26 October 2009

Leadings from the Edge

I ran across an article in the New York Times talking about interference from the future preventing the creation of a Higgs boson. It's a crazy idea, but it's a good kind of crazy: visionary, improbable, out on the edge, pushing the envelope of the possible.

Last week at Meeting, we were visited by a woman with a vibrant smile, badly tie-dyed halter top, and bubbly baby boy. Looking into her eyes in worship, I saw how vividly alive she was, how deeply steeped in Light.

I had an appointment after worship. The dear Friend in our Meeting who leads sacred circle dancing for us was going to be out of town for our autumn retreat, and I needed to learn a few dances so that I could try to fill her shoes for the day.

Worship followed by this special kind of dance filled my soul and made me buoyant. I floated out to the fellowship hall, where I decided to engage this woman in conversation. We chatted easily about motherhood, discovering our mutual belief in homebirth, extended breastfeeding, attachment parenting, and homeschooling. Her baby fell asleep at the breast, and she slipped him into the car seat of the van where they were obviously both living.

As we talked, her whole life opened out. She had been a street kid at 15, married young, had three sons with an emotionally abusive man, left him and lost her sons, had a daughter who was currently with relatives, and then had the baby. A tough life, but one that seemed not to have dented her spirit much.

She told me that she was meant to roam the Earth, not to settle in one place. She had a vision of a traveling village, a commune that lived in many vehicles and moved from place to place. She spoke of going from town to town, collecting the street kids and making a safe space for them. She spoke of a fleet of school buses with different functions for the community.

“Whoa,” I thought, “this is starting to sound a little crazy.”

As I continued to listen to her vision, though, I wanted to believe in it. I wanted her to be able to build her traveling village. I wanted her to be able to mother the street kids that she felt a call to care for. I wanted her to be able to honor the calling of her soul, to find a way to live her vision.

Much of the vision was crazy, impractical. Many of the details clearly wouldn't work, but the heart of her vision was pure, clear, and full of Divine Light.

I told her I believed in her vision. I told her I have been called to be a tree, to dig my roots into one place, to intimately know one small space on the surface of the Earth. I told her I would pray for her vision, that she could find a way to make it real, that I would pray for her and her children as well.

She met my gaze, and it was as if the two of us were completely open there, open to one another and open to the Divine Light bathing both of us. We stood a minute in wordless prayer.

“Oh!” she exclaimed suddenly, “You need a token.”

She reached her hand into the chaos of the van and drew out a tiny object. My sense was that she had no idea what she was choosing, that she was letting God guide her hand, that she let God guide her actions. She was a child of faith, living in trust of her own vision of the Divine.

She handed me a tiny object, hard and cool to my touch. I held it in my closed hand, not wanting to break contact with her amazing eyes.

“Thank you,” I said.

We took our leave a few minutes later. Only when I got the object back to my car did I look at it.

It was a tiny glass angel. Every time I see it, it reminds me to send a prayer for Sunny Jean and her vision.

I felt good the rest of the day. It's good to know that there are people like her in the world, people who see a vision, no matter if it is crazy and impractical, and act on it. People who honor the dream in their hearts. We need those people, and we need to let go a little and become more like them ourselves. To trust that small, still, perhaps a bit crazy, voice within us.

Sunny Jean, wherever you are, you are still in my thoughts and prayers.

29 September 2009

Doing the Work of the Meeting

A couple of years ago, our Meeting embarked on the Jubilee Year by laboring over the structure of our Meeting. Since that time, we've done a lot of work to simplify the structure and lighten the load.

Sunday, we had a threshing session to consider the changes that we've made and whether they're working or not.

I put on my Assistant Clerk hat and sat next to the Clerk to support her work in the threshing session. I expected that we'd hear many things and that I myself would say that we've made a lot of progress towards simplifying and lightening the workload, but that we need to continue our work so that things can work more smoothly.

Almost immediately, the threshing session took a sharp turn towards the unexpected. I could feel the Clerk next to me struggling with letting go and letting God. I silently supported her in this, and turned my attention to what it was that our Meeting was trying to express.

When I was moved to speak, what I said was only tangentially related to our stated purpose that day. I spoke deep from the place of Not-Knowing, of admitting that I do not know how to do the work of our Meeting that I am called to do as Assistant Clerk and as clerk of Worship & Ministry. I affirmed my love and commitment to the Meeting, however, as well as my feeling of certainty that together, with the help of God, we can do what we are called to do.

I wondered the rest of the day and most of the next whether I had spoken appropriately or not. It certainly felt like Spirit moved me to say what I said, and the sense of being a channel was strong while I was speaking. It felt unruly, however, and I had the wry thought that we just ought to stop inviting Spirit to these meetings, that Spirit again and again throws a monkey wrench into our best laid plans.

The next day, I had a ministry/eldering/support meeting with a member of the Meeting who is struggling. I did not know what I was supposed to do, what was called for. I sat down earlier in the day to prepare for it, and ended up feeling that my Unknowing, my expectant waiting, was the best thing that I can bring to my work in the Meeting.

I can't pretend to be in control. I can't pretend that I know what I'm doing when I don't. All I can do is prepare the best I can, and show up open to whatever happens. All I can do is hold that tiny bit of Light that I have been given and shine for all I am worth.

That Unknowing is feeling very important to me. I don't know how to do this. I don't know what God wants of me.

I have to believe that is okay, and that I will be led as needed.

18 September 2009

The Cheerfulness Testimony

I read recently that happiness is contagious, a conclusion of a Harvard Medical School heart study.

I've often thought of George Fox's advice to walk cheerfully over the earth, answering that of God in everyone. There have been times when I've quipped that I've got the “cheerful” part down pat; if only the “answering that of God in everyone” was so simple!

These past few months, I haven't been as cheerful as I usually am. The cares of the world have seemed especially heavy in recent months, and I've been on an emotional rollercoaster that pulled me away from my center, time and again.

Just get back on the horse that threw you, Heather. No matter how many times you end up flat on the ground, you need to get up, dust off your fanny, and give it your best shot.

Okay, so I have here a vial of undiluted relentless unconditional happiness, and I want to infect as many people as possible with its contents.

makes Cheerfulness Fairy motions of sprinkling the contents of the vial everywhere that my influence can reach

Pass it on.

And two quotes that seem especially apt to me right now:

If we're not having fun, we're not doing it right.

Angels can fly because they take themselves lightly.

09 September 2009

Integral calculus

Integrity is probably the traditional Quaker value that resonates most deeply with me, and the one that I think about the most.

It's also the name of my computer.

Integrity, to me, means wholeness. It means being all of one piece. It means walking your talk, living your values, embodying what is truest in you. It's deeper and purer than honesty.

In calculus, taking an integral means finding the area under a curve. All of it, all the bits and pieces. Finding the whole from the sum of its parts.

A set of data has integrity if it's complete, correct, and an accurate snapshot of the state of the data at a particular time.

So. Living in integrity means being all of one piece, living in harmony with my deepest values, expressing what is truest in me. It means living from my center, acting from that of God within me, flowing with what is best and purest and truest in me. It also means living passionately from that center, trusting my gut and my guide and living fully into my faith.

That's all.

07 March 2009

Found Ministry

or Gospel Truth

I love our Meetinghouse. It's like a small, upside-down ark in the spiritual ocean, a shelter against the storm and a beacon of light. It's simply but well-built, with caring and craftsmanship showing in many small details.

Quakers didn't build our Meetinghouse. Before we bought it, it was a neighborhood church. There's a disused immersion baptistry behind what used to be the altar, and faint crosses spray-painted on the light fixtures in the worship room.

I feel gratitude and warmth for the people who built our Meetinghouse, a connection that transcends time and creed. Their work shelters us now, and the spirit that went into the construction of the building still feeds us.

About a month ago, I was hanging out with the children in the small yard behind the worship room. There's a small play structure there under liquid amber trees, and an even smaller patio with a few benches and chairs for supervising adults.

Suddenly, I noticed what looked like some letters carved in the concrete near the building. I went closer, scraped away the leaf mould with my foot, and tried to read the words.

For it is God

I scraped some more, and moved the bench out of the way.

For it is God who works in you

I was getting excited. What Quakerly words were these, left for us by the founders of the neighborhood church?

I found a broom and swept the mud off the next section of the letters.

For it is God who works in you to will and to act

“Spirit-led, spirit-led,” my heart was singing. 

I had run out of letters. I shifted back to the left and used my broom to free the next line.

according to his good purpose. Philippians 2:13

Oh wow. 

No Bible verse had ever struck me with more force, or seemed more appropriate to the circumstances.

For it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose. Philippians 2:13