February 25, 2005

FGC Gathering workshop on Quaker Identity

UPDATE: A full description of this workshop is now available online. All are welcome!
As the annual FGC Gathering of Friends gets ever closer, I am getting ever busier with pulling my thoughts, handouts, and activities together for the workshop I am scheduled to offer, entitled Quaker Identity: Yearning, Forming, Deepening.

Martin Kelley writes about the workshop that he and Zachary Moon will be offering during the same event, and Martin and I have had a few back-and-forths about being workshop leaders. I feel carried along in a stream where a few others are swimming, in pursuit of a renewed, vital Quakerism. It's not as lonely a journey as I thought it might have been. I also feel as though I am continuing to find my voice on topics such as eldership, peer transmission of our Quakerism, identity development, living with Quaker paradoxes, etc.

Following Martin's lead, here's my workshop description that I submitted for the FGC Gathering program:
There is a difference between spiritual formation and spiritual formation of a Quaker identity. Through personal sharing we may alleviate some of our spiritual hunger, explore what builds identity, and experience some of what may contribute to a meaningful Quakerism. Presenter’s Quakerism is God-based; workshop draws on that orientation.

I hope to keep y'all updated as things progress.


Awaiting clearness...

I have much to say about our Quaker identity as it relates to the secular world--something I hint at in a comment I made elsewhere. Because I am continuing to learn the balance between speaking faithfully and speaking because I think I have good ideas, I am holding my thoughts awhile, while also tapping those who are supporting me in this blog for further guidance.


February 22, 2005

Openings and the mending of the world

George Fox writes about some of the "openings" he experiences: a breaking through of the Spirit that brings new light, new awareness to an individual. And the new light seems to come out of nowhere, and we are forever changed.

It has been my experience that when I follow such an opening, I may either express the new Light that I have been given, or I may ponder that new Light for awhile and await to see how it fits into other parts of my life. The other evening, though, I had an experience that I cannot shake, where one opening led immediately to another, like unraveling a mystery, where the closer you are to uncovering the truth, the more urgent it feels to uncover it; or putting in the last 5 pieces of a large jigsaw puzzle, where you rush to have it done, to have the entire picture revealed... The other evening, something terribly small and wonderfully powerful occurred, and I have been led into a period of grace and awe as a result.

My partner and I met a stanger last night, coming home from the airport. The stranger was a woman in her late 20s and her 2-year-old child. As the woman boarded the bus in which we waited at the train station, she said to the bus driver that she had run out of change; could she board anyway? Thankfully, the bus driver allowed her to do so, no questions asked. ...Maybe it was the day-old 5 inches of snow still on the ground; maybe it was the hour of night; maybe she just caught him on a good day.

The mother and her child had spent the day at the Government Center, we would find out later, and she had taken the wrong bus from downtown, ended up at the Mall of America miles in the opposite direction of where she lives, and was simply hopping from bus to bus, hoping to get on the one that would take her northbound. Hours later, at 7:00 pm, my partner and I met up with this woman. She was still miles away from her home, at least another 90 minutes by bus.

The woman asked the bus driver if he went up as far as Such-And-So intersection in north Minneapolis. No, he said, you need the 24-J, which comes in 30 minutes. The woman's face sunk. "You mean that the 24s don't follow the same route?" My partner and I looked at each other and then at the woman. Out of concern, we asked her, How long have you been on the bus today? "I've been trying to make my way home since 4:00, and I keep getting on the wrong bus!"

Something deep within my partner and me cracked open, and God burst through. I said to the woman: Oh my, you must be hungry! We have an apple and some nuts and candy you can have...

But God did not let me rest with that offer, and I added: We have a couple of bus transfers you can use for the rest of the night...

And then again: Why don't we just give you a ride home, since we live so close to the train station? Then you'll be home in 20 minutes instead of another hour-and-a-half or two.

...I think my partner and I were both relieved when she accepted.

I've never offered a ride to a stranger before. But I was opened to do so that night.

There is a song that has a refrain like this:

What if God was one of us?
Just a slob like one of us?
Just a stranger on the bus trying to make his way home.

I don't know how it was that God spoke to all of us that night on the bus, but I felt as if a bit of the world was mended, if only for a moment. The bus driver didn't have to let the woman board the bus, without having any bus fare. My partner and I didn't have to offer our snacks or our bus transfers or a ride home, yet we felt compelled to.

In Quakerism, there is the concept of the kingdom of heaven is on earth, right here, right now. In Judaism, that same concept is called tikkun olam, or the repairing of the world.

Living in accordance to these principles sometimes runs parallel to--and sometimes goes beyond--the long, hard work of peace-and-social justice action. It goes right past the systems of oppression made incarnate by governmental bureaucracies. It isn't something that fits into the status quo of how things are, or the dull pattern of how things are done.

It goes directly into the hands and hearts of those who need it, right here, right now.

Having been raised in a Jewish household, last night was the most Christian I have ever felt. And it's the most Jewish I have ever felt at the same time.

My heart ached for this woman who asked little and expected less.

February 15, 2005

Encountering my humanness

This past weekend, I found myself sinking into the Seed and came up against my humanity, my brokenness. I had made preparations to travel for a committee meeting for Friends General Conference but found myself too stressed to travel. In the end, I had a sort of "prayer weekend" for myself, in which I spent time considering what had tipped the scales into my staying behind.

Prior to deciding to stay home, I had gone through a period of weighing concerns for myself, laying those concerns aside, and listening for Divine Guidance as to whether or not I should travel. What I came to understand, though, is that Quakerism and spiritual discernment is an intersection of (at least) three things: God, the individual, and the faith community. And in my tiredness, in my despair, I had thought to consider myself and God, but I had overlooked the community--the committee to which I was to have traveled.

In that moment of awareness of not having weighed the place of community, I felt a tear in my heart, as if I had rent the fabric of something dear to me: I had not known until that moment that I had refused God in my decision to stay behind. This is at least what it felt like to me.

I recall that John Woolman and David Ferris had at different points in their lives either refused God's call or overran it. Afterwards, for a time, they were heavy with guilt and with the knowledge of what they had done (or hadn't, in David Ferris' case). Yet they stayed with their experience, went further inward, further into their life as best they could... and God graced them in their humanness and they were forgiven of having "missed the mark," of not being faithful to the Spirit. They were returned to know the love of their God and were again restored to a spiritual wholeness.

Thankfully, I too feel restored after "dwelling deep." Even in our brokenness, God is there.

February 9, 2005

Way Opening

After about two weeks of holding the idea of starting a blog and doing some initial discernment with a couple Friends, the Way seemed open to carry out the experiment of a blog one step further. One of the "fruits" I look for when I am discerning whether to pursue a certain course of action is my inward experience: Am I feeling more peaceful as I contemplate moving forward, or more anxious? Do I feel detached from any sort of outcome, or am I secretly hoping for a certain result? Sometimes, if I'm still uncertain, I'll take a mini-step in the direction where I'm leaning and see how that feels, what that brings. It's a sort of spiritual discipline I've come to respect, though dang! it requires a fair amount of patience that only a few years ago, I would not have had.

I'm grateful for the Friends who have held the possibility of this blog in prayer with me. I know, too, they'll help keep me in check, spiritually speaking. The experiences of reading spiritually-oriented blogs, sharing views via the internet, and feeling things shift in my own awareness are unexpected yet welcome. I've been hard-pressed to put language to what seems to be happening among these blogs, especially among Friendly ones. It's a sort of synergy for me: we are more than the sum of our individual posts and web journals. It's as if we're in a net, in a web, in God's cupped hands.

I've been curious about how blogs get their names, and in my case, I was in search of a name that would (1) help me stay faithful to the prompt to start a blog; (2) remind me that there are very few folks who truly intend to do evil or say evil things; there are mostly people who have good intentions; and (3) have a connection to Quakerism. In recent weeks, I have been recalling this phrase from Robert Barclay during worship:

For when I came into the silent assemblies of God's people, I felt a secret power among them, which touched my heart; and as I gave way unto it I found the evil weakening in me and the good raised up; and so I became thus knit and united unto them...

Liz (aka Liz in Minnesota)