October 16, 2007

The creeds I've known - Being Faithful, Being Loving

Ahh, another First Day, another business session.

...Another opportunity for taking a good hard look at myself.

One of the items on this month's agenda for our (continued) consideration was about paid staff, and whether to work with them as independent contractors or as employees of the meeting. As can sometimes happen with items that embody the intersection between the secular world (e.g. legal requirements and definitions) and our faith community (e.g. committee structure and God's leading), we got bogged down.

As someone who was participating in the Meeting for Worship with attention to Business, I didn't handle myself well.

I considered long and hard about leaving the session without saying a word, but I had that niggle. That niggle that says if I say nothing, I will know that I will not have been faithful.

So I said something. And I feel like I was faithful...

...but I didn't feel like I was loving.

Later that afternoon, during the worship group's pre-meeting activity, we were asked to reflect on this passage from 1 Corinthians 13:1-3.

If I speak in human or angelic tongues, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.

If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.

If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body [to hardship] that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
I fell deeply into the Presence during worship soon afterwards and reflected again on my action during the monthly meeting earlier that day.

I began to wonder what it would require for me to seek to be loving with the same earnestness and obedience with which I already seek to be faithful.

The creeds I've known

In turn, I found myself reflecting on the messages I was raised with and the messages I had been encouraged to embrace as I grew older.
  • From Mom: Be honest.

    My mom in particular frequently expressed how important it was to tell the truth, even if the truth was that I did draw on the floor with permanent magic marker. (I was about six.)
  • From Judaism: Be dutiful.

    The religion of my childhood put a great deal of emphasis on participating in the rituals of the Sabbath and of the various Jewish holidays. The mystical side of Judaism was given very little attention both in the synagogue where I received my religious education and among the Orthodox Jewish part of my family. (Thankfully, there are others who have written about, and are writing about, the mystical side of Judaism.)
  • From the women's community in which I participated: Be supportive and challenging.

    This comes close to "Be loving" but in the end... it was close but no cigar.
  • From the early part of my Quakerism: Be faithful. Be truthful.

    Nothing explicitly about love, except when Scripture is quoted.
But this matter of "Be loving," especially in relation to Quakers, is tricky, because certainly Love is in fact embodied and reflected in the actions by so many dear Friends around me.

Has something gone wrong?

So what's gone missing? Why haven't I internalized the message of "Be love" to the same degree that I have with "Be faithful"?

I could point to my religious upbringing and say I wasn't raised in the Christian faith, where perhaps one Rabbi's message of radical love would have been reinforced... but that wouldn't explain why I have internalized and embraced other parts of the Quaker discipline.

I wonder now if it's because as Friends we often encourage one another in our faithfulness by affirming, "Thee was faithful." My gosh, how many times have I myself commented on another's post, "It sounds like you are being faithful to what you have been given"?!

Yet I don't recall a time--ever--when I heard one Friend say to another, "Thee was loving."

Do I need to hear the words as well as see the actions that express and connote love? Am I that obtuse, that human, to need such repetition and reinforced modeling by so many others over such a long period of time?

Apparently so.

At the same time, I am struck over and over again by the tenderness, care, and love expressed in the letters and epistles of early Friends like Penington, Fox, Woolman. (The book I'm reading now, Quaker Spirituality, is feeding into all these questions I am having about the (unnamed) testimony of Love)

A Hebrew prayer, revisited

For the past few weeks, for a reason that is apparent only now, I have found myself recalling bits and pieces of a Jewish prayer known as the V'ahavta.

The V'ahavta is a prayer that as a young person, you end up memorizing the Hebrew rather than understanding what it actually says.

But there is one phrase in particular which I recall the rabbi lifted up, each Sabbath service, and this is the phrase that has arisen for me in recent weeks:
You shalt love the Lord Your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might... And these words which I command you this day shall be upon your heart... and you shall write them upon the doorposts of your house and upon your gates....
I find I am being called to remember that it is not enough to be faithful or to speak the Truth as it is revealed to me.

It is important to be faithful, to speak the Truth ...and to do so in Love.


RELATED POST: Faith without love?


John Kindley said...

I think Friends, at least this Friend, sometime have the opposite problem: a reluctance to openly, plainly, and trustingly speak one's mind from fear of giving offense or seeming unloving. We should of course always have that concern to be tender towards the consciences and feelings of others and to speak our mind gracefully, but (again, at least in my case) there often may also be operative an undue regard for self and what others might think about us.

Paul L said...

It sounded loving. And it was helpful.

Robin M. said...

I had the experience of hearing words from you this week that might have been hard to hear except that I felt the love and concern behind them. Nicely done.

Anonymous said...

It's good to see someone wrestling with this matter. I agree that "seek[ing] to be loving with the same earnestness and obedience with which [we] already seek to be faithful" is very important! Maybe it's worth noting that the two Great Commandments are both explicitly about love, but don't even bother to mention faithfulness.

Since you complain of "nothing [in your Quakerism] explicitly about love, except when Scripture is quoted", I thought I'd share a few written examples of Friends encouraging one another in lovingkindness:

"Let love abound in you one towards another, without being partial." (James Nayler, letter "to all dear Brethren and Friends in Holderness, and in the east parts of Yorkshire" (1653)

"Seek to know one another in the things which are eternal. Live in love as Christian brethren, entering with sympathy into the joys and sorrows of each other's daily lives." (London Yearly Meeting, Church government (1968, 1980), §702: Advices, part I)

"Are love and harmony maintained among us?" (Iowa Yearly Meeting of Friends [Conservative], Discipline (1974), p. 49: Query on Harmony Within the Meeting)

It seems to me that Friends do a pretty good job of hewing to this standard. Certainly — just speaking personally — whenever I've spoken, or acted, truthfully but with insufficient love, Friends have been prompt to elder me. And frankly, I'm glad they have!

anj said...

I too was raised with the importance of speaking truth. Facilitating abuse recovery groups, processing the here and now, I learned the importance and presence of the Divine in speaking truth in love, with compassion. Like John, my experience with Friends is that we often speak in circles around the truth for fear of offending, which greatly lessons our ethos of plain and simple speech. I too am being very present to speaking truth in love, with compassion, these days.

Liz Opp said...

Thanks for the comments, everyone!

John and Anj --

I certainly need the reminder that many people have "a reluctance to openly, plainly, and trustingly speak... from fear of giving offense...," as John puts it.

With that reminder, I can be helped to be more patient than I sometimes have been: meaning, when I remember that someone may fear offending me, I can be more tender in my response simply because of the risk that was taken to speak in the first place.

Paul and Robin --

It's nice to have these reality checks from Friends who hear me "in the flesh." Paul, I had thought about contacting you to ask about how my remarks came across, but I ended up (as usual) getting too busy once First Day was behind me.

That said, even though I understand from you that "it sounded loving," I still need to reconcile myself to the Light, given my own inward sense of myself following that moment.

Plus, in both these cases, Robin and Paul, I would say that you both know me in a deeper way than many in the monthly meeting do. And I don't just mean through blog-writing! smile

I find it's easier for me to trust someone's (loving) intention when I have at least a seed or foundation of a friendship with them already.

Marshall --

Good to hear from you!

Like you, I thought of the two Great Commandments that I have heard and seen referenced a number of times in recent years.

And yes, I could open any number of (older or newer) books of Discipline and find passages about loving one another.

I'm less concerned about reading the advice and counsel about love as much as I'm concerned about hearing such gospel ministry in our meetings for worship, in our times of fellowship, during our meetings for business...

The care-and-accountability committee that supports me in the concern I carry has been doing such a wonderful job of gently but firmly calling me back to the Source, reminding me to stay in touch with the Presence that knows me completely, and to act and speak from that place as much as I can.

I have now made up an index card that has a line down the center. On one side of the line is the word TRUTH. On the other side of the line is the word LOVE.

Perhaps I will tape this card onto the back of the chair in front of me at next Meeting for Worship with attention to Business...


Heather Madrone said...

Hi Liz,

There is a Friend in our Meeting who preaches frequently on loving our neighbors as ourselves. He does it so often, and occasionally at such length, that some Friends are tired of hearing him speak.

One Friend confided in me that this Friend's ministry used to annoy him greatly. One day, however, a newcomer in some distress came to worship with us. The Minister gave his usual message, and the newcomer was moved to rise, tears in his eyes, and say how the Minister's message had gone straight to his heart and been what he most needed to hear.

The Friend told me that he has never been troubled by the Minister's messages from that day to this.

Judy Brutz said...

Hi Liz,

called my heart
to faithfulness - Judy

"Blessed is the One whose dreams awaken us to goodness, mercy, love, and compassion. Sustain us as we complete the holy work of perfecting and repairing the world." - Vanessa Ochs, "The Jewish Dream Book."

Judy, Commit to Blessing

Liz Opp said...

Heather -

Your experience of a Friend who repeatedly preaches the message Love thy neighbor made me smile, I guess because of the "grass is always greener..." concept. Thanks for sharing this experience here.

Judy! -

What a joy to see your name--and your comment--here! Thank you for this tender witness of what it is that calls you to faithfulness.