February 10, 2011

Spiritual accompaniment and joy from faithfulness

    This is the last of a three-part series, focused on the workshop provided by Margery Post Abbott. --Liz


In the afternoon of her workshop, Margery Post Abbott asked us to get into pairs and reflect together on a number of questions about spiritual accompaniment:
  1. Where do I need accompaniment?
  2. What is nurturing and valuable for me, even if it is difficult to hear?
  3. What kinds of words or behaviors make me withdraw or reject accompaniment?
  4. What makes accompanying others difficult for me? What causes me to say "I can't do this work"?

Being safe and being known

Something I thought of as we returned to the large group and shared what came up for us was that there is a tension between wanting to be safe and wanting to be known. This too is a form of taking up the Cross.

To be safe, we withdraw a bit from our community, we don't risk being vulnerable or sharing how we might be struggling with some element of Quakerism.

But by keeping silent about our inward struggle, our doubt, our spiritual loneliness, we miss opportunities for others to know us at a deeply personal level.

I'm a believer in the concept that when one of us takes a risk and shares something vulnerable, it allows others to take a similar risk, too.

Here's an example of the Cross we live into:
    We love ourselves enough to protect ourselves from potential harm. And we love our worship community enough to allow ourselves to lean into the Everlasting Arms and let ourselves be loved a bit more deeply than we feared was possible.
Soon after our large group sharing, we identified a few ways we provide spiritual accompaniment for one another in our meetings:
  • Spiritual friendships.
  • Care committees and clearness committees.
  • Care-and-accountability committees (aka anchor committees).
  • Having a concern actively taken up by the meeting.
  • Meeting for Worship for Healing.

Faithfulness, freedom, and joy

I think I am not spiritually mature enough to grasp the connection between the taking up the Cross and experiencing joy...

I do know that when I am faithful, especially when I have feared or dreaded giving up my own will in a situation, in the end, I experience a visceral or emotional sense of release. Sometimes it's coupled with relief--"Whew, glad that's over!"--but more often, the feeling is of a burden being lifted, and in turn, a freedom of spiritual movement.

I've heard that for some people, when that happens, there is a subsequent sense of being uplifted, of feeling joy.

We tossed around a few comments and reflections about joy and the Cross:
  • "My yoke is easy and my burden, light." This might be a call to do the hard stuff joyfully. Not for the sake of suffering or for martyrdom but because we know we are doing God's bidding and we know that God loves us.
  • The Cross of Love, if we can see it as this, means the transcendent power of God and joy.
  • Taking up the Cross means laying down one's willfulness, and in this way, we can grow closer to God.
  • If we open to Love, even in difficult moments, we may ultimately find joy.
In the end, in the closing moments of the day, I jotted down this query for myself:
What barriers to love, faithfulness, and humility have I put in front of myself or between me and God?
Am I willing to stand in the Cross and await God's direction...?

Thanks for reading me. The time with Marge was so very fruitful!



My own reflection on Taking up the Cross
More reflections and other tidbits from Marge's workshop

Other tidbits and reflections from Margery Post Abbott workshop

In many ways, this post is a continuation of my previous post, about the workshop on Taking up the Cross, offered by Margery Post Abbott. I'm not sure how organized I'll make these pieces, but I believe they are worth sharing, even if rough form.

What is it to be a Friend?

This question is what Marge started us with, speaking out of the opening worship. Here is some of what she offered, to set the tone:

1. It involves an attitude of waiting and attending: This form of waiting is waiting for something to happen, as well as being ready to serve, as in waiting tables.

2. To know Christ inwardly, we need to take up the Cross and live into the Kingdom of God.

3. We seek the Truth by turning inward: By engaging in times of retirement as individuals, and by engaging in times of worship as a community.

When these three things happen, they can build a broken and tender community that will allow for the in-breaking of the Spirit.

Love... and the paradox of the Cross

Within the Cross is an intersection of horrible suffering and infinite love. Marge's companion in ministry, Ken Jacobsen, spent some time talking about Love and its relationship with the Cross:

The Cross is the consequence of taking up the way of Love.
I took this to mean that when we take up the Cross, we are tested to love one another beyond what we ever believed we would be asked to do. At one point, Ken added this:
Love may lead us into some horrible places, but that same Love will also sustain us and lift us up.
Later, the group returned to the theme of love and noted a few other things:
  • The fact that we try to love brings us closer to doing just that.
  • When something rises up in us to resist the Love that is offered, and because God is Love, we must be willing to lay aside our ego and instead follow God's will.
  • Love is transcendent. Even death cannot stop Love's transcendent nature, and the Love of those who have passed away can reach across death's threshold and be among us.

Taking up the Cross and our relationship with God

At one point, someone raised the question, "What's the difference between having a relationship with God and taking up the Cross?" My own reflections in response to that question are these:
  • There are lots of different ways to be in relationship with God. Taking up the Cross is a specific experience that we hadn't expected or, for many of us, hadn't been told about and certainly don't ask for.
  • The experience of being pierced by the Light might also be connected with taking up the Cross. It's not about being shown something that we hadn't been ready to see or know before: It's more about recognizing that to deny God's call brings us more pain than being faithful to the call itself.
  • When we take up the Cross, we rely more heavily on the Guide to lead us through the difficulty. It may be days, weeks, or years later before we can understand what that trial was about, but if we have carried it out in love and humility, knowing we have been faithful despite the burning pain, our relationship with God will have been deepened.

The Cross as symbol?

At one point later in the day, a Friend challenged all of us to consider that the Cross is a symbol and that "Quakers don't do symbols."

It's true that unprogrammed Friends engage in a form of worship that focuses on the stripping away of outward symbols. We don't establish alters, use incense, ring bells, or even sing hymns to prepare ourselves. Rather, we are to leave the matters of the world behind as we approach our place of worship, opening our hearts and minds to the Spirit.

The danger of having outward symbols is that a symbol and even the story around it can become an idol, and we can mistakenly begin to worship the symbol rather than the Living Presence to which that symbol points.

It's often hard for me in the moment to find the words I want to say, but reflecting on this piece brings me back to this element of Quakerism:
    Quakers embody and internalize all sorts of outward symbols inwardly.
There is the element of communion, when we are gathered together in the Spirit. ...The experience of baptism, when we feel anointed and blessed by the Holy. ...And the symbol of the Light itself, which is described in detail--not to encourage idolatry of it but to help us understand how it functions as a Living and Loving Principle.

The Christian story and the Quaker tradition

During the workshop, we were reminded that even Christ wasn't an outward symbol for early Friends. They believed and experienced the Living Christ as real and immediate.

For all of our wrestling with our modern version of Quaker tradition, theology, and spirituality, I think it was Marge who made this point:
Early Friends didn't have a tradition to wrestle with! But modern Friends wrestle with what we understand to be the Quaker tradition.
Early Friends encountered the Christian story in a new way, forgoing both the established tradition and the recognized authority--the Church--of their time.

Today's Friends also wrestle with what we perceive to be authority, establishment, and tradition. We don't care for being put into boxes or identified by labels, let alone being told what to do and how to do it. Maybe it's because so many Quakers are White or because we are American or because we are primarily middle class that we have to take something that is given to us and re-make it, rejecting and casting out some elements while reshaping and even elaborating on others.

But I unite with what Ken Jacobsen stated, and I'm paraphrasing here: To retain its vitality, the Quaker tradition must be transformed into our lives.


P.S. I hope to wind up this series of posts with a shorter one about spiritual accompaniment and the joy that comes from faithfulness.



My own reflection on Taking up the Cross
Some thoughts about spiritual accompaniment and joy out of faithfulness

February 6, 2011

Reflection on Taking up the Cross

Yesterday I participated in a one-day workshop with Quaker author Margery Post Abbott. Much of the day focused on taking up the Cross and what that might mean for today's Quakers. Marge gave us lots of time to reflect and talk with one another about that concept, how we wrestle with it, and how early Friends used the phrase.

Early in the day we were asked to spend a few minutes journaling our thoughts in response to three questions:

1. What is your intellectual definition of "Taking up the Cross"?

2. What is your emotional response to it?

3. What blocks rise up when you hear that phrase?

Here's my response:

Taking up the Cross means choosing to be obedient to the will of God, to be willing to sacrifice at a time when we greatly and intensely don't wish to--either because of societal pressures/expectations, our own fear or dread, or even distaste for what God has put in our laps. In essence, as Eleanor Roosevelt has said, taking up the Cross means "To do the thing we think we cannot do."

Over time I have grown into the phrase. I have come to cherish it, as one does when coming across a faded photograph of a dear family member, around whom there are stories and happy lore. The phrase "take up the Cross" captures so much about the human condition of the "push-pull" of obedience, of wanting to be a faithful servant and fearing how doing just that might turn out. The phrase gives words to an inward condition that contemporary American society resists, denies, squelches, minimizes, ridicules, or demeans--yet it is an inward condition that, when acted upon faithfully, can bring healing, transformation, and new Light to an individual, group, community, or the world.

Of course, there are blocks that rise within me when I hear the phrase. My Jewish upbringing generates tremendous cognitive dissonance within me, since all references to Jesus, even as teacher or rabbi, were kept out of my early religious education. And who can hear the word "cross" or see it in print and not also see the body of this historical figure being crucified...? In addition, my own dread arises: When will God call me to take up the Cross again? what will that task or ministry or witness look like? Who will be there to accompany me?

To me, there are phrases among Friends that are remnants of a way of life, an attitude, a body of disciplines that are on the brink of disappearing. These remnants give us a way to look through the looking glass of time and piece together much of the rest of the pattern that was and is traditional Quakerism. At least, this has been my experience. These remnants inform how I might be in the world, if I am faithful to what the Spirit gives me.

There were lots of tidbits about the Cross that others shared.
  • Taking up the Cross involves crucifying the ego and self-will.
  • It is about involuntarily carrying a burden that has been placed on us.
  • It is the intersection where Heaven and Earth meet.
  • It requires surrender.
  • The Cross is the consequence of taking up the way of Love: Love may lead us into some horrible places, but that Love will also sustain us and lift us up.
  • It is an attraction that can't be ignored without having serious consequences.
  • Taking up the Cross is being obedient to the power of God.
  • It is to be bold in spirit and gentle in action.
Through the respectful and authentic, energetic sharing, we were drawn together, and the boundaries of our individual meetings and worship groups, the boundaries of our individual lives, began to melt away...

Marge is a gentle presence with a gift for inviting deep and tender conversation about complex subjects and hard questions that live within and are the fabric of our Quaker faith.

I hope to write a bit more about other themes we touched on during the workshop. In the meantime, I'll continue to digest what was shared and reflect on how my spirit has been refreshed by the conversation yesterday.



I wrote about other tidbits I gleaned from the workshop.
I also wrote about spiritual accompaniment and the joy that comes from being faithful.