May 25, 2006

Yearly Meeting and other Friendly travels

Well, there's no way to know when I will have time or energy I write another post for awhile. I'm about to begin a series of travels to a number of yearly meetings and other Quaker events in the U.S. and Canada.

26-29 Fifth Month 2006
Northern Yearly Meeting (north-central Wisconsin)

7-11 Sixth Month 2006
Southern Appalachian Yearly Meeting and Association (SAYMA; near Asheville, North Carolina)

1-7 Seventh Month 2006
FGC Gathering (Tacoma, Washington)

25-30 Seventh Month 2006
Iowa Yearly Meeting Conservative (on the campus of Scattergood Friends School)

12-19 Eighth Month 2006
Canadian Yearly Meeting (Winnipeg, Manitoba)
Most of these trips are solo and some of them are on behalf of Friends General Conference, but I'll meeting up with Friends I know either through FGC or through the blogosphere.

But believe me, if Way opens and I have a chance to report "from the field" about any of these Quaker events, I will (as I am led, of course)!


May 21, 2006

Keeping God at the center

The past week or so has had me filled with a whirlwind of thoughts, concerns, and emotions. My heart has been weighed down with sadness over how some things have progressed in my life of late, including and most especially among Friends.

During Meeting for Worship, though, I was made to understand that I had been placing myself at the center of my concern:

How was I going to get through this?
How was I going to deal with whatever decision I would make in the end?
When I remembered that God is at the center of my faith, when I returned God to that center, I felt a shift inside me. My breathing lightened. My burdens lightened. The fog cleared a bit from my very fuzzy brain.

I can't say that I've reached clearness about how to move forward with certain difficulties, but I can say that I'll be paying attention to where I am and where God is in relation to how I view my experience in the world over the next couple of days.

It's as if this simple affirmation, God is at the center, has helped me detach from the worldly worries I was carrying. Detach, yes, but not be so far removed from things that I will slip into denial or procrastination. But by detaching just a bit emotionally as a result of putting God at the center, I have gained some emotional breathing room and a different spiritual view of what I am facing.

Pretty cool.


P.S. I am grateful that Martin has written about his understanding of keeping God at the center. It was nice to re-read this piece at a time like this.

May 18, 2006

Quaker fundamentals:
Understanding what God wants

Recently I was asked by someone relatively new to Quakerism:

How could anyone know what God is saying to us or what God wants for us? Isn't that presumptuous?
It is so very important for newcomers to Quakerism to share their beginner's mind with those of us who have been around a while. Here is how I responded, and I'm hoping you can fill in whatever points I missed.
Your concern is valid, that we must be very careful to claim what it is that God wants, or hopes for, or says. This concern very much speaks to the discipline of corporate discernment among Friends.

The belief is that if indeed God is accessible, and God is communicating with us, then if we are all "listening" well, we should all be able to "hear" the same message. So we test with one another what it is that we think we hear or receive from God.

A related belief is that there is a Gospel Order that God wishes for all of us to participate in, co-create, and help sustain. So if there is a Gospel Order that can be known, then we must search for it and work for it, together and individually.

But being human, we can very easily misinterpret or misunderstand what it is that God is wanting us to know, or what it is that amounts to Gospel Order. So we learn what others are sensing, feeling, hearing, seeing, to see if it "matches" our own sense, feeling, understanding. And, if the matter is weighty, we may season the initial discernment and revisit it at another time, to see if there is consistency to our shared understanding. We might also test it to see if there is consistency with something in Scripture and among the writings and traditions of early (or earlier) Friends.

So yes, while there is a comfort in naming our experience as a "mystery" or an "unknowing," as Friends, there is also a history of having experienced clearness--a clear and definite knowing that God wills something or conveys something directly to us, such as George Fox's awakening, "I heard a voice... 'There is one even, Christ Jesus, who can speak to thy condition'... And my heart did leap for joy...".

And if we are faithful, then our discernment and our actions will bear fruit over time:


You are asking important questions, Friend, and I believe that there is certainly a place for them. No doubt you will get different answers from Friends, dependent on each Friend's experience among Quakers.
And this is why I carry the concern that I do, that modern Friends keep close to the root of our Quaker heritage; that we pay attention to how we convey our faith to each other.

When I am asked a question that speaks to a fundamental belief or practice of Friends, I sometimes am tempted to pull out a Quaker resource and quote directly from it, but there are times like this one when I felt it was important for me to speak from my own understanding.

The resources will always be there for this Friend and I to refer back to, as needed. But that moment of being present to one another, in the openness we shared at that time... I did not want to interrupt it by paging through books, when spiritual authority and the witness of Friends are experienced and discovered elsewhere.

What might any of you have added, I wonder? And is it presumptuous to say that we ever might come to know what it is that God wants for us?


May 14, 2006

Excerpt on being meek

After nearly two weeks of not being able to speak--not even a whisper--my voice is finally returning.

Bit by bit.

Some fFriends have asked me what the lesson has been in having to be silent for so long, a question I myself have been holding. Usually my body has some inward knowledge for me to heed, but this time, like my voice itself, it has been silent.

What I can offer, though, is how I feel like I have lost two week of my life: I seem to have little memory of how I spent those 10-12 days. How did I pass the time? What was I working on before the laryngitis struck? Who did I interact with?

It's all very strange, but one thing is for sure: I'm glad I'm coming 'round again!

In the meantime, I have decided to lift up an excerpt from one of the "confessions" posts, which focuses on questions I have about being meek and humble.

I'm highlighting this excerpt for selfish reasons: I keep thinking I have a post about being meek, only to rediscover that it is a part of a longer post.

Who knows? Maybe the laryngitis was in answer to my question about knowing what it is like to be humble. I certainly had to do a lot more listening and keep many of my own ideas and responses to myself.

But I wouldn't say that I felt meek in the process as much as I felt frustrated.

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


Lacking humility and meekness is [one of the] hardest [things] for me to articulate, and it is something I have become aware of only because the phrase is repeated so frequently in the writings of Samuel Bownas.

Before reading Bownas, I had understood that being faithful meant putting myself aside and waiting to feel and know inwardly the leading and guidance of the Divine. But after reading Bownas, there seems to be something more than that, something that I have been missing within myself that can best be expressed as this element of meekness.

Not a doormat meekness, and not a low self-esteem meekness, but something else: a not-needing-to-insert-myself-into-every-conversation-about-Quakerism meekness.

I think about the Friends for whom I have "hero worship." They seem to have an element of this meekness. One of them has light-heartedly presented her knowledge of Scripture to me as "this isn't exactly what the Bible says but..." and then has gone on to give a very paraphrased version of the passage, almost like describing a scene that could have occurred on a TV drama or sitcom. In this way, she was the first Friend who made Scripture accessible and non-threatening to me.

Another Friend presents his meekness to me by sharing parts of his life that are well outside the realm of the Religious Society of Friends. I have been caught completely off-guard when he has told me about a certain rock band he's fond of and about his (near?) devotion to baseball.

And a third Friend who recently passed away, well, she was meek in how she approached you if she was dissatisfied with something that was said or if she was confused by a turn of events that left her feeling cast aside. She led with her concern rather than her anger; she brought forward questions rather than chastisement.

I had thought I had learned something from each of these Friends, but perhaps the learning needs to sink more deeply into my heart and soul. In difficult situations, I know I seek to do the right thing right, but by acknowledging that practice, am I letting myself off the hook from considering how to be "slow to speak and ready to hear and receive instruction"? (Bownas, p. 22)

When I look at the examples of Friends who I consider meek or low, I wonder if maybe being meek also has to do with letting others see more into our non-Quaker lives. Not just our struggles and crises, but our diversions and pleasures.

Do I do enough of that sort of sharing, or do I write it off as being too "chit-chatty"? What's the balance to be struck over a potluck meal that follows Meeting for Worship: do we talk about the Presence of God within the meeting and in our lives, or do we talk about how we fill our time when we are not doing Quaker things?

And in my case, where much of my time is dedicated to Quaker pursuits, then what?

Blech. It leaves a heaviness in my heart to acknowledge these things, to confess these things.


Reminder: This excerpt can be found in the original post on confessions, part II.

May 8, 2006

The cat has my tongue?

For those who are wondering why the recent silence on The Good Raised Up, I have had a case of laryngitis. True, laryngitis does not affect the fingers, but it had zapped my energy for a few days, mostly because of the dry cough that kept me up for a few nights and which can accompany the loss of voice.

I believe I am over the worst of it, or at least I certainly hope so.

The best part of the experience--if there can be a "best part" of being sick--is that I was able to use sign language with my sweetie who was so wonderfully kind and patient in caring for me over the past few days. (Thanks, hun!)