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