The initiating event for what I imagine will be a long story came in meeting for worship, June 17, 2007.
There is a many-year background to this example, going back at least to when Susan D was clerk of TCFM, starting in ____. She wanted the Meeting to discover ___________. I watched us grapple with the issue in our usual fashion, with a committee, and reports.
Years later Meeting focused on how hard it was to fill committee positions. Then we went into the process of the Jubilee year, and although that has passed, the issue of service to the meeting, as a meeting, remains a very live issue.
Through all these years, I have asked myself,
Do I need to be involved with this?
Beyond listening to an occasional report at Meeting for Business with an open heart, and listening one-on-one to my friends who are more deeply involved with the issues, do I need to get in there and offer something more to the process?
I’ve never gotten the guidance, “you NEED to do this.”
I’ve never felt led to be more involved.
At this point, late spring of 2007, the committee for Peace & Social Concerns has ALL it’s positions vacant. Meeting Clerk Marianne C once again, wisely, does not focus on the immediate problem, but poses a cluster of queries: basically, “As we look at the many social concerns that are dear to the hearts of members of this community, let us ask what role does TCFM, as a body, have to play?”
I believe there were almost 50 of us who sat with these questions as a group, Sunday, June 17, 2007, during the Adult Forum hour, between our two meetings for worship.
Sitting there in worship-sharing, I had a strong sense of the importance of these questions, without knowing the answers.
I was concerned we would not wait to be led, as a group, and would fasten on a plan, just so we could say to ourselves, “at least we are doing SOMETHING.” My offerings followed on things Elaine M and Betsy P said, and were well received by the group. Clerk Marianne summarized her thinking near the end of the hour. She was inclined to call for a committee to fan the flames burning in our hearts, as a next step in our corporate discernment.
On the way upstairs to 11:00 worship I talked with Tom S about how one problem with Quaker modesty was that our Meeting community members didn’t have much idea about the wonderful work many of us were doing, working on peace and social justice issues we all could feel good about. Because of this, I believe, many of us feel lonely and unappreciated in the wonderful work we are doing. AND, we look at the overwhelming problems of the world and feel we, individually and corporately, are “not doing enough.” On the stairs I mentioned to Tom my long-held idea of using an interview format during the Adult Forum hour for “drawing out” members of the meeting.
In worship Tom S spoke about guilt (about “not doing enough”) and of a breakthrough he’d had, a release of sorts, in his Cincinnati Friends Meeting.
Not long after, I was filled with…
a strong sense of meaning?
To stick as closely as I can to the actual experience, I found myself doubled over, as if in pain, while sitting in my seat.
I had to check. Was I in pain?
No. I was filled with the idea, “You need to be on that committee Marianne is thinking of calling for. You need to offer your interview idea, as a way of allowing the Meeting community to better know itself. As a way of recognizing and fanning the flames burning in our hearts.”
Sometimes my guidance comes with a rush of good feeling, or a sense of dread. This was neither. There was little “feeling;” just pure “meaning,” with a sense of power, of importance. I immediately thought, “Do I hafta?
Can I get out of this?”
There was NO wiggle room.
“OK, I will.”
Others after Tom offered wonderful sharing. James R, about what may prove to be a release of guilt associated with his mother. And a woman I didn’t know, saying she was taking a risk to rise and share about guilt.
Then I had good talk after meeting, followed by a pre-arranged long conversation with someone. My experience in worship was covered over by the events of the day. I went to bed at the end of a satisfying day without giving it another thought.
However, settling into prayer Monday morning, it was back strong as ever.
I can’t not do this.
Or rather, I fear for my … soul?… mental health? if I do not do this.
And “this” means, to me:
“take the next step,” mention to Marianne that I would be willing to serve on the committee.
“Take the next step” is how I understand what this guidance calls me to.
I may have had a flash of me interviewing Elaine in an Adult Forum program, but that is not “What I’m supposed to do.” That is a picture that forms in me to indicate my direction. It is the star to which I hitch my wagon. To be true to my guidance, at this point, I need only take a step or two in that direction, and then wait to see what the universe offers in response. I imagine there will be other steps for me to take, and they may be like the ones I saw in my flash, but that remains to be seen.
Taking the next step turned out to be writing an earlier draft of what you have just read,
as a way of making more real,
of beginning to bring into the world, that body-bending moment in worship the day before.
(I believe throughout my youth and life as a young adult I had moments like this, but I was raised not to take them seriously. “It’s just your imagination. Don’t worry about it.”)
So I took the next step. I wrote the above.
Then, having written, I asked, quite casually and informally,
.: “Am I done? The morning is halfway over and I have other things to do.”
.: “No, what you have written feels very right. Send it to Marianne.”
So I emailed what I had written to the our Clerk of Meeting. Then I felt free to tend to what I had expected to do that morning.
As it turns out, that very Monday evening, I chose to attend a Committee Clerks Meeting, clerked again by Marianne. Afterward we talked a bit about my email and my sense of leading.
This apparently-casual conversation in a room with other people putting away the chairs and the possibility of an interruption at any moment was a very important next step. Marianne worked hard to understand what I was offering.
Her skill allowed me to move from “This is a thought I had,” to
“this is what I’m prepared to offer at the next meeting for business.”
That was another “next step,” moving from sharing my mental picture of joining a hypothetical committee to offering to stand in Meeting for Business and say I was willing to be a part of such a committee, that I had an idea of one of the things the committee would do, that we would interview our community members who are living out their passion for a social concern.
I like to call this “way opening.”