18 March 2007

Faith and Practice

Santa Cruz Meeting had its annual retreat at Quaker Center this weekend. It was a good weekend, full of community, deep discussions with Friends, and moments to be held and cherished.

Moments to be cherished:
  • The hands of the oldest and the youngest at work together. At my Prayer Shawl Ministry workshop, I asked how many people had never knit. Eight hands went up. I then asked how many people knew how to knit well enough to teach someone else. A half dozen hands went up, including the hands of the three young teenagers attending the workshop. The teenagers taught some of the oldest and weightiest Friends in our Meeting how to hold the yarn and cast on.

  • The glowing faces of the teenagers as they carried out the lovingly prepared organic vegetables, lasagna with and without allergens, cabbage salad, fruit salad, and shamrock cookies for Saturday dinner. The teens had planned the meal, done the shopping, and chopped mountains of vegetables for the most delicious meal of the weekend.

  • Hiking up to the waterfall with three 7-year-olds, a 5-year-old, another adult, and a stalwart 2.5-year-old who marched the whole way with his boots on the wrong feet.

  • Seeing a Pacific Giant Salamander with the children.

  • Connecting with other woman Friends over our thirst for feminine aspects of the Divine.

  • Listening to Live Oak Preparative Meeting's musical rendition of their State of the Meeting report.

  • Walking the labyrinth silently with a group of about 20 Friends, journeying inward to the center and then back out again. Watching their faces as they centered inward, and seeing their unique beauty as they stood in silence after the labyrinth walk.

  • Having a long and heartfelt discussion with another member of Worship and Ministry about what the gospel of John did to Christianity and how Christianity might be different if we had the gospel of Thomas instead.

I had a good weekend and a busy weekend, but it was more a working weekend than a spiritual retreat for me.

In the final worship, however, we gathered quickly and the faith of my Friends pulled me down to the deepest worship I had experienced in a good while.

"I'm out of practice," I thought, "Why don't we talk more about the practice part of Faith and Practice? I say that I am a Quaker, but have I been doing my Quaker practice?"

I thought about the seasoned Friends I admire the most, and how their years of Quaker practice have built the spiritual gifts I most admire in them.

I have been under incredible stress these past few months. I've also been impatient with worship, having so much that I need to do and so little time to do any of it. Even when I've sat in worship, I've skimped on good practice. I haven't had energy to tend worship or to clear out my own spiritual detritus so I can be a pure well of Divine Light.

(Before worship, a dear Friend reminded me that I don't always need to be centered, that this is exactly why Quakers gather in community, so that we can help bring one another back to the Light when we stumble.)

During worship, I reflected on the importance of our corporate practice. Meetings, like individuals, learn how to be Quakers by doing our Quaker practices. I closed my eyes and tended my spiritual well, and then I opened my eyes and blessed each of my dear Friends, all the way around the circle.

I'm left thinking that I need to practice Quakerism much as the children need to practice the piano. I need to run through my Quaker scales, to exercise my Quaker faculties, and to gather with my Meeting for our corporate practices. Only then will I become the Quaker I can be, and the Quaker that my Meeting needs me to be. Without the practice, I'm a Quaker in name only, the outer shell of a Quaker without the inner Quakerness.


Rebecca Sullivan said...

thanks heather

it is nice to hear how this weekend went. this is one of the few things that i miss from this year as well as quarterly meeting. i wish i could have seen Live Oaks song because it is always lovely.


Liz Opp said...


What a lovely post. ...It comes at a time when I was leafing through a couple of Alastair Heron's books on Quaker identity, and I noticed a few comments I had written in the margin, one of which was--

There is a difference between nurturing ourselves spiritually and nurturing our Quakerism.

I have begun to recognize that part of "practicing" Quakerism for me is about resisting the temptation to draw on other traditions for nurture. Rather I have needed to become willing to delve into the Quaker tradition and learn more about the Quaker response to difficulty, stress, leadings, etc.

Recognizing that we are "out of practice" is an important step; I'm grateful for the discovery of this post at a time when I apparently needed this reminder to practice, practice, practice.

Liz Opp, The Good Raised Up

Heather Madrone said...

Oh, Rebecca, we missed you (and the rest of your family) sorely. Your dad will be here in May, and Morgayn tells me that we will have a chance to see you this summer. If she works in DC this summer, we might well see some of your family on that coast. (And how odd for me, normally as rooted as a redwood tree, to think of visiting the East Coast, where I have never been!)

Liz, have you been peeking into the inner workings of my life? My Quaker identity has been a matter of some concern for me in the past few months. After checking in with a number of my Quaker elders, however, I have reaffirmed my identity as a Beanite Friend. I am starting to realize that we really are different on the Left Coast, and that much of my recent confusion comes from interacting with radically different types of Friends online.

I like to read about historic Friends. Right now, I'm particularly interested in learning how and why Left Coast Friends made the choices they made. At the same time, I feel a need for language that reflects my deepest spiritual truths, and a hunger for a God who looks like me.

I have recently added a daily Quaker reading to my practice, and I'm trying to remember to pause and center more frequently. I'm also paddling like mad to keep my head above water, and trying to be a good sport about it.

I also have a lot to learn from our Meeting elders while they're still here to teach me. They teach by example and by sitting with me in silence and by gathering with me in small groups for our corporate practice.

wc_vaughan@yahoo.com said...

thanks for a wonderful posting - It realy touched me with the simpicity of the faith.

Our newsletter goes out this weekend and would it be alright if copied your blog into the newsletter? We have a discussion going about bloging and Quakerism and several older Friends dont have the facilities both physical and material to get into bloging. This would be an excellent way of showing them what it is all about.

Liz Opp said...


I would love to read more from you (and Robin-and-Chris M) about Beanite Friends and the Left Coast traditions that may be a bit... "peculiar"... to the rest of us.

I also understand how difficult it might be, to begin articulating those differences, too! Sometimes we can be helped by traveling among Friends so we can say, "Hmm, is that how you do it? This is how I've done it. ...Is that how you experience it? This is how I've experienced it..."

It's a paradox of sorts, to think we cannot know our own tradition fully until we are plopped into another one for a short (or long) time.

Liz Opp, The Good Raised Up