I’ve been back from New England Yearly Meeting (for my non-Quaker friends, that’s when people from all the Quaker Meetings in New England get together to worship and make decisions) for a week now, and I’m still trying to sort out what happened there.
We spent most mornings and evenings in extended worship, setting aside our usual agendas and preoccupations so we could listen for God’s guidance. At least that was what we meant to do. I know I had trouble setting aside my own ideas about what we should do as a body, and my wish to say something noticeable and impressive, and my fear that we’d leave our time together without any sense of shared leading, and my fear that we’d settle for some Big Project that wasn’t a leading in our desperation to have something to show for ourselves... Sometimes I was able to look at these things quietly, not indulging them, not fighting them, and come into a spacious place, the place beyond myself. Sometimes when other people spoke I was able to stay there. Often I didn’t. From my own very limited perspective I thought I heard a wrenching combination of Truth and of human neediness and confusion, sometimes both emerging strongly from the same message. I still don’t know what proportions of each were present in the message I gave.
James 4:7-8 was strongly in my mind during this week. “Submit yourselves to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Come near to God, and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.” I struggle fairly constantly with double-mindedness. When I try to do the work that needs to be done to meet the needs around me, I am moved by love but also by the fear of being culpable and the desire to prove myself Good. Sometimes this double-mindedness hurried me into work that isn’t really mine or prompts me to try to solve a problem before I have taken time to understand it. But most of the time I can muddle along and do more good than harm. I thought I heard other people speaking from similarly mixed motives in their own work, and I believe that much of their work is well done. But when we come together and try to act and discern as a body this double-mindedness effectively blocks us. On the private, human level our concerns, priorities, fears, gifts, blocks are different; our only hope for real unity is in our common submission to God. And when that isn’t single-minded we’re stuck in our separate brokennesses, unable to hear, heal, help each other. We can’t effectively be the body of Christ. Of course other, more destructive forms of unity are possible; we can be a clique, or a mob. We didn’t do either of those things this week. We did acknowledge our brokenness and the call which we hear and can’t yet corporately answer. We did recognize that we had hurt and disappointed each other.
And, in small groups and small ways, I think we did help each other. After one particularly conflicted session Colin Bussiere-Nichols, a young adult Friend, invited people who had felt drawn to offered vocal ministry to talk about how they discerned whether or not to speak; I thought there was some help and deepening in that conversation, as well as tenderness for people who had felt hurt in the session. I heard many Friends say that they felt a new kind of support, accountability and connectedness in the small ‘anchor groups’ with which they met daily. I met with a small group to talk about forgiveness and felt that some good wrestling, stretching and healing happened there. Cat Chapin-Bishop's post about forgiveness speaks to this more clearly and strongly than I can at this point.
I hope that we can remember both the good things and the brokenness, and that we can practice wholeness and faithfulness over the next year. I hope I can do this. I hope, too, that I can hold onto the sense I often had in our group sessions of deeply knowing both our failure and God’s sustaining.