quaker community, QuakerQuaker? There are LOTS of Friends there who would be happy to answer any questions you may have. (Or you could ignore it until you're curious to check it out.)

Mark -

I like your question about Jesus and the roller derby! And yes, the derby's program had a blurb in it to explain that it was NOT the WWF.


nemo said...

"Have I been so quick to dig a well that I have taken little care to check how well I am digging it?"

Fantastic writing! God bless you.

Anonymous said...

This post spoke to me, too. For the past year or so, my husband and I have been on a journey to determine our deepest priorities. For us, they are family, health, Quaker faith and music--if we are doing something that doesn't lift up one or more of those four things, that's a pretty clear sign to us that we need to not do it. Where the problem comes in for me is that I can (and usually do) get very overinvolved with any of the four. So your image of the cistern and query about digging the well quickly was the message I needed to be reminded of. Thank thee! --Mia

Rich in Brooklyn said...

Hi Liz,
Many years ago (early 1968) I went to a hockey game with some friends who were enthusiastic fans.

This was only a few months after I had witnessed and experienced physical violence at an anti-war demonstration (people getting clubbed by military police). There was a lot of shoving and punching and deliberate colliding in the hockey game and I found it made me feel sick - probably because it restimulated my feelings about the clubbings. I haven't been to a hockey game since. (ditto for football, boxing, wrestling or any kind of contact sport). Not sure if that shows some kind of principled spirituality, unmanly timidity, or simple common sense.

I have a little trouble imagining how the roller derby could have been appealing or tempting on any level, but I accept that it could be. I like all kinds of entertainment that in theory I don't approve of. In the latter part of your post, about pride leading you to protect yourself against cracks, are you suggesting that it would have been wrong to abstain from the roller derby just because it was spiritually distracting?

Hope this comment and this question makes sense.
- - Rich

Liz Opp said...

Thanks for your patience in waiting for me to return to this post. Life has provided many distractions--some worth cracking the egg, others not so much. (None have involved roller derbies, however.)

Nemo -

Glad you stopped by and left a comment.

Mia -

There are many ways to exercise the muscle that we call "discipline," especially when we start to get overinvolved or overinvested in something.

It seems to me that one way we discern if we are in fact overinvolved is to take some time away--exercise some discipline--and see how that feels, giving careful attention to identifying what it is you want to do (or how to be) in that empty space you've just created for yourself. (Otherwise, it's too easy to sabotage ourselves by saying "I'm bored, at least I was DOING something before...)

Just do your best and be gentle on yourself.

Rich -

Sometimes what drives me to go to an event I would normally be ambivalent about has everything to do with Fear of Missing Something. So my temptation to "abstain" from the roller derby was going head-to-head, so to speak, with my very human Fear of Missing Something. You can see which won that particular night.

As for the concept of pride leading me to protect against cracks, what I mean by that is that there are times when my ego (pride) tempts me into not letting my guard down; keeping my defenses up; showing that I'm brave, thick-skinned, knowledgeable, etc. If I put up that sort of front, I might avoid conflict or getting hurt or being made fun of.

Does that help?