My Experience of "Guidance"

In last week’s post I retold Ralph’s story of hooking into divine guidance and support.

How do I describe such guidance in my life? I have had many times when I have felt urged or nudged to make a choice. As a young adult, I was seldom willing to admit the sense of urging to others, because it didn’t seem rational. If pressed, I probably would have said, “I have an intuition.”

An example of this was in 1967 when I thought I might be drafted and I decided to claim Conscientious Objector status. There was no tradition of pacifism in my family, and I labored for several years in college with issues of military service, starting with, “You are just a coward, because you don’t want to serve.” That was probably about 1964. In 1965, I was surprised to learn I might qualify as a conscientious objector, even though my association with one of the “historic peace churches” had only been for the past couple of years. I asked myself, “If this avenue is open to me, am I willing to claim it? Is it really true that I believe war making is never justified and it would be destructive of my moral fiber to participate in it, or even to help with preparation for it?

I might talk rationalistically about “choosing this option,” but that is not true to my experience, and “rational” does not apply to the TIMING of my choice to claim Conscientious Objector status. My experience is that I was saying:
.: OK, I COULD claim CO status, but would this be a true?
.: And, what if I name this as MY reality, but the draft board denies it? Will I accept their definition of my reality or will I move to Canada, or go to prison?
.: If I just go on to graduate school I can probably keep my student deferment, and I don’t have to say anything.
.: Yeah, but, if your deferment changes, claiming CO status at that point is weaker than claiming it when you are not in immediate risk of being drafted.
This internal committee meeting went on for what seemed like years, along with talking to other people about the issues, and watching world events. Then suddenly, finally, I felt the urge to “go ahead, claim CO.” At the time, I would have called it an “intuition.” I certainly had no way of knowing that only a few months after I submitted the lengthy form claiming CO status that the Vietnam War would heat up significantly with a big troop commitment from the U.S. Suddenly thousands of college kids with student deferments were doing anything they could think of, to avoid the draft.

You could call my timing “just luck,” and I think sometimes I did. Still, looking back on it from years later, I felt that there was something larger involved, that the tide came in and lifted my boat at the same time it was lifting many other boats. I believe my “yes, I need to claim CO” came from more than me, and that my timing was not just a personal decision, although it was also a very personal, life-changing decision.

I would not say, “God spoke to me,” but I do feel I was in touch with something larger than myself, or larger than what I might call ‘my personal self.’ And I have felt this repeatedly in my life, especially at important times, when a lot is at stake. Sometimes I felt, like Martin Luther, “I can do no other.” Also, there have been times when it was not so clear what I needed to choose. Still, very often in my life, as I look back at the consequences of a particular choice, I feel I have been guided, that “I was on to something” which led to a life direction more favorable than I could possibly have foreseen.

I am now willing to use Quaker language, “being led by Spirit.” And I am willing to trust in “being on to something.” Kind of like what I thought I heard Ralph saying, I feel I can turn toward something larger than my personal self, and that when I do, I step into some kind of “flow,” where things go relatively well, where my choices and my acts put me in harmony with many things I could never have planfully taken into account.
I also know, experientially, several things I’ve read about in a wide vareity of religious writing. For instance, I can be “led” to do something for a while, and then that “leading disappears” or I am led to change course dramatically. This does not negate the original direction, but–to my mind–suggests I am in tune with something larger than my particular self, and the needs or priorities on this larger level are changing.

I know that I can have a sense of leading and be very wrong.

I also believe strongly that people can properly be led to do opposite things and can even be properly led into opposition with one another. In the body there are many metabolic processes, like moving sugar across a cell membrane. Often there are processes that move sugar in BOTH directions, for instance, from within the small intestine to the rest of the body, and also BACK across the cell wall into the small intestine. Both processes are happening at once, and it is events at a larger level within the body that determine whether the net movement at any given time is “more sugars in, or more sugars out.” Just as neither process is “wrong,” so I am content to be led to work against war-making, and can also respect someone who is led to join the military. I will work as skillfully as I can, trusting my leading, my intuition, and also trusting that I and the enlistee are part of a larger process which will one day bring us all to a world with less bloodshed in it.

While I do not claim guidance from God, I do think my leadings emanate out of a mystery, and that my place is to be humble and attentive to that mystery, always ready to discover the winds of Spirit swinging around and blowing from a different quarter.

About Richard O Fuller

Quaker, living in the Twin Cities, Minnesota.
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