Sunday, January 22, 2006

afterwords from Meeting

You know how when in Meeting for Worship (ok, for the non-Quakers out there you just have to trust me, it happens) you can be sitting in your own little world, or so it seems, and then someone stands and gives ministry on something related to what has been going through your head? It is what, for me, makes Meeting for Worship different from meditation (apart from the fact that I usually fall asleep when meditating but thankfully don't in Meeting, well not often anyway). Meeting for Worship is a collective rather than individual process, we are aiming to meet each other and the spirit (whoever/however we define that as) in a shared space, not creating our own cocoons around us.

Sometimes this can be very disconcerting and can lead to distinct feelings of paranoia - did I say that out loud? I don't think I did... do I really think that loudly? Oh heck, hope they didn't catch what went before that bit....! Other times it can be beautiful, developing a wonderful sense of interconnectedness and for me the image of a web of light reaching out to touch everyone in the room like the ball of string in one of the name games I've often played at youth events. Sometimes it can be frustrating, gently chiding, bringing you back to something you'd rather not dwell on, an uncomfortable truth, something you don't want to accept but know deep down that you have to. Then there are the tangental moments where they lead off on an angle you hadn't got to yet, or had on another occassion but hadn't made the connection between the two....

Today it was the latter for me. Before Meeting Jonathan and I were planning our first bible study group (gulp - next week! Yeah I know last minute etc but c'mon, if you know either of us is it really surprising?!). We are using as a starting point the sessions in a book by Mary Morrison on 'Approaching the Gospels' for the simple reasons that Ann leant it to us and neither of us had a better idea! Having realised that meeting once a month for an hour we weren't going to get through the whole of the Gospels in a year we picked out her 'essentials' and started from there, which means the first session will focus on John the Baptist, the baptism of Jesus and thus giving the rest (we hope!) a bit of context.

The only piece of ministry this morning started off about baptism, the rather sad revelation that Betty didn't know who her godparents had been (apart from the fact that Morgan called me his fairy godmother he at least knows I am one of his!), but the main point of her ministry was about confirmation, confirming one's commitment to Jesus - or to our faith in general - and that this is something as Friends we have lost. Look at the early Friends and their commitment to their beliefs - apart from perhaps peace can we honestly say that aside from a dedicated few that Friends have that strength of commitment in their lives now? She recalled the hymn O Jesus I have promised (just where is the beautiful tune we sung at school? And why oh why do they have dodgy electric organs murdering these things online, give me a Father Willis organ anyday...) which had apparently been played on the radio this morning - a hymn which I really loved as a child, because of the tune rather than the words I suspect having just looked at them again, but the line that was going around in my head in the few minutes left after Betty had spoken was 'o speak, and make me listen'.

This sense of lack of commitment, confirmation of belief, not listening to what god tells us and acting on it is a topic that seems to be a recurring theme within the Quaker blogosphere . The only ritual we have in confirming our commitment to Friends is membership - a controversial issue in many Meetings around the world, one often accompanied by much handwringing over falling membership numbers. Many liberal Quakers are uncomfortable with the idea of 'god telling' anyone to do anything, or even the idea of god. Being able to hear someone speak about what 'god wants' without cringing is still a relatively new thing for me, it sounds too human which is not how I perceive god at all.

But yes, I'm one of those who yearn for a more tangible outward expression of my faith than a 'Quakers for Peace' bumper sticker (especially as I don't drive), I don't want to be alone in trying to live my faith openly, and whilst I'm far from being happy with the idea of calling Jesus 'my Master and my friend' in what I perceive to be the conventional understanding of the line I can happily accept him as 'my teacher and my Friend' and be open to what Jesus has to say (or at least what the Gospels have to say!) in the same way as I'm open to what anyone else may have to say.

The only way though that I can 'promise to serve', to confirm any commitment to my faith is to confirm my commitment to my spiritual journey; to be open to the fact that my beliefs will evolve, that there is no end point of having 'got there', recognising that they have broadened and deepened with time. I can confirm my willingness to live out those beliefs as best I can, to keep making changes to my life because of them, but above all to make time to listen to that still small voice, not drown it out with being too busy doing, thinking, or jumping ahead of the gun at the faintest sound but waiting in the light to hear what is really being said. For me as someone who likes instant answers the waiting is the hardest part.

(hmmm, I wonder if I brought that Tom Petty album with me...)

7 comments:

kt said...

Heavens. Who did you articulate all this fab stuff to before you had a blog? Not me, at any rate, but I love reading it. Missionary Anna - cause and effect.... xx :)

Anna Dunford said...

put it this way my handwritten journal has practically ground to a halt! Also I used to have about a 3/4hr walk home after Meeting to mull these things over in, now I have a 3-4 yrds walk home which doesn't quite do the business...

A xx

Audra said...

I think she articulated at least some of it, to whoever she trusted and thought might get it, of course only after she'd done the mulling and the journal stuff. Rather miss my share of that actually...

BTW yes I'm alive just been swamped of late and brain was in mush-mode.. I'm currently de-mushing, apparently this involves baths, wine, tea, chocolate and can add blogging onto that too... maybe not all at once.

Audra said...

Also living close by helped...

Anna Dunford said...

exactly, being around is the key - so when are you coming over? =) Sorry but still no sign of Legolas.... I'll keep a lookout for you tho'!

Peterson Toscano said...

super thoughts and thoughtful thoughts. Gets me thinking. I find that I talk about my "Quaker faith" more with non-Quakers than with Quakers. Talk is one thing, but my commitment to Christ to Quaker principles (ahem aka Biblical principles) reveals itself in much more subtle ways. Too subtle?

Early Quakers turned away from outward sacraments because for many of their day these sacraments just seemed to be showy fronts covering over a shallow faith.

So what are appropriate modern ways to reveal our commitment to our faith? Or am I asking the wrong question? (Happens all too often).

Liz Opp said...

Anna--

I am just back from having attended the annual sessions of Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative) in the States [July 2006]... and some of what I heard there from Friends is that their faith is demonstrated by their actions, by how they live their life and respond to the situations in which they find themselves.

And more than once, I have heard Friends of that yearly meeting identify LOVE as what they see as both an inward and outward experience, grown from having received and known God's Love...

It may seem very "woo-woo" and "out there," but I must acknowledge, after having attended two annual sessions of IYM(C), I am beginning to get a sense of the l/Love that is among these Friends and undergirds their relationships and even their conduct of business.

Blessings,
Liz, The Good Raised Up