Sue Wilson, Queensland Regional Meeting.
Recently I’ve been reminded about early Friends and their “experimental” practice with discernment. Early Friends shared their inner journeys with each other, even sending to far-off Meetings the news of each other’s spiritual experiences and visions. From this deep knowledge and trust arose Friends’ leadings and concerns (as individuals and as communities). Their open sharing about what they would and wouldn’t do in their lives led to the testimonies that we follow today. Their corporate activities bubbled up from the living source, not from previous generations’ words, wisdom, and structures.
Writing this article feels like my own version of “sending out” some of my own spiritual experience.
I do see a renewal of “experimental” or experiential practice among Australian Friends, through courses at Silver Wattle, local Light groups, small groups using Parker Palmer’s processes, and of course the Meeting for Learning retreat program that began back in 1995 and with which I’m very involved.
There are many different pathways to seeking what is true for each of us. Some of us become clear after long practice of centring down and waiting in stillness.
Some of us say that we simply live our apparently mundane lives with deliberate attention to what “flows.” I’ve recently heard this described in a beautiful way: “All day every day what I do is the groundwork for my link with the Divine Spirit that flows through and with me.”
Others of us experience sudden sacred moments of insight. It’s important to see the value and validity of our own pathway, rather than longing for someone else’s.
Some of what follows is my own example of longing for someone else’s path at times. Now, after nearly 30 years among Friends, I feel easier about recognising and honouring my gifts, my path and personality.
My leading about convening Summer School for Yearly Meeting 2014 seemed to arise quite quickly during last Yearly Meeting in Canberra, when I saw and felt discernment happening all around me. Friends everywhere seemed to be seeking and speaking truth and love with courage.
When I returned home from Canberra Yearly Meeting, I waited and read and walked half hoping that the nudge towards convening Summer School might stop pushing me. When it didn’t, I turned to our wonderful Australian Advices and Queries. The very first item seemed to form itself into an invitation for Summer School.
“Take heed dear Friends to the promptings of love and truth in your hearts. Trust them as the leadings of God whose Light shows us our darkness and brings us to new life.”
There’s the Summer School theme, as agreed by Queensland Regional Meeting – “Promptings of love and truth in our hearts.” Elsewhere in this issue of the Australian Friend you will see some of the interesting groups being planned for Yearly Meeting 2014.
Promptings of truth with less love!
When I first came to Quakers nearly 30 years ago, I sat in Meeting for Worship wrestling with my anger over the state of the world. For the first time in my life, I sensed an inner yet not-quite-me voice, which said, “Do what YOU can and then be quiet about it.”
I was so impressed by this prompting that I took it very literally for perhaps too long. I engaged in social action through Amnesty International and what is now Oxfam Australia, until five years later I was exhausted from trying to save the world part time while teaching at TAFE full time.
Looking back now, I realise that actions fuelled mainly by anger and desperation are unsustainable and unlikely to better the world. True leadings don’t bend us out of shape with exhaustion or distress but align us with the Living Spirit.
Promptings laced with guilt!
Slowly I learnt not to let anger or guilt be my prime motivator. “Guilt” is such a little and belittling word, quite out of place among Friends. Yet I know it’s very real in many Friends’ lives. Although at last I allowed myself a more balanced life, I continued to doubt what else I might usefully do if not the unsustainable (for me) social justice work.
Despair over no promptings
At one Yearly Meeting, I actually went to my room for a stormy half hour of crying. My friends were so busy and effective being Friends in many different ways. What was my way of being a Friend? How could I belong unless I said Yes to the important peace, justice, and committee work?
I understood by then the need to follow my own leadings from a centred place, and not to live my life through other people’s judgements. But where was my leading?
I knew that I wasn’t alone, and that many Friends share my struggle to find their place without feeling pressure to take up things they are not called to do!
Promptings of love and truth through imagery
Then, about fifteen years ago, I received one of the greatest blessings of my life. Surprisingly, this was a series of images during Meeting for Worship and other quiet times at home.
In the image, I was sitting beside a stream, watching a procession of pilgrims crossing the stream and going up a distant mountain. One of the pilgrims would sometimes sit beside me to tell me their story. I began to feel unworthy – I should be a pilgrim too. I should get up and follow, or at least be one of the useful helpers offering food along the way.
What amazed me most was that Jesus came into the image and knelt to wash my feet. Then the Jesus figure made this clear, challenging and yet loving statement: “Your job is to reflect in the stream. You lose the stream too easily.”
Over the years this image often returns, slightly different each time but always confirming that powerful message. I think it strengthened me to take up the invitation that came soon after.
Leadings by invitation
In the year 2000 I was invited to become a facilitator for the Meeting for Learning retreat program. I felt honoured, terrified, and certain that this was a path for me to take. This continuing commitment is the most wonderful work that I’ve done among Friends.
Fifteen years of following a leading
All the same, as my image of reflecting in the stream continued to sustain and challenge me, a small part of me went on secretly waiting for the image to turn into something bigger. Perhaps I hoped to become one of the pilgrims or one of the providers – someone more obviously “useful.”
During a Meeting for Learning retreat week, it felt as if the essence of the image finally dropped fully into my inner being, after many years.
The point is that the Jesus figure tells me that reflecting in the stream is my JOB, so that I will take it more seriously than anything else. It’s time to accept that among all the needs in this complex world, this is somehow my part, at least for now. In my own way, I’ve been as faithful as those pilgrims on their tiring journey. I’ve patiently gone on trusting my image and the discernment it helps me with.
Another vital point is that I’m to reflect in the stream not because I’m good at it but because I need it! As Jesus says in the image, “You lose the stream too easily.”
It takes some humility to see that I have to receive from the Living Stream before I can give anything back to other people. I have a feeling that I’m not alone among Friends in sometimes needing this reminder.