31 December 2006

Stone Soup for the Soul

or: On the Role of Leadership in a Friends Meeting

Pacific Yearly Meeting has given its monthly meetings the charge to consider the Jubilee Year and what it might mean to Friends. Initially, this led to great confusion in our Meeting as we tried to figure out what connection the Old Testament Jubilee could possibly have to our modern lives. Our society is so very different from that of the Israelites, and the scope of the Society of Friends is quite limited economically.

Our Meeting has taken some small and not-so-small steps to try to review what we are doing in light of the Jubilee Year. Are we as a corporate body acting from the center? Are our structures and institutions alive and in congruence with our needs and values? What can we do to center down corporately and make our Meeting a living embodiment of the Light?

This summer, some of our beloved Friends (who also held strong leadership roles in the community) moved far away. The Meeting (and I myself) was in a kerfluffle before they left but, to my surprise, the Meeting did not falter once they were gone. Their departure, instead of being a crisis, was an opportunity for the Meeting to go deeper, to develop new strengths, and to rejoice in the members who remain.

In past years, some of our Meeting traditions have grown heavy for those who are trying to carry them. It has become abundantly clear that we cannot continue to do these things as they have been done. We have chosen to lay some of them aside and to continue others in a simpler form.

Which leads us to Christmas Eve.

It is the custom of our Meeting to have a programmed celebratory family worship on Christmas Eve in the evening. I woke with a start the Saturday after Thanksgiving to realize that Worship & Ministry had done nothing to plan for this annual event. The Christmas Eve service is a cherished oasis of sanity and connection in my own holiday celebration. It has also traditionally been a fair amount of work for either a member of Worship & Ministry or a planning committee.

I started thinking about how we could have a wonderful Christmas Eve worship that would include everyone and not strain Worship & Ministry's slender resources. Since Christmas Eve came on a Sunday, we'd already have unprogrammed worship in the morning so perhaps we could make the evening worship a bit less programmed than it usually is.

As I mulled it over, I got the idea that the whole worship could be musical, with the music provided by members of the Meeting. All that Worship & Ministry (which was starting to look more and more like me) would need to do would be to get the ball rolling.

And so it came to pass. The committee approved the idea and sent me and another member of the committee off with their blessings. We talked to the musical members of the community and they started organizing themselves to prepare numbers, lead carols, and copy song sheets. A few Friends volunteered to help with the set-up.

We had a lovely musical evening with instrumental music, a sing-along, and sacred circle dancing followed by a bountiful potluck. I worked steadily and joyfully, without undue stress or exhaustion.

I left the Christmas Eve worship feeling blessed by my community and also with a sense that this is how Friends are meant to organize. Historically, unprogrammed Friends have deliberately eschewed professional leaders and ministers. We are a religion of clergy, and that means that each person brings her gifts to the community.

I and the other Christmas Eve facilitator went back to Worship and Ministry with new enthusiasm for stone soup events. Our business for the evening was to plan our spring Meeting retreat (an event that has historically burnt out the clerk of Worship and Ministry), and the committee explored ways to share responsibility more widely in the community.

One of our possible themes for our retreat is "What would our Meeting do if we were truly Spirit-led?" At one point, the clerk of the Meeting suggested that we might make the weekend an experiential potluck, with individual Friends bringing activities and gifts to share as their potluck dishes.

Turning to Thee

In a recent discussion with friends, the subject of the Quaker thee came up. We traced its linguistic development and speculated on why Quakers clung to the second person familiar while others replaced it with the second person formal and plural. More mysterious was the Quaker clinging to the objective "thee" instead of the nominative "thou" and the practice of conjugating "thee" as if it were third person singular (i.e. "thee does" instead of "thou dost").

I have long regretted the loss of the tender and personal "thou" in English speech. I am now regretting the loss of the religious and personal "thee" in Quaker speech. "Thou" served to set apart speech with an intimate from impersonal or commercial speech. "Thee," it seems to me, is a direct appeal from that of God in me to that of God in thee.

I am wondering about introducing "thee" into my own speech with Friends. For me, it would function as a reminder to speak from the heart and the Spirit, a reminder that Friends are connected at a deep and personal level.

11 December 2006

In God's Time

About once a month, I am responsible for closing Meeting. This means that I need to provide the flowers for the center table, discern when Meeting is over, welcome folks to Meeting, and facilitate introductions and announcements. I find this a challenging duty for many reasons, but it also gives me delight.

I don't ordinarily wear a watch. I gave watches up years ago because I decided that they interfered with my ability to move according to my children's needs and not according to the clock. For many years, my watch sat in a drawer, its battery getting deader and deader.

Our Meetinghouse has no clock in the main room, and so I have had to be creative in order to end Meeting on time. I have borrowed watches from sympathetic Friends. I have sat near individuals who wear watches with large dials.

I recently got new batteries for my watch just so I could wear it to Meeting on closing days. Naturally, in the rush to get four children, myself, and the flowers ready for Meeting, I forgot to put on my watch. Moreover, I forgot completely about the need to monitor the time until I was deep in worship.

Glancing around, I could find no close Friend wearing a watch. "Very well," I thought, "this morning I will just have to close Meeting on God's time instead of clock time."

I gave the closing of Meeting completely over to God and settled back to deep worship. After some time (although it was difficult to say how much because I was in a timeless space), I was prompted to end Meeting and welcome afterthoughts.

"It's too early," I thought, but I opened my eyes and closed Meeting. At 11:30 on the dot. I had my usual difficulty finding words after deep worship, but I managed to fulfill my duties well enough.

My focus during worship these last several months has been on radical faith and surrendering control of more and more of my life to God. That morning, I had especially been thinking about how we as a Meeting can act more on living faith and less on custom and tradition. Are we, as a corporate body, allowing the Spirit a big enough space to act through us or are we relying too much on past directions and past decisions?

On a more personal note, should I even try to wear a watch when I close Meeting? Or should I instead put my faith in God to prompt me to close Meeting when I should? Would my Friends be as tolerant of faith-led closing if I closed Meeting 1o minutes early or 15 minutes late?

And Kristina, if you happen to be looking in on this post, I felt your presence strongly at our worship that morning. I could almost see you sitting there, encouraging me to forget about clocks and pay attention to Spirit instead.

01 December 2006

Setting a Place for the Spirit

Some years ago, I was taking a walk along our road. I intended it to be a long, vigorous walk.

After a short distance, I ran into a friend I hadn't seen in some time. We started chatting, and, after a few minutes, I was suddenly prompted to go back home. I left my friend abruptly and headed home at a trot.

When I rounded the next corner, I saw a naked toddler standing in the middle of the road.

"Hi honey," I said, reaching out for her hand, "Where's your mommy?" She led me to her house, where her grateful dad gathered her for a big hug.

When the Spirit speaks loudly enough, I have no trouble hearing. In that case, I didn't even stop to think. I simply obeyed.

When the Spirit speaks more softly, however, I'm not sure that I always hear. How many times have I missed the Spirit's whispers? How many times have I heard the gentle prompting and convinced myself to continue on my own wilful way?

I spent First Day with the children this last week, but I did get one very clear message during the ten minutes that we joined the main worship:

There is no issue too large for God's guidance. There is no issue too small for Spirit.

I think I am being asked to remain open to the Spirit at all times. Even if I think that God doesn't care what vegetable I serve for supper, I should leave the door open for Spirit to prompt me otherwise.

In some areas, such as parenting, I am quick to seek guidance. In others, such as work, I rarely do. I think I am being asked to expand God's scope in my life, to open more of my actions to guidance from the Spirit.

16 November 2006

Faith in the Abyss

A week ago Monday, I was having difficulty focusing on my work. My dad was scheduled for brain surgery on Thursday, and I was staring into a great emotional and spiritual abyss.

I wanted to distract myself from this great sucking void. I was tempted to try to fill the void with all earthly things: food, tea, exercise, knitting, sexual fantasies, the Internet, even the work that I needed to do do meet my deadline. Each time I started to paper over the abyss, a little voice inside me said, "No, that won't work."

I tried to pray. I tried to sit in silence, but I was too restless to remain still. I couldn't call on God to fill that void. God would fill it, I was certain, but he'd do so in God's time, not in mine. I wanted relief, right then, salvation from the path of grief and pain laid out before my feet.

In the end, between bouts of work, I decided to face the abyss, to sit with it and accept its presence in my life. I did this reluctantly, bitterly, with only a few tiny scraps of faith to guide me. The impulses to distraction continued, but I managed to ignore them. The voice was guiding me down a grim path, and I had just enough faith to listen to it.

My faith did not grow that day. I had a Worship and Ministry meeting that evening, and I felt inadequate to the task. I shared my current spiritual poverty with my Friends, and they gave me the gift of sitting with me exactly where I was. During the Meeting, I felt buoyed by their faith and was able to apply myself to our work under the guidance of the Spirit.

My faith recovered somewhat after that, and I was able to do my work and support my mother during the surgery. When I saw my dad in the recovery room, he was confused and wondered what all the fuss was about. My uncle was talking about how well the surgery had gone, but I could tell my dad wasn't taking it in.

When my uncle left, I looked into my dad's eyes, so beautiful and untroubled, and let him say what was on his mind. He talked a little bit about what had been going on in the recovery room, and then looked at me beseechingly.

"Do you know what's going on here?" I asked him. He said that he didn't, and so I explained about the surgery and the tumor.

I felt blessed in that moment because I was able to be with him in the present. My practice of sitting with the void on Monday had given me what I needed to be able to be present with him while he faced the abyss. I didn't need to paper over his experience with too much talk or try to escape from it. I could just be with him and accept whatever he was experiencing.

The prognosis for glioblastoma multiforme is grim: a 50% 1-year survival rate and a 3% 5-year survival rate. My dad faces radiation and chemotherapy and the almost-certain loss of vision, memory, cognitive function, and his life.

My dad faces his future philosophically. He wants to spend time with family, with his children and grandchildren, and to enjoy the lucid time he has remaining to him.

I pray, with more faith than I had at first, for strength and guidance to support him and my mother through the hard times ahead. I think wryly that my Quaker faith will enable to me sit by the abyss with them and listen for the prompting to do what I can. And, when I can do nothing, I will have the faith to sit there anyway.

30 October 2006

The Geography of Belief

Due to a recent discussion with Marshall, I was thinking about George Fox and how his witness relates to my life. Fox lived in a very different world than I do,and he was shaped by it as I have been shaped by my world.

As I thought about this, one of the things that struck me was that Fox lived in an almost exclusively Christian world. He might never have met a Jewish person, let alone someone who practices a non-Abrahamic faith. I, on the other hand, grew up in one of the more multi-cultural corners of the United States. As a child, I was exposed not only to many different flavors of Christianity, but also to Judaism, Buddhism, Islam, and Hinduism. My friends practiced these faiths, and I was taught to respect diversity.

I was also taught to be humble about my own religion and cultural practices. Christian practices were not better or more right than Jewish or Buddhist practices; they were just different. Indeed, the assumption that Christianity was right and Judaism (or Islam) wrong had caused a whole lot of suffering and evil in the world.

I was raised Universalist, in the same way I was raised to be sensitive to social and economic injustice. Growing up in a racially and culturally diverse city was one of the more precious gifts I have received in life.

Fox received his messages in a Christian frame. An exclusively Christian frame, however, seems too small to me. When I read the writings of the early Quakers, I re-frame them in more Universalist terms. With my life experience, anything that excludes human beings of other faiths won't work. God would not be so short-sighted and cruel as to leave out Buddhists and Hindus. I cannot believe in a God who would play favorites that way; slipping the truth to children born in Christian households and denying it to children born in other households.

If I had grown up in another sort of community, in a lily-white town where everyone was Christian, I don't think I would have the same feelings about the exclusivity of Christianity. I wouldn't know Jewish and Moslem and Hindu and Buddhist people as friends and individuals. I wouldn't have learned how to sing "Happy Birthday" in Farsi (a much better and livelier song than our English "Happy Birthday"); I wouldn't have contemplated the meaning of Rosh Hashonah; I wouldn't have learned about the great Ramayana myth cycle; I wouldn't have thought of working a Ramadan-like fast into our celebration of Thanksgiving. I think I would be more sure that the way I and my friends and neighbors do things was the Right Way, and that people who do things differently are just plain wrong.

Continuing revelation is both a tremendous opportunity and a great challenge. We are asked to listen continually for revisions to the expression to the truth. What past expressions of the truth are still true and which ones were part of the fabric of time and place? I wonder whether there are things that are true for this time in Marshall's place but not true for this time in my place.

I am shaped and called to be a Universalist. Christianity is part of that Universalism, but not all of it. I am called to recognize truth wherever I see it, by whatever name it is called. I can accept that other people are called in other ways; they might be called to go deeply into Christianity or Islam or Judaism or Hinduism or Buddhism or Paganism. I think it's important to stay in fellowship with all of them, to recognize that truth goes far deeper than words and symbols.

Mostly, though, I think that what God really cares about is how we treat one another. "Love your neighbor as yourself" is a recipe for the kingdom of God here on Earth. Our greatest challenge as human beings is to learn how to live in harmony with one another.

28 October 2006


...or Belief and the Nature of the Divine.

I'm staring at this blank white screen knowing that whatever words I type will create a form that is smaller than I imagine God to be. My idea of God, in turn, is just a small part of what God actually is.

Maybe I should quit while I'm ahead and delete this post.

I don't believe in God. I don't believe in God the same way I don't believe in rain or cinnamon toast or integrated circuits. I also don't believe in God the same way I don't believe in numbers, or geometric points, or the calculus.

My training is in mathematics. It was fortunate for me that I wasn't asked to believe in the concept of number, or the existence of points and lines and circles, or the reality of the mystical zero, or all of that dancing around with deltas and epsilons. At the heart of every mathematical system, there are a few concepts that are accepted without proof. The proof, such as it is, rests in the beauty and utility of the resulting system of mathematics.

God is like that for me. I don't believe in God. I posit God and then test the beauty and utility of the resulting system of religion. I accept that God, rather than being a sort of anthropomorphic entity that sits in the clouds, is an abstract idea that sits in the human mind. Once we posit God, however, we have access to a tremendous realm of human thought and spiritual practice.

When I'm doing math, it looks exactly as though I believe in the concepts I've posited. In casual conversation, it might sound as though I believe in the concrete existence of the mighty Zero. Likewise, when I'm doing religion (praying or sitting in silent worship or trying to discern God's will for my life), it looks exactly as though I believe in God.

And I do believe in God, in the same way that I believe in Beauty or Truth or Justice. I believe in whatever underlying truth that the human concept of "God" represents. I accept that there are many different notions about God, and that those notions more or less accurately describe whatever it is that actually exists in the Universe.

I have to face facts, though: when human beings talk about God, we're talking about something we don't know very much about. I imagine us throwing sand at an invisible object and trying to describe the object by the patterns in the sand. Sometimes we mistake the patterns in the sand for the object we're trying to describe.

One of the truest things in Quakerism is the rejection of outer forms. It dovetails nicely with Godel's Incompleteness Theorem and the idea that the map is not the territory. When I read Fox, I hear a warning against taking any human system of thought too seriously. A true Quaker (or a true scientist) delves deeper. When the map doesn't match the territory, the wise human changes the map, not the terrain beneath her feet.

In the case of God and me, the terrain is my life and my inner guide. When an idea about God resonates with my own experience, I toss it in my God-box and incorporate it into my map of God. When an idea about God contradicts my experience (or offends my sensibilities), I set it aside. With humility, I hope, as my own human understanding of the Divine is limited.

Polytheistic systems delight me, as they seem to give God more prancing room. Humans have a richer picture of God when God includes such varied faces as Isis and Horus and Osiris and Nut. The ancient Hawaiians (who have a pretty impressive stable of Gods of their own) had an idea that there were not only many Gods, but an infinite number of Gods, an uncountably infinite number of Gods. It tickles my mathematical mind to think that the set of Gods has the same cardinality as the set of real numbers. It gives me some idea of how big and varied God actually is.

I was shocked and disappointed when I first read the whole Bible at age 11, and disappointed again when I read the holy books of various other faiths. The box that each holy book created for God seemed far too small for the reality of God that I experienced and imagined. I wanted something bigger, less parochial, less human. I wanted an idea of God big enough and generous enough and loving enough to cover, not just all of humanity, but all other life that shares this sphere with us, and everything else in the universe.

There is a Pagan notion that God cannot be worshipped in any structure made by human hands. I try to keep that notion in mind when I sit in the box of the Meetinghouse with my community of Friends. We can worship in that box, but we can't put God in a box. God is bigger than any structure made by human hands. God is bigger than we can imagine.

13 October 2006

Is There in Truth No Beauty?

I've found myself thinking of the idea that the Inner Light and the original Quakers were focused on sin and redemption. And certainly they made their blog posts decrying the sinful natures of towns and churches and politicians.

There's plenty of fuel for modern Friends who want to blog on the errors of others, on the moral decadence of our culture, on the failings of our Meetings, and so forth. Criticism is an easy game, and self-righteousness such a comfortable trap.

I find myself thinking, though, of George Fox's charge that we walk cheerfully over the Earth, answering that of God in everyone. That does not sound, to me, like the voice of a man eager to find fault in his fellows. Instead, it sounds like a person who sees the good -- the God -- in everyone, and speaks to what is finest in them.

I find myself thinking of the letters that early Friends wrote, reminding one another to hold to the Seed of God, to treasure it and to abide by it. They don't write as if they're engaged in a grim duty, but as though they are drunk on the beauty of the Holy Spirit.

Often, after Meeting, I am drunk on the beauty and love of the Holy Spirit. In my Joy, I am one with the Divine. Ecstatic with the mystic touch of God.

In that space, there is no room for semantic games. No place for one-upmanship. No room for sin. The Spirit has filled me up, and the Light has left no room for evil.

The word "surrender" comes from the French se rendre -- to give one's self up. It seems to me that the early Friends were talking about giving themselves up to God, that they were talking of the ecstasy that comes of walking in the Light and surrendering themselves to the Truth that comes inwardly from God.

They wanted to be Christ's disciples, the Friends of Jesus Christ. Not the followers of the words written in the Bible or of the path set forth by the church, but comrades who eat with God and sleep with God and wash dishes with God. Right now, this minute, in my mundane existence, what is it that God asks of me?

In the blogosphere, we must use words, but words are great deceivers. They can lead us from unity into semantics, from the living flesh of God to the empty icon used to represent him. It is too easy to mistake the symbol for the reality, to cleave to the empty shell rather than the living Light.

Let us sit together in silence, Friends, and welcome that which is eternal.

09 October 2006

Recognizing the Parched Soul

A few weeks ago, I started a new full-time job. My energy has been consumed by the job and parenting my four children, and I've had to scale back my Meeting activities.

I feel guilty about not being able to give as much as I would like to my Meeting. I'm concerned about letting down folks who have come to depend on me, and not living up to my dear Friends' needs and expectations.

On hearing of my need to put Outreach activities on the back burner, one Friend sent me a sweet personal email. She assured me of the rightness of doing what I needed to do to handle the stress in my life, and that Outreach would grind on even without my assistance. She also reminded me to come to Meeting for Worship even if I felt like I didn't have the time or energy, for it is surely at times like these that I need Meeting most.

I had just decided not to go to Meeting that Sunday. I was feeling exhausted, missing my children, and wanting to curl up under a blanket and knit and listen to my young ones. I didn't want to have to get up on yet another morning, make myself presentable, and drive to Meeting. I also didn't want to face the potential disappointment and disapproval of Friends who think I ought to be doing more.

When I made it to Meeting, I discovered that I was the only one who thought I should be doing more than I am. My Friends were all supportive of my need to care for myself and my family. They were, in fact, eager to support me through this transition in my life.

I realized again how much easier it is for me to give than to receive. I want so much to be of service. When I can't be, I have a hard time letting go of my expectations of myself and an even harder time accepting the help and support of others.

As I was getting ready for Meeting, I was thinking, "I don't want to go to Meeting today. I don't know what good it will do me. I have so much to do these days, and I don't see how sitting in silence and stillness is going to help me get them done."

Uh-huh, Heather, you've just demonstrated how much you need to worship. You're becoming so spiritually parched that you don't even recognize your own thirst. If you go on, you'll start doubting the existence of spirit, as well as your own need for it.

It was a lovely, soft, nurturing, and mostly silent Meeting. Two people got up to speak in appreciation for the light in the room provided by the new windows. I sat in worship and allowed myself to receive. By the end of the Meeting, I had transformed from a spiritually dessicated being into a spiritual fish. I was swimming in the Well, totally refreshed by the communion that God showered on our Meeting. I felt connected to distant Friends as well as the ones sitting in the room with me.

13 September 2006

Reaching out to Youth

Some months ago, a young man got up in Meeting and talked about his hunger for connection with the adults in his home Meeting. He spoke about his confusion in trying to transition from being a child of the Meeting to becoming an adult Quaker.

He didn't want religious education classes or a formal program designed to turn young Friends into adult Friends. What he wanted was for individual members of the Meeting to reach out to him personally. He wanted them to call him and invite him over for coffee. He wanted them to treat him as a unique person, not just the child of his parents.

I imagine that the adult Friends in his Meeting were watching him fondly, never dreaming that he would welcome such overtures from them. We Quakers hold our youth lightly, not wanting to impose our ideas on them. There's a hesitancy in transmitting our traditions to our youth. We imagine that young folks will be bored by worship and Quaker process and that they have much better things to do with their time than hang out with old Friends.

My recent experiences with young (and not so very young) Friends suggests that we might be selling both Quakerism and our youth short. Many young Friends find value in worship and are eager to become more deeply connected with their Meetings. Yet they hesitate on the borders, intimidated by the very weighty Friends who are scrupulously avoiding trying to push them.

Several young Friends have suggested that they need the adults in their Meetings to reach out to them. While I agree that this is important (and older Friends would do well to continue to reach out to the youth in our Meetings), I think our process works better when the young folk stand up and let the Meeting know that they are ready for more.

When the teens in our Meeting stood up and said that they needed support in making the transition from Quaker children to adult Friends, the Meeting found numerous ways to offer concrete support. Individual Friends made a point of appreciating the teens for standing up. Committees discussed how the Meeting might better serve young Friends, and many Friends made a special effort to invite the teens to join ongoing Meeting activities. One individual spearheaded a proposal that the Meeting sponsor young Friends at Quaker Center programs.

The teen business meetings provide a special opportunity for support. I am touched to see the tender support offered the two teen clerks, not only by adult Friends, but also by other teens.

Older Friends offer young Friends the gift of freedom of conscience. We want our youth to come to us freely, as they are moved by their own small, still voices within. This is a precious gift, and one that is integral to the Quaker witness in every way. A young person can't truly take her place in a Quaker Meeting unless she accepts both this freedom and the responsibility that accompanies it.

Many young Friends don't know what it is that they're being offered. Many seem to be waiting for a sign from their Meeting that the Meeting views them as adults, something the Meeting will only do when they stand up. There are Friends in their 30s and 40s who are still waiting for some rite of passage to mark them as adults in their Meetings.

We can help our youth by reaching out to them, by staying in fellowship with them, and by inviting them to both to Meeting events and to our homes. We can tell them about what we find most precious in Quakerism. We can also tell them why we give them the gifts of freedom and space, and that we are there for them.

04 September 2006

The Marriage of True Minds

Over the past several months, I have been thinking a lot about our Meeting community and the work needed to tend it. To me, our Meeting seems a precious, living jewel, a beacon of light that shines steadily in the world. Precious and delicate, held as it is in the hearts and hands of frail human beings.

As I go forward in my work on Worship & Ministry, I find that I am called to a deeper faith. Now more than ever, I need to trust to the process of worship, to the ability of God to fix what human hands cannot. Instead of thinking that I need to solve all problems with my own mind, my own experience, my own efforts, I need to let go and trust that I will be led to serve my Meeting as it needs me to.

Another blow to my ego! It's not about how well I do this job; it's all about the job I need to do. I don't have to take the entire weight of the Meeting on my shoulders; all I need to do is to listen to what I am called to do and to do it faithfully.

This is hard for me.

One of the things that I have become aware of recently is how many people want to bend the Meeting to their own wills. Most of us have figured out how Meeting is supposed to be and what Quakers are supposed to be, and we try to get everyone else to conform to our ideas. I have a sneaking suspicion that this goes against the ideas of continuing revelation and the inner light. I also think that we are always in danger of substituting the correct forms and terminology for direct experience of the Divine.

The remedy, it seems to me, is to go deeper, to dive down below the surface disagreements to our place of unity. In worship, where we share communion with one another and with the Spirit. In that place, we don't risk putting God in too-small a box. In that place, we aren't prey to petty disagreements and hair-splitting. In that place, we can find peace and that shining beacon of love that unites us.

I have been thinking that the advice of Shakespeare works as well for Meetings as it works for relationships:

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O, no! it is an ever-fixed mark,
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken.
Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle's compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

Let us not to the marriage of true minds admit impediment. Let's not quibble about terminology or dogma or what makes a true Quaker. Let's go deeper, and follow that ever-fixed mark that looks on tempests and is never shaken. Let's find our star and steer our wandering bark to it instead of trusting to our own frail minds as the star and rudder of our craft.

Let me not to the marriage of true minds admit impediment. Help me remember that it's not all about me, that I am a small and frail being with faults and limitations, that the Truth is bigger than my mind can compass, that it is not right for me to impose my limitations on the eternal. Help me remember to say, "Dear God; I don't know how to handle this situation. Show me what I ought to do."

"And then help me have the faith to do it."

30 August 2006

An Abundance of Light

I have been marveling at the energy in Santa Cruz Monthly Meeting this summer. The teens have declared their desire to be taken seriously as Quakers. They've organized their own monthly business meetings and are actively trying to build a program that brings them in deeper fellowship with the larger Meeting. The children's program is also growing, and our Quaker kids park days are taking off. Needed work on our fellowship hall is happening at long last. Other areas of the Meeting are thriving, and new leaders are emerging in the Meeting community.

After the last teen business meeting, I was chatting with some of the other adults about this energy. One of them reminded me that our Friends in Unity with Nature committee was moribund and that we'd had to lay down our Peace and Social Order committee due to lack of participation. She started talking about cycles and about her faith that we would pick that work up again when we were ready to do so.

That sort of faith buoys me up and humbles me. God does not ask that we do more than we can, and he does not ask that we do everything we should all at the same time. God asks us to do this piece of work faithfully, to trust to this little bit of light that we've been given. If we have the foolish faith of the lilies of the field, we shall receive all that we need and more.

When I go to worship on Sunday morning, I don't have an agenda. I often come with questions and concerns, but I don't come with preconceived notions about how those questions will be answered. I sit in worship with an open heart and open mind and receive what I am given. I leave with a full heart and a peaceful mind and a clearer idea of the work that I'm meant to do in the world.

When I read criticism of Quakers (particularly liberal Friends), I think of my own Meeting. We have our faults and tensions, but I can feel the heart of the Meeting each week in worship. It strives towards the Light. It is patient and kind. And we are grateful for the abundance we receive, not the least of which is our fellowship with one another.

In our Meeting, as in other Meetings, there is a tension between Christian and earth-based universalists. At the same time, there is a deep unity and striving between these same people. Our differences are part of our strength and part of our wholeness.

At a recent Worship and Ministry meeting, we were grappling with the issue of guiding newcomers into corporate worship. Early in the process, we had thoughts of ways we might elder newcomers, resources we might provide for them, better ways to structure our post-worship wind-up to encourage depth of worship, and many other external acts.

The idea emerged that what we really need to do is to try to help these people experience a gathered or covered Meeting for themselves. Once a person has drunk from that Well, she will be better able to understand what it is that we're talking about. One seasoned Friend observed that someone had once said that the true division among Quakers is not Christian versus Universalist or programmed versus unprogrammed but rather those who have experienced a gathered Meeting for Worship and those who have not.

As we continued, it became apparent that one of the things that we needed to do to tend the depth and quality of worship in our Meeting was to tend the depth and quality of worship in ourselves. We needed to go deeper, to help hold the space for corporate worship so that newcomers could join us there.