November 27, 2006

Seeking and finding together

Last week, when Deborah Fisch was in town, an unusual incident happened that spoke to me about what it means to accompany one another during our journeys within our meeting communities.

It was the end of her visit, and Deborah was getting ready to hit the road. A Friend was going to drop me off at my home, and on the way, we were going to lead Deborah back to the freeway. As we headed to our cars, Deborah asked us to wait a moment so she could find her earpiece to her cell phone so she could make hands-free calls.

She didn't find it.

The three of us retraced Deborah's steps back into the house where Meeting for Worship had been held. The earpiece wasn't there either. The other Friend and I took turns going through Deborah's car, while Deborah began to empty out her coat pockets, her knapsack, and her suitcase.

No earpiece.

Deborah made it clear it wasn't her preference to shell out more money to replace the earpiece, and so she took us up on the offer to head back to my place where she had been staying over the weekend and carry on the search there.

Once back at my house, I walked through the house all over again, pulled out the sleeper sofa, and looked under the mattress. Meanwhile, Deborah emptied her knapsack and suitcase one more time and picked through everything. A minute later, I headed outside again, empty-handed.

Then I heard my name called, excitedly: Liz!

And there was Deborah, on the walkway up to the house, smiling and holding her little trophy high in her hand.

Deborah explained that the other Friend had suggested maybe the earpiece had fallen out of Deborah's pocket while she was walking to pack up the car that morning, so the Friend had kicked aside some oak leaves that had gathered at the foot of a step... and there it was!

. . . . . . . . .

As the day went on and Deborah made her way safely through the freeway system, I thought about how the three of us had worked so hard to find such a simple thing. My thoughts intermixed with a question I've been living with, about what it means to labor with one another or wrestle together over something, and why Friends don't seem to engage in such community-building work as frequently as we might.

I took a look at what the three of us had just been through:

  • We were searching for a thing that would ease one Friend's journey (looking for the earpiece).

  • When we couldn't find it right away, we stayed engaged; we stayed connected to each other (we kept looking).

  • The search became longer, more difficult (we retraced Deborah's recent steps).

  • Over time, it became harder to understand why we were keeping at it. Did we really have to?

  • One Friend reminded the others why it was important to keep looking (Deborah explained why she didn't want to just go out and buy another earpiece).

  • We recommitted ourselves (we looked through the car, her backpack, her suitcase).

  • A new idea emerged (maybe it's at the other house).

  • We pursued the new idea together.

  • A Friend suggested a new approach (passing her foot through the oak leaves)...

  • ...which ultimately bore fruit! (the long-lost earpiece!)

  • I would like to think that we would have kept searching, "however long it would take," until all of us had agreed to let it go, or until each of us had felt "released" from the need to keep searching. The truth is, I needed to be coaxed to push on, and if either of the other two had wanted to stop, I could easily have been swayed to stop looking, too.

    I needed the other Friends' commitment; I needed their faithfulness.

    It often seems that when Friends undertake a difficult task, and when the going gets tough, we are tempted to stop our efforts; our energy wanes. We maybe even stop paying attention to what is the capital-L Loving thing to do in the situation.

    Maybe we start paying attention to what I call the American anthem of individualism: We start paying attention to "me, me, me..." We start focusing on our own wants and needs, and if something becomes too inconvenient for us, well, we may step away from the task entirely, even while others continue on the sometimes unpleasant journey.

    It's a form of discipline to turn our attention, restrain our impulse, or deter our American nature away from "me, me, me" and make space for, and recommit to, "all of us, all of us, all of us."

    It's a discipline to let go of the pursuit of the individual American dream and hold the intention of moving together, as a body, seeking the way forward together, even while struggling and laboring with one another, until the spiritual debris is kicked aside and the Way forward is revealed.


    UPDATE: An offshoot of this post, I have written more about other disciplines within Quakerism.


    Mark Wutka said...

    What a blessing to have Deborah come visit! The search for the earpiece sounds just like some of the stories Deborah tells, and I especially love your description of it as a community-building exercise. That is a really wonderful insight!
    With love,

    Liz Opp said...

    Thanks for the comment, Mark. It's easy to start looking at "experiences as metaphor" after spending a weekend with Deborah! So when this story unfolded and I had some time to sit with it, well, it turned into a good excuse to write a post about it. And it's stirring up and pulling together some other thoughts I've been having about other Quaker disciplines.

    Your own writing is helping me pull together some thoughts, too, so I'm grateful that I have a few days to catch up on some blog reading... and hopefully some blog writing, too!

    Liz Opp, The Good Raised Up

    Nonsequitur said...

    A timely bit of wisdom. I also have been contemplating the forces which cause us to want to stand alone & apart, trying to work alone and get it all done by ourselves. In some cases, it is a blind form of pride; in other cases, it may have been a history of having been let down by those whom we were attempting to work with, or may be a combination of these and/or other things. I have also been lead to notice the ways of our American culture, how individualism taken to extremes can lead to isolation and loneliness, which also may become a self-perpetuating problem if it is allowed to take hold. Thank you for further insight. :-)

    Liz Opp said...


    Thanks for dropping by. I can tell you that as I was growing up, until I was in my 30s, I would say I was very individualistic.

    I grew up in an emotionally disconnected family, had few friends among my peers in school, and prided myself for being able to get more accomplished when I worked alone, rather than rely on my co-workers or peer group when working on projects.

    It wasn't until I had been among Friends for nearly 10 or 12 years that I began to wonder about the more subtle corporate nature of Quakerism. And then it still took me a few years of attending and observing other Friends gatherings where the corporate practice of addressing business items and of seeking God together in worship was still alive.

    I continue to carry the concern that secular culture is intruding into our meetings, to the extent that many Friends don't even see the intrusion because we are so embedded in the individualistic culture of our daily lives, nearly 7 days a week.

    But that is a post for another day.

    Liz Opp, The Good Raised Up

    Paul L said...

    Your story reminds me of another one:

    [W]hat woman, if she had ten drachma coins, if she lost one drachma coin, wouldn’t light a lamp, sweep the house, and seek diligently until she found it? When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the drachma which I had lost.’ Even so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner repenting." Luke 15:8-10

    Liz Opp said...


    This very same story has been on my heart of late... Thanks for offering it here.