Find in our experience of the sweet mystery of the Light the essence of Christ

And then to look for that in the life of Jesus, being free to savor what fits our own encounters.

The plate is full. “O taste and see that the LORD is good,” as Psalm 34:8 instructs.

From RELIGION TURNED UPSIDE DOWN

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The memorial minute falls between an obituary and a eulogy

For that matter, the memorial service falls between a liturgical rite and an event with a eulogy or two. Quaker focus is on the spiritual growth of the individual and the resulting service to others. Our candor often leads to laughter as well as tears.

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Nothing should be simpler than sitting through an hour of silence

Initial encounters, however, can be quite the opposite, especially for people of our times. Our minds race, make to-do lists, become agitated; our bodies fidget. We are easily distracted, want to turn the dial, flip the page. On the job and in our homes, we multitask, dividing our attention from the actions and experiences we’re engaged in.

What we find, though, is that meditation is somehow easier when performed with others. In Christian tradition, Jesus said,

Wherever two or three are gathered together in my name [that is, power], there I am also.

From STILLWATER

For the ministers, elders, and overseers: examining the Meeting itself

As I wrote at the time: “If it’s not too presumptuous, I feel a need to consider the Queries for the Preparative Meeting as well. Friends have always held themselves accountable to the Meeting in their public work, and thus I offer up the following. If nothing else, it will help Meeting keep track of whatever trouble I get into.”

~*~

REHOBOTH MILLS: I have been diligent in attending Meeting for Worship wherever I am, but must admit great difficulty with Meeting for Business at Rehoboth, usually coming away with a headache and feeling trouble with the manner of Friends here. Have felt a need to pull away from its business after the handling of the issue of homosexual marriage. However, I have felt for some time a deep need for that ancient tradition of intervisitation among Friends and have concentrated my efforts there. Your minute of introduction and support is deeply appreciated; presenting it in these travels brings joy, even when Friends react with an initial jolt of surprise, like “what are we supposed to do with this?” And then they see. So another of our ancient traditions is being revived. It is a pleasure to discover other Friends traveling with minutes; indeed, at Sandy Spring Meeting, when one Friend mentioned that he had just received approval to visit fellow scientists in Siberia, a voice cried out, “Do you have a minute from Meeting?” and one was approved on the spot, following the worship! It has also been a blessing to be able to attend Midweek Meeting in my travels, especially when York PA Monthly Meeting reopened the old Fawn Grove Meeting House this summer and fall – Fifth-Day evening was often the time I was heading back from my travels, and it was a delight to pace my driving to arrive there in time for deep worship. Other opportunities for wider fellowship have included gatherings of the New Foundations fellowship (which examines the original work of George Fox, seeking to remind Friends of our powerful, primitive roots in Christ) and with the Tract Association of Friends in Philadelphia, where I discover I am not the only Winona member to be serving – Anna Glick being the senior member. In March, I attended a conference at Pendle Hill on vocal ministry; we were deeply blessed in the occasion to share the growing awareness of the workings of our Lord Jesus in our Religious Society of Friends, and to share the sometimes frightening experiences we discover as the Lord lifts us up in His service. So this pounding and shaking is normal! Meetings I have attended in the last year and a half: Ministry and Oversight Committee at Cambridge (had called a Friend who had attended the Pendle Hill weekend and she said, “I’d love to see you when you’re in town, but I have to go to a committee meeting that night; wait a minute! Why don’t you help me report on our Pendle Hill experience!” So we did), Mount Holly NJ, York PA, Warrington PA (QM there), Menallen PA (QM again), EFA Church at Williamsport PA (Midweek Meeting), Ohio Yearly Meeting at Barnesville, Rehoboth and Rocky Run MMs Rehoboth, Limestone at Sparks MD, Pipe Creek at Union Bridge MD, Sandy Spring MD, Adelphi MD, Lehigh Valley MM at Bethlehem PA, opening up of Fawn Grove MH (PA) for Midweek Meeting, 57th Street Meeting in Chicago IL, Deer Creek at Darlington MD, Little Falls MD, and Midweek Meeting at Middleton. I come away from these travels convinced that Christ desires to reclaim his Meetings – everywhere I go I find tender, fragile sprouts of renewal, of Friends turning to Jesus. But great love and nurture are required, and a sense of oppression comes over us to often. Remember us in your prayers, as we remember you.

JANE’S FALLS: None of our meetings for worship is attended as well as they should be. We feel that fact, painfully, when we look around our nearly empty meetinghouses and yearn for all of the benches to be swarming with human life once again. I value the commitment of Ohio Friends who worship together faithfully – that witness and practice remains an inspiration to me; in other Friends’ circles, there is a need for the members and attenders to be more regular and devoted in their attendance; and everywhere, we are surrounded by many spiritually desperate, hungry people we are failing to reach. For whatever reasons, we fail to spread abroad the invitation to join in our spiritual communion and fellowship. We hesitate to invite others to attend with us. Early Friends marched boldly into the marketplace to proclaim the Truth; modern Friends wonder if we should even place a notice in the newspaper or a line in the telephone book. I wish I had answers to the challenging situation before us; I wish I knew how we could break through to those I see all around who reach for a Budweiser first thing 1st-Day morning or who so passionately decry anything smacking of religion or church.

Fortunately, our meetinghouses are not empty spiritually: our Lord has promised that wherever two or three are gathered in His name, that He will be there as well. Some of the most powerful times of worship I’ve shared in the past two years have been in the smallest gatherings, in the evening at Jack and Susan’s, with Anna Glick, or in the York midweek meeting held in our homes. If we are faithful in our waiting spiritual worship and free Gospel, prophetic ministry, He will be faithful in preserving a remnant through these troubled times.

Sensing when to invite others is sometimes difficult. About a month ago, I drove across the state to worship at a small meeting. When I arrived, the doors were locked and nobody else was around. There was some small lettering indicating the worship was observed on alternate weeks – this being the off week. Since I was early, I thought maybe this was old information, that my other sources were more up-to-date; I went off and walked through the village burial ground, in part to center down a bit from the drive. But I felt a prompting to go back and then, if no one were there, I’d still have time to attend another meeting down the road. When I returned, a man was sitting on the front steps. We began speaking; it turned out he lived nearby, so he invited me in for a cup of coffee and began pouring out his life’s history, of alcoholism, drugs, the sea, violence – and his coming through that. He had never been to a “Protestant” service, but when, in due course, I asked how long it took to get to the other location, he asked if he could come along. I had been expecting that. The following week, a Friend asked if so-and-so had attended meeting with me, and then told me they had known of his situation and promised to be tender to his needs.

A few weeks before, though, I had surprised the waitress serving my table by recognizing the spiritual emblem in her necklace, and then noting that the beads were sandalwood. That allowed her to inform me that she was a Sufi and that there was no group around with which she could meditate; on hearing of our Friends’ meetings, she was curious and wanted to attend, and yet failed to meet me when and where she had agreed. I haven’t seen or heard from her since. Perhaps the seed will sprout in its own time.

AGAMENTICUS LANDING: Too often we find our lives cluttered by busyness and over-scheduling. The first thing we eliminate, seemingly by necessity of the press of the moment, is what we need the most for our long-term well-being – those practices that sustain our spiritual health, both as individuals and as a community of faith. As a consequence, awareness of God’s presence in our lives is typically intermittent and fleeting rather than sustained and nurturing.

Under these circumstances, our sensitivity to the Holy Spirit becomes dimmed, and our responses to her leadings more constrained than we would like. Even so, we are heartened and strengthened by those among us who are more faithful in their steadfastness, whether in their individual responses to seemingly small, local needs or in matters of international significance.

A few Agamenticus Friends engage in continual Bible reading, including some in weekly study circles, but many others are largely “Bible illiterate.” As a community, many of us do engage in widespread reading in fields pertaining to our spiritual life – Quaker, Judeo-Christian, and world religions as well as related topics in economics, politics, psychology, history, and the like. What is missing is a core of shared readings that build on our sense of community experience.

For some of us, Jesus stands as a prophetic pattern, a guidepost for our own conduct or the central figure in our spiritual legacy. Others of us see him as a historical pillar, a great man among other inspirational models.

Most of us would welcome more time in our daily rounds for prayer and/or meditation. Amid our busy daily lives, we need to find moments for prayerful, inward turning; perhaps these can be found, with discipline, while doing routine activities – while washing dishes or commuting, for instance. Those individuals among us who do uphold regular times of prayer and silent waiting imbue the entire community with a blessing.

WILLOW BROOK: It has been a long personal journey to this point. I am reminded of the need for the ministers and elders to take care of each other, with that being the first and primary concern of Ministry and Counsel.

The function of Ministry and Counsel as being the one committee that does not report to monthly meeting but rather floats somewhere independent of it is a new concept, despite its history. I now wonder how that allows us to move ahead on my monthly meeting’s problems.

~*~

For more Seasons of the Spirit, click here.

An enlightening synonym

Keep returning to the question, just what is this Light – and how have we experienced it? In the depth of worship one morning, I sense an answer: the Light is also Divine Love! More than any common understanding of “love,” for sure – this is beyond the desire of flesh or attraction, or romantic turmoil, or even family affection and loyalty. Even to speak of this as love, as such, risks opening it to cheap talk and verbal hijack. Nothing spoken, then, but deep feeling. In the beginning was This Love …

From RELIGION TURNED UPSIDE DOWN

Marriage and family enrichment

JANE’S FALLS: We can do much more on this front. Affirming individuals and families with the love and prayers of our faith community is essential. Yet we are also aware of instances in which we have felt unprepared or ill equipped to respond adequately. In this cases, counseling may best occur outside our immediate Meetings, through the confidentiality of trained therapists. Our Meetings should be prepared to have available the names of suitable, licensed pastoral counselors to assist in marital or family conflicts, personal or career decisions, separation/divorce, coping with loss, the psychological aspects of physical illness, crisis points in individual growth, or the healing of deep psychic wounds. Our Meetings might also consider bearing some of the costs of such counseling, if necessary.

Where Meetings are blessed with the presence of children, there may be many opportunities for members to step in and assist families in day-to-day activities, as well as more formal situations.

SYCAMORE GROVE: The greater the extent a Meeting can become a place of openness and loving acceptance, the more likely its ability to be sensitive to the problems within individual families.

For me, the concept of Small Group, a largely Mennonite phenomenon, has been quite helpful in strengthening and enriching my life both in Rehoboth and now in the Boston area. I suspect there is a role it can play within many of our Meetings, especially the larger and more diverse ones. The Small Group is a covenant body, usually of six to sixteen people, who agree to meet periodically – whether it be weekly, every other week, or even once a month – to share meals, singing, group study, prayer, fellowship, discipleship, whatever – and to provide a “safe place” to express their life’s struggles in a trusting, nonjudgmental, loving, and confidential circle. Often, these bodies are comprised of couples, but there is also a place for singles such as myself. Its members are often within a single generational span, and share similar difficulties and goals – young professionals who have moved to the city, for instance. (Emerson Lasher’s The Muppie Manual: The Mennonite Urban Professional’s Handbook for Humility and Success covers some of this in a humorous and revealing manner.) It requires commitment, however, and a degree of unity.

Submit to one another out of a reverence for Christ. – Ephesians 5: 12

WILLOW BROOK: We both wonder if my introverted ways are better fitted to a monastic existence, one focused more on my writing than on dealing with others. Is there any resolution?

~*~

For more Seasons of the Spirit, click here.

Starting with Light

“Mind the Light” answers the question, “What are you supposed to do in the silence?” The phrase guides one’s worship; it’s an alternative to concentrating on one’s breathing or transcending the body or similar directions in other spiritual practices. Instead, we’re also told, “Sink to the Seed.” The two work together. This is more than mere reflection; this is opening oneself to the universe. Follow the Light, then, to the Seed.

From RELIGION TURNED UPSIDE DOWN