September 30, 2007

Do your best.

In Meeting for Worship this First Day morning, I found myself resting on two phrases:

Yes, I hear you.


Did you do your best?
The first phrase, as I understand how I received it today, is almost like the answer to the popular joke, "God always answers your prayers. Sometimes the answer is No."

In this case, though, my own sense is that Yes, I hear you is the reply we are given when we wonder if God is really listening:

"God, do you know how much anguish this situation is causing me right now?"

"God, can't you do anything about what is going on in the world/in our neighborhood/with my family?"
Yes, I hear you.
It's not meant to be a cold, thoughtless retort with a hidden subtext of "Get outta my way, you speck of dust." It's truly meant to be a compassionate response:
Yes, I hear you... and I struggle with you in your pain; I weep with you in your struggle...
The second phrase, Did you do your best? is a question I once heard a Friend lift up.

The Friend offered it as a way to nurture the children among us--and to nurture one another--whether they (we) are preparing for a test in school or are auditioning for a play. There is much more significance to the question Did you do your best? than there is to the better known, somewhat empty gesture of uttering, "Well, good luck."

For one thing, the question Did you do your best? invites us to look inward and ask ourselves if in fact we did our best. The person asking the question doesn't really need to know the answer, but the person who hears the question will quickly recognize the truthful reply.

Sometimes I wonder if God simply wants us to ask ourselves, Did I do my best? Was I faithful...? If we know we didn't do our best, if we know we weren't in fact faithful, we will have the consequence of living with that knowledge... and the opportunity to do something about it when we have a chance.


September 28, 2007

A full plate leads to less blogging

Historically for me, the fall has been a season of increased activity, new ideas, and the pursuit of inspired projects. This year, the end of summer comes with a host of unexpected opportunities:

New cat.

We adopted a cat from the local Humane Society--and soon found out that she had a rather severe upper respiratory infection, a persistent fever, and a "mystery mass" in her abdomen.

Two courses of antibiotics seem to have addressed the fever and infection (they often go hand-in-hand), but even an ultrasound for our one-year-old Inky leaves two vets puzzled: "We've never seen anything like this before and we are completely baffled as to what this could be."

The good news is (1) our veterinary clinic has been great, reducing the cost of the ultrasound from nearly $300 to $50, and (2) all of Inky's major organs and vital signs are normal.

Since putting our previous cat down, I had forgotten how much delight there is in figuring out that the most successful entertainment device for the cat--in this case, anyway--is a simple scrunched up ball of paper, flicked across the room, enticing Inky to bat at it and chase it the length of the house, at amazingly high speeds.

I would say that I have put nearly as much time into caring for and playing with the cat as I used to put into blog reading and blog writing. Now that Inky seems to be doing better, despite the mystery mass, I hope to become active again in the blogosphere.

New bike.

Towards the end of the summer, I got rid of the traditional two-wheeled upright "diamond frame" bike I had acquired at a garage sale and bought a three-wheeled recumbent trike. It has been a huge amount of fun, now that I don't have to focus on balancing and getting the front wheel caught in a seam on the road! And since you need to pedal quite a bit more on a recumbent than on a traditional bike, my legs and abs are getting quite the workout!

Don't get me wrong: I am not an avid biker, though having the trike has helped me get away from using the car for those short little neighborhood errands I'd been doing otherwise.

I've been averaging about 10 miles a week on the trike--small potatoes compared to what Paul L does on his two-wheeled recumbent each day! But 10 miles on the trike is better than nothing and it's better than 10 miles by car, as long as the weather holds out.

New adventures among Friends.

Now that I've recovered from the 2007 FGC Gathering and the "post partem" that followed it, I'm returning to my responsibilities and activities among Friends that had been on hold for awhile.

I have plans to attend the sessions of FGC's Central Committee in October--as a visitor, since my term of service had expired in 2006. I find I am called to remain connected somehow to that committee and its work, though I cannot know if I will be called into additional service there.

I am slowly becoming more active in the monthly meeting's Ministry & Counsel Committee. There is an annual retreat for the committee to be planned; clearness and support committees to be convened; and other concerns to be addressed, some of which capture my attention.

For the first six months of my service on M&C, I was an interested and concerned committee member who attended meetings and refrained from offering to do work outside of our committee time. Now I can open myself to listening for how God asks me to serve the local faith community and be more available to pursue those opportunities for service.

And my involvement in the worship group is increasing again, as we prepare to have a retreat this fall. We'll consider what our witness and our call to service might be, and we'll find ways to include the children in some of our activities. It will be good to break out of the routine of weekly worship, and my hope is we'll have the opportunity to sink a bit more deeply into our searching for and listening to our Guide.


September 23, 2007

Reluctant ministry: Seeds of God

Today at Meeting for Worship at the monthly meeting, I found myself settling into this reflection:

I frequently come to worship hoping the meeting will serve my needs. What I need to do is come to meeting helping my meeting to serve God.
I sat with this awareness--and the sadness underlying it, which I won't go into here--for quite a while.

And then I realized I was being given something more, and I was humbled. I did not wish to give ministry today, but isn't that often how God works: those who are the most reluctant to serve are called upon...?

. . . . . . . . . .

In the spring I decided to prepare a small garden bed for some bergamot (monarda) I was wanting to plant. I noticed that there weren't any earthworms in that particular area of the yard, but I didn't make much of it: most of our backyard has very rich, fertile soil with lots of earthworms, and even though I think of myself as an amateur gardener, I was confident that I could grow bergamot without much trouble. I'm told that it's a very easy-to-grow, low-maintenance perennial.

So I made sure to buy a few plants during the annual Friends School plant sale this year--always a danger to go there, despite the list you've created ahead of time!--and I put them in the bed I had prepared.

Well, during the summer, nothing happened. The bergamot didn't grow, didn't put out any flowers. In fact, the leaves were starting to turn yellow, so I headed to my local garden store and asked for advice. Like me, she was surprised that the bergamot hadn't taken off. "It can grow almost anywhere!" she said, and I went home with a take-home soil test kit.

The test... well, let's just say that the soil failed in every category: No nitrogen, no phosphorus, no potash. The soil was dead, and I went back to the garden store. I was told to use some liquid plant food to get them through the summer but be prepared to dig the plants up in the fall and amend the living daylights out of the soil before replanting them.

That's what I did yesterday: I dug the bergamot up, added compost, green sand, and kelp (who knew?!), and then replanted them.

All this has made me consider the parable of the sower and my own condition:
Am I prepared to receive the Seeds of God that are tossed my way?

Am I hard and rocky? Am I too dry?

What can I do to prepare myself better to receive God?

How can any of us know what will help?

September 13, 2007

Trying love and a miracle-mystery

Let us try what Love will do.
This popular quotation from William Penn is a favorite of mine. For one thing, in the secular world, I have learned to avoid the use of the word "try," as in "Try not to read this sentence."

Now, now: you either did read the sentence or you didn't. You didn't just "try."

Another example:

1. Take a pen or pencil in your hand.
2. Try to drop it.

You likely eitiher DID drop it or you DIDN'T drop it. There is no "try."

The use of the word "try" in William Penn's quote, Let us try what Love will do, however, means "put to the test" or "experiment with." Here is a story where my "trying Love"--or where Love has tried me--has helped me understand and appreciate the power of the practice.

A number of years ago, maybe four or maybe eight, I struggled and wrestled and labored with a Friend who viewed Quakerism and God and the world in a very different way from how I did. The more I sought to understand the Friend, his world view, and his theology, the more knotted my relationship with this Friend became.

Each time the Friend and I sat at a meal or attended an adult education session, my heart ached at the degree to which we disagreed--about where God was leading the meeting around a specific decision, about what the nature of worship was, about how Friends were to participate in the life of the meeting.

Some times I left our interaction with much anger; other times I left while weeping.

I could not see the way out; I could not see the way forward. And ultimately, I simply removed myself from the Friend's presence entirely as best I could. In a big urban meeting, that's pretty easy to do.

At the time that I was removing myself, I unknowingly was also giving the situation, the "knot" of the relationship, over to God. I had tugged at it, pulled at it, gnawed at it as much as I was going to. I had "tried" to resolve it on my own, and my efforts were fruitless.

Then, a few years went by. Years.

At that time, it happened that another Friend in the meeting had lost her partner to cancer, and there was a large memorial/reception/wake held. People were coming and going--relatives, neighbors, friends and friends of friends. And more than a few Quakers.

The house where the gathering was held was spacious, and it was only on my way out that I ran into the Friend whose presence I had been avoiding. I had thought to keep on walking but something deeper within me said not to. I greeted the Friend, and we spoke amiably--and I thought, comfortably--about how we were each doing, what we were each up to.

When I headed to the car a few minutes later, I reflected on that little "miracle-mystery": Without doing anything consciously at my end, I was quietly and unexpectedly reconciled with this Friend, who perhaps knew nothing of my own angst that had preceded that particular moment.

Since that reception/wake, the Friend and I continue to cross paths in the meeting. Though our respective views on God and Quakerism continue to differ, my heart remains softened and I feel I have been given a gift of the Spirit.


September 3, 2007

Stripping away

Yesterday I had the opportunity to attend "the big meeting"--the second of two Meetings for Worship on First Day, which during the school year accommodates up to 100 children and youth, in addition to their families and other regular worshipers.

I settled easily, since the meeting was small because of the U.S. holiday weekend.

A few minutes later, though, the gathering of the meeting was changed by the addition of the laughter and squeals of a few children and adults playing outside on the field next to the meetinghouse.

Then a lawn mower started up nearby, annoying at first but which later I realized provided a constant hum that masked the other outdoor distractions.

I managed to resettle and rested a bit in the arms of the Everlasting Presence.

A while later, the lawn mower stopped, and I felt a loosening within me that I hadn't been aware of. I guess the noise of the mower had unknowingly distressed me, at least at some level.

And as the children's peals of laughter also quieted, the ensuing silence became that much more noticeable and for me, that much more grounding.

It was a clear reminder to me of the fundamental nature of Quaker worship: to strip away the "noise" of our interior and exterior life, the empty forms of religion and hollow doctrine, so that what remains is a clear pathway between ourselves and God.