Monday, March 17, 2008

Speaking and Listening for God's Will

The latest Pendle Hill pamphlet I've received in the mail is by Mariellen Gilpin called "God's Healing Grace: Reflections on a Journey with Mental and Spiritual Illness". In it, the author shares her experiences with mental illness and how she learned to deal with it through the Grace of God, the support and help of her spiritual community and a very committed, ongoing committee of care. This pamphlet is challenging to me in my understanding of various aspects of mental illness. The author describes having demons live in her. I was raised in a Christian fundamentalist household in which it was accepted that there have been/could be demons. They were always "of Satan" and against God. When I began reading this pamphlet, my knee-jerk reaction was to distance myself from accepting at her word the author's experiences and her descriptions. Using the word demon sounded to me against modern understandings. As I read, I tried to keep an open mind and found myself accepting that the author was using a word to describe the voices and hallucinations that, perhaps, I wouldn't choose but that needed naming and were appropriate from the author's perspective and experience. Things must have a name in order to be described and she chose the name that worked for her.

The thing that spoke loudest to me was the author's on-going committee of care. She met every few weeks with two members of her Meeting's ministry and oversight committee and a Celtic shaman who was not Quaker but who "valued silence and deeply listened for God's guidance". The committee also prayed for her every night.

I have a dear friend, J, who suffers from bi-polar disorder. She functions well most of the time with the help of mood stabilizing drugs and supportive friends and family. Currently, though, she is experiencing some issues with a control-based eating disorder (anorexia). I talked to a f/Friend who heads the Tennessee chapter of NAMI to get a recommendation for a therapist. Then I called J. I gave her the information and listened to what she could tell me about where she is. We talked about what she needs and what is happening with her. After a time, I told her about what I learned from this pamphlet. This friend is not Quaker; she identifies as Wiccan with Pagan leanings (but she does agree with and respects much of what she understands about Quakerism). I explained to her what I understand about the author's committee of care and how it might work. I told her that I think it would be absolutely imperative that it be spiritually based and that all the members would have to share a unifying belief or understanding of the Divine in order for the group to transcend individual egos and listen with open hearts and minds. I spoke slowly, searching for the right words and as I talked I felt overcome by the quaking of God speaking through me. I also told her about my experience of holding her in the Light during meeting last week and having the recurring image of me physically holding her up in God's light. I let her know that I love her and am available to her in whatever way she needs and that I will continue to hold her in my prayers.

I've never felt Spirit come through me outside of meeting for worship like that before. I am grateful for the lesson. I am always sharing ideas and resources with people, giving them information that will link them with others or materials or organizations that will support what they need. Usually, I do this to help them because I care about them but it's still done from my ego. When I spoke with J, I spoke carefully, choosing my words with love and even hesitation. I think the space between the words and the love in that space allowed Spirit to enter me. What a profound gift. Slow down and listen.

Tomorrow evening, Caroline and I will be leading our large Growing In the Light group meeting. The topic is obedience, which I chose almost a year ago when we were planning the monthly meetings. We're going to use a couple of the spiritual exercises from Tilden Edwards' book, "Living in the Presence", one a daily examen and the other called Discerning Action. This is what the opening paragraph about discerning action, "Discernment of what is seemingly consonant with God's will in regard to a particular significant action being contemplated normally is a process, not a single step..."

I am lead to understand that learning to slow down and allow silence when I speak is learning to be obedient to God's will for me. I think that's why I blog. When I write, I think about what I am trying to express and am usually slow and deliberate, allowing more room for contemplation and Spirit-led inspiration than I ever experience when speaking. My conversation with J has given me the insight into my potential for speaking, as well.


Anonymous said...

You bring up a good point about language. I am impressed by your ability to discern. You are correct in realizing that everything "must have a name." In the creation, God gave man and woman names, and they, in turned named the animals. Names have often been the lifeblood of individuals. From birth Esau was "the hairy one" (this is what his name means in Hebrew), and I think that Jesus (whose names means salvation) has an important role to play in the salvation of the world.

Even as you at first critique the pamphlet because of its use of "demons," one must remember that you instantly interpreted your feelings about what you said toward you friend as the work of the spirit. Why did you think such a thing? Probably because the feeling you felt with your friend was similar to the way you feel when you feel the spirit at church. But if we had no word for spirit, we would have no way of describing the experience.

Even if you can use the word like "spirit" to describe the divine light of the triune God, I'm sure you would agree that such language is, at the most, incomplete to describe the immanent and divine grace that comes with such a situation. While we recognize language, we, at the same time, recognize its limits in explaining and helping us to know the divine.

Friendly Mama said...

Exactly! That's why I find the silence of worshipping in Friends Meeting so powerful. Messages are given directly and shared "in the spirit". Language is imperfect but God communicates to us and through us in spite of it's (our) imperfections.

Thank you for sharing your thoughts with me!
Mary Linda