Sunday, September 23, 2012

State of My Heart report #1

When I think of my first School of the Spirit residency, the words that come to mind are: enveloped, encouraged, exhorted and edified. I was awed and delighted that 22 such different people could come together with intentionality and almost instantly create a community centered in God. It felt to me that we all came prepared; as if we had each done all the work we needed to do in order to be present and open to Divine guidance. This hit home on the third day when we were returning from a break and everybody was in their seat exactly on time! I have never experienced everyone in a group of Quakers on time for anything so the fact that we were all ready and engaged on time for each activity, from morning worship to closing, was absolutely amazing to me.

Eric E was our Person of Presence. The role of PoP is similar to that of Traveling Companion or Elder. He held us all, as individuals and as a community, in prayer. He engaged with us during some activities but remained attuned to the spiritual pulse of the group and the needs of the teachers and participants. He fluidly moved from the role of gopher to guide to guy friday. He was a sweet, tender and funny presence. Before leaving on Monday, he shared a group Examen that turned into a beautiful and spiritually enriching sermon asking, “Where are you? Where am I? Where are we?” with loving encouragement for us to go deep in search of an answer. Our class is in agreement he set the bar high for future PoPs.

Our teachers, Patty, Beckey and Mike, bring very different but complimentary gifts to our class. Beckey is new to the program but, as a member of an early SotS class, was completely at home in her new role. They took turns leading us in exercises. In each of their presentations, they revealed themselves to us with honesty so I never felt we were doing “head” work, rather, that our hearts were being clearly spoken to.

We had the blessing of the time of 2 visiting teachers. On Friday, we visited Plymouth Meeting and listened to Dave M share his experiences of being in Beloved Community. His talk was heart-felt and deeply moving. Sitting in the 300 year old meetinghouse, listening to him talk about growing in Christ by growing in his relationship with the Body of Christ was a beautiful gift to us.

Barbarajene W visited us on Saturday and talked about time. She prefaced her talk with “I’m not going to say anything you don’t already know...” and this was true. Hearing, though, a reminder that we make time for what is important to us is always beneficial. We were reminded of being aware of things in God’s time versus how we usually do in human time. I have the Victoria Williams song “On Time” in my head when I think of this:

On time,
On time,
Always on time.
Why you might be going crazy,
About to lose your mind.
Don’t fret.
Don’t worry.
Just feel peace of mind.
That peace of mind that you’re always on time.

This song is about realizing that we’re all living in God’s time, if we can only awaken to it. I sing it often.

On Saturday, Beckey preached about the Inward Christ and the Seed and Joann, a classmate, read from Lloyd Lee’s book on Gospel Order. A lot of people had never heard this and were angry, hurt and confused. I have no trouble understanding this; intellectually, I’m good with it.

After our closing that evening, another classmate, Franchot, gave an impromptu Native American flute concert in the chapel.  While listening, it came to me that I have been just skimming the surface. I do experience God but mostly I’m just flitting about, heedless. I think for the first time, I truly understood being a sinner. While sitting alone among my newly intimate community, listening to the hauntingly beautiful music, I felt God’s presence as I have read described by others, like a searchlight, illuminating my deepest self. I was overcome by feelings of awe and trepidation and yet willingly exposed and vulnerable.  I felt God with me, not as a gentle Presence but as GOD showing me my innermost heart.

I sat in the chapel, crying, needing God but not even knowing what to pray for. I’ve read the accounts of being searched by the Inbreaking Light, being transformed by God. It seems audacious to even pray for that because what if I can’t live up to it? What if God gives me this gift and I remain my own, blithe, willful self?

I wondered if I should reach out to my classmates or one of my teachers but I didn’t know what I could or should say. I stumbled up to my room where I prayed, sobbing, and wrote for several hours. I was shown my sins. I’d known them all along but was shown them as God sees them. Not in words but in knowing, God told me to stop making excuses; stop being lazy and selfish; stop asking for guidance until I am ready to grow into what I have already been given. Knowing my sins and not faithfully, consciously trying to “sin no more” is without excuse.

The next morning during our time for individual spiritual practice, I wrote my psalm. Coincidentally, that morning’s worship was on “Praying the Psalms”.  I found that Psalm 139 spoke clearly to my condition (first time a Psalm has ever really done anything for me). We were given the chance to share and I read my prayer. Reading the words aloud before my Beloved Community felt to me to be a more true commitment than just writing it.

Back home again I am trying to live what I have been shown. How to be faithful? How to not fall back into what is routine and easy? I feel as if everything should be different. Everything is the same and the only thing different is my awareness. In this moment, I completely relate to Mark’s move to plain dress as an external sign of his intention to live for God. If I had an external sign, would I be called back to an awareness of how I reflect God? I can’t imagine what I wear would influence the amount of time I spend laughing at kittens on the internet. The change has to be in my embracing a new awareness of who I am in God.

Mark and I have begun to worship and read the Bible together first thing in the morning. This helps set me on a good course for the day. We’ve begun doing an Examen each evening which gives me the opportunity to reflect on where I felt God’s presence at the end of the day. I’ve tried to be very deliberate about my internet use during the day. I frequently turn to spiritually meaningful music; the song that’s come to me most often lately is “Dear Friends”. I’m listening to Kindling Stone’s “I Am the True Vine” right now. The Chihuahua often interrupts my concentration when I pray for others and I just discovered a really nice way to deal with this: I learned to write with a calligraphy pen for our wedding and, for the first time in my life, my handwriting looks pretty good. Calligraphy has to be done slowly and carefully so I think of each of the people I want to pray for and write their name several times which allows me time to really focus while praying for them.

I feel a great deal of fear that I will not be able to sustain this commitment; that I will fail in my faithfulness. I know Grace is being able to return as many times as necessary but what God showed me and called me to is not just about being forgetful but about LIVING. How do I live up to this? All I know to do is to ask God to show me how and to turn to my Beloved Community (extended) to encourage and exhort me.

Thank you, Friends.

with love,
Mary Linda

1 comment:

Ashley W said...

Thank you for sharing this wonderful report on your first residency, Mary Linda!