17 March 2008

Awesome and Sufficient

We held a worship-sharing to respond to queries for our State of the Meeting report to the quarter.

Our Meeting has faced big challenges this last year. It's been a time of pain and struggle, of divisions and hard feelings worked out with difficulty, of low energy and the letting go of things our Meeting has always done. We're in the process of a radical restructuring in the spirit of the Jubilee Year, and we lack the comfort of familiar forms for our ongoing work in the Spirit.

I expected our State of the Meeting worship to strike a somber note. I was extremely surprised to hear one Friend after another rise and speak of the coming of spring after a fallow period. Friends spoke of difficulties and challenges in many areas, and then they spoke of new seeds germinating. There was a great sense of hope, of energy building beneath the surface, of a time of growth and renewal after our fallow time.

Friends came to speak of the awesome strength, courage, and faith our Meeting has shown in taking on the Jubilee Year challenge set forth by Pacific Yearly Meeting. We have indeed been examining our structure in the light of the Jubilee Year, turning away from other responsibilities to focus on the shaping of our Meeting. We have allowed our fields to go fallow, and sustained ourselves with that which sprang from the Spirit of its own accord.

One Friend rose to say that the power of the Spirit of Love is awesome and sufficient to bring us into unity.

Then it struck me with great force: our forms and structures might be worn and outmoded, lacking in energy and support, but the Spirit is moving strongly among us and we are honoring it. We are willing, as a corporate body, to offer our Meeting to Spirit to use for its purposes. We are waiting for guidance and willing to follow that Spirit whereever it might lead. The Spirit of Love is awesome and sufficient to lead us, and we as a Meeting have the faith to relinquish control of the Meeting and go whither it leads.

No wonder we've had pain, having to let go of forms that no longer serve us. No wonder there is such great energy for our discussions of the issues we face. No wonder there is such great support for radical change in our Meeting. We are joined in Spirit, and we share a deep faith in our Quaker process.

And no wonder, too, that we have such pain at letting go of beloved forms. Our Meeting is dying and being reborn in a new form, and we all grieve the old forms that we so loved.

How often this last year I've heard the words "We should do this, we ought to do that, we're not doing the other as well as we might." That's all true, but it seems to me that there's a tension between perfectly fulfilling the functions of human structure and following Spirit. We say that we are primitive Christianity revived, but we also take comfort in our outward forms and having things done in the manner of Friends.

How scary it is to think about stepping outside of the forms and living unsheltered in the wilderness of Spirit! How scary and yet exhilirating to be living on the edge of spiritual dynamicism, to feel the ground shift beneath our feet.

Our feet stumble and find the new path with difficulty. We let go of old forms grudgingly, like a well-mannered dog leaving behind a juicy bone to go on a walk with our mistress. We look at the mess and confusion and feel a stab of guilt and regret.
Then we go to worship and the Spirit pours into us: "You are my children, with whom I am well pleased. You are the beloved community living my ministry. You are living in the grace and beauty of my love."

I feel intense gratitude this morning for the movement of Spirit in my life, in my Meeting, in the world. What a blessing to be part of this beloved community in transformation, to share in the suffering and strife as well as in the joy and beauty.


Liz Opp said...

Heather, what a beautiful and honest post.

For years within my own meeting, one presiding clerk and two long-term ad hoc committees have lifted up the importance of engaging in something like a Jubilee or Sabbath Year, for this same purpose.

But the meeting as a whole could only go so far together: we agreed verbally to some things but our corporate body and our corporate heart could not seemingly follow the rest of the way.

Now I fear we are beginning to suffer for it, which is of course one path for learning to yield and submit... Two long-standing committees have been inactive for a number of months now; we have been without a presiding clerk; and fewer Friends seem willing to serve on Ministry & Counsel.

Just how does a meeting come under the weight of a concern, together? How do we jointly encourage one another to lay aside our personal ambitions, preferences, fears, and comforts in order to listen together to some Thing, some One that is bigger than all of us combined...?

I'm curious how the proposal to engage in a Jubilee Year came before the meeting in your own case. How was it presented and by whom? How did the meeting test it? What were the signs that Friends were truly willing to come under the weight of it?

I myself can only say that I had an inner sense that my meeting hadn't come under the weight of the thing, but I couldn't point to how I sensed that.

...Too few people at business sessions?

...Too much resistance by the most senior members of the meeting?

...Too little shared belief in something Divine that we all might Know directly and Trust immediately?

All that aside, Heather, it sounds like in the case of your own meeting, the wait and the fallow period have been worth it. I am so glad you took the time to write about it.

Liz Opp, The Good Raised Up

cath said...

Heather, thank you for posting.

I have a special concern for Meetings that are dying or stagnant. And especially for those members who see this happening and don't know what to do.

Sometimes people can freeze up in the face of what seems to be a daunting situation.

It takes great faith to put the issue before the Spirit and seek guidance that way.

May your renewed spiritual energy manifest in many good ways.


Rebecca Sullivan said...

Heather I am so greatful for your post. I have been thinking about Santa Cruz. I have tried to keep up with at least looking at the minutes but that is not always easy and all telling. It is good to hear that the Jubilee year has been good because it was not an easy process.

Hope everything else is going well in your life.


Heather Madrone said...

Oh Liz, I do not know how we got where we are. Pacific Yearly Meeting held up the idea of a Jubilee year two years ago. Our Meeting collectively scratched its head and said "Hmmm." We didn't move forward on it at all.

Then things happened, like the things that are happening in your Meeting right now. And slowly, reluctantly, we found our feet on this path. It's only in hindsight that we realize that we're doing the task set before us by Yearly Meeting. We didn't set out to do it on purpose.

All I can think is that worship is working, and our Quaker process is working. We are allowing ourselves to be led just enough for it to actually happen. This is mysterious to me, but it is an affirmation that Spirit can, indeed, lead us. If we get out of the way and let it.

I've been feeling strongly that we are called, as a Meeting, to radical faith. We're being called to live our beliefs, not just enshrine them in words.

And Rebecca, I am always delighted to hear from you. I hope all is well with your people.

Liz Opp said...

Thanks for offering what you could by way of explanation, Heather. I had suspected that there was no "recipe" that your meeting had put its hands on... smile

Liz Opp, The Good Raised Up

Anonymous said...

I very much appreciated your blog "Awesome and Sufficient", so much so that I took the liberty of sharing it with our M&O Committee. Our Meeting is experiencing similar changes in form and structure, and it was heartening to hear of Spirit moving in unexpected ways in your Meeting.
In the Light,
Nan in Santa Barbara