Friday, July 31, 2009

More Perspective on that dream

All three commenters on my recent post about a dream picked up on the dream's suggestion of some problems with the Religious Society of Friends. Martin also noted my "optimistic view outside of the meetinghouse" and asked how that's sustained. Actually, I think Martin meant "outside of the dream" rather than "outside of the meetinghouse" since he seemed to be referring to my statement in the post that "my conscious waking understanding of where the RSofF reallly is" is different than the picture presented in the dream.

This post is in part an answer to Martin's question. I also want to talk a little more about the dream itself. I generally assume that any dream reveals more about the dreamer than about the dream's ostensible subject. What this dream reveals may be that I was experiencing some discouragement at the time of the dream and possibly also indulging some self-pity. It is true, as the dream implies, that over time the Religious Society of Friends is losing membership and may also in other ways be going downhill and seem to be in danger of falling. But what about the dream's picture of Friends' obliviousness to this problem and what about its picture of my own place in the Society as an unheeded and nearly irrelevant critic? Is this picture accurate? If so, Martin is right to ask how I can in waking life be optimistic about Friends.

Well, as I said in the original post, this has been a period of some discouragement and sense of loss for me. People I've loved have died in the recent past; others are seemingly on a path of self-destruction; I myself have had significant health problems which are not life-threatening but sometimes lead me to feel diminished both mentally and physically. I'm sure that all of this fed into the dream. I do have realistic worries about the Religious Society of Friends, but it has not been my experience that these are ignored or dismissed by other Friends. Nor do I feel in general that my voice is marginalized or ignored. In the dream, I am sitting in the next to last row of the room where a meeting for business is taking place. Note that no one makes me sit there, it's just where I have placed myself. That being the case, it perhaps not be surprising that my dream-self has trouble making himself heard. I think this reflects a general principle: that in order to be heard in the RSofF or in life generally we have to participate as members of the body. (I notice that Martin extends the metaphor to say that he is sitting outside the meetinghouse altogether. I'm not sure whether he is saying that this is by choice or by some action of exclusion by those inside. From where I sit, Martin seems very engaged with Friends - if not in his own Meeting then surely on the internet).

In waking life I generally sit very close to the front or center of any meeting for worship or business that I attend, and I ususally find that if I make a contribution it is accepted and appreciated (though not always united with). The thing is, though, that all of this usually takes place in my own monthly meeting, where I know most Friends and most Friends know me. I have also been active in New York Yearly Meeting in the past, but the limitations on my vacation time, my energy, and my funds have all prevented me from attending in recent years. That may be why I am feeling more powerless in relation to the YM than in relation to my own meeting. It may also be why I felt myself to be in almost the back row when I had this dream. My waking self, considering the objective facts, would have to remember that I have been offered many chances to sit on Yearly Meeting committees, that I have recently even been asked to contribute an article to the Yearly Meeting's newsletter, Spark, and that there are even several Friends who read my blog when I am able to add to it.

What about the spiritual problems that really do face us as Friends? I acknowledge these problems and I acknowledge that I am unable to solve them. BUT when I focus on my own local Meeting and when I focus, within that meeting, on what I am called to do, then I feel empowered by the Spirit of God to do my part - - and to leave to others the responsibilities they have for their parts. It helps me to know that in fact there are many Friends doing wonderful things in my meeting, and it also helps that I have found reason over the years to come to love the Friends I know here, including some with whom I have serious disagreements. My direct answer to Martin's question about what sustains my optimism is this: I find that -- as I keep coming back to worship and I keep engaging in business meeting and in committees and I manage to be faithful to my own leadings --- I am able to see God at work and be serene about it. When I focus instead on major trends and on matters beyond my control then I lose perspective and the mood that pervaded this dream takes hold.

I have no quarrel with anyone who finds that in order to find Christian fellowship they must look outside of the present-day Society of Friends. For myself, however, I sense that Christ is leading me at this time to keep my Quaker ties very much alive.

- - Rich

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Sunday, July 26, 2009

My dream about Yearly Meeting

Last Sunday many Friends from my local meeting left for Silver Bay, New York to attend New York Yearly Meeting summer sessions. I was unable to attend this year (as I have been for several years), so I returned home and went about my usual activities.

Sunday night (or - - strictly speaking - - early Monday morning) I had a dream that seemed to concern the Yearly Meeting. Usually I don't remember my dreams so the very fact that I do remember it makes this one seem important to me. I will narrate it as briefly as I can and then comment on it.

In the dream I was in a large classroom, sitting in almost the back row. The classroom was the site of a meeting for business of the New York Yearly Meeting and the clerk of the meeting (not the person who is the actual clerk of NYYM in waking life) was sitting at the teacher's desk. Someone was reading a proposed State of the Society Report to the Meeting, which was expected to adopt it. As the reading progressed I realized that the room in which we sat was moving. Specifically, it was descending. In part of the dream it seemed to be moving downwards vertically, as an elevator would. In part of the dream it seemed to be moving down steep track as a roller coaster would. No one but me seemed disturbed by this downward motion, but as it became more rapid I began to wonder if we were moving downward at a normal pace or if we actually begun to fall.

As all this was going on I was also listening to the State of Society report and I noticed that it made no mention of a loss of members over the years. A person sitting behind me tried to get the clerk's attention to point this out but was not successful. Finally I called out "clerk,please!" and asked that something be added to the report to acknowledge our loss of members. The clerk responded that the minute had already been approved and it was time to move on to other business. Then I woke up.

comment: This dream is almost certainly about many other things in addition to the Religious Society of Friends and the New York Yearly Meeting. I've been profoundly affected by the loss of old friends to death in the past year and a half and also by the threatened loss of loved ones to disorders such as alcoholism and addiction and disease. Insofar as we and our friends and loved ones are "members of one another", the idea of "losing members" can have very broad application. In addition, my own neurological problems in the past year have made me very conscious of the aging process, of the thought that I may have crested the hill of life and be moving down the other side, and of the thought that I am slowly losing pieces of myself (members). So I admit that all of that may have its place in this dream.

But it's worth noting that ostensibly the dream is about a yearly meeting and its deliberations about its own state. In the dream the yearly meeting is moving downward rapidly and possibly falling. In the dream I am sitting near the back, far from the clerk, nursing doubts and fears that aren't heard. In the dream the meeting takes place in a classroom, but those of us attending it don't seem to be learning anything.

There is a sense of loss in this dream, and a sense of my own role being nearly irrelevant (next-to-last row in the classroom). This is quite different from my conscious waking understanding of where the RSofF really is. I have been very upbeat about Friends for many years. I'm not sure what, if anything, can be learned from this dream either about myself or about our meetings. But I thought it would be good to share it.

Comments welcomed.

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