Again, try to envision that perfect spiritual community. How do we plug our own households (with all of their struggles in a disintegrating society) into that envisioned fellowship? Terra Mama’s got her hubbie and kids, with all of their confrontations in the wider world; meanwhile, this poet-monk keeps hoping to find wifey and kids, to engage in a, well, household, for starters – just to finally get into the game. Too often, I feel like a monk without a monastery! And my prayer life often takes the form of poetry writing, collecting rejection slips from publishers, or playing solitaire and sipping martinis because I don’t want to tackle Pile A, Pile B, or Pile C of obligations awaiting my labors in my studio – usually after my workday.
Put another way, I just don’t see it in the nature of our own liberal/artsy/leftist leaning folkies to get together in anything having a degree of gelassenheit – submission, discipleship, or correcting-rebuking potential. It’s the old problem of trying to herd cats. (Or, as one clerk greeted the Meeting after a presentation by the kids at the rise of worship: “Welcome to the New Age Holy Rollers!”)
Several newer Friends in Agamenticus have been stunned to hear our current clerk tell them how long it has taken Friends here to finally accept my messages, with their Biblical references. Then they look incredulously at me to see my nodding affirmation. There is a place for patience, but the Meeting as a whole still has a long way to go before we’re Biblically rooted. And there will always be a hole forming a “doughnut Meeting, sweet at the edges but hollow in the middle,” until we learn to pray together. At least some people are asking in our announcements time that other Friends hold them in prayer, rather than simply in the Light.
I suppose that practicing as a faith community without openly acknowledging the power and presence of Christ is like trying to do chemistry without any mathematics; things can happen, but you’re never sure quite why, there’s always a high degree of chance, and it’s bound to be messy with unfinished materials all about. Thus, while I find Quaker worship and service can come closest to that of the early church, it is also with a measure of bad manners, not to acknowledge (more specifically, praise and give thanks to) its root and source. Hence, my Mennonite experiences and discipleship, small group, and you and Eric. What a trip!
Now, do you expect the job of pastor to be any easier, facing a congregation of uncomprehending faces or Sunday-only Christians? Most of the pastors I see are pretty isolated, too; they and their families don’t really fit easily into their congregational fellowship. You know the struggles of most P.K.s (“preacher’s kids”); many of the spouses are the real martyrs of Protestant parishes. Maybe what you and I yearn for is grandparents and aunts and uncles in the Spirit, and we long for an extended family – the kind where four Hodgin brothers marry four Ozbun sisters over the course of several years, and are then available whenever for each other whenever needed (that is, between the demands of their thirty-two or so children). Instead, we get Hollywood romance: boy meets girl, zippo.
Actually, you need to go to Cuba and visit with our sister Meetings there. They have community because there’s no alternative. They walk everywhere together. Their faith has been refined in the fire, and they see know their neighbors problems and needs because they live nearby, and they Jesus everywhere. Their representatives who visit New England are re-evangelizing NEYM. Some of their teens, writing to Wellesley’s young Friends, asked: “Tell us about your conversion experiences!” (Our WHAT?) (Out of that, one Massachusetts teen voiced how much his/her parents opposed said teen’s attendance at any religious observance – going to Meeting is an act of rebellion.)
When I clerk, I continue a practice from Ohio of prefacing the session with a quotation of Scripture, which is then minuted. Last QM, I selected a chunk from 1st John. Later, a red Valentine cutout was passed around, a gift from a youth in our sister Meeting, Holguin. As I translated the text, in my hands, I realized she had written, in Spanish, much of what I had read in English earlier. That’s what we long for.
Well, my three-year stint on Ministry and Counsel is now completed, and is I exhausted! Told Nominating I need at least a year’s respite, will serve only as Quarterly Meeting clerk this year; turned down Yearly Meeting, too, in its request for me to be one of the recording clerks. Same reason, plus the gelassenheit reality from above. One thing is enough.
On top of it, I’ve raised a concern with Yearly Meeting’s M&C that maybe it’s time to lay down the Quarterly Meetings, or at least seriously reconsider their role. I think that with modern transportation, the Yearly Meeting committees have simply replaced the QM in most if not all of its functions.
Other fronts help, too: After Meeting for Worship a few months ago, I was in a conversation with someone who shocked me by saying that she and her husband were about to step into retirement – they certainly don’t look it – and that led into a tally of little adjustments in the aging process – the reading glasses, aches, and so on. “Yeah, this getting older isn’t any fun,” I quipped. From behind us came a soft voice, “That’s why old age is saved for those of us who are tough!” – and we turned to see it had come from eighty-something Grace. So maybe we’re just toughening up, rather than being patched up?
For more Seasons of the Spirit, click here.