23 April 2013

facing in and out

Prayers to be going on with:

Make me a strong vessel for Thy work.

Let me be a Light to everyone I meet.

18 April 2013

is it supposed to be hard?

At  midweek worship, we often read the words of weighty Friends. The words are usually weighty, too, and often the writers make it sound like this business of being a Quaker is hard. Much of what they write is wisdom, and yet the words Does it really have to be that hard? often flit across my mind.

There is much in life that IS hard. There's plenty of suffering to go around, and we all have our struggles, our roadblocks, and our limitations.

Living in the Spirit, though, how can that be hard? The Spirit giveth life and truth and guidance and all good things. It is the Spirit to which I turn when I don't know what to do, and the Spirit that speaks Truth into my soul, and the Spirit that gives me more wisdom than I possess. It is the Spirit that buoys me up when I am afraid, and that strengthens me to face what I must.

Sure, I fall short all the time. I do things that would have been better undone and fail to do things that were required.

On the whole, though, I think I do a pretty good job.

I am not often a Friend who will rise and talk about what a miserable worm I am, lost in sin and darkness. (Are there still Friends who do that?) More often, my mistakes amuse me. Oh, Heather, you are so incorrigibly human! What an odd duck you are! How often do you keep needing to fall into that hole before you learn better?

I did my best to avoid accolades when I passed on that clerkly mantle. I do want to know, honestly, how people think that I served so that I can grow. The words that were spoken when accolades could no longer be avoided, however, surprised me.

My former co-Clerk talked at length about my courage in truly naming whatever we were facing.

Now, I do not consider myself particularly brave. I tend to think of the trait that my former co-Clerk described as clarity (when I am feeling good about it) or my charming habit of going for the jugular (when I am aware how uncomfortable my plain speaking makes others).

I have my father to thank for the practice of facing facts squarely. All his life, he did just that. He did his best to make an accurate assessment of every situation he faced. While my mother gave vent to her feelings, he would say, Now Dee, this is the situation. And what we must do is....

He taught me that an accurate assessment of problems carries with it the design of the solution. My life problems, no less than my programming and calculus problems, could be solved by careful attention to what I know about the situation and what I can derive from it.

My former co-Clerk called that wisdom. In my dad, it often looked like wisdom, but I think he would have said it was simple common sense. It was an economical approach to problem-solving, one that avoided a lot of wasted effort.

She also seemed to think that I was foolishly optimistic about how well those solutions would work. She didn't use the word foolishly, but I could tell. My optimism, in the face of all the ways that things can go wrong, is foolish. I believe that, if we move forward with honesty and love and tenderness and compassion, that we will get to the place that is right for us.

So if I have courage or wisdom, it is by not minding too much if I appear foolish. I don't have to worry about how things will turn out, or about whether I know enough to do this, I simply need to take the next step that is before my foot.

And that is not hard at all.

i have been released

i feel the light come shining
from the west down to the east
any day now
any way now
i shall be released

— Bob Dylan

I found it difficult to continue this blog while I was serving as co-Clerk of my monthly Meeting. So much of my focus during worship and in life was concerned with holding the Meeting that it didn't feel proper to share it.

I learned much serving as Clerk. For me, there was no better way to learn to let go and let God. To trust that small voice within to guide me. To trust my Meeting to act as motive and curb and brake as I learned what we needed to do, together. To trust that I could share my bit of Light, spoken plainly, and that others would bring their bits of Light to bear and that we would get through this. Together.

During that time, the Friends with whom I served as co-Clerk often felt like the other half of me. We worked together so harmoniously that I frequently joked that we were not two co-Clerks, but one Clerk that just happened to occupy two bodies.

There came a time when the work of Clerk felt not like a challenge, but like my own skin. Where I felt myself slipping from Serving as Clerk to Being the Clerk. When that happened, I knew it was time to let someone else sit in that seat for a while.

That decision felt clean and clear. I was able to finish my term joyfully and at full strength, and to pass the baton to a Friend who will serve excellently.

I am enjoying the release of that responsibility and authority.

And I feel freer to share my faith and practice than I did.

30 March 2013

still becoming

A friend I hadn't heard from in years contacted me a few days ago. At the end of his note, he wrote "How are you? It's been a long time."

It has been a long time. I thought about the person he knew and the person I am now. Our children, his as well as mine, have grown up.

So how am I?

I am well. We are getting to a time in life when health can no longer be taken for granted. In recent years, my body has been under siege by surgery, injury, and illness. At times, I wondered whether something was seriously wrong with me, whether I might not live very much longer. Now I am exuberantly well, focused on building my strength and fitness. I dance gladly most mornings. I bought body fat calipers and entered an online bodybuilding challenge.

Does that tell how I am?

For the past several years, the word "clergy" has defined my occupation better than most. I have served as Clerk of our Quaker Meeting, and much of what I have done has been to tend the Meeting community. During that time, I have seen how valiantly human beings struggle with the burdens they bear. I have come to believe that everybody is an ordinary hero, soldiering on through the challenges of life. What courage and resilience we humans have!

I look in the mirror for hints of how to tell this person, or any person, how I have changed. Who I have become. Where my life and my choices have taken me.

The face in the mirror is finer boned than I imagined I'd be. More severe. Much more fragile. Warier. Still warm, still cheerful, but with a firm determination that does not quite mask the underlying well of suffering and compassion. Still restless, still quick to joke, still seeking to learn and discover. Still patient, but the patience is sharper and thinner than it was.

I think back to who I was, the years unreeling behind me.

When I met my husband, I was 19. I had been shaped, but was still malleable. I saw myself as strong, earthy, vivid, dynamic. The tiger was my totem, and I moved through the world with a tiger's confidence. If I saw myself as a pot, it would have been an earthenware vessel -- strong and capacious.

The years and my own choices have whittled and hardened me.

I have breathed 400 million breaths and taken 50 million steps in my lifetime. I have changed 12,000 diapers. I have lugged over 10,000 bags of groceries home. I've prepared 30,000 meals. I've read thousands of books, sung and danced to thousands of songs.  I have raised four children. I have cared for my father as he died of cancer. I have been deeply hurt by people I loved. I have been lightly cast aside by a culture focused on youth and maleness. I have sat with people in deep pain, knowing that I had nothing to offer them but my compassion. I have told computers what to do and how to do it. I have mastered cookery. I have pumped iron. I have walked cheerfully over the earth answering that of God in everyone. I have studied the art of shibori dyeing, the art of haiku. I have developed a system for designing knitwear that fits.

I've been married to the same man for 28 years.

I have been shattered. I have performed the Japanese art of kintsugi on myself, fitting the broken bits of myself back together in a way that celebrates the beauty of both the shattering and of the continued work that I do to live up to my potential.

Looking in the mirror, I find that I am no longer a tiger. The years have shaped me to become a bird instead. I am not a strong earthenware vessel. I am more like a ceremonial porcelain chalice. I can't carry heavy loads, but with a little grace, perhaps I can create brief oases of light and cheer in the darkness.

Looking in the mirror, I see that I have become a porcelain bird. I bow my head a little, shocked by this discovery but not disappointed by it.