This is something I wrote last year, in fact about a year ago. Tomorrow I have to be part of a panel at a Meeting for Learning on Spiritual discernment. I was discussing this earlier with Bronwyn saying I didn't really feel prepared for it or know what I was going to say and she reminded me of this - I'll write more in another posting but for now here's where I was at last September!
About a year ago I handed in my notice and made preparations for 3 months travelling. I didn't know where my life was going, my home life needed to change, my work life had got to the point where I had to leave or do a serious amount of studying (did I want to study accountancy? Nope, ok then, get out...). One thing had become clear though – my commitment to Quakers was taking priority over everything else, maybe it was time to take this on board and do something positive with it rather than let the rest of my life self destruct because of it.
A year beforehand I had been at Monthly Meeting (not something I often do I must confess) and the FWCC Triennial in Auckland was referred to. A voice in my head said 'you've got to be there', something stirred my soul, jolted my stomach and made my heart leap into my mouth. The person speaking continued – the Quaker Tapestry was coming to Edinburgh early 2004, could anyone help? 'Blast, I'll miss it, I'll be in New Zealand' I thought...then realised the enormity of that statement. I really was going to go – how, why etc were beside the point. A greater authority than I had decided, of that I was certain, all I had to do was do it.
So there I was – a year down the line, my application to be an observer at the Triennial accepted, funding appearing out of the blue to pay for my ticket, the rest of my life suddenly opening up to give me not just three weeks but three months...any doubts that the spirit was behind this long since gone. Nothing else could explain how it all fell into place so smoothly, why it all felt so right to be walking away from everyhing from which, whilst safe and secure, the soul had gone.
It was a scary time though. I would describe myself as a wishy washy liberal universalist who had rejected the whole kit and caboodle of churchy/bible speak at High School when I came to the conclusion that it lacked any spirit, that there was nothing left but the words, and most of them I was extremely sceptical of. I had never encountered anything convincing enough to teach me otherwise. So how on earth did I describe this feeling inside me? This burning desire to be at an event I really had no concept of on the other side of the world where, ok so I had a couple of relatives, but I hardly knew them. This sense of purpose that come hell or high water I had to be there. This conviction that it was the right thing to do even though it meant walking away from so much. Oh to be a more evangelical Friend and be able to use phrases such as 'God's calling' or 'divine intervention' without feeling like a right eejit. How could I explain to those around me why I had to go? Where was my language?
'Here I am, but where are my words?' - this ministry, given in Maori & English late one night at the Triennial during an impromptu Meeting for Worship of Young Friends didn't just speak to my condition, they seemed to sum up how I felt when I arrived. Echoes of 'What canst thou say?' were rolling around. Why was I here? Where do I go next? What is my purpose? I knew I had to be there for a reason beyond getting the short straw of sorting out travel expenses (How many Kenyan Schillings to the New Zealand dollar did you say it was? Do they want that in NZD or USD?....) For the first few days I wondered had I done the right thing coming here (good ol' Advices & Queries 'Think it possible that you might be mistaken...'), lets face it, how many people are going to take you seriously if you say that 'G/god/d/e/ss' (delete as led...) told you to go for three months to the other side of the world. Was I here because I was running away from life at home? Doubts began to set in.
I was finding the programmed worship difficult. Not so much because of the theological perspective that I had expected to be a challenge but because of the lack of silence and space to internalise what was said. I had always thought of myself as a good listener, however after 10 minutes of a 'message' (sermon) I was struggling to stay focused. Time and again Ministry once given by an Edinburgh elder ran through my head ' Friends, my heart yearns for silence.' Even much of the 'unprogrammed Ministry' floored me - I didn't just want to hear scripture quoted in isolation, I wanted to know why that passage had occurred to the speaker, what moved them to share it? What did it mean to them? I needed their translation of text into something I could relate to – the words they quoted were not my language, on their own they weren't enough for me. I needed space to make sense of it – in small doses. I was hungry for something I could understand spiritually.
In the midst of all this I went to a special interest group one evening. A couple of Young Friends were going to talk about the World Gathering of Young Friends 2005. Having considered myself well past YF activities I considered my presence there as moral support for them, and also the other groups all looked far too intellectual/controversial for me to feel up to coping with. Feeling tired, somewhat unfocused and adrift I sat down wishing I'd had a coffee instead of herbal tea in order to get through the next hour without the embarrassment of falling asleep in session.
I didn't know what had hit me. Like a double decker bus at full tilt from round a blind bend the WGYF hit me square on and knocked me for six. I just didn't see it coming.
This was why I had to be here. This is what brought me to Aotearoa/New Zealand (as I now knew to call it). This is what I knew I'd be doing for the next 18 months. The irony of having to travel to the other side of the world to get involved with something happening in my doorstep was not lost on me. However without the experience of the Triennial to put it into context WGYF would have passed me by. I knew that my experience of disorientation was key to so much that needed to be better understood and explored within the worldwide family of Friends.
I felt envigorated, enthused, full of life and energy, this was something I could help with. All those years of organising YF events suddenly took on new meaning for me – these are useful skills I have, use them don't lose them! My post within the EMES office gave me great networking opportunities, I'd grown up through British YF's with many past participants of the '85 event – maybe I could track some of them down.... the ideas began to flow.
That night during our late night Meeting for Worship I realised that whilst I might not be able to find the words yet, here I was, and at least now I had some idea as to what I wanted to say.
************************Eight months later I'm sitting in the WGYF Office as Administrator. Life has fallen into place with almost unnerving ease, I'm even getting to go back to Aotearoa/New Zealand having totally fallen in love with the place. Is this truly God's calling? I don't know, however I'm happy to accept that it might just well be so and embrace joyfully the amazing opportunity to serve in the light of such energy and Spirit led activity. I have found myself in a place I could never have envisaged, yet it is for me a job heaven made. It is incredibly humbling to have such a fantastic opportunity placed in my hands. I hope I can take this forward with grace, submit to the will of god and pray that whatever the coming year holds for me I can be held in the light and be ready for whatever happens next.
(previously published in Young Quaker (Nov 2004), Scottish Friends Newsletter (winter 2004) and distributed on the Australian Young Friends email list)