The art of gentle revolution

by | 6 Sep, 2020

Ann Zubrick, West Australian Regional Meeting

Earlier this year I received this prayer in an email. It remains on a card in front of me, as it has for many weeks, and as I write now.

God, help us to change.
To change ourselves and to change the world.
To know the need for it. To deal with the pain of it.
To feel the joy of it.
To undertake the journey without understanding the destination.
The art of gentle revolution.

Had you asked me in January 2020 if I felt ready to clerk a virtual Yearly Meeting (hereafter YM) on Zoom my resounding response would have been “absolutely not!”

“Zoom” entered my vocabulary in July 2019 during Standing Committee in Hobart. At YM19 Friends discerned that the Yearly Meeting Finances and Budget be held at a Zoom Standing Committee in August 2019. I found both the clerking and minuting in a virtual context both different and difficult.

Arriving in Brisbane in January 2020 for mid-year Standing Committee and the Australia YM Annual General Meeting, I felt instantly energised and engaged,  simply being together with Friends was a joy. I was heartened when, discerning which components of YM20 might be live-streamed, the minute recorded that those decisions should rest with the Presiding Clerk. I quietly noted that livestreaming and recording State of Society, Summary of Epistles and the Backhouse Lecture could all work.  All would be well.

While we were together in Brisbane, YM secretary Jacque Schultz and I confirmed arrangements encompassing YM 2020. I would fly from Perth to Sydney on Wednesday July 1. Jacque would drive us to Avondale. We would spend two days preparing the YM Business agendas and sequence. We would then greet and share a meal and time with Standing Committee later on Friday, Following Standing Committee on Saturday we would meet and greet Ffriends arriving at Avondale. Two days after YM we would finalise YM Business items and return to Sydney and I would fly to Perth. All was broadly planned and in hand.

And then it wasn’t.

In March it became increasingly clear that YM plans to meet in Avondale would need to be cancelled. YM20, if it happened, would be virtual.

Canberra Regional Meeting YM organising committee immediately moved to plan for a virtual YM20. David Purnell Assistant Clerk YM, Jacque Schultz YM Secretary and I met regularly to consider processes and decision making to enable YM Business within four 90-minute sessions. Together we suggested a possible sequence following the distribution of Documents in Advance for Regional Meetings to discern matters twice, if necessary, and bring only those matters on which there was not unity to YM to discern.

All this was fine in theory. However, clerking YM requires much spiritually. Where was I spiritually?

Fremantle Local Meeting which I attend on a Sunday morning stopped when the community centre where we meet closed for COVID-19 and would remain closed until October 2020.  At the end of April I was aware of growing experiences of grief and loss. I missed the fellowship of Sunday morning worship and morning tea with Fremantle Ffriends. Online Meetings for Worship have worked less satisfactorily for me than for other Ffriends.

Then in mid-May a 95-year-old friend, living in residential aged-care, had a massive stroke and died 12 days later. I had known her for 60 years and, at her invitation ten years ago, accepted legal guardianship for her. My days filled visiting the hospital, negotiating care plans, arranging palliative care provision and oversight in residential care where she died. In the weeks following her death I felt deep grief, physical and spiritual exhaustion.

How could I prepare to clerk Yearly Meeting while in this space spiritually?

I contacted the Friends in my Presiding Clerk Support Group and shared the story with them. I knew that I could not clerk sitting at my computer at home without both practical and spiritual support leading up to and throughout YM20. Responses from them and two Friends whom I called on specifically for spiritual support and care came to me as the grace of God greeting and meeting us every moment. I had not had energy to make and take the time I needed to discern those abundant gifts. I set about “grace spotting” sitting on a low wall by the Indian ocean each morning for 30 minutes or so and slowly walking either the beach or a path along the coastline. I observed and absorbed the atmosphere of the day and time. It differed on each occasion, and as I caught glimpses of my inner state, I was invited to see things differently—a part of Spirit at work in the world.  I slowly found joy in experimenting and discovering what was speaking to me.  Spirit was meeting me there. This mystery wants communion with me. It is nearby. And the mystery reveals itself to me for a reason.

I am a singer and have belonged to a choir for many years. One morning the words of a Leonard Cohen song came powerfully to me as an ‘ear worm’ and refused to leave for several days until I wrote the chorus down and committed to using it for the first Business session.

Ring out the bells that still can ring,
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the Light gets in.

On subsequent days, the lyrics of other songs arose from that place of worship and listening to them over and over unlocked another place in my soul. I asked myself if the messages that were rising were for me or for others.  I wish to be faithful in my discernment of messages that are for me and for others, too.

My first years of life were in Africa. African tribesmen know the value of pausing. They stop often in their travels and sit quite still, listening to the beating of their hearts. They say they are trying to let their souls catch up with them on the journey. I needed to let my soul catch up with the rest of my life ahead of YM20. There emerged a strength and joy from COVID19 slowing me down.

I am gradually grasping the technology required for clerking and minuting long distance. It is becoming more familiar but not yet automatic.  I have been grateful for coaching, support and assistance of several Friends before and since YM20. I spent considerable time sitting with the agenda and items ahead of YM20 and preparing draft minutes where I considered it useful.

Friends within WARM provided practical and spiritual assistance through each day of YM. We had times of silence together, shared food and laughter too. They provided practical assistance with each of the Business sessions.  I experienced being deeply spiritually held by Friends in the Mount Lawley Meeting House while I clerked Business sessions.

I participated in very few YM20 activities aside from Meeting for Worship, Business sessions and other parts which required my presence. I needed space to be present for what was needed. I missed the informal contact with so many Friends during YM—morning and afternoon teas, meals, and simply passing one another during the day. I was delighted to read in Friends’ evaluations how well YM20 had worked for them.

The coronavirus has not yet left, and we are all challenged to ask painful questions as we face the uncertainties that lie ahead. I hope that YM21 can take place physically in Melbourne. However, we need to prepare for the reality that YM21 will again be virtual.

Together we can hear from one another, with empathy and openness about our own experiences through this time in our Yearly Meeting and Regional or Local Meetings too. My hope is that we can share deeply from our experiences and that this will help us move forward together in the Light.

Today, many speak about or describe a “new normal”, yet long for the old one which had given them comfort.  I am among them. And yet I have a sense that our lives have changed because of what we have lived and are living in these months, and we are not sure whether we have the energy and capacity to go beyond. I trust that COVID-19 provides an opportunity to reflect calmly on “what matters most”, and to respond with love, hope and imagination.

At the end of the report from Silver Wattle Quaker Centre in Documents in Advance  for YM2020 Sheila Keane wrote: “The shutdown provides an opportunity to step back and discern what ministry is asked of Silver Wattle; it is a time of faithful waiting; actively and expectantly waiting. It is a fertile ground for new opening. By the time this report is read, everything will be different again; and Silver Wattle will still be there reporting in faith.”

Friends, are we ready for a gentle revolution?

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