Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Why Wait?

Recently I gently suggested to a Friend and gifted minister (okay, okay it was Lorcan) that even a seemingly clear leading to speak in Meeting for worship usually needs to be waited over and tested in the silence before it is yielded to. I further said that if that message is the second one has given in the same Meeting it needs even more testing than most.

The Friend's response (in part) was that
Some truths thee has always known, and they roar out like the surf... do nothing to another that which is abhorant to thee, THAT is the Torrah and the rest is comentary... for the sake of practicality I cannot ignore God in anyone or anything for that matter. I don't need to sit on that truth... it simply is.

I am reminded of such a truth that I myself hold dear and that I once spoke of forcefully and under deep conviction in a meeting for worship under the mistaken impression that I was responding to a leading from God. My belief now is that in fact I was responding from my emotions and intellect and that while the literal content of my spoken message was true in itself, the unintended side-messages that resulted from saying it how I did and when I did were false and tended more to impede than to advance the cause of Truth with a capital T.

The truth I speak of is that God is our Creator and not we His. It has been tremendously imoprtant to me to thoroughly and deeply absorb this truth, and to reject the conviction by many that there is no God, or that if there is, then He or She (or even 'It') is a purely human phenomenon, a creation of our minds, a power within us that we can tap for our own purposes but has none of His own. From time to time I hear something like the latter theories presented as "what Quakers believe" and it seems so wrong to me that I have little patience with it. I have felt very supported in this conviction of mine (which - I repeat - is still my conviction) by an incident in George Fox's life as reported in his Journal:
'One morning, as I was sitting by the fire, a great cloud came over me, and a temptation beset me; and I sat still. It was said, "All things come by nature"; and the elements and stars came over me, so that I was in a manner quite clouded with it. But as I sat still and said nothing, the people of the house perceived nothing. And as I sat still under it and let it alone, a living hope and a true voice arose in me, which said, "There is a living God who made all things." Immediately the cloud and temptation vanished away, and life rose over it all; my heart was glad, and I praised the living God.'
- - quoted from George Fox: An Autobiography edited and with an Introduction and Notes by Rufus Jones" which has been published on-line by Street Corner Society
One day in the 1990's a Friend from my meeting who was then (if memory serves) on our Ministry and Worship Committee rose in Meeting to say that pretty much the opposite of this. I don't remember her exact words or her overall message, but I remember that she said something to the effect that we have created and must create God in our own image. My heart started beating immediately. The lovely Fox quote sprang into my mind. I remembered some occasions on which God had reached into my life from outside of it and turned it around. I considered, with distress, that this weighty Friend who actually sat on Ministry and Worship was speaking a false doctrine and that there was a possibility some soul would hear this and be deceived about the real teachings of Quakerism. So I held my breath and counted to 100 several times in order to slow myself down. And then I recited the Lord's prayer silently once or twice to further delay myself and leave open the requisite period of silence between messages. But I did not truly center down in God. I did not ask God what Truth there might be for me in what our Friend had said. I did not seek for a sense of that Friend's condition or the condition of the Meeting. I already knew what I thought and believed about this message and I already knew what the right answer was and I perceived no need to wait on God for confirmation. So as soon as I decently could I spoke. I testified that God is not made in our image and does not depend on us in any way. I quoted the passage from Fox. I sat down. But instead of the sense of peace that follows on a faithfully delivered message, I felt immediately convicted that I had spoken out of turn. To some degree what had been a Meeting for Worship was converted into a theological discussion group, and the impression may well have been left in some newcomers' mind that that is what a Quaker Meeting is. Moreover, as I came later to learn a little more about the ministering Friends' spiritual journey I realized that for her this little message about creating God in our image was a step toward greater acceptance, not less, of the reality that God Is. And I learned more about her appreciation of nature and nature's beauties: an appreciation that you would think would go together with the love of nature's creator, but that is sometimes discouraged by seemingly "religious" people who overemphasize Adam's "dominion" over the rest of creation. I had thought of the Friend as a powerful and opinionated influence over the meeting because of the committee she sat on, but I learned that she was very tentative and open and tender in her beliefs. My self-confident blast of "truth" backed up by suitable quotations may have run the risk of intimidating her and discouraging her (though, in fact, she turns out to have been pretty tough and persistent in her search, no thanks to me). The Friend I answered that day is no longer with us. During her life she never reproached me for my ministry that day, nor did anyone ever "elder" me about it. But I learned three things which I hope I will not forget in future meetings.
(1)A "true" message is not necessarily a timely message.
(2)An emotional message is not necessarily a spirit-led message.
(3)God in His own time and His own way is able to "answer" anything said in worship that may need answering. Often the "answering" will be indirect and silent and hidden. Whether it is or not,I am not the designated answerer and can relax and worship rather than debate.

- - Rich Accetta-Evans

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Blogger Martin Kelley said...

Thanks for sharing this story, I think it's so helpful to hear how others have struggled to discern when God was calling us to be His instrument.

I've sometimes had a very formed message and hestitated delivering it--hesitating so long as I test whether I am to share it that I finally realize it's not a message to deliver. It's a message for me. Usually the message comes out later or deepens my understanding of some element of Quakerism. It's quite something to realize you have something to say but that in obedience you cannot say it.

This happened once when I was serving as clerk of my monthly meeting business session. A major agenda item was introduced half way through the business meeting by someone coming in late. It was a major commitment but it was a feel-good project that no one wanted to say no to. In ten minutes the decision was made. I knew we hadn't tested it and by this point I knew the meeting to know that hadn't really committed to the project and that this would eventually be dropped. The meeting was actually acting with due integrity by agreeing to the project. But as clerk, I knew that the sense of the meeting was to formally adopt the project. As clerk I reflected back this understanding and the decision was recorded. It felt, oddly and strangely as it seems, that the knowledge that this project wasn't being adopted in good order was knowledge for me. I can't explain why this would be but it seemed like I wasn't led to point out the obvious. Martin Kelley

4:15 PM, February 23, 2005  
Blogger Closed said...

Interesting post.

I'm doing a lot with ritual studies at the moment in preparation for exams, so I'm pondering acts and the basic units of acts posture and gesture. Your post has me thinking.

In my experience, our tone, our style of delivery, our posture, all of these things shape the message others receive/perceive as much if not more so than the words we choose to convey THE Truth.

When Truth comes across as angry, judmental, defensive, in reaction to, I often don't perceive the Truth another might be crafting with their words. What I hear and receive is that someone is angry, fearful, challenged, inflexible.

God knows I've done this a time or two in everyday conversations, but it's interesting to hear about this in Meeting for Worship.

7:13 PM, February 24, 2005  

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