REHOBOTH MILLS: Being single and being on the road so constantly means that my home is often more of a base camp than a center of life. Moving in the middle of the year to a new apartment has helped greatly, for the new place brings an efficiency the old one lacked. Moreover, in moving to the new location, I heeded an advice to offer up this space to the Lord, that He might use it – and He has. The real direction of this Query has to do with family relationships. Lacking children of my own, I have nonetheless been blessed this past year by friendships with women who do have children, with all of the new discoveries and challenges therein. There have been wonderful opportunities to share the knowledge of God with them; more important, perhaps, is the concern to pray for them. Sharing their fresh insights as they discover the Lord is a great delight. In dating again, remembering the need to keep the goal of peace, joy, and contentment in these relationships is helpful counsel.
As for the youth of our meetings, I see little evidence here, and admit my own failings in this direction. One Friend in Rehoboth takes this as a special concern, and I have tried to support her and her husband in their desire that we teach our children QUAKERISM itself, and not merely ABOUT Quakerism. But they are still struggling with – and resisting – the Quaker message of Jesus – and while they desire to be fully Quaker and part of a totally Quaker circle/community, they will find something missing – an emptiness – until Christ has taken charge of their lives. I must be mindful of this in my travels. And to continue to uphold in prayer those wonderful young Friends in Salem Quarter, that they might come to truly know Jesus and find in our ways the deep communion necessary for the renewal and survival of our Yearly Meeting.
JANE’S FALLS: Maintaining my home as a place of sanctuary has grown in importance over the years. I am feeling convicted, however, in the need for Right Relationship and Companionship and children as part of my walk with the Lord. It is difficult to see how I set a good example in settings, such as this one and the one in Maryland, where we rarely even know the neighbors. In many of the Friends meetings I’ve visited in the past year, I’ve felt the need to remind the parents that our loving Savior will faithfully guide them through life, as they are willing to accept and obey Him, and that they need to read the Bible with their children. Some of my most precious experience with Scripture in this time has come through seven- and eight-year-olds, thanks to the faithfulness of their parents.
WILLOW BROOK: Remarriage in my mid-50s, of course, upset everything. What was I thinking! If anything, it’s been a dash of cold water! That is, home life marks the biggest change in my practice.
Gone was the long quiet for sustained focus. Stepchildren provided challenges I commonly failed, along with marital connections. Anger? Resentments?
My dream of family worship or mini-meetings for business simply vanished. In place of order and calm, there’s clutter and chaos … and, as I need to remember, life itself.
For more Seasons of the Spirit, click here.
SYCAMORE GROVE: Too often, I find myself dividing the world into “them versus us” categories, regardless of whether the “us” is a group of professionals, Christians, Quakers, Americans, artists, single white heterosexuals, or whatever. Whenever that way of viewing a situation arises, the Pharisee in Luke 18:9-14 is present. “Them” never seem to have our good virtues of knowledge, understanding, competence, purity …
Yet Christ comes to save the sinner. His love works among us fully once we let down our best-face-forward masks and let ourselves be known as frail and often fallible individuals. He forgives our sins only as we come to recognize them, name them, and then confess them. None of us is so perfect that we dare look down on others; even in moments of perfection, we must remember that Satan sets his snares.
One of the problems facing contemporary Friends Meetings is that we really don’t know each other that well. We come by convincement from many different backgrounds and locales, rather than being raised together within one neighborhood and educational system. Many of us live at a distance from one another, and so we rarely see each other except at Meeting functions. Often, we don’t even know what others do for a living, much less how they live. Such anonymity makes superficial harmony easy, but also allows erroneous impressions and images to substitute for a real and loving knowledge of one another. “Prompt action” requires knowledge, trust, and unity that are largely missing in today’s highly individualistic society.
Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony. “He told me everything I ever did.”– John 4: 39
AGAMENTICUS LANDING: The outreach of our meeting ultimately rests on the integrity of our daily lives, how faithfully we uphold the principles we proclaim.
As we go about in our homes, neighborhoods, and workplaces, too often we fall short of Friends’ ideals: there are moments when we exhibit pettiness, spleen, or egotism rather than “walking cheerfully … addressing that of God in all.” We return again to that challenge: “If you were charged with being a Quaker, would there be enough evidence to convict?”
We see a related challenge: “Why are Friends ineffective? How do we disempower ourselves? How do we choose not to be pro-active?”
Too often, it seems we’re not willing to be a shining example of faith. We can ask, “What am I willing to give up to follow a leading?” We need to recognize how much modern Friends are both “in the world” and “of the world,” rather than being “not of the world.”
People’s lives speak in unique ways when they respond faithfully to the Light. Our Quaker testimonies find their source and nourishment in that focus. They are an offshoot of its guidance.
We need to recognize exactly what we are proclaiming as a Society of Friends. In the absence of dogma or creed, the queries and advices provide a personal checklist and a community sharpener. Have we stopped “publishing the Truth,” as early Friends did so boldly? What has happened to their greeting, “Have you heard the Good News?”
It’s hard of us to evangelize if we really don’t know what we believe as a meeting – what we stand for. For starters, it’s important for us to know what we believe as individuals and then, as a meeting, to align ourselves to that. We perceive there is a lot of unresolved, underlying tension in that regard.
In modern American society, discussion of faith is difficult. (How much of our situation in meeting a reflection of that?) Other people may feel insulted when personal beliefs become the topic of conversation: there may be a perception of appearing superior. We are reminded to focus on the other person first, and to wait until others are ready to hear.
We recognize the power of active listening, the power of speaking honestly from what we’ve witnessed, rather than from a party line or rant. We are more effective conversing as equals, without intimidation or becoming judgmental.
Do we all share the same Spirit? Divine love? How do we develop and maintain a prayer life? How deep do we go? Can other people feel that when they walk through the meetinghouse door?
“If we’re true to that, people would be flocking to meeting – and the meetinghouse would be overflowing.”
There may be reasons, then, to rename a committee “Peace and Social Action” rather than “Concerns.”
We are reminded of a recent message in worship, “Our best recruiting is when the bombs are falling,” and its reminder that there are many other times and places when we could be publicly expressing our faith.
How deep do we go, individually, with our testimonies, such as peace? If we don’t live them, why should anyone believe us? We are reminded to ask: “I say this; do I live it?” The response everyone of us can admit: “Not as much as I would like.”
As Friends, we need to address the spiritual realities of today. For instance, in William Penn’s time, he was willing to go to prison as a consequence of his interpretation of the doctrine of Trinity. What has replaced such religious topics for us in terms of intensity? What occupies the public consciousness and conscience to a similar degree?
We see in joining with meeting a drawing away from false gods. There is, for instance, great violence is in the air of our nation, and while most people would claim to want peace, “the devil is in the details” – the peace testimony we declare stands at odds with the Pentagon’s.
Often, we sense, other people feel insulted In addition, there are few opportunities for sharing one’s faith. Even so, we can look for opportunities for carrying our Quaker principles into our worldly affairs, for example, in dealing with our neighbors or coworkers. We can let people know a little more explicitly what we’re about. Quaker identity, after all, is unique: how often do we hear someone referred to as a Methodist or a Catholic as part of their personality?
We recognize that the way Christianity is interpreted by many people can differ from Friends’ experiences of the Spirit of Christ. We wonder how we bring that to bear in our conversations.
We think too, of people who have visited or attended with us and then slipped away. On occasion, we do send cards or make phone calls to encourage their resumed attendance, though we don’t do this as often as we’d like. In recognizing the impact of our own inreach on meeting’s outreach, we are prompted to ever greater faithfulness in our daily practice.
If we’re being true to tradition, they’ll come back.
WILLOW BROOK: The matter of outreach – and teaching – is one place I feel increasingly drawn, and it’s one our current activities typically fail to uphold. Will I have the energy and devotion to follow through? What do I release from my own affairs and those of the Meeting to allow this?
I am sensing a major turn in my daily routine a year or two down the path.
For more Seasons of the Spirit, click here.
The uncharacteristic spire and bell were at the insistence of the donor who underwrote the costs of constructing the meetinghouse. Change was in the air, not just for Friends.
SYCAMORE GROVE: A week ago, sitting in a restaurant and finding myself silently criticizing my waitress (who seemed far more interested in dancing to the music, talking on the telephone, etc., than in her duties), I came to a dreaded realization: I challenged myself to find one good thing to say about her – and couldn’t. A few minutes later, on the street, I ran into one of our reporters, who was so busy talking to one of her friends she didn’t see me as I tried to say hello; once again, I tried this exercise of finding one good quality and failed. This is not acceptable for a person who professes a faith that affirms “that of God in each person”! I’m recognizing that this exercise demands regular practice.
I find myself too often judgmental, in error when my faith separates me from other people. That is not “walk(ing) in love, as Christ also hath loved us.”
Agamenticus Meeting this week had three messages, all focusing on this. The first was a testimony of an individual’s struggle to be centered in all he does (a real challenge for a public television producer, somebody whose job can be pretty chaotic); he has come to ask not just “What can I do for the Lord?” but “Lord, what does thee want me to do now?” – with the emphasis on the now. The second message recalled Jesus’ advice to the man who came before the altar but still carried a grudge against his brother; the speaker reminded us of three steps in forgiveness: (a) Ask forgiveness, and begin this process in prayer; (b) Give a present, food or whatever; and (c), the hardest, Ask for something from that brother. The third message was from a man who has learned that the most important thing God wants him to do right now is TO LOVE – time after time. Perhaps this is some of what is meant by “pray without ceasing.”
The first sentence of this second query links forgiveness and love. I am finding, to my surprise, that forgiveness is much more difficult than I had thought and am sensing, buried somewhere deep within my psyche, some hurts that need to be located and dealt with. Until these are forgiven properly, loving myself as well as my neighbor may remain elusive. Professional counseling is helping in this struggle. At times, an individual may need to forgive and fully accept himself before he can do the same to others.
In living as a community of faith, where is the fine line between guarding the reputation of others and speaking up so that prompt action might be taken when members require counsel and care? Are we too often reticent to help one another within the Meeting community? Love is work, too.
“But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we may serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.” – Romans 7:6
WILLOW BROOK: I recognize I’m getting old and more set in my ways, on one hand, and, paradoxically, less zealous, on the other. For now, I’m feeling less drawn to maintaining the local community. There is much on my plate demanding my attention.
For more Seasons of the Spirit, click here.
REHOBOTH MILLS: A forgiving spirit is a gift of God. I am learning to turn to Him in prayer, for the healing of deep emotional wounds, especially. I fear that too often I am not mindful to love my fellow man as Christ has commanded – and that too often I am not mindful to love myself or ask that forgiveness for myself, either. Confessing our sins in prayer is a vital part of our Christian practice, but so often I find myself totally blind to my shortcomings. When deeply inflicted emotional hurts are involved, it is difficult to reach out for help without running the risk of impairing the reputation of another. I have yearned for the Gospel order of Meeting in the past year – the unfortunately absent role here of oversight of the membership, in helping us walk together in the love of Christ – to help restore the harmony among us. Being reminded to “walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us,” is a message of great joy, urging me to turn constantly to that source of all true love.
JANE’S FALLS: It is sometimes said that the closer we come to the Life of God, the more aware we become of the distance – the separation – between our lives and His. Our shortcomings become more apparent – and seemingly greater! Each time I am not an example of “uprightness, simplicity, and moderation” in my own life, I feel that separation – that pain – and am grateful to some special Friends who are able to elder me, minister to me, oversee my activity in such instances … my brothers and sisters in Christ …
A forgiving spirit and Christ-like love involve much more than the “I forgive you, it’s OK” attitude that seems so prevalent. In Christ’s example, we have many instances where His loving could be outwardly tough, as when he faced the Pharisees and Sadducees. Sometimes it seems that we are expected to forgive anybody and anything that sins or wrongs us, so that they can come back and continue. Yet we have Christ instructing us to leave such situations, even to the extent of shaking the dust off of our sandals. The challenge here is one of standing firm against sin and darkness while remaining strong in the love of Christ. Friend Richard Foster, in his Celebration of Discipline and Money, Sex & Power, makes an essential point: “There is a power that destroys. There is also a power that creates. The power that creates gives life and joy and peace. It is freedom and not bondage, life and not death, transformation and not coercion. The power that creates restores relationship and gives the gift of wholeness to all. The power that creates is spiritual power, the power that proceeds from God.” He emphasizes that we must be very careful in our submission to Christ to avoid the trap of self-contempt, and to realize that we are not doormats for everybody to walk over, but that we are instead given a precious personhood to be valued and used in service for God. “Self-denial declares that we are of infinite worth and shows us how to realize it,” he writes. “Self-denial does not mean the loss of our identity… . Without our identity we could not even be subject to each other. It is not the same thing as self-contempt.”
We have a key in Luke 17:3-4: “If your brother sins,” rebuke him, and “if he repents, forgive him” (NIV, emphasis added). In other words, out of love we must be firm, seeking the other’s ultimate good. Rebuking, or being open with the other about our differences in such matters, is often extraordinarily difficult these days, especially where the “if it feels good, it must be right” self-centered attitude prevails.
The other New Testament references to forgiveness, which do not include this conditional if, seem to stress the other side of this dynamic of forgiving, that is, our own ultimate good: so that we not be bound up in the bondage of hurt and hostility, but dwell instead in God’s healing, loving, creating power.
But it is not always easy, especially when the trespassing party keeps coming back and coming back to inflict new pain. As Myrtle once remarked, sometimes when we’re unequally yoked (with an unbeliever), that person will turn our own beliefs upon us, and turn them against us.
Sometimes we may try to love our neighbor more than ourselves, neglecting our own self worth. Sometimes we need to forgive ourselves as well.
When the meeting as a whole, however, cherishes a forgiving spirit, it carries over into our individual lives, often lifting us above situations where we might otherwise succumb. This is a vital role where the overseers of the meeting, especially, should be vigilant in their service.
WILLOW BROOK: I’ve seen many instances when we’ve hurt others, usually through insensitivity or unawareness. We need to learn more of the disciplines of covenant – honesty and forgiveness.
For me, this means facing my usual avoiding of conflict and stepping into the fray – including acknowledging more fully my own feelings and desires.
For more Seasons of the Spirit, click here.
The Seabrook meetinghouse was moved to Hampton Falls, New Hampshire, where it became a private residence. The central chimney is a later addition.
SYCAMORE GROVE: I have been faithful and punctual in attending Meeting for worship, excepting several weeks when our region received heavy snowfall and a few weeks when I overslept after late nights at the office. A new rotation in my work schedule should reduce the number of Saturday midnights I’m on duty, thus easing my rising in time to drive to Meeting and still be alert during worship.
Friends in the Meeting where I am sojourning, have been blessed in their assembly. I appreciate the diversity of those drawn to Meeting, and have become more aware and sensitive to their backgrounds, hungers, and wounds; but I also yearn for a greater understanding and appreciation of Christ Jesus, scripture, and supplication throughout the Meeting, and a greater commitment to weekly attendance and active participation by many individuals who are seen less regularly. I am encouraged, though, by growth throughout the Meeting and by an openness to free Gospel ministry.
I am realizing the importance of punctual attendance at Meeting for Business as well, and am hoping to be more regular in my participation in a twice monthly Bible study held before worship hour.
All Friends Meetings need to be more faithful in welcoming others into our fellowship. We need to find ways of extending that invitation throughout our communities, of greeting those who venture into our worship, and of nurturing those who are part of our body but irregular in their attendance. Yet as I look around my neighborhood and at many of the other cars on the road First-day mornings, I am reminded that I have no idea at all of how to reach out to the greater society. In many ways, my neighbors are strangers.
Blessed are those whose way is blameless,
who walk in the law of the LORD!
Blessed are those who keep his testimonies,
who seek him with their whole heart,
who also do no wrong,
but walk in his ways!
– Psalm 119: 1-3
AGAMENTICUS LANDING: We recognize that our preparation for Meeting for Worship embodies varied disciplines, each one strengthened by personal consistency. Oftentimes, a Friend can bring to the worship only as much silence as he or she has gathered during the week. We are counseled to learn to pace ourselves during the week, to regard what we really need to do. Keeping a daily spiritual practice alive, even if for just a few minutes or a half-hour, is vital. Turning off the telephone may help in maintaining a time of prayer or of singing hymns and praises. Done daily, as one Friend has found, this becomes “time with God” rather than “preparation for Meeting.”
To sit together in an hour of “warm silence” is a gift. Each of us will encounter occasions when centering is difficult, yet we know how precious its arrival always feels. The corporate worship, as we mutually search for unity in the Holy Spirit, differs from our personal daily practice. This time of “group mysticism” has its own charge, a special call for everyone in the room to listen to the Divine. Meeting for Worship is best when we sense that happening.
When we rush distractedly into the meetinghouse, our worship can feel restless and scattered. Yet even on days when we enter in turmoil, some of the deepest messages may arise – usually late in the hour, after we’ve unified in Spirit.
We appreciate how some among us hold the vocal ministry in encouragement and love. We value their openness to God in patient listening and their reminder that God can and does speak through people, no matter how unexpectedly, if you’ll only give ear.
Not all ministry among us here appears to be prompted by the Holy Spirit. We realize that not every single vocal message ministers to all, and admit our own individual amazement in those instances when we later hear honest appreciation for words we had discounted. Even so, we are reminded of the circle chart regarding the decision whether to speak, with its repeated advice, “Return to center.” Friends do receive messages that might better be kept to oneself, although we admit difficulty in defining them when they are voiced in our worship. Sometimes during a vocal message, it becomes important to hold the speaker in silent prayer, “Get to the point,” and we have found times when that has helped both the listener and the speaker. When we rise in vocal ministry, we need to be careful not to respond to a previous message in a manner that becomes discussion.
We find our Meeting for Worship is generally held in expectant waiting for divine guidance. A core group of Friends is regular in attendance. In the end, we never know when the covering is going to happen or where it will come from. We must simply wait and hope.
Three or four Friends who maintain midweek worship report a personal closeness and deepening, while desiring that more will join in. For people who encounter scheduling conflicts on First-day mornings, the Fifth-day evenings should be a welcome alternative.
If an hour of “warm silence” is ultimately a divine gift, then we can also admit to feelings of disappointment, too, after worship some days.
Some Friends hunger for more ministry that leaps to its feet to preach to us in the power of the Holy Spirit. Some agonize over obstacles to communal prayer or communal singing, two intimate expressions that rarely appear in our worship, in part because we have not yet established a comfortable common language within our diversity. Even so, with practice, prayer and song have the potential of engaging all of us, not just one person. Like children, we must trust, without worry of offending others; trust, that we will be heard and accepted.
Physical distractions can also impede worship. The ticking of the wall clock as well as comings and goings through the door have caused more than one Friend to sit on the far side of the room.
Late arrivals are a perplexing problem. Although they can disturb the gathering silence, we are grateful for all who join us. Sometimes the latecomer is the one who most needs to be present, who most needs love and compassion. We don’t know the inner workings of all who come to Meeting or what they undergo to get here. Often there are children and distances to contend with. Expectant waiting, then, can include expecting our brothers and sisters to arrive! It can include holding latecomers in prayer as they enter into the worship.
Friends in other locales have adapted their own solutions to this problem. In some, Friends arrive directly into the room, rather than clustering on the other side of the shutter beforehand to chat (even if it is Meeting business). In some, individual Friends will arrive a half-hour or more before the appointed time, to center down and “warm the room.”
Some name individuals to “watch the door,” greeting Friends as they arrive and then, once Meeting has settled, sitting with latecomers outside the room until the children leave for their classes and the new arrivals can enter with least disruption.
Since Agamenticus’s practice is to include the children in the first quarter-hour of worship, punctuality with children has presented its own dilemma: Do we wait outside the door for the fifteen minutes, depriving the children of a taste of the worship, or do we intrude on the gathering silence?
For parents, the first fifteen minutes can be scattered, stressed, and difficult. It can be a different experience from the rest of the hour, and that in itself may be the only time some get for their own relief and refreshment during the week.
As we addressed this set of queries, we felt comfortable in proposing the use of greeters, which is a more personal touch than posting a sign on the door for latecomers. Should Meeting move forward on this matter, we suggest giving Friends a month of warning before it is implemented. As one person said, some of us are always five or ten minutes late, and if we know what to expect, we’ll have no reason to feel surprised.
Support was also voiced for reserving a set of benches near the door for use of latecomers, as was the custom of Agamenticus Meeting not too many years ago.
Our Meeting for Worship is only one part of our practice of communal worship.
Full communal worship also demands opportunities for knowing each other in daily life. Regardless of our individual situation, we should make efforts to find times outside of the hour of worship to meet with other Friends, to help us be more fully integrated into this body of faith. Living at distances from each other can leave us less able to help one another or to know one another through casual encounters. There may be skeletons in our closets, or unacknowledged bright spots, that ought to be addressed. Some of us come for the hour of worship, get what we can, and then run home. Others work hard for the entire community. Sometimes we fail to see that if we don’t step in to help the other parts of the community, our experience of Meeting for Worship can also fall flat – especially if a sense of unresolved guilt sets in.
When communal service flows out of worship, as some Friends have found in volunteering at the soup kitchen, organic moments teaching and nurturing arise in the ministry of washing pots and pans. Vocal ministry can present itself in everyday encounters, as well as during open worship.
We ask whether the Meeting’s committees fail to be an extension of worship. These bodies can be a rewarding means of drawing newcomers into fellowship, as long as we keep the work itself from being perceived as a chore. Some committees feel joyful and energized; others, heavy. Some see fruits of their labors; for others, it’s theoretical. As a community, we are currently stretched to have enough people take responsibility and consistently fulfill it for all of the work before us.
In this, we are reminded of the joyful support that appeared for the Peaceable Kingdom quilt undertaken through the children’s religious education, and see that as a model for the entire Meeting. We are also reminded of the power of prayer, both before each gathering and then, at the end, in giving thanks for all that has happened.
WILLOW BROOK: Despite the typical depth of our hour of worship, our broader ministry falls too heavily on too few. As the community “grays,” the lack of a new generation to mentor and move up becomes apparent. How we redress this will be crucial to the survival of our circle.
As I’ve expanded my service into the yearly meeting’s Ministry and Counsel committee, I’ve felt a calling to refocus on Friends in places other than my own monthly meeting but have been unable to respond until others assume work I’ve been carrying here.
I long for a break … a release from the yoke of responsibility … a desire to be fresh and new.
For more Seasons of the Spirit, click here.
REHOBOTH MILLS: In many of the Friends’ Meetings for Worship that I have attended over the past year and a half, punctuality has been observed more in the breach than in fact. Often the worst offenders are members of the Ministry and Counsel Committee, who find themselves trying to conduct business in the hallways rather than turning to the more pressing business of worship. One Meeting I attended has attempted to hold latecomers until fifteen minutes into the worship, the time the children leave for their First-Day school activities, before entering. This greatly helps foster the deep meditation and communion we seek, but the morning I was there, the first speaker denounced this practice and most of the messages reflected this issue. As some of us noted afterward, it was a great Meeting for Business – and perhaps it will be instructive to this particular fellowship, as it is attempting to return to the Quaker practice of a Meeting for Worship for Business. As part of my message that morning, I shared our 21st Advice, which came as a balm over the controversy. Several Friends came up to me afterward and marveled over the concise directness and loving power of the Advice. There is a great difference between the universalist Meetings for Worship I encounter here most First-Day mornings and a Meeting for Worship in the Name of Jesus. The former has great difficulty centering down; many of its messages are of the “I was thinking” or “I was reading last week” nature; and there is a resistance to our free gospel ministry, although I can also report that in every one of those Meetings I have spoken in, I find a few Friends who are hungry for the word of God and for fellowship with brothers and sisters in Christ. Many of the messages these Meetings need are of a teaching nature – the Christian roots of Quakerism. In contrast, our Conservative Meetings are held in the Name of Jesus. Because of the deep unity we share in Christ, there is an almost instantaneous centering down: the Meeting for Worship begins almost as if someone had turned on a light switch or we all got into a fast elevator headed toward the top floor of some tall skyscraper. Fifth-Day last we shared a similar Meeting here in my apartment, a mid-week Meeting in the Name of Jesus (under the care of York Monthly Meeting). The messages are of a more prophetic nature, and urge us to greater and greater faithfulness to His loving commands. We come together to share testimony and confession as well, to urge one another to ever greater faithfulness in our Lord. We welcome others to share this fullness, this blessing with us: we share its good news through our all Quaker Meetings: there is a hunger for it. Often, I am finding it helpful to arrive a half-hour or so before the appointed hour, to center down early and help “warm up the room,” to pray for the Meeting for Worship and prepare myself for His work.
A question some of us are wrestling with: should we be going where our messages are needed, even though we know many resist us in the effort, or should we go on First-Day to a Meeting where we will find comfort and rest?
JANE’S FALLS: There is great need in these parts for free gospel ministry that builds up our Meetings “in the faith that is Jesus Christ.” But a core of mostly young Friends – some of them affiliated with New Foundations, some united in other, informal bonds of Christian love – is “taking due care to see that the basic principles of Friends’ worship are kept clearly before our members.” I feel great unity with this purpose and am overjoyed to be given such messages to proclaim. A Meeting for Worship in which we fail to acknowledge the presence of God and fail to turn to the Living Christ for our nurture is, for me, lacking Life. This acknowledgement does not have to be spoken; but we know when it is lacking. And I am finding, as I am being moved to speak in various Meetings, that many longtime Friends have never heard that Jesus is our Lord. But they have now. We are seeing everywhere an Invisible Church within our Meetings, one that needs encouragement and nurture, but one that is seeking Him and growing.
SYCAMORE GROVE: With the exception of a few mornings after those Seventh-days when I work at the office until midnight, I have been regular and punctual in my attendance at Meeting for Worship. I have striven to be faithful to the Lord’s service, waiting for His direction and a heightened and renewed awareness of His presence.
Beginning the Meeting hour with silent praise and thanksgiving helps, as does holding up in prayer those who appear in ministry. These days, being frequently given a message to share vocally in the Meeting in what I believe is free gospel ministry, I am finding great need to be especially vigilant in maintaining a waiting spiritual worship. Perhaps this leads me to be too hesitant at times to respond to that calling as promptly as I should.
Traditionally going forth in twos provided Friends with spiritual companionship in this work and allowed each one to keep watch over the other. Because of the temptations of running ahead of one’s leading, of succumbing to temptations, or of doctrinal error, there is great need of the presence of an elder or some other spiritual partner to help keep an ever vigilant faithfulness in that straight and narrow walk. Fortunately, New England has a small, informal group of Christ-centered, generally younger Friends (some of whom would consider themselves “neo-Wilburites”) who share in this concern of Christian watchfulness; they have been helpful in lovingly encouraging, correcting, and rebuking one another, as necessary. Some of these individuals have attended Ohio Yearly Meeting or our Conservative Friends gatherings and feel precious kinship with those they have met. Their shared faith has been a special blessing and nurture.
The purpose of worship is to gather before the Lord, for His service and not our own individual needs. Yet I find that when I miss Meeting, my spirit dives in the week that follows, and I am less likely to be the witness I might otherwise be.
For the past eight months, my personal study of scripture and practice of prayer have not been regular and persistent. Through that lapse, however, I have come to know their necessity and the subtle ways they connect directly to unsuspected aspects of my personal life – a crisis in one can lead to a crisis in the other. In the past few weeks, I have been discovering the need to be more active in many facets of my life. Perhaps much of the Oriental spiritual training in my past and over-emphasis on Quaker humility, Way opening, and so on have permitted me to be far more passive than I should. What I am beginning to learn is an active waiting, prayer in the form of questions, including “What can I do now, Lord,” giving fresh urgency and voice to the unarticulated – an experimental prayer seeking answers, if He will, in addition to holding individuals and situations in the Light or asking for His will. This is opening large sections of scripture to me, revealing an active confrontation with personal doubt, shortcomings, lapses, or major defeats that may ultimately achieve God’s victory.
It is important to be filled with the love and joy of Christ, to live a life that demonstrates qualities that will attract others to the fellowship we cherish. Perhaps then others will be more willing to accept the extended invitation.
“Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people and the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” – Acts 2:46-47
WILLOW BROOK: Revisiting my earlier responses to this query has me considering the changes in my life in the three decades since the earliest entry. At the time, I was reeling from a divorce and subsequent broken engagement, exile from a region of the country I loved passionately, and career struggles that led me to redirect my ambitions. The one constant through all of that was Quaker faith, building on my earlier yoga experience. The questions I carried through the period – not just whether I would arrive at a kind of religious community and discipline sustaining my desires but also a hope for suitable marriage and family, along with an unspoken drive for book publication that would free me from the demands of daily journalism – have since been answered, to whatever degree.
I am faithful in attending meeting for worship and have long been central in its ministry. These days, I’m one who also carries a care for those sessions, rather than focusing solely on my own meditation. I am grateful for those mornings when I once again feel the lightness and freedom of my earlier sittings – or would welcome a revived sense of urgency throughout our Meeting, especially when we enter a phase of same old/same old routine. There are stretches, too, when I feel a restlessness settle over me. I anticipate a shift in my own activities, to once again find adequate time for Scripture study and prayer, as well as meditation and Hatha exercise, which would help me regain a comfortable posture.
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