It has rekindled and quenched my longing for deep connection. We spent all day Saturday and part of the day Sunday discerning whether we are to undertake outreach. We're a small congregation, maybe 50 active members with attendance hovering at 30 on Sundays, but have accomplished some big tasks: raising $34,000 to build an orphanage in Afghanistan, supporting an Over-The-Rhine eco garden with funds and manpower, regularly preparing and serving meals for a decade or more at Tender Mercies and a whole host of countless, smaller projects. Each of those began with a leading. This meeting has also nurtured me in my spiritual-nuture ministry and launching and holding Artsy Fartsy under its care, as well as supporting it with assistance and finances.
A thoughtful core committee has marshaled this process toward outreach after a fall 2012 retreat. We began with inreach, wanting to know our selves more intimately before we, well, went out. I attended most of the sessions offered. Some were satisfying, others, less so. The deeper sessions happened evenings in our library, which offers the patina of prayer and wreaks of moments of discernment. Those during lunch after worship next door with the manifold curtains pulled had an entirely different flavor. Hurried, harried, broken and business-like. Even so, it has enriched our meeting and my personal relationships.
What we discovered was quite interesting, but not surprising. There is a wide swath of belief in this group. One query we faced Saturday was how we would describe a Quaker as a result of these inreach sessions. Until then, I had felt it was indescribable, we are too diverse, but was moved by the idea that a Quaker is someone with a direct relationship to Spirit who knows (or seeks to know) the measure of divine light they carry.
That works for me. It explains liberal, evangelical, moderate and anything-in-between Quakers. And, to me, that is what is unique and meaningful about Friends.
I understand that all of this togetherness, some playful and some prayerful, opened me as fully as I had been opened last summer at a mystics' gathering. And I need this exposure; we all do. I have no trouble (well, not always) centering and praying individually. And yet being in a group is a game changer. Energy is rebooted, rearranged and intensified, amplifying the promise in Matthew (18:20) that "For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them."
Such intentional activity increases my receptivity. Toward the end, when we were asked to take some time to reflect, another piece of scripture, Matthew 7:7, filled my mind: "Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you." It spoke so clearly to me of this Quaker congregation. That, 1, we had asked for guidance in finding our way here; 2, we all clearly are on spiritual paths found in Quakerism; and, 3, we have knocked on the door by discerning outreach. An image emerged: I stood at the opened door of an inviting English cottage. Abundant, welcoming light spilled out as a banquet-laden table waited. Waited for us and those we would also invite to the table. Who are we being asked to invite? I still wonder.
I wondered out loud if we are being called to the E-word, evangelism. I almost choked on it. Our minister's message for the next day would also focus on evangelism, a word not tolerated well by quiet Quakers. She presented the splendid image of Quakers as a beautiful city of Light, which I believe she borrowed from Quaker founder George Fox. In her contemporary version. however, the city no longer sat on a hill, but, rather, in a valley where no one could see it.
Another Friend reminded us in worship of the power one man wielded as he zealously trolled the dark and despicable places bringing God's radical message of personal relationship sans any intermediary. He did not stay put and wait for people to approach him. They never would. He actively went out, way out of his comfort zone and in physical danger, to share the light.
Sunday when we discerned outreach in worship with attention to business, I could not get the last Friend's message out of my heart. I believe we are being challenged beyond our comfortable five-acre plot in Indian Hill.
• How has a faith gathering deepened me?
• How is that different from when I pray, center or meditate alone?
• What insights have I had as a result?
• How was I able to share them?
• How do retreats enrich us as a community?
a last-minute wrinkle
I almost didn't go
the wrinkler is
a wise and gracious
person and talked me
out of it
and, thank goodness,
we can have an
because I could not
missed this opportunity
for the kind of community
I only dream of,
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