Corporate discernment is one of the unique aspects of Religious Society of Friends. Our Meetings for Worship for the Conduct of Business are just that: Conducting our business and making business decisions with an attitude of prayerful concern as a spiritual community. Incorporating Monthly Meeting into Meeting for Worship in this way speaks clearly of business concerns being a normal part of the spiritual life of the meeting. Committees present reports: sometimes asking for support or guidance, sometimes offering suggestions and sometimes bringing concerns; we, Nashville Friends Monthly Meeting, then hold these in prayerful consideration until a clear understanding of the direction we’re being led is given to us. Sometimes this is immediate. Sometimes there are many questions and a great deal of discussion occurs. Sometimes we ask that more information be found and that we reconsider the question at the next month’s meeting or suggest a Called Meeting be held when more information is found. Sometimes a person will ask a question that leads to clearness for us. Sometimes we discuss things for a long, long time and realize we’re all getting too personally involved and someone will ask for silence while we hold the concern, and our role with it, in the Light. We rely on the most centered of us to help the rest of us learn to let go of attachment to a specific outcome and let God’s will for us as a corporate body unite and guide us. In doing so, we all deepen our awareness and trust in God’s direction for us, individual and as a unified body.
Which brings me back to discernment for what I bring into my life. You know how it is: You see this…thing. It catches your eye and you think it’s pretty neat. It seems to actually be exactly what you’d been needing, although you didn’t really even know you’d been needing it. It’s just right, the right color, size, price. It’s perfect. You can justify it by saying if you have this thing, it will replace several other things you don’t use so often anymore because they’re outdated. But you’re not an extravagant person so you go home and sleep on it and think about it and maybe even (but probably not) pray about it. But you know you were sold the first time you laid eyes on it so, utterly convinced this thing will fill a void, you return to the store, lay down your cash or card, and walk out with the thing. And guess what? Well, the thing serves it’s purpose for a while and you are very happy with it at first and then you don’t use it so often and other things come along that are more up-to-date and the thing gets set aside and your eye lights upon another thing and: Repeat. The cycle of stuff. It’s really, really easy to convince ourselves that what we want is what we need so there’s really no discernment at all that comes into it about acquiring stuff. We have it and we want>need more of it. There are some of us who don’t have as much discretionary income as others of us so can’t buy so much stuff but we all wind up with lots and lots (and lots). There really is no process of discernment. There are no standards for what we have in our lives. There are no guides for us other than our vague feelings of unease and discomfort around the Simplicity and a little teensy wee bit around the Equality testimonies. We’re like big greedy children who’ve never been taught that we shouldn’t, always, just because we can.
So I think about the segregated religious sects like the Amish and Mennonites who have community rules and standards and while I don’t want to be in an Old Order kind of community, I have to say that the corporate/communal discernment around what is gained and what is lost by bringing new things into our lives and into our communities is very appealing. All of y’all who know me know I’m not a particularly humble, self-less kind of person. I have a fairly robust self-esteem and enjoy the me-ness of me. On the other hand, what an egocentric sentence that was! I mean—really! There was certainly no “Thy will” happening there, at all. And there I go. I find great, well sometimes great and sometimes just a little appeal, in the idea of being a member of a community with whom I would gather to discern standards for living. Not hard and fast rules: Not “our way or we shun you” rules. Not, “oooh, did you see the way Mary (fill in the blank)?!” kind of community rules. But loving standards that help me live up to the highest standards God sets for me. ‘Cause, you know, I don’t seem to be able to live up to ‘em on my own very well. I can’t even seem to figure out what they are on my own very well except in hindsight.
I feel some attraction to the idea of submitting myself to some authority larger than myself. Of course, there’s God. But I don’t seem to be able to do that very well on my own. I can’t get my shit together enough to listen and really hear what God’s calling me to do. Sometimes I hear (like, right now I’m really struggling) but often I’m so busy and distracted and single-minded about work or some other thing that is not what God is saying to me that I am totally, unhappily oblivious to God in my life. If I were part of a larger community of (what even to call it: Believers? Disciples? Followers? Listeners? Heeders?) whom I trust to not be all ego-tripped out and with whom I spent daily time in prayerful worship and corporate discernment, I could, maybe, learn to be more faithful, to daily live as I am being called: To live every moment as a prayer.
But alas, I don’t have this. I have my dear Nashville Friends Meeting which meets once a week and every other week my Friendly Women’s group. I have F/friends with whom I communicate via facebook and email and occasionally by phone and even more rarely in person. I have blogs I read and books and novels. I have prayer, for a moment or two a couple of times a day and I have writing like this, when I can find/make the time. I do not live my life as a prayer. I do not discern much of anything excepting once a month in Monthly Meeting. I do not prayerfully consider the repercussions of what I bring into my life. I do not think about what I may be letting go of when I accept something new. I not only don’t heed God’s will for me, I don’t even hear it most of the time.
What am I asking here? To have ears and to hear. To learn to submit to God. To have a community that holds me in prayer and holds me up to help me live up to my light. To let go of me and live for God. A little bit of wisdom; just enough to find my way out of this wrong place and into the right place I’m supposed to be, whatever it is God’s calling me to.