March 30, 2005

Naming of gifts

Yesterday, I had tea with a fFriend, during which we had a brief conversation about gifts and "our measure of Light." What I didn't mention at the time was that I have been hungry to understand how it is that Friends name gifts for one another, and how Friends help bring these gifts forward. If anyone can make this implicit process more explicit, I'd be grateful.

I've been keeping my eyes and ears open about this question, too. I've run into a few Friends who will openly say, "You have a gift for this-or-that." Even I myself have mentioned to another, "I believe, So-and-So, that you have a gift in doing such-and-such." But it feels insufficient, and I am only now realizing that it may have something to do with being desirous to have those gifts named and affirmed by a faith community, corporately. Not in the sense of being recorded, but in the sense that when a specific talent or gift is needed, the community has a collective Light Bulb atop their heads that says, "Of course! Let's call on Friend Bessie for that!"

I hope you get my meaning.

It's like the difference between your parent or partner saying, "You're so good at that," as compared to when a group of people who know you less well invite you to do something, "because you're so good at that." The first one we doubt because we interpret it as coming from a sense of duty or loveship. The second one we may trust more because it comes seemingly unbidden, at least sometimes.

(I'll mention here that I will be talking with one of my blog elders a bit about some comments he made about how he is experiencing my spiritual gifts. This particular elder has a gift for naming other people's gifts, which is cool to witness. Yet our worship group remains uncertain what to do, once gifts have been named and affirmed....)

How is it that we as Friends name one another's gifts?

How might we nurture someone's gifts that she or he is not aware of?

What if a Friend believes her or his gifts lie in one area, but Nominating Committee--or another Friend--asks the person to serve in another capacity?

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Later, after returning home from having tea, I decided to look up "gifts" in the index of Britain Yearly Meeting's Faith & Practice. Here is some of what I found:

...Where Friends know and trust one another the gifts we all have can be used more fully in obedience to the Inward Light...

The great aim of a Christian community is to enable its members to know what their gift is and then to enable them to exercise it to the glory of God. This may sometimes involve a prolonged and perhaps painful exercise before some members come to accept that the gift they have to offer is not the one they thought. (New life from old roots, 1965).

Are there not different states, different degrees, different growths, different places? ...Therefore, watch every one to feel and know his own place and service in the body, and to be sensible of the gifts, places, and services of others, that the Lord may be honored in all, and every one owned and honored in the Lord, and no otherwise. (Isaac Penington 1667)


Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. (I Corinthians 12:4-7)
It is a responsibility of a Christian community to enable its members to discover what their gifts are and to develop and exercise them to the glory of God.

Thanks for holding these questions with me, as well as sharing any thoughts and experiences you have had, either with helping Friends live more fully into their gifts, or having been helped by Friends to live more fully into your own.


[UPDATE: April 10, 2005. Some comments below refer to Elizabeth O'Connor, and other bloggers have posted about her writings and ministry, such as Alice.]

March 25, 2005

FAQs about the worship group

Here and there, readers and others ask about the worship group in which I participate. I thought I'd post a few "Frequently Asked Questions" so they'd be in one place for now.

[UPDATE, Second Month 2008: Details about Laughing Waters Friends Worship Group can now be found at our website.]

[UPDATE: Based on some counsel from one of my blog elders, I want to remind readers that the writings I offer here and throughout The Good Raised Up are my own. In particular, I recognize that the language used to describe the Divine may not accurately reflect Friends' own experience of the Divine. —Liz]

1. How did the worship group get started?

It depends on who you ask.

One Friend in the group will point to a book group I organized 3-4 years ago, on Lloyd Lee Wilson's Essays on the Quaker Vision of Gospel Order. The book group brought a few of us together who liked what we read and hungered for more. [Update: Other Friends in the group remind me that a few of us had begun a Bible study group, which was also a very significant experience and added yet another thread to the tapestry.]

But I always point to Friend Elizabeth: in her classic Minnesotan way, one summer she quietly began making a few phone calls: "Oh hi. I'm just calling to see if you would like to come by for a visit today or tomorrow, maybe have a bit of worship..." Some days there'd be just Elizabeth and me; other days, each of our partners would show up. And every now and then a third couple would join us, and we would spend a little more time in worship each time we'd get together, along with a bit of 'visiting.'

Our summer 'visits' transitioned in the fall into monthly meetings for worship at someone's house, which later transitioned into gathering for worship every other Monday night, when we were all free. Eventually, as we recognized that we were being spiritually fed and nourished by communing with the Spirit during our time together, the worship group became the primary spiritual home for a few of us, and we became clear to begin meeting weekly on First Days (Sundays).

We've been convening ourselves for more than two years now, meeting weekly since maybe September 2004. In addition to the original three couples--and the original two wee ones--we've had two other Friends join us regularly, a few drop in visitors, and a new baby join us... with another one on the way!

2. Is the worship group currently under the care of a monthly meeting or affiliated with a yearly meeting?

No, it's not. We are in a long, rich, and deliberate discernment process (which sometimes looks like plain ol' waiting) about whether to affiliate with liberal Friends (Northern Yearly Meeting) or Conservative Friends (Iowa Yearly Meeting Conservative). (See #4 for more about Conservative Friends.)

We know NYM pretty well, since each of us comes with years of experience among these Friends. A few of us have visited IYMC annual and midyear sessions and have found our hearts and spirits made tender by the experience, in a way that hasn't happened for us at NYM. We continue to await clearness and Guidance, and we have asked to meet with Conservative Friends as Way opens, so we might learn more of that tradition and so they might help us understand how we are being called.

We are clear not to affiliate with a meeting at this time, physically or symbolically: we continue to meet in our homes, despite invitations to rent space from a local meeting.

3. How are other Friends in the area responding to your worship group?

Earlier there had been some talk among Friends about ours being a "secret" group or an exclusive one. We're relieved that the rumors about us being "secret" or "exclusive" are no longer around, from what I can tell. Though members of one monthly meeting in particular views the worship group as a "bud" of itself, we aren't spending energy diffusing this perspective, since it is a very sweet sentiment at its core.

4. Elsewhere you've mentioned that the worship group is "Conservative leaning" and that the group is discerning whether you are liberal or Conservative Friends. What does that mean?

Among us as a worship group, we have taken time to consider the different weight given to certain Quaker principles. What follows below, though, are my own expression of these principles, since we have not minuted formally any of our beliefs or practices:

• We unite in seeking and listening for the Spirit during our Meetings for Worship. With the variation of theology and spirituality among contemporary liberal Friends' meetings, there may be little or no commonality of how to participate in corporate worship.

• We give more weight to corporate discernment rather than to individual ideas. Liberal Friends more often seek to incorporate individual ideas and uphold individual leadings with less testing through a larger body.

• We are intentional and hold ourselves to greater discipline around seeking Divine Guidance and God's Will for us as we attend to business. Liberal Friends seem to be less disciplined around maintaining this intention: sometimes business sessions seem to tip the balance more to finding common ground and approving a particular good idea, rather than going a bit deeper into spiritual discernment to consider if in fact a certain direction is where God is wanting the meeting to go.

• We share and openly express a common belief in the centrality and presence of the Divine (God, Jesus, Spirit, the Light, etc.) in our individual and corporate lives. Liberal Friends typically have among them a spectrum of belief and practice that reflects "hyphenated" Quakers: Buddhist-Quakers, nontheist-Quakers, Jewish-Quakers. My limited experience of Conservative Friends seems to speak more to being Quaker-Quakers.

I use the phrase "Conservative leaning" because I--and we as a group--have not learned enough from Conservative Friends to know if we are Conservative Friends. I also use this phrase because it speaks more truthfully to my difficulty in remaining fully affiliated with the Hicksite monthly meeting that has care of my membership. Not to mention, it helps get a good conversation going about the branches of Quakerism!

The worship group is still learning what these principles mean, traditionally as well as geographically. Ohio Yearly Meeting Conservative,, North Carolina Yearly Meeting Conservative, and Iowa Yearly Meeting Conservative apparently each have a different feel in their faith and practice from one another.

5. How do you deal with the children in your worship group? And do you have regular business sessions?

The children are with us for the first part of worship, and they do well to join us in the silence. When we first started meeting regularly for worship, we would allow whoever was led to be with the children during worship, with one of the parents occasionally poking their heads in or whisking away a very discontented child. It was clear that some of us have less developed gifts to be with children than others. I surprised myself by wanting to be involved with the kids, and it's been easier for me to stay connected with them as they're getting older. Recently we've been experimenting with regular paid childcare, which for me is hard because of a sense of loss of personal connection... and we're not clear and have barely talked about any sort of religious education, either for the youngest of us or for the eldest of us. Stay tuned!

We don't yet have regular Meetings for Worship for Business. [UPDATE: In Fourth Month 2005, we approved holding MfWfB every other month.] We seem to wait for a few things to arise before we realize we need to carve out time to listen more intently to the Spirit as a body about how to proceed with certain concerns and ideas. The few times we've gathered for business, though, have also been rich and nourishing, and the sense of the Living Presence among us has been powerful as we seek to understand the sense of the meeting.

Here is the minute we approved at our first business session, describing who we understand ourselves to be:

Friends talked about a sense of cohesiveness among us and attributed it to the size of the group (being a small group) and to an intentionality to come together to seek, listen for, and love the Holy Spirit. We had a sense that what draws us together is the Spirit as opposed to historical concerns, social justice concerns, or Quaker literature. We give weight to how we wait on the Spirit--we talked about the discipline of patience, waiting, and listening.

We are laboring with the tension between the experience of worship and putting language to our experiences because language can be too small to describe the experience of worship.
All in all, this worship group has strengthened and sustained my Quakerism, which in turn has helped me stay connected, ironically perhaps, to the monthly meeting.

It's clear to me that the fruit of the Spirit is plentiful among us, and I pray we remain faithful as the worship group continues.


UPDATE: On 1 Sixth Month 2005, one couple within the worship group gave birth. Welcome, Grace! Out of curiosity, and with Grace's arrival, I calculated that the average age of Friends within the worship group is just under 26 years old. (Before Grace, it was 28.) The oldest Friends are 51 and 42; plus there are now 4 children under the age of 5. We are blessed...

UPDATE: On 28 Eighth Month 2005, the worship group warmly embraced the name Laughing Waters Friends Worship Group. We still are discerning if we are to affiliate with liberal Friends (Northern Yearly Meeting) or with Conservative Friends (Iowa Yearly Meeting Conservative).

March 23, 2005

Some meetings are a rest stop

Recently, a fFriend gently invited me to consider that the monthly meeting, no longer able to meet and nourish my spiritual needs, might be a rest stop along the Quaker journey that I am taking.

Once the remark of that fFriend sunk in, I had to be willing to consider that I had mistakenly thought I could gently hijack the meeting--the bus and the bus driver--and change the route of the bus in order to accommodate where I wanted to go and how I wanted to get there. What I needed to do instead was get off the bus and transfer to the bus that would get me to where I wanted to go. The monthly meeting was the rest stop and place of transfer where I could do that.

This same fFriend ministered to me that some meetings and worship groups have as its ministry its capacity to be a very fine rest stop for many a weary Quaker traveler who passes through, as well as being able to provide a longer respite for the settler who takes up residence there. Similarly, some Friends have the capacity to stay on a single bus throughout their Quaker journey.

I'm just not one of them, it seems.

Friends like me will ride one bus for awhile, learn what I can, and grow outside the lines. After considering where I am called to be and by what route I might get there, I just may have to transfer at the next stop and leave the meeting behind.

It has never been easy for me to say goodbye to a beloved community that has nurtured me and grown me for so long. It does not mean that I will never return; it may mean that I may be gone for quite a while in-between visits.

. . . . . . . . . .

P.S. Meredith shares a bit about her own journey among Friends, in a comment to a post at Beppeblog. I didn't feel I could post the above piece without lifting up Meredith's experience of being faithful to her measure of Light within her faith community:

I, like you, have gone through similar deliberations about whether I should continue to attend or simply fade away into some other manner of spiritual enrichment. I can remember thinking that in my small worship group there was something fundamentally very 'wrong' because we rarely spoke of anything spiritual. My Friends enjoyed talking politics, environmental subjects, and what they noticed in their garden or what they had heard on the radio that morning. But there was little to no discussion of God. In my own silence, I began to feel a strong leading. My own 'private practice' had recently become very spirit filled, and I longed to share this. My leading had to do with just that. Maybe my Meeting was waiting for just this opportunity. I began to share more spiritual content – my own experience, readings from Quaker writers, and Biblical and Faith and Practice queries. Now, our Meeting has become much more focused on the Presence of God, of the Christ within our midst. Since half of our Meeting time is discussion, we have a wonderful opportunity query, reflect, and share. Sometimes we utilize Quaker Dialogue practice, and sometimes a freer form of dialogue. Since this change, I have sense that others have had a renewed purpose for attending Meeting along with me.

I only mention this because of what I learned: my feelings of being on that ‘leaving precipice’ were truly the catalyst for change that was well received by the Meeting. It has lead to a deepening of the spiritual life of our Meeting, and an enriched spiritual relationship for each of us. Another thing that I learned was that I needed to stop wishing that my fellow Friends would be different than they are. It seems we all journey at our own pace, and our timing for growth and revelation is unique. My wishing that my Friends would be ‘more spiritual’ or more focused, or knowledgeable of the Bible simply led to frustration and suffering in the Meeting for me. Letting go of this, and moving simply as I felt led to do, has made all the difference.
Given the journey I've been traveling, I guess I can end with the same thought:

Learning to let go of wishing that Friends would be more, and moving simply as I feel led, has made all the difference.


March 22, 2005

Ageism and youth ministry

Friends, I would encourage you to put aside the time to visit the original post and its many responses about youth ministry among Friends over at Quaker Ranter.

I would also make this suggestion: that we consider reading the material in the frame of mind-and-heart as one listens to vocal ministry during meeting for worship among a beloved community. There is much material here. There is much pain here. There is much energy here. There is much to be witnessed, and there is much to be shared.

The electronic form of blogging, like email, is new to us as Friends. Our way to labor with one another is sometimes uncertain as we communicate deep, complex spiritual and theological ideas, leadings, and concerns.

Therefore as we read, read slowly. Breathe often. Consider posting a comment only after we have slowed down enough to respond thoughtfully and prayerfully. Breathe again.

While reviewing the ever-growing number of comments to the original post, I have had to be willing to look at and read about the elephants in the room as well as the ghosts and skeletons in the closet. I have had to consider that that which doesn't seem to exist in my own room or closet doesn't mean it doesn't actually exist in someone else's.

If the Spirit moves you, be part of the group of Friends that are holding these concerns and carrying them in their hearts. Let us also openly acknowledge what is for many of us—many but not all—the fear of tension or of conflict or of differences of perspective. Let us lean into it nonetheless, rather than ignore it, and let us together watch for the Light emerging and listen for the Whisper and the Shout of the Spirit.

March 21, 2005

Ministering through the disgruntlement...?

Over on beppeblog, Joe in his post and Martin in his comment to Joe have given me something to consider: When I wrestle with my disgruntlement while a message rises within me, how do I reconcile the two? I often find that I turn to the question,

What must I do to be faithful here? Will I feel faithful to the Spirit if I say nothing...?
Joe wonders, given his disgruntled state, if fellow worshippers would interpret his vocal ministry as judgement or love. My worry is not quite like Joe's, but should it be? Have I been missing a step in my own discernment process, or does my discernment process simply occur in a different sequence or manner?

Between Joe and me there appears, though, to be a similar inward experience, an inward searching of what is in good order. There is the undergirding concern of being well led; the desire to be faithful.
Will I be letting God down, will I be letting the community down, if I ignore the prompt to speak?
The few times I have yielded to the prompt to speak despite my disgruntlement, I have found (1) an energy rise within me that rides on the words I speak and also surprises me; and (2) a sense of feeling emptied when I return to my seat. Sometimes, like yesterday, I am overcome by sobs and tears—relieved of some burden I hadn't known I was carrying.


March 17, 2005

Let our lives speak, let ourselves speak

Robin responded to the post about passing Quakerism on, which in turn has prompted me to expand on just how experienced Friends might nurture and nourish the Quakerism developing in others--and in one another.

Robin writes:

...we will have to be more explicit in our articulation of our faith for our young people and all newcomers. Since (in my Meeting) most of us did not grow up Quaker and those who did are largely unimpressed with the religious education they received, we will have to try to be very clear, if not hyper-conscious, about what we believe so that we can be clear as we teach it to others.
In the past year or two, I have chosen to make my Quaker faith and practice more transparent because of my belief and concern that a vibrant Quakerism is transmitted effectively, in part, when experienced Friends begin speaking openly about our experiences as Friends. When have we felt and known the Divine? How have we navigated through a crisis of faith? What does it mean to test a leading and how do we know if we are well led? What does it mean, to mind the Light?

Robin's comments remind me of parts of FGC's Minute of Purpose and Long Term Plan. The entire document is worth reading, in my opinion, but I'll pull out two parts that are reflected in Robin's words.

First, in its Minute of Purpose, Friends General Conference states
...It is our experience that:

• Faith is based on direct experience of God.

• Our lives witness to this experience individually and corporately.

• By answering that of God in everyone, we build and sustain inclusive community.
FGC, as an organization, has found clearness in lifting up and sharing its own corporate experience among those meetings affiliated with it, not as a creed or statement of faith, but as a statement of its understanding of from where its own Quaker identity emerges. Or at least, that's how I understand this minute.

Also, there is this piece later in the Long Term Plan:
GOAL IV - Articulate, communicate and model core experiences, values and principles of Friends, such as the direct experience of God, the miracle of the gathered meeting, the meeting for worship for business, the balancing of individual leadings with corporate discernment, and the call to live and witness to our faith.
Those of you reading me might pick up on my enthusiasm for and endorsement of these ideas. *wink*

But our "articulating, communicating, and modeling" must also be done tenderly and mindfully, and preferably in unity with an understanding of how and when we are so led, lest the pendulum swing too far the other way.

Not every Friend is called to minister publicly or with words; not every moment is an opening into which we are meant to speak or act. Yet... Can we begin to recognize, and are we faithful to, the inward prompt to act, to speak, even within our Quaker communities and with one another?

March 16, 2005

Quakerism, from generation to generation

Over at Quaker Ranter, there are some comments about whether or not the tide is changing among Friends, if there is a slow renewal occurring within Quakerism.

One reader, James, makes this comment:

This is the problem a small faith community that doesn’t hedge itself well constantly [has] to face: that the religious milieu in its congregations/meetings depend on the cultural melieu of different generations of its members.
I've been coming to understand that Quakerism is passed onto younger people in a pattern similar to how Deaf culture and native sign language is transmitted across Deaf generations.

In my earlier professional life, I learned that about 90% of deaf children are born into non-deaf families. These deaf children, if they are to acquire and learn a natural, native sign language, if they are going to learn about Deaf culture, they will do so primarily by interacting with other deaf children, a few of whom will have been born to Deaf parents. In addition, deaf children will learn about their own identity secondarily through their teachers in school, many of whom are not deaf themselves.

Many contemporary Friends are convinced Friends and not born into or raised by Quaker families. We learn about our faith and the beliefs and practices therein from our peers or from others who are older than us but who likely are also convinced Friends. If we are exposed to Quakerism in only a limited way and through only a few individuals; if there is no reinforcement of Quaker values and principles by our family and by our wider societal structures (schools, community programs, etc.); and if Quaker meetings are inundated with young non-Quaker families because of strong First Day School programs that focus on interpersonal values and peacemaking, is it a wonder that Quakerism seems to lose its edge, lose its hedge, for long stretches at a time?

As a convinced Friend, I first was exposed to unprogrammed worship when I was in college, and I embraced it. It took me years to understand that there was much, much more to Quakerism than just meeting for worship. After graduating, I ended up moving to a completely different city and later got re-engaged with Friends, and even then it still took me a few years to attend my first Meeting for Worship for Business and to join my first committee. And despite the new involvement, I had yet to understand the concepts of corporate discernment or Gospel Order or waiting on the Spirit for guidance. None of my peers or spiritual friends at the time were talking with me about this stuff; and I have no recollection of anyone making the Quaker decision-making process more explicit at the time--which doesn't mean it didn't happen, just that I don't remember learning about it til much later.

My own grasp of certain Quaker principles--the centrality of the Divine, the reliance on corporate discernment, the significance of testing a leading--came first from individual Friends who had already done the same seeking (and finding) that I was then doing; and it came from serving on a certain committee at just the right time, when its clerk was the type who took advantage of "teachable moments," making transparent for me and for others just what we were doing as Friends and why we doing it the way we were. I was beginning to understand how the Quaker faith was put into Quaker practice.

One of the most significant periods of my Quaker journey was when I asked a woman who was about 40 years my senior if she would be an elder for me. But my request came before I knew that the word and concept of "elder" held for many at the time a sting of discomfort. The Friend I approached took a breath before answering and said, "Well... Just what do you mean by 'elder'? What would that look like?" I innocently replied that it would mean that the two of us would get together, maybe over lunch once a month, and trade stories about our experiences among Friends; that I had questions about my spiritual development and she seemed like someone I could turn to for support and spiritual nurturing.

We met monthly for lunch over the next four years.

I think early on in our get-togethers, she explained to me what her experience was around the word "elder," and we had a good laugh. My friend was there for me as an elder when I had questions about money and possessions; about relationships falling apart; about how things were evolving at meeting; about our shared experience at FGC's Gathering. Later, when I moved yet again, she and I would have long talks on the phone, and we'd run into each other at other Quaker events. In many ways, this Friend held Quaker doors open for me long enough for me to walk through them and into new Quaker territory that I could then explore on my own.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

I've been reading Mary Pipher's book Another Country. The book is about navigating the generation gap between adult children and their aging parents. But tucked away in the early pages of the book is a description of how our parents and grandparents lived through most of the 20th century, where communal life was instrumental, and when it was perhaps closer to the ideal:
Margaret Mead defined an ideal community as one that has a place for every human gift. An ideal community would somehow keep the best of the old ways and add the best of the new. We would have a mixing of races, generations, and viewpoints... We'd have privacy and potluck dinners, freedom and civic responsibility. All the adults would take responsibility to help all the children. We would have connection without clannishness, accountability without autocratic control. The ideal community would support individual growth and development and foster loyalty and commitment to the common good.
I couldn't help but think of what Lloyd Lee Wilson, Sandra Cronk, Marty Grundy and others call covenant community, a place where our collective desire for knowing God and for a commitment to Right Relationship are the pillars of a faith community; where elders would help us conserve "the best of the old ways"; young adult Friends and younger Friends would help us "add the best of the new." We'd experience a balance of private seeking and corporate worship; we'd hold community-wide meals and share our food with those in need. We'd support one another in our well-tested individual leadings and engage in corporate witness in accordance to our beliefs.

These days, I yearn for a sustainable and vibrant Quakerism. I engage in more Quaker contexts as I explore what that means: I spend more time within my Quaker community. I communicate much more regularly with Quaker friends. I read more Quaker books. And I am passing the gift of eldership onto others so perhaps the thread will not be so easily lost between generations. There are wee Friends in the worship group I attend, and I make it a point to greet each of them and ask to share a hug hello or goodbye; there are those new to Friends who serve on committees that I clerk, and during our meetings, I look for teachable moments that I can lean into; and there are chance Opportunities here and there, where the Spirit puts me and another in the same place and the same time, and we meet in the Light of the moment and we leave the experience mutually made tender by one another.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

UPDATE, 31 Third Month 2005
Here are additional posts related to sustaining or reviving Quakerism.

RW at The Contrarian Quaker: no longer active "A Concern for Resonance"
Rob at Consider the Lilies: no longer active "What Keeps Us Quaker"
Martin at Quaker Ranter: Uh-Oh: Beppe’s Doubts
Carol, a reader of Quaker Ranter: You Don’t Want to Be Ranters Anymore
Martin, again at Quaker Ranter: It's My Language Now: Thinking About Youth Ministry

UPDATE, 4 Eighth Month 2005
Scott at Quaker Renewal Forum. Look through the archives for any number of worthwhile topics. Here's one, for example: Quaker Culture or Quaker Faith - It's Time to Choose

March 14, 2005

A father's question: Why read each other's blogs?

While visiting my family in Baltimore, D.C., and New Jersey this past week, my father took an interest in my new experience as a Quaker blogger. He asked, "Why would you want to read other people's blogs? They won't have anything new to say; they're not experts on Quakerism, so why take the time to read them?"

I responded by telling him—

(1) it's unclear what the place of the internet and blogs are among contemporary Friends, and so we are engaged in a large sort of experiment;
(2) I like reading what other Quaker bloggers have to say, because what I read often stimulates my thinking and searching; and
(3) sometimes I have something to add to the discussion that may in turn stimulate someone else's thinking.

Among our individual posts as Quaker bloggers, there is much wonderful ministry and eldership going on, such as QuaCarol's post that is lifted up by Martin Kelley at his blog, Quaker Ranter.

There is a sort of communal seeking and sharing that is going on. While we are engaged in it, I cannot help but wonder from time to time if we are not also testing how our faithfulness to the Spirit might be enhanced; if we are better servants, better Friends of the Truth, as a result.


March 7, 2005

A prayer for a young family

A prayer for two faithful servants and their young family

May you know the coolness of God's earth to calm the fevers
May you know the gentleness of God's lakes and brooks to assuage the headaches
May you know the sturdiness of the trunks of the mightiest oaks to steady yourself during the chaos
May you know the openness of the infinite skies to refresh your weary minds
May you know the lap of the Living Presence and rest in the Everlasting Arms of the Comforter.

March 3, 2005

Come to the Banquet!

Here's a comment I posted on Ruthie-Annie's blog about what my worship experience has been recently in the worship group I attend. As usual, it's very hard to capture the mystical, spiritual dimension of an experience. Is it any surprise that the English language is so limited in describing that which is Eternal? Some might even desire that words be left alone and that the experience itself provide the language for each worshipper.

Given my concern that we share a living, meaningful Quakerism with others so that its Life and Power can continue to be nourished and cultivated, I will err on the side of being explicit--open--about the experiences I have in worship and among Friends. That said, Meeting for Worship is not the core of my Quakerism, though this post might be interpreted as that. The core of my Quakerism (as I understand my Quakerism at this point) is the desire to understand and be obedient to the Guidance of the Spirit, to seek that understanding and pursue that obedience among a covenant community, to listen to and listen for the Inward Teacher.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
The "What do you (Quakers) do in the silence?" is a question that I always have to draw a deep breath around. (Like just now. Seriously.)

I am currently part of a newly formed, yet unnamed worship group in Minnesota. We've been worshipping together for 2 years. [UPDATE: Go to the website for this now-named worship group.] One thing we have in common that differs greatly from one of the nearby large monthly meetings is that we each have a belief in and an experiential knowledge of Something Divine. And we are experiencing a sort of spiritual intimacy: we share openly our desire to know the Spirit, to seek the Spirit's Guidance for us, to tell one another when and how the Spirit has shown up for us in our lives, and to tell each other when we are feeling dry and distant from the Spirit.

When we come together for worship, given our shared belief in the Divine, there is a mutual, reciprocal trust that we are, in fact, doing the same thing:

We are being still so that we may listen more clearly to that which God is wanting to tell us, show us, sing to us, whisper to us... We have come to the Banquet, ready to be fed by the Bread of Life and then some!

There is such unity in our practice and in our belief--that God is still speaking to us--that many times in our short 2 years, when worship was broken, during a period of quiet reflection, a number of us have spoken of our inward tenderness, our sense of connectedness and our experience of the Divine Mystery. And often our experiences are confirmed when we hear one another speak of the sense of the Presence in our midst that we ourselves experienced...

As for what I do in worship...? Sometimes I catch myself "trying" to listen inwardly to the Shepherd. But the trying gets in the way, much like when learning a new language, if I focus on translating word by word, I miss the concept that is encased in the message. But if I relax and simply absorb the whole message, something deep within me makes all the connections I need, and Voila! I understand what is being said, despite the fact that I did not translate it word by word.

So in worship, when I realize I am trying to listen instead of actively resting as a way into listening, then I am able to return to a relaxed receptive state. I find that I often feel my lower back moves against the back of the chair as I do so. I end up imagining or even sensing that God is standing behind me, arms thrown around my shoulders, and I lean, I lean into those Everlasting Arms...

Other times, especially recently, I have come to understand that in unprogrammed Quaker worship, there is an invitation for us all to be at the Holy Spirit's Table, the Banquet, and we are there as guests, and we are there to listen to our Dinner Host when the time comes. We will need to pay attention, and at the time when God speaks, we will all lean in to listen more carefully, and occasionally we will nudge one another and smile at one another when we recognize that God is speaking to our mutual condition; and when it is over, we will go home full, having been Well Fed by our time Together with the Spirit.

. . . . . . . .

Sadly for me, in a meeting in which there is great spiritual variety, I have experienced no sense of that corporate connection or gatheredness, and I find I mostly end up focusing on my own thoughts, my own world. Occasionally I can imagine God circling us all together, but that then interferes with my ability to Rest in God and Listen.

The image I have in less centered meetings for worship is that, around the Banquet Table, the dinner guests are each doing different things: some are reading; some are knitting with the radio on in the background; some are having whispered conversations with one another... And I picture myself throwing down my chair and saying, "Hey! There is something Magnificent being shared with us here, and I can't Listen or Hear with so much activity going on!"

My fear of being so "radical" usually quells that impulse pretty quickly, though. smile

As I empty myself into this piece, I feel I have articulated a number of things that have been turning over and over inside myself. I am grateful for and humbled by my fellow Quaker bloggers, and I'll be adding Ruthie-Annie to my links.