Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Weight That Is Not A Burden

After my last blogpost about Spiritual Hospitality, a Friend asked me to talk more about “that sense of responsibility that is not a burden.” I was given and shared a message in worship Sunday about being faithful with small leadings of The Spirit and growing into greater faithfulness until we become filled with faith.

As co-clerk of Ministry & Counsel and as one of the more seasoned Friends in my community (meaning that I show up, try to follow Quaker process, and take seriously my relationships with The Holy Spirit and my community), I feel a tremendous weight of responsibility. I feel responsible for the spiritual depth of worship and for the pastoral care of individuals in my communities. I feel responsible when I clerk committees and when I name folks to be on committees. I feel responsible when I lead worship sharing and when I present a 2nd hour. I feel responsible for the welcome newcomers get and for the information and messages they receive about our meeting and about Quakerism. I feel responsible for the care of an elderly Friend who is having health problems and for her pets. When someone takes me aside to share about a problem or struggle in their life but aren't ready to ask for support I feel responsible to remember to check-in with them regularly.

Mark & I have been hosting Burrow Breadbreaking & Bible Banter for more than a year now. Every week there's a day of cleaning, planning, shopping and cooking for 20 folks (plus days of eating leftovers when only 6 people show up-which is possibly the hardest part). On Wednesday afternoon, we often drive across town to pick up an elderly Friend and then return her home at the end of the evening. After everyone has gone home I spend an hour or two cleaning-up.

Those things are, of course, in addition to the everyday tending to the needs of my family, marriage, home, and friends. Norbert (our dog) always needs walking. Finn is always hungry and usually needs new shoes. I should call my folks to see how they're doing. Hmmm, I haven't heard from Z lately. Have we firmed up our Christmas plans yet? How long as it been since I talked to Leslie?

Thinking about the myriad things I feel charged with the care of, I could be overwhelmed by the weight of it all. I mean, that's a lot of things to worry over if I were inclined to worry. I don't, though, feel overwhelmed or worried. These responsibilities don't feel like a burden for me; they feel like a calling. The life that God and Mark & I have woven together is made of these threads of responsibility. I imagine this life as a fabric that is the substance of The Burrow; so the tables and chairs and couch and stove and awesome Buddhaware are all made of the love that binds me to my communities. I can't feel these as wearisome because they are the life that I have been called by God to live.

It has taken me many, many years to grow into this. Many years and many times of failing to be faithful. Many years of feeling like a spiritual teenager, wanting the authority of adulthood and the freedom from too much accountability at the same time. Many small leadings that I fumbled or began but didn't follow through on or completed but then avoided what might come next. But also some leadings that I was true to. Thank God for the Grace of starting over as many times as needed. God stuck with me and tended to me and gave me models and nurturers and community that believed in me. And so over many, many years I grew small leading by small leading into this life that I call a ministry and this work that I call vocation and this self that I can honestly and without irony call a Seasoned Friend.

Perhaps because I married a man who fully supports and embraces the leadings of the Holy Spirit I am given, I feel no tension between various aspects of my life, which makes this all possible. I could not have done this 4 or more years ago. I now have the energy, resources, nurturance and the experience to be able to say “Yes!” (or at least, “yes?”) when I feel a Holy nudge. I can ask trusted Friends to sit with me in formal or informal discernment and if I feel the need for accountability or continuing support it is available to me. If a particular concern or situation is too much for me to carry, I can turn to my community and ask for help or say that I need someone else to carry it and I don't feel a sense of failure or immaturity; When I do so with prayerful discernment, I know I am being faithful.

Maybe part of my willingness to accept these concerns is that I try to carefully discern whether I should accept them and feel fully able to say “Nope, this work isn't mine to do.” With the ability to say “no” comes submission to the things that are clearly mine: God's work through me.

I don't think I can begin to describe the sense I've had in the recent past of feeling well-used. When I leave the meetinghouse on Sunday or sometimes after BBb&BB or a committee meeting I feel like a channel through which God's love flowed. Geez, that sounds really goofy and possibly pretentious or delusional as all get-out but it is true. Sometimes I feel so grateful to be able to serve my community full of sometimes difficult, loving, quirky, needy people in my own imperfect but enthusiastic way that I leave gatherings feeling humility and tenderness like the warmth of my blood coursing through my body. How could I possibly feel this work as a burden when I feel such joy in doing it?

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Spiritual Hospitality: Learning from the Lord of Hosts

As co-clerk of NFM's Ministry & Counsel this year, I'm feeling a lot of tenderness and responsibility for the pastoral care of my community. (This is what going to the School of the Spirit's On Being A Spiritual Nurturer program will do for you: Help you step into spiritual responsibility. I'm grateful to have had lessons from some spiritual nurturer heavyweights as I grew into this role.) As co-clerk, and with my husband as clerk of the meeting, I am often the go-to person for needs and feedback. Recently someone shared with me they have found a spiritual home in our meeting but have not found the individuals to be particularly welcoming. I feel a great weight in what they said because I've had that experience in other situations and I try very hard to make everyone feel welcome and included. Unfortunately, I travel on weekends so much of the time that I hadn't seen them in months so I wasn't there to greet them by name. I will be more intentional about what I commit to that takes me away from home.

At our M&C committee meeting Sunday I offered the query "What is spiritual hospitality?" I carried the question with me into worship where I wrestled with it. There are all kinds of people in my communities. Yes, I'm very friendly and attempt to connect with folks I encounter but I have no gift for small talk. How in the world do I welcome into my community people who are very shy, or those with whom I have little in common, or the ones who seem to have a very specific agenda, or the possibly mentally ill, or the individuals who seem to want something-an answer or a response of some kind-that I don't understand, or the just plain weird (in a way at odds to my own weirdness)? How do I connect with each of them? How do I embody the radical inclusion that Jesus modeled when so often my mind is on several things at once and only partly attending to the conversation at hand?

Many years ago, back when I was new to Friends and had just discovered that God was with me and that we'd been in relation all along except I hadn't realized, I'd been having difficulty with a family member and was praying about what to do. This is one of those crazy mystical things that will seem delusional to some but what happened was that I very clearly heard a voice in my ear say "Love her." Wha?! But, yes. And with those words came a sense of, sort of, mission.

That's what I feel with my communities, that I'm called to love each person who makes up the crazyquilt world I live in. But how do I do that when I may not have a clue what to do with them? Or like when I'm busy/tired/distracted/ other words, most of the time?

Sitting in worship with this, I thought about how often we talk about trying to see "That of God" in others. When W was President, you heard a lot of messages in worship about trying to love him but being unable to find his humanity so trying to see That of God in him. The thing is, though, that we'll never be able to reach That of God in another unless we're first in touch with It in ourselves.

I think the only way I will ever be able to truly minister to my community is if I actively follow the example of Jesus. He prayed a lot. He prayed alone and he prayed with his closest peeps. He was very aware of his need to feel close to God. I have a responsibility to my community to attend to my relationship with God through active spiritual practice. When I get outside myself enough to become aware, to listen and wait, to give thanks and share myself with God, then I feel Christ living in me and working through me. That's when I am able to know That of God within me.  When I ask Christ to work through me as I minister to my community, I don't have to compensate for my shortcomings and worry that I may let someone down because what I'm giving is myself with the added power boost of the Lord of hosts. 
The other element that I'm growing into is the absolute importance of following through. Having the conversation, doing the check-in, holding someone in need, receiving the news are all good in the moment but if I don't follow through (either by doing the work myself or by drawing on the gifts of others in my community) then I have failed. I've never been good at finishing things. I'm creative and spontaneous and in-the-moment and pretty much the opposite of detail oriented. The last couple of years I think God's been nudging me to learn and giving me lots of situations for practice. I was able to go on sabbatical from my job so I can devote more time and energy to my Quaker work (including writing stuff like this). So now I don't have any excuse to not follow through. Having built this life to do the work of the Holy Spirit, I feel the weight of responsibility as a blessing rather than a burden. Serving my community, even with really difficult or potentially painful work, is a tie that binds me closer to God. 

Friday, November 15, 2013

If I'm Devout Now, Was I Vout Before?

Last night was Finn's birthday so we switched up bible study for hymn singing. We had, I think, 19 people here, including 5 young people, 1 infant, 1 young adult and her mother visiting from out of town and a bunch of others. We had some wonderful musicians with us so the music was as good as it was delightful and soul-enriching. Finn requested chili for supper so I made a pot of turkey chili and a pot of vegetarian along with a mess of sweet cornbread. 

I spent all day getting ready for the gathering: cooking, cleaning, decorating the cake with a frosting image of Link from Legend of Zelda, as well as tending Evie. It was a busy day, but rewarding, and everything was ready (if not tidy) by the time folks began showing up at 5:00. 

The evening was lovely; everyone got along well, conversation flowed, and food was devoured. Finn's birth was celebrated with laughter and song. 

After everyone had gone and I'd spent a little time putting the kitchen back in order, started the dishwasher, tucked Finn in bed and started a load of clothes so he would have clean pants in the morning, I headed to bed. As I brushed my teeth, I reflected on the day and thought about how much I like my life and then a realization hit me: I like who I am. I feel like I'm living up to the person God is calling me to be. This life that Mark and I have created together is an extension of who we are as we live together in God's presence. What a blessing!

When Mark returned from taking a friend home, we were talking about the evening and in reference to something, these words popped out of my mouth: "We are devout Christians, after all." Wha?! God has really been doing a number on me to own the word "devout" but after some reflection, I decided that I do own it. I'm not a devout Christian in any orthodox sense of that word: I swear a lot and I'm snarky and rude; I laugh at (and occasionally make) blasphemous jokes; I'm moody and frequently cranky; I'm judgmental about everything under the sun (because, despite these faults I'm listing, I am obviously perfect and everyone should do what I say: "Thank you God for making me better than fill-in-the-blank"). 

The kind of Christian I am doesn't adhere to any creed or dogma. I don't follow anyone else's ideas of sin and I have no attachment to the idea of Salvation in any usual Christian sense of the word. I am a devout Christian because I try to faithfully follow Christ. I try to make room (time + energy) to hear Christ speaking to me and I try really hard to be devoted enough so Christ can speak through me. I give thanks to God all over the place and I'm learning to turn to God with my sorrows and trouble, as well. I am a devout Christian because every day Jesus teaches me the way I want to live: with the awareness that this is not my world but God's. I'm learning what is my responsibility to share with others and how to do that. I'm a devout Christian because Jesus modeled compassion and faith and righteousness and when I emulate that model, however poorly I succeed, I find myself in the Slipstream, flowing with God's intentions for me.

Sunday, September 15, 2013


For many years, I've felt that reincarnation needs to be true because for me it seemed reincarnation was the only afterlife scenario that would be fair. I haven't put much time or energy into the study of reincarnation but I couldn't reject the idea because of this: What about all the people who are born into terrible circumstances and are never given the chance to know love? How can they possibly experience God's love if they never feel safe and cherished? If reincarnation was not true, then those people would live and die (and probably cause a lot of harm in the interim) without seeing their worth reflected to them in another's eyes. I can't imagine a worse hell.

Cate's flowers with Bill's cross
Lately, though, I've given a lot of thought to Grace. The word has a lot of meanings and nuances amongst Christians, but the way I mean it right now is an awareness of the gift of God's love. Many traditional Christians mean salvation when they talk about grace. It is possible my definition aligns with theirs from a different angle: Enlightenment, Grace, Salvation each mean to become awakened to the knowledge that we are all of God and living in God all the time. But that's a thought for another post.

What I've been thinking is that we're all granted the same amount of Grace but not the same measures in the same time. Some of us are gifted with plenty of God's Grace at birth when we are born to parents who love us and nurture us and guide us. We have stability and tenderness in our lives. Others are born into love but with less of one or more of those other elements: perhaps we're born into a loving family but live in poverty, or we're born into material comfort but inconsistent love, or our parent loves us but has an illness that prevents them from always being able to nurture us as we need or any of a million situations. And then there are those of us who are born into heartbreaking circumstances with no love nor nurturing at all.

If we all get the same amount of Grace and some of us get most of it up front, that means that some of us get it in increments throughout our lives and maybe some of us get it in one big chunk right at the end.

And not only that but I think maybe those of us who get a bigger helping early in life and who have more resources and abilities as a result have a responsibility to share our Grace with others. I think we are supposed 
to help provide those dollops of Grace so that those of who weren't so blessed at birth get to experience love, tenderness and stability through the actions of others. Perhaps as we live up to the Grace given us, we're given more to share (“Live up to the Light granted thee...”).
Photo of St. Francis statue by Mary Linda

“Pull yourself up by your bootstraps” mentality really pisses me off. It implies that we were all born with exact equal measures and anybody who is not as successful (whatever that means) according to a socially defined standard has failed through their own fault or weakness. If Grace works the way I currently understand it, we are all responsible for one another. I have been given a tremendous amount of Grace and it is my responsibility to share as much as I can with those who have less. I am called to share my love, my acceptance, my compassion and my awareness of God's transformative presence as well as my home, my money, and my other resources.

If Grace is true, I don't need to hold any undefined hopes for reincarnation. But, if Grace as I understand it is true, I am called to a much greater level of responsibility than I have previously been aware of. Thankfully, another way I understand grace is that God allows us to be able to start over anew as many times as necessary and welcomes us back each time with joy and nary a bit of impatience.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Burrow Breadbreaking & Bible Banter

Mark & I hosted our first Burrow Bible Study on Wednesday after talking about it for a long, long time.

The original idea goes back 4 or 5 years to when I was eye-balling houses in East Nashville in preparation for my new life. I had a vision of a Wednesday evening worship open to everyone. I felt called to make it inclusive and not necessarily affiliated with Nashville Friends Meeting. I imagined feeding people, music, silent worship, vocal ministry and prayer. When I would look at houses, I'd try to picture trying to hold worship in them. I felt God drawing me toward that life. 

The changes I experienced over the next couple of years put a lot of things on hold. But then Mark and I stepped into this life together and he shares all my desires and feels the same call to provide hospitality and to be an active member of the Body of Christ and we fell in love and bought the Burrow and began talking about hosting a Bible study or maybe a worship group. Unfortunately, we got bogged down in the details: What night is best? Food? What kind of Bible study? How do we keep it from becoming a lecture of Bible translations and historical context? Oh geez, the house is such a wreck. What about kids? We travel so much when's a good time to start it? etcetera.

A couple of weeks ago, I got a nudge from God about it and brought it up to Mark. We started to debate all the above details that we get so easily mired in but we sort of stopped and turned it around. Rather than coming up with problems, we stated what we could do, what felt right and clear. Start at 5:00. Provide a vegetarian meal so nobody has to cook dinner or even make a dish to share (this feels very important to me). Clean the house so it is comfortable but don't worry about perfection. Use a lectionary and the format used by Rich Square Monthly Meeting in North Carolina Yearly Meeting-Conservative so the Bible study doesn't become caught up in head-learning but can be about continuing revelation. Invite everyone regardless of religious affiliation but stress respect and listening in tongues. 

Even with our forward moving ideas, we still didn't do anything to plan it. But Sunday during worship, God told me to just do it. When worship ended, I leaned over to Mark and asked how he felt about me announcing it for Wednesday: he looked surprised but said "Yes!" and so I invited everybody at worship, sent an email to the NFM list and posted about it on facebook. 

We had a total of 11 people (including us + our "grandbaby" Evster). We had 2 Friend-friendly folk (a Methodist and a Pentecostal smart-ass) and 2 FUM (a different branch of Quakerism) Friends. We didn't really have any expectations for the evening although we did have a loose plan. Dinner was 5-6 and we thought Bible study would start a few minutes after 6:00. Of course it was a bit later than that but not too much. We moved from the table to the parlor where I introduced worship sharing, explained "listening in tongues" and Mark gave us the context of the Lectionary and provided the Bible passages. There wasn't much silence between speakers and people pretty much instantly forgot about not speaking twice until everyone had a chance to speak but you'll have that in worship sharing. I think it went really well. People seemed open about themselves and with one another, and respectful. 

We don't know where this will lead or what will come of it. When we invited people this week, we hadn't yet committed to making it a weekly thing but we are feeling led to do so, for now at least. In talking further about it, we decided to devote one gathering a month to music and hymn singing so we will do that the 3rd Wednesday of August and I'm really excited about it! I don't expect we'll have more than a couple of people who come consistently and so each week will have a totally different vibe. I anticipate there will be weeks in which Mark, Finn & I are the only people here and other weeks when we'll have a full house. I trust the Lord to help us remain open and loving, no matter what unfolds week-by-week. 

Other than being aware to avoid the siren call of biblical interpretation, the main problem I find is the size of our parlor. We have this huge house that is divided up all choppy and weird so the rooms are actually pretty small. We fit 11 people in this room but it felt cramped. I'd like to knock a wall and a half out to open it up but I'm rather fearful of doing so. I think soon it will be time for us to hire a contractor or reliable handy-person to fix/change the things that need fixing/changing in the Burrow. 

We've asked ourselves if we are being faithful in this leading and both feel clear that we are. I'd been feeling like we had strayed from the Slipstream that Mark & I stepped into when we began falling in love. Being with him felt surely like God had put us together for our own happiness but more to do God's work together. We've spent a lot more energy on the pleasure aspects of our relationship for a long time and I had the sense that we had drifted from God's plan for us. With our BBB&Bb, I feel we are stepping back into the Slipstream, offering ourselves for God's service.