08 October 2007

The Call to Joy

My spiritual life has been in ferment.

My father continues to battle valiantly with brain cancer. I spent a week with my parents in Manhattan just being a daughter. It was a lovely precious week, a piece of joy frozen in time to hold in my heart forever.

While in Manhattan, I was able to worship with 15th Street Meeting. I was a little nervous entering my first East Coast Meetinghouse. It was a big, imposing structure with wooden benches arranged in a square. I thought that the Quakers who worshipped in such a setting must be squarer, weightier, more solemn than our West Coast variety. I wondered whether I'd be able to dig deep enough to join them in worship.

As soon as I sat down, however, I sank easily into worship with this new group of Friends. They felt familiar, almost as if I was worshipping with my home Meeting. They wore different faces, but their hearts were gathered in the same worship I know so well.

The ministry came thick and fast. If we'd had a Meeting like that in Santa Cruz, Worship & Ministry would have talked it over at our next committee meeting, trying to figure out how to get the Meeting to slow down. In New York, however, the wealth of ministry seemed a measure of the energy of the Meeting. There might not be much space between messages, but the ministry came from the heart.

I went home resolved to be more accepting of the popcorn in my own Meeting. I love the silence in worship, and often long for more of it. The Manhattan Friends showed me that lively worship can also nourish the spirit.

Back home, I felt less at home. Our Meeting is still unwinding some difficult business from the summer. I was deeply involved in this business. It was sensitive, and many of the facts were confidential.

I became aware that there was a lot of gossip swirling around the Meeting, and that many people had an inaccurate picture of what had happened. People were angry and hurt.

Gossip is always tough. It's like fighting shadows, because you don't know who has heard and believed inaccurate stories. I asked a few Friends to help me find guidance, but we didn't receive anything that seemed particularly helpful.

On Friday, I received a copy of a letter that a weighty Friend had sent to the Clerk. In her letter, she repeated the gossip and expressed her outrage at the injustice that had been done.

Well, now I was hurt and angry in my own turn. I talked to a few of the others who had been involved, and we were all upset that this Friend had believed the gossip and taken public action as a result of it.

I didn't want to go to Meeting yesterday. I mentioned this to my 14-year-old daughter, and she said, "But, Mom, you need to go and face up to it. You need to confront these people with the truth. I'm sure it will all work out."

I was not at all sure, but I accepted her wisdom and went to Meeting.

I did not sink immediately into worship. It took longer than usual to settle down and let go. I felt ill-at-ease with the weighty Friend who had written the letter and suspicious of many of the other Friends who sat there.

I did my best, though, and was able to join in worship.

A Friend rose to read the monthly queries, which zinged to the heart of the issue facing our Meeting. Tears of gratitude crowded my eyes as I listened again to the distilled wisdom of other Friends. During the reading of the queries, I felt the Meeting sink together more deeply into worship. Forgiveness filled my heart, and I felt the hearts around me soften as well.

I was moved to hold each Friend who believed the gossip into the Light. I noticed that most of them weren't present.

"Perhaps they too are feeling at odds with Meeting. You need to labor with them, Heather, and help heal their hurts."

I bowed my head in humility.

A Friend rose to give ministry. He spoke about following the love in difficult situations. Another Friend spoke about unreasoning joy, and how Friends are called to it.

My heart filled with grim purpose, and I felt a small measure of joy.

After Meeting, I approached the weighty Friend and thanked her for sending me a copy of the letter.

"I was quite distressed to read it."

"I imagine you were."

"The letter contained one side of a complex situation, and it doesn't match my memory of what happened." I explained what I had been trying to do, the constraints on me, and what I had actually done.

"It must have been so difficult for you," she said, and my heart lifted. We proceeded to have a heartfelt discussion of just what it was like for me. She said that she had found it difficult to believe that I had acted as others claimed I had, and that she had been hasty in writing her letter.

I felt much better after talking with her, and better yet after talking with other Friends. There was a general striving to heal the rift, to work things out in community, to create peace in our Meeting.

Joy is calling, and I have more faith that I can find it by walking through the dark spaces with only a dim candle of love to light my way.

I am grateful, once again, to be among Friends.