29 May 2008

Nineteen Minutes to Five

Okay, so once a month, it is my job to hold the container for worship and close Meeting at the end of the hour. This seemingly simple job has created a number of issues for me, which I have blogged about before.

For a time, I deliberately went to Meeting without a watch and trusted in the promptings of Spirit as to when to close Meeting. At first this worked well, but then I realized that it took too much of my attention. So much energy went into discerning how long worship should go that I didn't feel like I had enough left to monitor the pulse of the Meeting or tend my own worship.

So I started bringing a watch.

The next problem was that I don't ordinarily wear or carry a watch. In the midst of getting the family ready for Meeting, I needed to remember to scoop my watch out of my jewelry box and put it in my purse.

Fortunately, my husband carries a pocket watch, so he could act as my back up.

When I last came to close Meeting, I forgot my watch. As we were pulling into the Meetinghouse, I remembered, and asked to borrow my husband's. I slipped it into my pocket, slid into my chair, and fell into worship.

Some time later, I checked the time. The hands of the watch were frozen at nineteen minutes to five. Meeting for worship runs from 10:30 to 11:30.

I went back into worship and asked God to tell me when it was time to end Meeting.

Worship continued in fullness and beauty, and I imagined myself holding it open all day. Several individuals gave heartfelt ministry, and we sat there in the peace of deep worship.

Finally, I rose. "Friends," I said, "it's my job to close worship today. My watch says that it's nineteen minutes to five, and that seems about right to me. I have no idea when we should close worship."

Friends started shaking one another's hands and wishing one another good morning. Later evidence suggests that I was 10 to 15 minutes late closing worship, but I really have no idea.

As we rose, I thought that perhaps I am not meant to close worship. Perhaps my struggles with the clock, and with speaking at all after worship, mean that I should do different jobs for the Meeting.

A record number of Friends came up to tell me how much they enjoy it when I close worship. "You're so light and funny," they said, "you have such a wonderful spirit about it."

Indeed. On the mornings I close Meetings, there is always laughter and lightness of spirit as I try to find the words to welcome everyone to Meeting. My struggles to rise from worship and speak from a script are a continual source of entertainment to my Friends.

Ah. I have missed my calling. I am meant to be a Quaker stand-up comic, playing at the Meetinghouse on First Day mornings. Don't miss my "I seem to have forgotten my name and what I'm meant to be doing here" act followed by "I'm delighted to be with you all. Let's just beam at one another for a moment while I try to remember how to do this."

And, the truth is that I am delighted to stand there, blinking, and welcome everyone. I'm happy to invite newcomers to our Meeting and tell them how wonderful it is that they shared worship with us. I am filled with joy at the opportunity to facilitate announcements. After worship, I am so happy to be in the heart of the gathered Meeting that it doesn't matter that I stumble over the words I'm meant to speak.

It's even okay with me that God sees fit to tell me that it's nineteen minutes to five, whatever that means.


I dreamed I was visiting God's garden. God and I had a long walk through the garden, admiring the plants and the changes since my last visit. We came to an apricot tree, and I reached up to touch a blossom.

"I remember when you gave me an apricot from this tree," I said, "I still have the stone."

"You still have the stone?" asked God, "Do you have it with you?"

I reached into a pouch, took out the stone, and held it out in my hand to see.

"Give it to the gardeners!" God commanded.

I handed the apricot stone to one of God's gardeners. The gardeners took it to a prepared bed and gently slipped it into the rich soil. One of them watered it deeply.

When I woke, I held the dream lightly. I didn't want to read too much into it, to decide the meaning of the apricot, the stone, and God's gardeners.

All I know is that I feel very good about having given the apricot stone to God's gardeners and seeing it find its rightful place.

18 May 2008

Testing Leadings

I'm going to lift up something that Richard wrote in a comment to my post before last:

At this point it's good to look outside yourself for signs to help you discern. When you mention the possibility of doing this to weighty Friends what is there reaction? Do they caution you to reflect more deeply on it or do they brighten at the thought of you doing this? Have you detected any signs of Way opening for this project? For example did some other responsibility that was taking up some of your time and energy suddenly lifted from your shoulders to make space for the new project? Did something or someone that would help you with the project suddenly appear in your life unexpectedly?

If weighty Friends do not discourage this and if signs of Way opening appear, then don't hold back from following the leading just because you think you might like it!

Sometimes I feel like a blind person tapping in front of me with my white cane, trying to discern my next step. Part of my leading has been to take the next step and trust that God will continue to guide my feet. I can't see the end of the path from here.

It's good to be reminded to check in with weighty Friends and spiritual buddies about our leadings. My Friends did, somewhat to my amazement, respond very enthusiastically to my leading and encourage me to relax and enjoy it. It is a little like working with the children during our Meeting retreat. I might have felt like I was goofing off and having a good time, but the Meeting appreciated the work I was doing anyway.

I also continued to pray about the leading, continually, and to wait for confirmation before taking each step. This is not something I always do, and I think I sometimes might have a tendency or out-run my Inner Guide. Part of my discipline in this event, however, has been to go no further than guided by Spirit.

I am forced to admit that God was right again. There were times along the way that weren't as easy and pleasant as I anticipated, and events took a few twists and turns that underscored the wisdom of my care and attention to this seemingly simple and pleasant activity. I needed my Guide on this trip, and I needed to be on the trip to do work that needs to be done.

And perhaps I also needed to know that sometimes God calls us to go with our strengths, to refresh our spirits, and to do what we love.

13 May 2008

Baptism in the Spirit

At the rise of worship on Sunday, a Quaker elder I admire greatly asked to speak with me for a few minutes.

"At the Worship & Ministry meeting, you spoke of being born again," she started, "What did you mean by that? Did you mean that you had been born again at some time in the past and renounced it? Or did you mean that you're still born again?"

When I was 13, I came forward at an altar call at a Baptist church. The choir sang "O, Lamb of God, I come, I come" and I came to lay my life at the feet of Jesus and to welcome him into my heart as Lord and Saviour. I was baptized by immersion, and I can still remember the grave sweetness on the face of the minister who baptized me.

Had I renounced it? That experience, while not my earliest religious experience, was certainly strong. I felt God's presence deeply throughout that time, and it gave me comfort and courage through my parents' divorce and my own teenaged confusion.

I didn't stick with the Baptist church. We moved, and I joined the Unitarians and then the Pagans. I went with friends to Catholic masses, lived with members of the Hanuman Fellowship and the followers of Yogananda. I hiked extensively in the mountains. I went to Hawaii and watched Kilauea erupt from an ancient Hawaiian village now used as a campground.

Everywhere I went, I saw God. I saw the Divine in what I read and heard, in the faces of other human beings, and in the rocks and the trees and volcanoes. Wherever I went, I have carried that sense of the indwelling Spirit, of my own deep and personal connection with the Divine.

"I didn't renounce it," I said slowly, "the Spirit that moved me then is still here, in my heart. I've seen it in lots of other places since then, though, the same Spirit."

"I think, though, that it's wrong to talk of a single act of salvation. I don't think I changed for once and forever when I answered that altar call. I've come to see it as a practice, a continual need to welcome Spirit into my heart and my life, a continual process of learning to yield myself up to God's service."

I spoke then about my ongoing struggle to live my life fully in the Spirit, to live from that Spirit-led center. Not my will, but Thine. And how difficult it is to do that. And how, a lot of times, I don't want to do that, but to follow my own way.

"I'd be a much better Christian," I mused, "if I wasn't impatient."

"And proud.  And willful. And lazy."

"And sometimes, I just don't believe any of it. 'Lord, I believe. Help Thou my unbelief.'"

"But somewhere, deep within, the Spirit keeps bubbling up and renewing me and guiding me and helping me on my way."

So my faith, what I have of it, is a gift. It's not something I can claim credit for. It's not something I do.

I wonder how it happens, that baptism in the Spirit.