Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Discernment for What I Bring Into My Life

(Please read my blogpost, "Everything Added Means Something Else Is Lost" as the preface to this post.)

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by saying if you have this thing, it will replace several other things you don’t use so often anymore because they’re outdated.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.


Eric H-L said...

My 15 year old son wants an Iphone so badly he can taste it. This is one gadget I don't feel any desire for. I have been grumpy and put up barriers to communication with him because I see parts of myself that I don't like.

The community with daily worship and discernment sounds good to me. Once a week is not enough. Are there obstacles? For me (and I suspect for some people at the meeting I attend) committing the time is the largest hurdle. If every member of the family is not part of this community then it is time away from family. If the employer is not part of the community, then this is time away from work. I bring up obstacles in the spirit of overcoming them not to discourage.

Friendly Mama said...

Nice to hear from you, Eric!

I suspect that it would be very, very hard to find consensus in a group unless every person entered with an absolute spirit of submission and there was deep trust built on daily individual and group worship with true humility. We're too attached to our stuff. How many myriad excuses would I find if I were called (or called out/eldered) to release my laptop/internet usage from my life?

I struggle with religious committee meetings interfering with family dynamics. Juggling family and work and a religious community when one's spouse does not share that community is hard. Sometimes I've found I've had to step back from Quaker obligations/activities to create peace in my home.

As for the Iphone--I lost that battle before I even knew there was one. When I went out of town on my last business trip, I returned to find he'd bought himself one and given our 7 y/o his Ipod. My 15 y/o has had 2 Ipods and is on his 2nd cell phone. He doesn't have an Iphone simply because he misplaces everything he owns. He lost his glasses within 2 weeks of getting them. He lost a book last week at the bus station. I think his father would consider buying him an Iphone for Christmas but for the fact that it would not remain in his posesssion long. Good luck with negotiating that one with your son.

I have a much better relationship with my 15y/o than I did with my 19y/o for the reason you cite about your son. I saw many of my less-than-desirable qualities in the older and I was very hard on him. My 15 y/o is much more like his father so I am able to have better perspective about him. We get along pretty well and are able to communicate about important and trivial stuff. Does your wife have a better relationship with your son? My husband and 15 y/o clash a lot and I'm the buffer. My husband was the buffer with the oldest.

Eric H-L said...

Talking with you is like one topic leads to two and two leads to four! Now you have two new blogposts I want to comment on!

I have started to think of my son's grasping need for an iPhone as "iDolatry" Yes we are going to let him pay for it and pay for the monthly data plan and lose it or go swimming with it...I don't know if either parents or children are doing much discerning here. May my kids somehow figure out that the gadgets will not make them happy.
In my family I don't perceive either kid as being like my wife of me very much. I don't think many of our parent/child conflicts are fueled by this similar personalities dynamic. I will try to be mindful next time I feel angry with kids ...maybe it happens more than I think. Like your family, when one of us has a conflict with one kid the other parent often does help mediate/resolve.
Your description of the daily community was very appealing in the intitial blog. Now you are talking about the elders taking away our internet privileges!
But seriously, I share the ambivalence I think I hear. I will keep pondering it.

Friendly Mama said...

iDolatry--very, very funny!

I always appreciate your observations, questions and insight. It's good to bounce ideas and thoughts off other people; to hear their take on things and sometimes even their help with discernment.

I think we modern, Liberal Quakers are so hesitant to "interfere" with one another's lives and leadings that we mostly just keep to ourselves, you know? We don't intimately know one another with open hearts. I've let down my guard and am now a mostly open book in my Meeting and in my blog but it took a long, long time to be able to trust Spirit and my community to do that. And I in no way feel I know most of the other folks at NFM well enough to really speak to them about their lives unless they were to seek me out and ask me to do so. I regret the lack of daily knowing and would like to find a way to foster than in my world.

But yeah, not if anyone wants to take away facebook!