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.