18 May 2010

What If It's All True?

In worship, the prayer “Make me a strong vessel for Thy work” often bubbles up in my heart. I ask for the ongoing guidance of the Spirit in living my life, and for the strength and humility to follow the guidance I receive.

It is one thing to make this sort of prayer. It's easy and comforting to pray for guidance and to strive to follow the Light I am given.

It's a completely different thing to surrender myself to that guidance and that Light, to allow myself to be used as an instrument of the Holy Spirit, to feel that power guiding and sustaining me.

In worship a few weeks ago, I received a message that what we are striving for in worship is to read the future. We can only look to the comforting familiarity of the past so far. At some point, we have to stand on the edge of the continent and look ahead to the challenges that face us. We are not the Quakers of the past few centuries and we are not meant to follow where the Spirit led them. We are alive now, and the Spirit guides us now, in the present, to the work we are meant to do.

Those words reading the future stuck with me over the next several days. The next day, a quiet little voice inside me said, “Reading the future? Isn't that prophecy? Does that mean that Friends are called to prophetic witness?”

The universe stopped for a moment at that thought, and my ego strode forward to take the helm.

“Don't be silly,” it informed me briskly, “How can you possibly think that you might be called to prophesy? Spiritual gifts like that are for the great, not for such as you. Confine yourself to your proper sphere, why don't you?”

I dropped my head then, remembering how buoyed by Spirit I had felt while clerking the last Meeting for worship for business. How clearly I had felt the Spirit guiding my words during that meeting. How I had been able to draw on the calmness and love and light of the Spirit in doing that work. How clearly I had been shown the course of our work. How good and right and beautiful it had all felt, and how sure I had felt that I am meant to do that job for my Meeting.

Suddenly, I was deeply afraid. What if it's all true? What if the Holy Spirit does work through me? What if I have received certain gifts and I am called to use them? Can I be completely sane, to believe that might be happening? Can I speak of it, even to fellow Quakers, without being taken for someone a few slices short of a loaf? Will others look at me and see me puffed up with my own vanity? Worse yet, will I get puffed up with my own vanity and see the gifts as mine rather than on loan to me from God?

And what if I turn my face away from the guidance of Spirit, continuing my willful way in my own safe life? What if I confine myself to my sphere as wife and mother and daughter? What if I stick to my knitting and my dye pots and safe committee work? What if I refuse to open myself to that spiritual union? What if I go through the motions of clerking without committing myself to the Living Spirit that makes it all true?

At worship the next week, I made confession to my Meeting. I was not sure it was ministry, but I stood and confessed my fear and confusion anyway. It was, perhaps, more a clerk's report to her Meeting than it was ministry, but I couldn't remain silent.

Wisdom bubbled up through the Meeting in response. I felt buoyed by the gathered Meeting, deep in the heart of love, with a clear sense that I do not face the Unknowable alone. The Meeting is with me, and I do my work for it and as a vessel for it. I felt reassured and humbled and still deeply, deeply afraid.

God has never been domesticated. God is a force that is great and terrible, the most awesome of the awesome. It has never been comfortable to stand naked before Spirit, to channel it, to be the subject of its scrutiny.

After worship, two elders came to me and gave me gentle counsel. I continued my confession, feeling their sure presence and their own connection with the Spirit.

As we got up to go, one of them held my eyes with her penetrating gaze.

“I feel the Spirit working through you, when you clerk,” she affirmed, “Do you enjoy it?”

Yes. I love it. It is not safe or comfortable, but it feels good and right and holy.

Still my feet drag on the path. I feel frightened, unworthy, perhaps unable to meet the challenges I might be called to face.

And yet, as I find the faith to follow the guidance of the Spirit, I am led blind through the trials of my life. I do not know why I am led to do what I am led to do, or whether it will be effective, or enough. Over time, I see in hindsight what I couldn't see when I was reading the future. My part is small, but it is essential. It might be more than I think I can bear, but I have done it.


Diane Mc said...

Thank you very much for this post.

Chris M. said...

Heather: Yes, yes, yes!

Yes, you can be sane! Yes, you can talk of it! (Okay, some people will wonder about you, but that's always true of prophetic witnesses.)

Yes, Friends are called to prophetic witness. Thank you for reminding us we are here now, today, looking at what's ahead. Yes, we can and must look back to the past, but we face different circumstances, and so the Spirit will lead us in new ways, if we remain open and turn toward the Inward Light (as Friends have done over and over in the past).

As a fellow meeting clerk, this post resonates with me greatly. Thank you for writing it.

Phil Anthony said...

Sanity is a highly overrated commodity, I think. It's also awfully slippery: Which reality is thee supposed to be in touch with, anyway? Much more important is what it seems thee has already, a trusted community with which thee can test the movement of the Divine in thee.

The fear thee mentions, on the other hand.... I've come to believe that, for whatever inscrutable reasons God has, struggling with fear is an essential component of prophetic witness. "Fear not," says the angel to Mary; and if she has any sense, now she really starts to get scared!

On the other hand, "A gift that is not exercised festers. It becomes a snare and a stumbling block for both the individual and the community."

Beth said...


Beautiful post - and continue to bravely explore what is seeking to be spoken through you, even though it is scary!