April 27, 2007

From spiritual refugee to spiritual citizen

In recent weeks, I have been musing about the phrase "spiritual refugee." While I was traveling in-and-around Boston to get to certain Quaker events, I jotted down this brief phrase:

spiritual refugee -->
spiritual immigrant -->
spiritual citizen
These phrases won't leave me alone, so I take that to mean it is time for me to pay attention to them and see what comes of it.

I often see the phrase "spiritual refugee" in contemporary Quaker writings, about worshipers who find their way to Quakerism after some sort of fallout they had with their church--either in childhood or as an adult, or both. These worshipers often seek refuge from having a certain form of their religious practice or creed having been forced onto them, or they seek refuge from having been disillusioned or even betrayed by their faith community and religious leaders.

It wasn't until recently that I had considered myself a spiritual refugee, despite my obvious-to-me disillusionment with the Jewish tradition I grew up with. Maybe because I never felt personally mistreated by that faith; I didn't feel like I had to "flee for [spiritual] safety." As a disillusioned Jew, one day I just ambled into a meetinghouse and I ended up staying.

I've stayed for more than 14 years.

Still, I do have my hang-ups. Early on and for a number of years as a spiritual refugee, I would cringe whenever I heard vocal ministry that referred to Jesus or the saving power of Christ, no matter how sweet the minister or what sort of relationship I had with the Friend.

After four or five years among Friends, though, something silently, subtly shifted within myself. I found that I could abide with the more Christian language contained within some vocal ministry, or the Christ-centered frame that was presented by a Friend who led an adult education program. I could begin to let the Christian roots of Quakerism have their space for "the other Friends" who could relate to it, but I no longer felt threatened by it personally.

I began to understand, wordlessly and by that "secret power" that reached me (see 19.21 here), that when a Friend (or non-Friend) brings a message that she or he has been given, isn't about me. It isn't about my need to be protected from the spiritual and religious wounding I received as a younger person.

It's about the minister being faithful to the message that she or he has been given. It's about God calling a great people to be gathered... Typically, vocal ministry is simply going to be entwined with the Friend's own religious experience, not mine.

With that understanding, along with a growing realization that Quakerism was a good place for me to be, I began to think about applying for membership, some six or seven years after having begun worshiping regularly among Friends.

I had unknowingly transitioned from being a spiritual refugee to being a spiritual immigrant.

It really wasn't until I was more of a spiritual immigrant among Friends that I began to work more consciously and more conscientiously at seeking to reconcile my religious upbringing as a Jew with my current religious and spiritual yearnings as a Friend. It's not that I wanted to deny my spiritual hang-ups as much as I wanted to reconcile, integrate, or transcend the two parts of me at the time: Quakerly Jew and Jewish Quaker.

I began to read George Fox's journal [I read the Rufus Jones' edition] and a teeny tiny, unimposing book about John Woolman and found myself neither repulsed by the references to Christ nor necessarily enraptured by them. At the same time, I felt as if some new part of me was soaking in the Light of their words and experiences.

I was being opened; I was being changed. I was getting a new "lay of the [spiritual] land" that is Quakerism, its historical and theological connection to the Christian faith. Quakerism was no longer a religious ground in which I could find safe harbor. It was now religious territory in which I was putting down some pretty significant roots.

It seemed I had moved from spiritual immigrant to spiritual citizen.

Some four or five years after having been approved for membership in the monthly meeting, I have clearly taken up Quakerism as a faith tradition I call my own, at a intellectual, emotional, intuitive, and spiritual level. I hear the outer word "Christ" but receive it inwardly as "the Living Presence"; I hear the outer word "Savior" and know its meaning within myself as "the Light that calls me out."

When I struggle with a decision I must make, or when I have "missed the mark" in my committee participation; when I have spoken meanly of another, or have been boastful and arrogant, I have looked to Quaker disciplines rather than Jewish or even secular ones to help return myself to a sense of harmony and right relationship with God and with those around me.

All of these experiences remind me that each of us will likely pass through stages of spiritual development and spiritual maturity as we journey among Friends--or among whichever faith community where we find ourselves. We will each move from being a spiritual refugee, to a spiritual immigrant...

And, if we stay long enough and educate ourselves thoroughly enough and embrace certain principles and disciplines about Quakerism long enough, we may find ourselves spiritual citizens of the Religious Society of Friends.

We may in fact seek to become formal members, or live into the fullness of what being a member means.



Linda said...

Thanks for sharing this lovely description of the spiritual shifts that you have experienced over time. It's good to remember that faith is a process.

Nancy A said...

Very nice imagery. Taking "spiritual refugee" to "spiritual citizen" is a very grounding idea.

Liz Opp said...

Linda and Nancy -

Thanks for dropping by. One thing I'll add is that I started to wonder why the "spiritual refugees" in our meetings didn't seem to care about moving away from that "status" or stage... or maybe they didn't know how to.

So then I thought how sometimes it's easier to move out of my own comfort zone when I have a sense of where I want to move towards. I can't imagine that refugees from oppressive regimes or war-torn countries always want to retain their identity as refugees. Wouldn't they want to claim someplace as their home and hearth, a place where they can belong again and feel welcome...?

Anyway, if this description of inward transformation and spiritual shifts is helpful to some, that will be enough.


John (@bookdreamer) said...

Hi very timely post.

It reminded me of a group I once ran with a group of Quakers that was exploring notions of Quaker worship as part of an education program. Many were weighty friends of long standing
but were all spiritual refugees in that they had escaped from a narrow and stifling experience of Christianity. But which often stopped them from exploring Friend's Christian roots as they had become blocked by their notions of Christianity. I had come into Friends in the 1970's from a radical and communist background. This meant ironically that I was the most open from exploring traditional religious props and routes such as the Bible, prayer, fellowship etc to see their value without accepting traditional values only.

It also throws up an issue for me in that I have been in and around Quakers for 30 years. I have been an overseer, worked on national committees, been a warden but joined, revoked my membership some 25 years ago and yet remain involved. I have had a break for the past two years but two weeks ago reading a non-quaker blog gave me the nudge to start to reconnect. I leaped into doing a blog and finding communities to link to. Not many in the UK yet and London Yearly Meeting may need some ministry on the opportunities for outreach in the new world of Blogs!

This morning a friend rings me out of the blue to ask me to attend our local quaker meeting as he is running a group on silence for his local church.A hint and nudge I think.

Yet am I still a spirtual immigrant or do I think that Citizenship for me is being the "Fool" the one who runs counter to convention, who raises irrelevances, pokes fun at the weighty and serious, mocks the common understanding, questions literalness to jolt us back to when the question and journey was new and the answers and questions not yet fabled.

forrest said...

Returning your visit, seeing what you're up to lately... and now you turn out to be of Jewish origin.

My wife Anne (_Meditations on the Prayer of St Francis_) & I are currently reading a book to one another, something we do sometimes when the right book comes along.

& that book is: _One God Clapping_ by Alan Lew. I've read many good Jewish/Buddhist books; but this one is truly wonderful, so far. (& so was _Stalking Elijah_ by Roger Kamenetz, which our study group is now reading, about the Jewish Renewal movement we encountered during our time at Pendle Hill.)

So what's it about, being "a people" that the Lord has "called to be gathered"? We want everybody to go on up that thundering mountain; meanwhile we have always people among us saying, "That's all right, Moshe, you go up and we'll just listen from here."

And though God offers to wipe out this stubborn, difficult people and give Moses a better one, Moses talks him out of it.

I don't think God is going to really let go of us until we've all climbed up, but meanwhile... it's a lengthy climb and we don't need to see everyone make it today. God is at work in our discomfort, in other people's resistence to change, in everyone's reluctant recognition of the need. I gave another message last Sunday, was told, fondly, "Forrest, you just keep pushing us, don't you?" While Anne's message was about how the meeting is healing us all, and was likewise true.

Come join us at http://kwakerskripturestudy.blogspot.com/?

cubbie said...

this was really good to read, both for the language and ideas that you presented, and... because of the way you describe your increasing comfort with christian language and your understanding of the ways different people express their faith. thank you.

Laurie Chase Kruczek said...

Hi Liz,

Thanks for this insight into your own spiritual metamorphosis. I have been really struggling with my own faith, my own direction, where I fit into the larger picture of the world, etc. You speak to my heart, so thank you for showing me I am not alone in the ups and downs of the journey.

Laurie PS thanks for stopping in at my blog and leaving encouraging words. It is greatly appreciated :)

Liz Opp said...

John the Tentative Quaker -

Thanks for sharing some of your own journey. Y'know, I believe we each have our own faith journey to walk, including our journey among Friends (and our journey away from Friends).

You ask if you are "still a spiritual immigrant..." To me, it sounds as if you are a seeker and a spiritual world traveler, making the world your home, given your self-acknowledged radicalism and openness.

Still, being a spiritual citizen requires a commitment to a spiritual country and I would say you are wise to take the time to travel among Friends once more, to take the time to get to know us and to get to know yourself among us and to get to know God and the Living Presence among us.

My mantra...?

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

. . . * * * . . . * * * . . .

Forrest -

Glad to see you back here! and thanks for the book suggestions. Your comment reminds me of what I have heard one Friend say:

God accepts us and loves us exactly as we are, right now. And God loves us so much that God asks us to grow into all that we can become. ...We can do no more to make God love us, and we can do no less to make God love us. We are already loved.

Of course, not all of us realize this yet. wink

As to your invitation to join the Friendly skripture study, I'm not there yet and my time is already exceedingly tight! Still, all I need is the right Opportunity and the proper sense of leading.

. . . * * * . . . * * * . . .

Cubbie -

Thanks for the compliment. ...Gosh, I'm sorry I've read so little from you: I'll have to take a look at your blog when my life slows down!

Laurie -

See my "mantra" that I offered to Tentative Quaker, above! And "Wear thy sword as long as thou canst." And: Be gentle with yourself.

This experience, as difficult and trying as it is right now, is an important one, regardless of where you end up. If I can be of help, or if a phone conversation would be better, do let me know: lizopp AT gmail DOT com.