27 May 2007

Listening in Tongues

At worship this morning, an older Christocentric Friend stood to deliver ministry. She spoke about how nontheistic Friends have always puzzled her, and about how she had taken the opportunity to attend a gathering of nontheistic Friends at Quarterly Meeting.

Since this meeting, the Spirit has been moving in her life. She realized that her use of the word "God" had been getting in the way of her spiritual experience. She talked about letting go of belief in God and embracing her own agnosticism. She stressed her continuing faith in Jesus as teacher and her ongoing commitment to living by his commandments. She spoke with puzzlement and amusement about being a born-again agnostic Christocentric Friend.

This Friend's ministry touched many hearts, including mine. Several Friends who rarely speak in Meeting rose to share their own stories about identity and their relationship to the Meeting. They spoke about the challenge of setting aside judgment and listening for that of God in everyone's words, and about how that challenge helps us move more deeply into the Spirit.

Towards the end of Meeting, a Friend rose to observe that today is Pentecost, the day on which the disciples spoke in tongues to the people of Jerusalem. He quoted Acts 2:16-18 In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.

He went on to say that he has often thought that Quakerism is a deeply Pentecostal faith, a faith that puts its trust in the guidance of the Spirit. He then observed that we don't so much speak in tongues as listen in tongues.

I closed Meeting a little late, reluctant to emerge from the communion with my dear Friends. My heart was full and tender, and I felt deeply blessed to be with this extraordinary group of people. I felt awed by the power of the Spirit to work in every heart in the Meeting, humbled by the honest words that Friends had shared about their own spiritual journeys.

What a gift we have been given, the ability to listen in tongues. Each soul in our Meeting gathers to try to listen to the Truth beyond our words. We strive to listen with our hearts, not our minds. We strive to tend that of God in each person, even when we don't understand it.

Namaste, Friends.


Mark Wutka said...

I closed Meeting a little late, reluctant to emerge from the communion with my dear Friends.

I would say that you didn't so much close it late, but that you refused to close it early. Thank you for your faithfulness.

Liz Opp said...

I've greatly appreciated your recent posts, Heather. So I've listed you in a post of my own, about blogs that make me think, as part of a meme that is going around.

And I agree with Mark's comment that it sounds like you were faithful and that you simply closed worship in God's time rather than on clock time.

Liz Opp, The Good Raised Up

Patrick said...

Hello Heather What a wonderful term "listening in the spirit". It aptly describes the experience of Meeting for me. I attended the same nontheist group at quarterly and was reinforced to my own mind in my position as a religious humanist. Yet I would never want to see Friends depart from their heritage in Christianity as it gives character,"grit" and the rich language that you employed so well in defining the experiental in Meeting. As for letting Meeting extend-thee was faithful. Patrick57

Patrick said...

Hello Heather And I realized that I used spirit instead of tongues-remembering time I spent among Pentecostals where both terms are used to define the same experience. Patrick57

Heather Madrone said...

Ah, Friends, I'm glad you think I was following God's lead in holding Meeting. It was not clear to me at the time.

When worship affects me deeply, it can be difficult to hold both my own personal emotions and the role I am fulfilling for Meeting. This week, it felt especially difficult to listen to the corporate sense of when Meeting was over rather than my own yearning for more communion.

My husband has suggested that maybe I ought to pull out of worship a bit earlier, but that doesn't feel right. I'm going to ask other members of Worship & Ministry for any wisdom they can share on balancing their corporate role with their personal worship.

Mark Wutka said...

I have felt for a while now that Meeting for Worship should not have a scheduled end, that the clerk should close Meeting only when he or she sensed that it was truly over. I think the most common reaction to that suggestion is that it is impractical and it makes it more difficult to plan your day. To me, though, having a fixed time for ending feels like we don't have total devotion to God. We give God an hour and that's it. We ought to all be willing to jump into God's arms and stay there until we are gently set down.

As for your discernment about ending the meeting, two things I might suggest, one is that just before you close the meeting (or maybe you have to do this right after you close it), listen for the guidance of the Spirit - do you feel a sense of completeness, or a burden being lifted? Or do you feel a discomfort, like maybe it isn't/wasn't the right time to close? You have to have the faith that you will be guided in this, even if you don't feel now like you are.
Also, you might speak with other weighty Friends to see if they felt that same sense of the Meeting coming to a close. I guess in the old days you might expect an elder to come talk to you about closing before it was time, but now maybe you need to seek one out.
With love,