31 August 2008

A Friends Memorial

A Friend’s Memorial

Filing into meeting,
Whispered words, now quieted.
Every one seems to have their place;
Even those never here before
I sit, expectantly, and listen,
One ear to the silence, one to the voices,
As one by one
The memorializers rise to speak.

I never knew, I muse amazedly,
When was this or where was that?
Each person shares a bit of their loved one
And of themselves.
I see their beloved then,
More clearly than I have ever seen before.
Such bountiful intimacy
Flowing into the pond of pooled consciousness.

We are so blessed to be gathered as one body.
What a gift our departed gives,
To bring us all together here
In ways we never would have found.
In the silence I feel us,
Drawing ever closer
Wrapped in the embrace of
The Dear One.

Feeling the warmth surrounding
I pause in inward prayer, to who?
To God of course,
The ever present Light.
And yet who else is here?
I see the silky shadows of so many passed.
I feel their presence next to mine
And tearful, settle deep to hear their whispers

We are so blessed
Gathered in the presence of friends
Both new and old, known and not,
Both here and long since gone.
I bask in the light of wisdom passed
From ageless soul to yearning heart.
And bathe in the pool of
Deep cool restfulness and grace.

10 May 2008

Further response to others on Quakers and Pagans:

Friends, as you can no doubt tell, this is a subject near and dear to my heart. I have been wanting to comment on this, in conversation with the convergent Friends movement that is afoot, and in further conversation with my own F/friends in Baltimore Yearly Meeting, as we struggle in our being part of Friends United Meeting.

The Christianity Today Article and the subsequent responses have touched something deep within my inner being, and called me out of my silence, perhaps because of the publicness with which I feel the disparagement of liberal Friends:

Nate, thee speaks my mind. The Religious Society of Friends does not ever deny the sacraments given to us by Jesus. Rather, we experience them as a real and now-occurring event, of the indwelling Light of Christ. What we call this experience is not so important as the experience itself and what it leads us to do in the name of the Light in our daily lives.

Bror, and others who are not members of the Religious Society of Friends, I would refer you to http://www.hallvworthington.com/sacraments.html
where you can read directly George Fox’s dialogue with a Jesuit priest over the claim that Quakers denied the sacraments. Perhaps this will lend more understanding to the position of the Society of Friends.

Liberal Friends do not differ on this from other branches of the Society. When we marry, come into membership, embark on a spiritual calling (similar to ordination as it is called in other denominations), or experience the direct moving of the Light in our lives in any way, it is sacramental, or consecrated by God. The confirmation of this we experience by the direct act of sitting in worship and waiting on the Light to speak through one of us or to direct our lives specifically.

One way that we are primarily different from some of you who have commented here, is that we are most definitely focused on the inclusivity that Jesus modeled, or that other spiritual leaders model, no matter what their religion. We are focused on “that of God” in every person, no matter their creed, sexual orientation, religious belief, color, race, or culture.

The love of God is big enough to encompass all of this and more. This is the only way to peace, in my understanding. We do not seek to water down our faith or accept cheap substitutions in order to draw members. We seek true conversation between all members of God’s creation on Earth, in the name of peace among us all.

Response to Quakers and Pagans

I have reprinted here my response to Cranath's post related to the May 4, 2008 Christianity Today article, "Are the Quakers Going Pagan?" I originally found this article titillating to my spiritual senses. I even brought a copy to my Adult RE class in our meeting, where we have been discussing just what we each believe, curious to see how others would respond. However, when I read the noted blog by Cranath about our "new Church growth strategy," I felt myself called to respond.

I find that I cannot keep our Light hidden under a bushel. Whether others are serious or merely poking fun at liberal Friends, I feel called to point out my own experience and point of view, that we hold one of the best kept secrets of the Society of Friends and christans in general too close to our heart. "Liberal" or unprogrammed Friends have been able to provide a haven for those seekers of peace and Light who do not feel comfortable within the confines of a more structured church environment, or who have never experienced the love of God in any church environment, but who desire to dwell in community with others who will support them on their spiritual journey.

Perhaps those who doubt the spiritual centeredness of those of us who choose a more liberal or universalist path need to adjust their own lenses to see what we are able to do. Grounded in spiritual community, lead by the indwelling Light (of Christ as we have traditionally called it), Friends have been able to see that which is of God in a vastly wider community and have been able to minister to that community as it seeks solace from the world. How different is this than early Friends, or even the original followers of Jesus? I do not ever fear that these seekers will lead me astray, when I am guided by the loving Inner Voice and the spiritual eldering of weighty Friends.

Recently I heard Krista Tippett interview three evangelical pastors on "Speaking of Faith," and I was struck by the similarity of the messages they had to what I feel the Society of Friends has to offer: all three had the feeling that the church had to offer a renewed activism to the world, a faith so strong that it moves one to act on God's accord. This is the message the Society of Friends has always offered, and liberal Friends are no different in wanting to live their faith:

Those inclined to make fast judgement of liberal members of the Religious Society of Friends would do well to refer to the May 2008 issue of Friends Journal. There you can read about the movement among young adult Friends who are seeking a "radical, spiritual Quakerism."

Living without closely defined creeds or doctrine does open the door for some unusual seekers to make their way into worship. This has proven in my own unprogrammed meeting to provide delicious fodder for spiritual discussion and journey. Somehow even conservative Friends seem to think that the absence of this doctrine, or of a defined leader like a pastor, will leave liberal Friends treading down the path to damnation.

Instead, quite the opposite is true. In over 25 years since being convinced I was a Friend, I have dwelt in strong community with other Friends and attenders who, like me, were seekers of the Light. Some of us came as pagans, some as refugees from the more organized Christian or Catholic worlds, some were lifelong Friends. Among us there was one common theme, the desire to live and work as the Light directs us, and to support each other in that living. Some of us call that Light the Christ within, but some, feeling damaged by the church communities from which we came, feel more comfortable referring to that inner direction as only the Light.

Our meetings function as any other healthy spiritual community: we worship together, we try to live daily our spiritual beliefs, we support and elder each other in growing along our spiritual paths, and we tend to each other and the world around us in need.

In recent years, living in a world that seems to think that there is somehow something peaceful that can result from war, our testimony that "there shall be no occasion for war" has drawn many wayfaring strangers to our midst. They are seeking something not found elsewhere: an answer to the question, what else is there to do?

Jew or gentile, pagan or Christian, or from any other religion, I believe what Jesus wants is that we open the door and welcome these travelers in. Many Friends throughout history, and many theologians in all traditions have admitted that God is so much greater than anything we can imagine.

The Society of Friends is growing in our little corner of the world, not because we have found a new strategy for church growth, but because we are not afraid to invite those travelers to join us on our journey. The Light of God, that lives within us all, is far more influential than any one tradition. I trust that Light will guide us all.

23 March 2008

What say you about the resurrection?

John 20: 11-23; Luke 24: 1-27; Mark 16: 1-19; Matthew 28: 1-20

These are the parallel stories of "the first Easter." I write them here as part of my meditation on them, as I have volunteered to do an Easter Bible study for my small, mostly liberal meeting.

It is a challenge for me to do so. Up to this year, I have not even attended Firstday worship on most Easters, being involved with travel to various family destinations. This year is our family's first where my husband and I are the eldest members of our family (being in our 50s). So I had the freedom to choose how to spend my easter.

When I was a presbyterian, some 27 years ago and preceding, I found great weight and depth in the events culminating in Easter. I realized over my years as a Friend that it was not so much that I believed in the Resurrection and Ascenscion, it was that they moved me, from that deep beyond understanding hidden place. So throughout Lent, and particularly from Maundy Thursday forward, I would spend many hours in church in worship and particularly in prayer (that kind of waiting silence I have grown to love so much in unprogrammed meeting). It was the source of my deepest religious experience.

My inability to relate to the modern Presbyterian church caused me to leave it, not any issue with God. Though I cannot even today say what I believe or don't believe about the resurrected Christ. So who am I to teach this Bible study anyway?

I think what qualifies me best, is that I, like Fox and so many others, have struggled with the emptiness of the rituals and sacrament of the church. I experience God's presence in such an immediate way, that not only do I not understand the need for outward sacraments, I do not often even consider what they mean to my life as a Quaker and Christian.

I know I have met and conversed with the indwelling God, but is that Christ? This is a disconnect for me. I just am not sure. So here my exploration of the resurrection and ascension becomes an uncharted journey for me. I am like the apostles, told by Mary Magdalene, Joanna and Mary, mother of James, who believed the words of the angels to be true, that Jesus had risen. The apostles believed this to be an idle tale, and did not even recognize Jesus as he came and walked among them. Here Christ, as he is called, points out to them how foolish they are not to believe the prophecies that he would suffer and enter into his glory. (I use the Johannine version here.)

I feel a little foolish even as I write this. I'm glad the apostles were able to overcome their unbelief. Following this, Jesus commissions the disciples to go forth and do his work. In the Lukan and Johannine versions of the story he "breathes the life of the holy spirit into them." They are sent forth to deliver his message.

So what's the message? "Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be preached in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things." (Luke 24, 46-48)

"Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you...if you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven, if you retain the sins of any, they are retained." (John 20: 21-23)

It is only fair to mention that Matthew and Mark's versions do talk about going out and baptizing all as believers, and even speaks to the idea that those who do not believe will be condemned. This is the Scripture I have struggled with all my life. I simply accept that a loving god would not condemn in this way. In my worshipful life, communing with the indwelling Light, I have found this to be truth.

There is so much that follows this in the Acts, and the letters of Paul, about how the disciples went out to teach this, that it is hard to stay in this one moment. But bear with me as we return to the versions put forth in Luke and John:

Does it say anything that we all must believe in one way, pray in one way, practice in one way?

Does it in fact say that there is anything but forgiveness of sins to be had from this?

Can we stay in the moment of today. If this day marks the celebration of the resurrection, what does it say to my life today? What would new life, free of all sins mean to me personally?

How would it change the ways in which I act from here forward, or would it? Would it open me to the experience of the indwelling Christ, were I to act as if I had received the message?

What would it mean to me if I carried forward from this day a sense of being loved despite my flaws? Or a sense of loving others despite theirs?

What would it mean if I forgave in the manner that Jesus directed the disciples to? If I saw my forgiveness as forgiveness in the name of the Lord?

Of course I am not saying I have never had the experience of unconditional love or forgiveness of another, or of myself by another. But it is more a condition of circumstance than a breath that lives in me. I do believe that the holy spirit dwells within me. But so often I experience the conditions of my life as shaping my reactions to situations around me more strongly than my experience of the indwelling light.

So I realize as I write and meditate here, that the transforming power of the resurrection is for me found in the light breathed into me by the risen Christ. This metaphor has meaning for me. Jesus lives the life of example, rabbi, sacrificial lamb. He is crucified, put to death and buried; the victim of those who were threatened by his existence. When the women who loved him and served him so freely go to the tomb, they find he is gone, but a messenger of God tells them he did not really die. He lives to make himself visible to the believers, and to breathe the Spirit of God into them, so that they can go forth and live in his image. This is what I am called to do. This is what I feel should shape my personal, moment-to-moment actions. The message is not just that I am forgiven, it is that I must forgive and love in the manner of God's example sent through Christ.