January 19, 2007

Spiritual intimacy, Part II

When I was working on a previous post on this topic, the original version of it included additional thoughts and reflections about the nature of spiritual intimacy. What follows below is Part Two of that original post and expands on some of those concepts. --Liz
One way I have heard others explain intimacy is to think about intimacy like this:
Intimacy means INTO ME SEE, see into me.
Just like I can't see into--or out of--a house if the blinds are always drawn, no matter how brightly lit the interior is, so it is that if we are going to nurture spiritual intimacy with one another, to know one another in that which is Eternal, we are going to have to lift up the shades and even--gasp!--open the front door and invite people in.

We're also going to have to knock on other people's doors and accept their invitation to stay for a while and visit, too.

If we're going to strengthen our sense of spiritual community and deepen our spiritual intimacy with one another, we'll have to hone and cultivate our gifts of spiritual hospitality, both as individuals and as a corporate body.

Spiritual intimacy and spiritual hospitality go hand in hand. As newcomers, we're received and welcomed with a friendly handshake and a gentle question or two. It's only after we have observed a commitment from others who make the time to hear and absorb our answers that we will hang around awhile: we feel a sense of warmth and care as a result of their attention and presence to us. And when the friendly handshakes, gentle questions, and gift of time extend beyond a first and second visit, we are likely to start sharing, bit by bit, more of our lives, our concerns, and--horrors!--our vulnerabilities.

We have to be diligent and intentional, though, to maintain this practice of spiritual hospitality to those Friends who have been among us for years, not just days. And our meetings will have to come under the weight of valuing spiritual intimacy if we wish to know one another deeply as a community.

It's taken me nearly a dozen years among Friends to understand what spiritual hospitality means, and how it connects to spiritual intimacy.

Imagine that you are traveling to visit two sets of relatives. One set of relatives hurry you into the house, squeeze your suitcase into a cluttered bedroom, ask the kids to take their video games and CDs off of the bed where you'll sleep, and tell you all about how busy their lives are, what the kids are doing after school, and what sort of errands need to be accomplished before they see you off in a few days.

The other set of relatives that you visit hold the door open for you when you come in. They give you a chance to catch your breath. Then they might ask if you'd like to get settled in your room or have something to drink first. When you get to your room, you see the bed is made with fresh linens; clean towels are put out; and there's even space in the closet for you to hang a few things. When you rejoin the group for some conversation, they ask you what you've been up to, why are you traveling just then, and what else is capturing your attention these days.

Similarly, our verbal greeting and initial conversation is a doorway through which others step into our spiritual home. The same can be said about our nonverbal space and our nonverbal welcome: if we ignore our visitors, or if we greet them only after we have said hello to the fFriends whom we know, that sends a message too about whether or not we wish to get to know more about them.

The triad: Spiritual welcome, spiritual intimacy, and spiritual hospitality

Spiritual welcome, spiritual hospitality, and spiritual intimacy are interconnected: each one plays a part with the remaining two.

We might be gifted in welcoming newcomers (spiritual welcome) and in providing charming, restful overnight accommodations to traveling Friends (spiritual hospitality), but we may fail to engage in the tender sharing of what lives and beats in our hearts from week to week, from Friend to Friend (spiritual intimacy).

We might be gifted in nurturing emerging ministries (spiritual hospitality) and in sharing our struggles and triumphs (spiritual intimacy), but we may be cool or lukewarm to welcoming visitors who find their way to meeting (spiritual welcome).

Or we might make a special effort to greet visitors (welcome) and do well to provide structures for learning of our spiritual journeys (intimacy), but we may fail to call out Friends to bring forward their full measure of Light (hospitality).

And yes, each of these three parts of the triad sometimes is very close to one or both of the other parts. My examples may be missing the mark, but I hope my intention comes through.

The me-and-you, give-and-receive of spiritual intimacy

There are at least four parts to nurturing the sort of spiritual intimacy and spiritual fabric to which I'm referring:
    1. Be willing to express your own vulnerabilities and struggles;

    2. Be willing to express your own experiences of being drawn close to the Divine;

    3. Be present to others' expression of their vulnerabilities and struggles;

    4. Be present to others' expression of their being drawn close to the Divine.

Sometimes what gets in our way of engaging in any of these four opportunities for spiritual intimacy is our own discomfort--either in sharing such delicate experiences or in witnessing what someone else is sharing.

Other times, what gets in our way is a lack of feeling emotionally or spiritually safe: Do we know how to listen compassionately to one another, without judgment and without giving advice?

More than that,
Do we know how to listen to one another in such a way that we feel "called out" and met with loving tenderness?
Do we observe exchanges between experienced Friends that model for ourselves what spiritual intimacy of such give-and-receive looks like? Or do we more often observe exchanges where one Friend or another feels shut down, closed off, or... diminished in some fashion?

Creating and sustaining spiritual intimacy is slow and tender work. There are generational, gender-based, personal, societal, cultural, and other influences that interfere with our ability to move into a more spiritually intimate frame together. Some Friends must overcome the message that "we don't air our dirty laundry." Other Friends must work against the negative self-talk that they are "not good enough." And still other Friends will have to counter the message that "what's in the past should stay in the past."

In addition, what helps one Friend feel welcome and safe will not be the same thing that helps the next Friend feel welcome and safe. And while some Friends are able to articulate what helps them feel safe enough to share their vulnerabilities, other Friends may feel manipulated by such open acknowledgement of what helps them.

Yet I have to wonder if, in our first wondrous experiences of waiting worship, if we had unknowingly felt a Hospitality, a Welcome, and an Intimacy that spoke to our conditions deeply... that beckoned us to return... that still beckons us to "dwell deep," to seek to know God, and to strive to know and call out the Light that is within each of us.

I wonder if we, in our meetings, can open that Door for one another and step inside.


OTHER POSTS in the series on spiritual intimacy
The previous post (Part I)
The next post (Part III)

RELATED POST - Richard M's call to share our stories of "the center"


Liz Opp said...

Apparently some Friends have not been able to post a comment here. So I'm testing it. -Liz

Robin M. said...

Trying again.

For me, spiritual hospitality has mostly taken the form of inviting local Friends over for dinner and conversation (and homemade pie). This has led to a much greater degree of spiritual intimacy with the Friends who have accepted our invitations. Chris and I always think we should do more of this, since it has been so fruitful, but even we have limits to our time and energy.

It was in part the spiritual welcome I received at the first two meetings I attended that confirmed my sense that I had found the right religious place. Meaning I had a good time at coffee hour in addition to a powerful spiritual experience in meeting for worship. It's hard to beat that combination.

Anonymous said...

Hi, I'm a first time visitor to your blog (actually just dipping my toe into the Quaker blogosphere), but a long-time Friend. Thank you for this post. It has given me much to think about. I serve on my meeting's Ministry and Counsel committee, and I think the issues you bring up would be good for us to explore.

In the Light,


Liz Opp said...

Robin -

Well, you've made more progress than I have in the "let's invite Friends over for dinner and conversation" department! I agree that breaking bread together is something that can be done and is part of spiritual hospitality. What concerns me, though, is that there is a difference between individuals (or individual households) offering spiritual hospitality and having the meeting as a community engage in that spiritual hospitality. Is the meeting--or at least a critical mass of it--sharing that concern? Otherwise, I'm concerned that spiritual hospitality becomes more a case of "who you know."

And hello, Mia -

Thanks for dropping by. I don't know if it's possible to dip only a big toe into the Quaker blogosphere, so watch out for the strong undertow! ...One thing I have enjoyed about the Quaker blogosphere is that there are a number of posts and comments that give me much pause. It also has helped me remember that no single Friends meeting or Friends church exemplifies what Quakerism is. We need each other and and each other's gifts: we are all members of the same body. When I remember that, I find I am opened to learn more about who we are, what we are about, and how we help one another in our faithfulness.


Cecilia said...

This post came at a timely point in my spiritual growth.

As I read your post on sharing our vulnerabilities, my personal thought was that this is so difficult because I still feel afraid of what people will think of me. This is a challenge I have in my spiritual life, to leave those feelings behind.

I will be joining School of the Spirit beginning in March. At each retreat we will have our own koinonia group in which we will have a deeper relationship spiritually than to the rest of the class. In addition, I have a Care Committee in my own Meeting that will meet with me once a month. In both of these groups, I will have to let go of these feelings of self and struggle to open up to others.

I also fear sharing beliefs and feelings that might not be shared by others. Part of this is my fear of conflict but most is that same fear of wanting folks to only approve of me.

I don't think it is a self-esteem issue but one of pride. I shall let the Spirit work on this in me.

Liz Opp said...

Ceal - Thanks for taking the time and the risk to share where you find yourself.

My own spiritual journey--and my journey among Friends in particular--has challenged me in a similar way, where I have had to lean into the fear and surrender to God.

I think of John Woolman, who during some of his trial of illness and spiritual wrestling, heard the words, "John Woolman is dead." This to me means he gave up his own worries and concerns about "being singular from [his] beloved Friends."

He gave up himself: his ego had to die in order to restore God to the center of his life and to begin doing not what others around him were doing (dying their clothes, relying on slaves) but what God was requiring him to do.

To paraphrase George Fox and others, if we are faithful, if we "stand still in the Light" and submit to it, and let it search us, we can be amazed by what we discover about ourselves and about the nature of God.

Scary? Yes!

For that reason, I often give this counsel when someone brings their vulnerabilities forward:

Be gentle with yourself.
Trust your own timing.
Risk when you are ready.
Ask for what you want.
Do what works for you.

Go gently, Ceal. I sense you are already finding your way.