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
the scenes –
where I have
of my life
would like the
the pat on
of the shadows
out in the light
I am more
I will not
like what I
on the other
I'll love it
as God does