Messages in a lively Quaker meeting often have threads. Life has threads, the blogosphere has threads, and some of them have been flowing my way lately.
Richard M, at A Place to Stand wrote a recent post on the importance of eldering, in the sense of nurturing gifts when, like volunteer seedlings in a garden, they crop up unexpectedly. Though I'm not 100% sure I agree with everything he had to say (for instance, I question whether a lack of positive feedback from elders at meeting regarding spoken ministry can be taken as meaning that the messages we gave were not right to be shared. I think that there are a lot of indicators of good vocal ministry, and that feedback from elders is only one of them) I did really like the post. He writes that good spoken ministry will "resonate with what is going on within some of the Friends listening."
I think that's so. So I was heartened to read, in a recent comment from Plain Foolish, that my post on Grace had spoken to her (him?), and when I bopped on over to Plain's blog, I found the thread continuing on, the way a message sometimes will begin with one person and then be carried with another. Plain Foolish writes, "one day, as I sat in church, not praying, not doing anything in particular, just sitting there thinking whatever thoughts chose to show up, I felt as though a little light had lit up inside me. That light seemed to say that the way to see the face of God was to look, that I wouldn't see it if I weren't looking... ...My experience of that light hasn't been tied to one religion or anything that easy to pin down. All I can do, I think, is say what my experience of it has been. At times, it's been like an aching love for other people - both people I've known all my life, and people I met for an afternoon, or even just smiled at on the street."
There's more. I'll fight the temptation to reprint the whole entry--though I do urge you to read it for yourself.
I'm reminded of Gus DiZerega's really powerful account of his first direct experience with the Goddess, at his first-ever Wiccan circle:
"As the invocation came to an end I was suddenly enveloped in a presence of incredible power, beauty, and love. While nothing was visible to my eyes, the closeness of that presence was palpable. There was a sense of nature, of forests and streams and meadows. At the same time, there was a pervading sense of beauty beyond words, power beyond imagining, and love beyond conception... In those brief moments within Her presence, I realized that I had never really understood what love was, never deeply comprehended compassion, never truly grasped what acceptance meant... ... it was akin to seeing the light of the sun after having lived in darkness illuminated by candles." (_Pagans & Christians: The Personal Spiritual Experience_ p. 55)
I'm not quoting Gus to say that all religions are the same. But I do think that there's something out there that an awful lot of different religions are trying to touch on, and that's far too large to fit neatly inside any particular set of definitions. I am increasingly content to admit I'm unsure what that reality is, or how it fits into the ideas I have about life, the universe, and everything.
However, I'm not content at all to relegate experiences like this to the status of nifty memories and stories. As Plain Foolish puts it, the way to see the face of God is to look, and we wont see it if we don't look. There's more to understand.
And, if the threaded messages I'm living this week are any clue, the "more" can be quite specific and concrete.
At the Ministry and Worship meeting this week, we were discussing one of a number of situations that are an ongoing area of work in our meeting. And, as always when our discussions touch on so many Quaker procedural matters that I have only ever read about once, in passing, in a handbook (if that) I have a wierd, out-of-joint feeling about the discussions. It's as if the conversation were time-lagged from outer space, and I had to listen across odd, out-of-synch gaps in meaning... or, as I remarked at the time, like trying to read in Spanish, a language I once understood slightly, but that is slipping away from me year by year. I understand most of the words--but I can't help but feel a sense of how much I am missing.
In the middle of my chronic confusion, sitting and attempting to listen spiritually as well as with my ears (If I can't contribute knowledge and experience, I feel that the least I should do is work at _really_ listening), I had a brief, sharp flash of light--almost like the pop of an old-fashioned flash bulb. And I had an idea that I _thought_ made sense, though, ignorant as I am of so much Quaker process, I couldn't be sure my idea wasn't either a) obvious and not useful, or b) incredibly foolish and impossible.
But I trusted us. I admitted I didn't know for sure I understood all I should, but I offered the idea anyway. And immediately, I could see in the eyes of the other members of the committee that it _was_a useful insight. I was excited. _They_ had been excited by the idea.
OK. Not huge. But that the group of elders I was sitting with (you know--I really _like_ that group of people!) picked up the thread.
When messages resonate--that _is_ one of the signs that you're listening is on track. And the listening--the _hearing_ what is next--that's one of the points of this whole thing.
I'm pretty sure.