Monday, July 5, 2010

Called from the shadows

My 12-year-old and I recently returned from four days at a Quaker retreat hosted by Conservative Friends, the branch that employs plain speech (thee and thou) and simple dress (similar to the Amish). It's held in the rolling farmland of Eastern Ohio, almost to Wheeling, W. VA, on the campus of Olney Friends School and Stillwater Meeting (church).

This is the sixth time I've visited this place for some form of retreat and something magical always happens.

It's the richness of the old meetinghouse, where the patina of decades of worship is palpable. The Bible study on the porch. The intermingling with Friends across all divisions. The living in community daily, where trust builds and hearts and hurts are able to spill in safety. The meeting for healing when some are called to the middle chair, others to lay on hands and still others to hold it all in prayer. The deep conversations I long for in my everyday life. And the seed to bring that all back with me ... for myself, my family, my home meeting and those I encounter.

So, right now I am still flying on that magic carpet, living on another plane. Thankfully, gracefully, we returned home to a holiday weekend, where the daily nitty gritty is at bay for a few more hours. And I have the chance to slip more easily, peacefully back into regular life as a changed person.

One of the biggest revelations I had this time was during a discussion of elders and ministers. The contemporary take on Quaker elders is more of spiritual nurturers and not those from the past who trolled for personal misdeeds and missteps. Today elders are typically in the background, less visible and, often, holding events and people in prayer. They are divinely tapped – sometimes without recognizing what this is – and usually without human acknowledgment or a naming of this gift. Ministers are more public and typically encouraged by elders. Elders must find their support – beyond God's – in other elders.

I have happily served as an elder for a long time, content behind the scenes, quietly nurturing others. I think women, especially mothers, easily fall into this.

And yet, I have been struggling so over publishing my journals and artwork, finding it hard to put it out there, harder to put myself out there. I am certain of my calling to do so.

And, in the midst of this retreat conversation, I realized it is because I am shifting from the invisible elder to the more visible minister. A place I fear.

I am being asked to put my heart and myself on view. Everything on the line. It means I have to quell those self doubts and claim this authority. New territory. Not just me alone with my perfectionism. I dread the rejection, however, sense I am my own worst critic and a part of this work is to conquer that. Be my own advocate and elder. To trust that I can do what I have been given and do it well and joyfully. To ask and let God help.

• Am I more comfortable behind the scenes or in public in the work to which God calls?
• How does that make me grow?
• Have I been called sometimes as minister, sometimes as elder?
• How do I make that transition?
• What are those lessons?

quickly and quietly
serving behind
the scenes –
where I have
lived most
of my life

sometimes, I
would like the
the pat on
the head 

I prefer
the obscurity
of the shadows
that mask
my imperfections

out in the light
I am more

I am
called there

I fear
I will not
like what I

on the other
hand, maybe
I'll love it

as God does 


  1. Once again, your post was in synchrony with some of my reflections the past two weeks. In mid-June I attended the Pacific Northwest Quaker Women's Theology Conference with the theme: Walk with Me - Elders, Mentors, and Friends. It was a celebration of the elders and mentors in our lives and of the joys and challenges serving in those roles for others. I included the conference epistle at bloggerbyconvincement.blogspot.com along with my reflections on that gathering.

    Last week I listened to a podcast of a "Song of the Soul" (www.northernspiritradio.org) interview with Quaker singer/songwriter Alivia Biko. In her story of her spiritual journey, she spoke of coming to know God's love for her as her "conversion experience." Taking in the steadfast love of God for me was a turning point in my faith journey as well, and that knowledge, now deep in my bones, is what pulls me out of despair when I sink back to those earlier feelings of not being good enough.

    Now as I'm being called to be more visible with my ministry of writing, the worries about what others will think of me and fears of rejection sometimes test my belief in God's unconditional love. Ah, yes, as one of my mentors reminds me, another growth opportunity.

    Yes, we do need to quell those inner critics, be our own good elders (as well as seek those who can support us), and walk fearlessly and joyfully into the light of what we're called to do. I'm glad that you received such nourishment at the retreat; I'm grateful you're responding to the call to be a more visible minister.

  2. Cathy -- although I may be the farthest thing from a Quaker, I nonetheless understand what you are going through. I think that women (and, as you point out, especially mothers) have been taught (and are by nature) more deferential and less likely to shine the spotlight on themselves. There's the fear of rejection, the fear of someone saying "what right do YOU have to claim the spotlight?" The fear of discovering that we just aren't "good enough," in someone's estimation.
    One of the things I remember most about you from our newspaper days is that you weren't afraid to step up and state your opinion, though you always did it in non-threatening way. I liked that. I learned from that. In many situations over the years I have asked myself "how would Cathy handle that?" It usually allowed me to find an approach that was fearless but gentle.
    My point is that you CLEARLY have the ability to step forward and do what you are called to do -- you've been teaching others how to do so for years!!! Hang in there lady. Put your writing and your art out there. You've got as much right as anyone else -- and more than many. The Rosie I know will conquer her fears and set a great example for her daughters! See you in August! Tara

  3. How wonderful to hear from BOTH of you ... a dear old friend and a dear new one! And that we all connect around this issue. You have each served as inspiration and role model -- also putting it out there and egging me on. I am so grateful for ALL of the strong, amazing women in my life. Thank you for the heartfelt, vital comments that speak deeply to me and others, I know.
    -- Cathy
    PS Tara -- I keep thinking Rosie went away for awhile and is returning. So grateful we are in touch virtually and will be live this summer. Rosie owes a lot to Tara!!!