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.


Marshall Massey (Iowa YM [C]) said...

The second half of your posting moves me greatly. Gossip is harmful indeed!

The old Quaker books of discipline all carried explicit warnings against "tale-bearing" and "detraction" — warnings that make a lot of sense to anyone who has seen the damage gossip can do.

Of course, the ban on gossip only works if there's another, better way to handle frustrations. I've come to believe, in fact, that if people do not have some better way to work things through, tale-bearing and detraction will be inevitable.

Fortunately, though, a better way is spelled out in Matthew 18:15-17.

Early Friends worked long and hard to train themselves in this method. Here are three of the advices they wrote on the matter:

"Friends, do not judge one another in meetings, ye that do minister in the meetings; for your so doing hath hurt the people, both within and without, and yourselves under their judgment ye have brought. And your judging one another in the meetings hath emboldened others to quarrel, and judge you also in the meetings. And this hath been all out of order, and the church order also." (George Fox, letter 116 [1656])

"...Be tender one over another, and watch over one another with a pure single eye, and every one see the beam cast out of your own eye, before you go to spy a mote in others. If any brother or sister offend, you that know, speak to them privately, in all tenderness, to restore them.... But if they will not hear, take two or three more, and speak to them again in the spirit of meekness, waiting, and seeking the Lord for their recovery; but if they will not hear ... then acquaint the church, whom the Lord in his wisdom will order to deal with them....

"And in all things you do, I beseech you, do unto others, as you would be done into yourselves...." (William Dewsbury, general letter to Friends [1668])

"...Though the doctrine of Jesus Christ requireth his people to admonish a brother or sister twice, before they tell the church, yet that limiteth none, so as they shall use no longer forbearance, before they tell the church, but that they shall not less than twice admonish their brother or sister before they tell the church. And it is desired of all, before they publicly complain, that they wait in the power of God to feel, if there is no more required of them to their brother or sister, before they expose him or her to the church: let this be weightily considered.

"And further, when the church is told ... let not final judgment go forth against him or her, till every one of the meeting have cleared his or her conscience; that if any thing be upon any, further to visit such transgressor, they may clear themselves, that if possible the party may be reached and saved. ...

"And all such as behold their brother or sister in a transgression, go not in a rough, light or upbraiding spirit to reprove or admonish him or her; but in the power of the Lord, and spirit of the Lamb, and in the wisdom and love of the Truth, which suffers thereby, to admonish such an offender. ..." (George Fox, letter 264 [1669])

Can our communities regain this discipline? I'm convinced we can. But it requires commitment, and sustained efforts at self-control —

Liz Opp said...

Like Marshall, I am moved by the experience you share here and I am relieved to know a bit of how things are turning.

Thank you for "waiting in the Light"-- it seems like it is bearing fruit for yourself and others.

Liz Opp, The Good Raised Up

Heather Madrone said...

Thanks for your comments, Friends.

I think that, in general, Friends in my Meeting are aware of the dangers of tale-bearing and detraction. In this situation, however, there were a lot of factors that made gossip and polarization more likely.

The Quaker process in our Meeting seems to be like a self-righting, self-bailing Coast Guard surf boat. Even when we make mistakes and start down the wrong path, Friends are able to correct themselves and move back into good process.

At the end of last week, I felt discouraged by the gossip and polarization. This week, I am heartened by seeing Friends reaching across the aisle, listening to one another, apologizing for their mistakes, and trying to mend whatever damage has been done.

I feel like I'm seeing Christianity in action here. Not perfection, but an ongoing striving to be better, and a humble acceptance that we're human and we continue to make mistakes. It's humbling and uplifting at the same time.

Cat Chapin-Bishop said...

I was quite moved by this post... The opening between the other Friend and you touched me a lot (speaking as a woman who has definitely known from experience how hard it can be to have an open and forgiving spirit myself!).

I also appreciated Marshall's extended quotes from early Friends.

But it's what you say in your comments section that gives me the most hope: "The Quaker process in our Meeting seems to be like a self-righting, self-bailing Coast Guard surf boat. Even when we make mistakes and start down the wrong path, Friends are able to correct themselves and move back into good process."

I think this can be true, when we approach Quaker process rooted in communion with Spirit. I really hope it is true--I'm a young enough Quaker that I cannot yet be sure of it, though I think at least some of what I've seen in Friends in different Friends' organizations trying to bridge gaps that divide us says it's true.

I do know that Friends' process simply must be self-righting to some degree, or it will fail, because Friends, of course, are going to fail one another again and again, through hurry or preoccupation or simple human cussedness. It's a bit like parenting: if you need the skill of a professional psychotherapist to raise a healthy human being, then we're all sunk, because few of have that level of interpersonal skill (and none of us, including psychotherapists, have it 24/7).

Covenant community has just got to be something ordinary human ninnies can do, because we're (almost) all we've got to work with. (Hmmm--has anyone yet written The Idiot's Guide to Quaker Process? could be a market opportunity there...)

I did say almost. Because--and this is the thought that really gives me a breath of relief--we're not actually all we've got.

Now, if I can just figure out how and when I need to "wait in the power of God to feel, if there is no more required of" me...

Thanks for an (as usual) moving post.

Honey said...

I think you showed amazing strength and courage and in as such got some heartfelt support and a real apology in return. You handled that brilliantly, I don't think I could have been so brave and calm.