Monday, August 25, 2008

Stay close to the Root

Yesterday morning, we got a ride from Deborah Haines and her daughter, Becka, to Alexandria Friends Meeting. It was a sweet little meeting, about twenty five people in attendence. Once I was able to settle, about 20-30 minutes into worship, I felt enveloped by the meeting, drawn down to the Seed of God. I had missed this inward communion with God with a gathered body of Friends so much in the past few weeks, as I’ve been attending a programmed meeting. The church is lovely, but I don’t usually feel able to go very deep there. It’s probably just a question of time. When there’s only ten minutes of open worship, it’s hard to settle, much less prophesy.

There were three messages yesterday morning. The first was from a young lady who spoke about how important the silence is in creating a space where we can be still, calm, and not be expected to speak or think anything. The second minister gave a message about the need to turn to the Inward Light of the Holy Spirit in our times of stress and how easy it is to get distracted from that when we are under pressure. Finally, I spoke, sharing first the image from Revelation 3:20, of Jesus standing at the door, knocking. I said that the Risen Christ was ready to enter in and have communion with those who would open the door. I then referred to how Jesus told the woman at the well that if she would ask it of him he would give her living water, which if she drank of it would leave her satisfied forever.

I was not entirely certain of whether I was supposed to speak, but as I rose to speak I prayed for God to forgive me if I erred. I did my best to listen for what words I was to speak and to sit down once I no longer received inspiration to continue. I felt no inward rebuke, but neither did I feel that any great weight had been lifted from me. Perhaps the message had been just for me. I do not know. I knew, though, that the hour had almost ended, and so I rose and spoke, praying that the Lord would forgive me if I was mistaken in speaking words that were perhaps meant for me alone.

Within my own heart that morning, I felt a very deep sense of the importance of always returning to the Root of all things, rather than attempting to be in control. I recognize in myself the tendency to seek to be in control over the details of my life, to force my choices, interactions and behaviors into categories and paradigms designed to give me assurance of who I am and what I am supposed to be doing. But I am being reminded of how futile all of my own attempts at control are. All my striving for righteousness of my own making falls apart, hitting the reality of my own sinfulness and short-sightedness. I am helpless to devise a system for living in Truth.

I am being shown, being reminded, that I must let go of my mistaken notions of control and my own ability to live a holy life. Instead, I must re-commit myself to inwardly turning towards my Rock and my Salvation, the Holy Spirit of Truth. Forsaking all of my vain, imagined righteousness, I must daily turn inward to the indwelling voice of Christ who is my ever-present companion and who leads me into all truth if I will only surrender myself and all of my ideas about how my life should be, to the purifying, enlivening, transforming Light of Christ.

I recognize my own religious and ethical systems as being stumbling blocks to my growth and development in Christ. When I begin to believe that I have some things figured out, that I have become in some measure righteous myself, the spirit of deception has a grip on me. When I begin to imagine that I have found a method to inward peace, to enlightenment, to salvation, and that I am one who is qualified to teach this Way, I must tremble in the fear of the Lord and repent of my own vanity. No human being, no human system, no ortho-doxy and no ortho-praxy is capable of raising up men and women into the Life of God’s Kingdom. There is yet one, Christ Jesus, present with each of us inwardly and directly, who can speak to our condition. When we cling to Christ and to Christ alone, we will be saved.

But it is key that we let go of our own ideas about who God must or must not be, as well as releasing all limitations that we place on ourselves and on who we are to be in Christ. Let that Inward Guide have complete control; for the outward letter of human reasoning quickly quenches the voice of the Spirit if we allow ourselves to become confused, imagining that our own desires and designs can reign in the place of God. Even our good, noble ideas must be let go. Let nothing stand but the desire to be fully, intimately a possession of our Lord and to be a vessel of the Divine Will, even if that Will puts our own desires and inclinations to the cross.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

How far am I willing to go?

I had a good conversation recently with a f/Friend. It started out extremely intensely, since I found myself defending the idea that Quakerism needed to be grounded in a sense of Scripture being a checking authority in discerning the will of God. I believe that this is true, but as I argued the point I felt convicted of my own failure to live up to the life that Christ Jesus calls me to with the example of his life and teachings. For all I could say about the need for scriptural authority in the Religious Society of Friends, I cannot escape the fact that my own life does not conform to the life of Christ.

I act out of ego - out of desire and fear - so very often, and it is relatively rare that I act out of agape-love. And there is so much of my life that I hold back from God. I shy away from the cross. I expect that I should be able to be a suffering servant without having to suffer for it! I expect that I should be able to say to my Lord: "Yes, Lord! I hand my life over to you - just as long as I have health insurance and food to eat." I don't want to face the fact that God offers the ministers of God the same health insurance that is offered to the birds of the air and the lilies of the field.

I feel released. I feel clear in abandoning expectation of anything, even necessities. Maybe it serves God's will in my life that I go without healthcare. Maybe God is glorified best in my life when I give up all semblance of control, all wealth, all security. My f/Friend spoke of his experience as the son of two missionaries and remarked on how they lived in great poverty, practically begging from the religious community they served. He related this to the tendency for men and women of God to live like beggars. Consider Francis and the true monastics, Rumi, the Buddha and his monastics. Perhaps the path that God has called me to is that of being a beggar, renouncing all semblance of self-sufficiency.

Am I truly willing to die for my faith? Am I willing to be homeless, without healthcare, literally begging for my daily bread, if that's what God is calling me to? I must cease fretting so much about how I am to do God's will and simply do it. Thy will be done, Lord God - even if it means humiliation and death. And this means not resenting others who are making different choices. If I am truly grounded in God's call for me and truly given over to follow that call, whatever be the consequences, the I have no reason to be upset with anyone. That's not to say that I should let sinful behavior off the hook - but speaking to it should never be about me. My only motivation should be Christ-like care and compassion for my fellow beings.

It is time for me to let go of everything but God, walking in the footsteps of Jesus, seeking no vindication but that of my Parent in Heaven. Come what may, no matter what others think, I pray that I might be faithful to God, walking in the Way of God's son, Jesus Christ.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative)

I flew into Omaha and spent the night at Marshall Massey's home, before he and I took off the next morning to West Branch, Iowa, the site of Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative)'s annual sessions. This trip came as the last of my stops before returning to Richmond, and I was quite exhausted. I took advantage of IYMc's relaxed atmosphere and slow pace to unwind a little bit and focus on being present with the people there, letting go of most of my concern to get anything done.

Iowa (Conservative) struck me as a very mellow, cozy group of Friends from across Iowa, and with meetings in Nebraska, Missouri and Wisconsin. As I commented to several Friends there, I imagine that IYMc is similar to what my yearly meeting, Great Plains, might be like in character if we were to become fully unprogrammed and incorporate a few large, liberal meetings. While there was definitely a strong element which I would identify, for lack of a better term, as "liberal-oriented," there was also a clear desire as a body to maintain some of the traditions of Conservative Friends, which I appreciated.

In particular, I noticed that the meetings for business were slower, beginning with between twenty and thirty minutes of open worship, and carrying significant periods of silence between items. The presiding clerk, Deborah Fisch, also served as recording clerk, taking the sense of the meeting, preparing each minute as Friends waited in prayer, and then proposing the minute to the body for its approval. Each item was approved and minuted at the time that unity was reached, not waiting until the end of the session to prepare and approve the minutes. I found this custom to be helpful for a number of reasons. Not the least of these was the way in which it bypassed the need to prepare the minutes all at once at the end of each business session, which has always seemed like it must be stressful for the recording clerk. It also provided a minute or two of silent worship between each item of business, which I felt helped keep the body more centered and attentive to the fact that this was in fact the Lord's work and not our own.

When reports were received, there was generally appreciation expressed from the body for the report, either vaguely ("I appreciate the report") or more specifically ("This report gives me a sense of what organization X does and I am pleased with the work that they are doing"). The clerk minuted the reaction of the body, along with an acceptance of each report. The yearly meeting's queries were read, along with selected responses from the meetings. These responses, in addition to the state of the meeting reports from each monthly meeting, gave a sense of how the body was faring in its walk with Christ, giving a sense of the state of the yearly meeting as a whole, as well as that of individual local meetings.

The one event that took place at IYMc that I want to highlight in particular is the closing worship on Sunday morning, which I found to be particularly impactful. We were called, early on in the time of worship, to come to the living waters of God and to be filled with that life, and, as we sank down into that Life, we found that God had ministry for us, not only to comfort us but also to convict us and call us to action. A minister arose and told us of how, just before meeting for worship, she had been with her children, exploring the outdoors near the meetinghouse. The children were catching frogs, many of which were in the stage between tadpole and frog. Her daughter picked up a frog and brought it to her. The frog appeared to have a tail, still, but as she looked more closely, she realized that what at first had looked like a tail was in fact an extra set of hind legs. "The frog had two sets of back legs!" We heard more ministry that morning, but at the core of it all I felt a call for us as Friends to repent of our complicity with the destruction of the creation and to change our lives dramatically to come into alignment with God's will for us: that we be in unity with the creation in Christ.

Are we listening? Do we hear God's call to repetance? Do we hear God's call to turn our lives around, to turn towards the Light and away from our own destructive ways of living on the earth? Are we ready for radical reorientation? My prayer for Friends of Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative), and for all Friends, is that we might together hear the Word of God in our hearts and change our lives, laboring together to lead lives that reflect humility, love and firmness in Truth.