16 August 2009

The Oasis of Community

It has been so long since I posted that I almost deleted this blog and started another. But there is something to the process that needs to be preserved. Having just come through a period in my life where I felt barren, like there was a desert inside, and no water to nourish my spirit, I trudged off to Baltimore Yearly Meeting Annual Sessions. I had the sense of a dying person approaching an oasis, hopeful against hope, yet doubting, as if that oasis might be just another mirage. Thankfully, it was the real thing. (BYM has never failed to refresh and renew me in all the years I have attended.) I was grateful I planned on attending the pre-sessions retreat, as it was like being plunged into a spring, and I emerged refreshed, already with a growing sense of clarity.

The Business of our Lives: The Transformation of Faith into Practice, was the focus of Annual Sessions this year. So the retreat promised us that "we will be exploring how our faith and testimonies can lead us to fulfill our role as representatives of God on earth. We will look at where we are now on our life/faith journey; where we are to go on our journey, and how to get there." I would say that the retreat more taught us the process that we could use to do this work. Most of the focus was on the deep listening that one can offer another in discerning their leading. I found this most helpful, and was also pleasantly surprised when one of my small group members stepped outside this format to say, "Well do you have a care/clearness committee?" and offered other tidbits about her own process that shed light on my own path.

I don't know if it's the fact I missed last years Sessions, or if it was that the agenda was truly so varied , or if my ears were just opened, but the week that followed offered me more nourishment and opportunity to learn than I can remember. I experienced it as though my spirit had entered paradise! What some might call the "work" of people's lives, I came to see as that which also fed them. The fulfillment of those involved in work in Africa, in the African Great Lakes Initiative, Friends Theological Institute, and Hlekweni Friends Rural Service was infectious. Workshops as diverse as Sabbath Economics, as basic as the Practice of Living Simply, helped me renew my faith in the Quaker process. Singing, worship, dining -- fellowship with Friends -- was the real food that my soul craved!

Our clerk, Howard Fullerton, is becoming simultaneously more amusing and adroit as each season passes. Business sessions were refreshing and succinct. Was it my imagination, or was every presenter cognizant of the listeners, striving to be not just informative but engaging? Even the memorial for our older Friends who have passed from this place this year, was like plunging into a refreshing pool. My thirst was quenched.

Out of this came crystal clear clarity. I cannot continue to live a life divided between my Quaker Life and my "other" life. Much like the parable of George Fox and William Penn, where Fox challenges Penn to wear his sword as long as he can, I feel that I can no longer wear the outside world's values and lifestyle. When I fall back into that lifestyle, it is only a matter of time before I feel empty, depressed and like life has no meaning.

This may sound extreme to some, but it is the way I experience it. It has become heavier to carry the burden of not listening to one's calling than it is to follow it. Somewhere inside I always have known it would come to this. The God of my understanding is loving, persistent, and never gives up on a soul. At the workshop on prayer by Daniel Snyder, I heard God called "the infinite, divine lover of your soul." In this week of spiritual retreat and renewal, I came to truly understand this. I can only hope to model an approximation of this love, and to someday pay forward the gift I was given this week. I am blessed to be a member of such an oasis of community in this difficult world.


  1. Wow, thanks for reporting--I was refreshed just reading your post.

  2. You might enjoy reading Liz Gates' remarks from a session she did at Illinois yearly meeting. She also talks about giving up her old way of life...

    Liz Opp, The Good Raised Up

  3. Thank you Liz, those remarks did indeed speak to my condition.

  4. Dan Synder is a mensch, glad to read he's still up to goodstuff!

    I know that "God as lover" metaphor can be a cliche, but it's powerful when you get down to meaning. My wife Anne's piece a few years ago about God as a dancing master... We think about "Discernment" as if it were a matter of pausing for consultation before every "decision," but if you're playing music (like she does) you don't get time to ask, "When does that beat happen?"--You need to be listening & responsive on a continual basis. It's an interaction, not a dictation! (& does one ever get one's mind tickled!)