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Joy, Ministry, and Embarassment

It doesn't feel entirely like a First Day if I don't feel torn, rushed, and stressed after meeting for worship, by the need to zip home, grade a huge stack of papers, and batten down the hatches for another week of teaching.

That said, I will say I am not complaining.

Ours was a sleepy and somewhat restless meeting today, if I'm any judge. Still, I had a good meeting. Sitting in worship, listening to the sound of sleety rain beating on the roof of the meeting house, I kept hearing the "Ode to Joy" chorus from Beethoven's 9th Symphony going round and round in my head.

It's not a piece I know well enough to quote from memory, so plainly it was for me, not a message for meeting in any way, but I'd like to share those half-remembered lyrics with you here:

"...All creatures drink joy
At the breasts of nature;
All the good, all the evil
Follow her roses' trail.
Kisses gave she us, and wine,
A friend, proven unto death;
Pleasure was to the worm granted,
And the cherub stands before God.
Glad, as his suns fly
Through the Heavens' glorious plan,
Run, brothers, your race,
Joyful, as a hero to victory..."

Schiller's words (and Beethoven's music) just seemed very on-target for me today. I found myself thinking how joyful it is to be living. What? I thought. For everyone? Yes, I thought, everyone has reason to be joyful. Even the child who dies after only a few days of life? Even the widow left alone at the end of life? Yes. Everyone. Every being on the earth, however much the pain and terror we experience... Each of us has received this incredible free gift from the Universe, beyond anything anyone could ever earn: we live. We live in a world that has joy as its sap, rising from root to crown.

And I felt very glad.

D.C. rose at one point, and shared briefly that he had been feeling a lot of heaviness over situations in the world this week, and that he had asked one woman engaged in a struggle he is also engaged in how she can bear to continue, to stay where she is and keep trying. "Where else would I be?" his friend answered. "This is my home. Where else would I stand?" And he said he felt a real opening and a lightness, and he shared with us the words, "The yoke is easy, and the burden is light." And I think D. is right. I think that when we are where we need to be, doing what we are meant to do, the burden is light. It's when we're resisting a call, or persisting in an action that isn't really for us, that burdens get heavy.

I'm pretty sure that the real work always involves joy--even if it also involves sorrow, terror, and exhaustion. Or at least, so it seemed to me this morning in meeting.

I'm trying to remember in whose blog I read, recently, about a woman who found herself crying in meeting when worship gets deep for her, and I was so glad to read it. She wrote, too, that she wishes she didn't--she said she chooses to sit in the balcony in her meeting so as to be as unobtrusive as possible, and the tears that come make her feel painfully visible. It was freeing to read this, because I feel that way, too. Not always, but often enough I also find tears running down my face. (They were during Beethoven's 9th today, for sure.) And I always feel awkward about it, as if it is some kind of boast of specialness, or posturing for attention.

Hm. More accurately, I'm afraid other people will believe that of me.

It's good to remember how often Quakers are tender people. Last week, for instance, I shared with A., in my meeting, the story of the encounter between Soul Force and George Fox University. I knew that I had been moved by the story. But to watch A. respond with brimming eyes and a face full of tenderness... I was moved by how readily he was moved.

It was good to remember that this is not an unusual thing, among Friends. More than once, of late, I've struggled to hide my emotion, only to look up and see plenty of other eyes welling up, too.

So I'm trying not to be embarassed about the fact that, at least some of the time, encounters with God lead to mucus. Not attractive, maybe, but true! So when R, sitting next to me today, reached out to me at rise of meeting, because he'd noticed my tears and feared that I was troubled, I was able to just gladly and happily hug him back, and let him know without embarassment that actually, it meant the opposite: it meant I had been especially joyful. ("As a hero to victory?")

I'm going to try not to be embarassed about this bit, either. I want to talk about being encouraged and helped by some of Mt. Toby's elders today. I'm feeling a little shy about it; I'm a bit afraid I'll come off as full of myself, arrogant, or callow. I'm afraid of being judged for speaking publically about a private thing--my meeting does not currently record ministers, for instance, I think at least partly for fear of distorting ministry though too-public a recognition of it. And just writing about this is a kind of claiming of a ministry on my part, and, well, that's a very squirrelly feeling. But, as I told Cubbie on his blog recently, I think one thing that blogging can offer is a look at a process of spiritual unfolding. If I'm making an ass of myself here, it is surely part of the story. So, friends ("F"friends and otherwise), here goes:

After meeting, I received some eldering--not in the sense of admonishment, but in the sense of seasoned members of the meeting reaching out to me and giving me feedback in a way that nurtures whatever gifts I may have. In the first instance, G. thanked me, not for the message that I'd given this week--which is always a good thing to hear, especially from a weighty friend--but for "being a conduit" for a message that (he said) brought the meeting to a deeper point in worship. Coming from G, that's almost humblingly encouraging. The words he chose conveyed a sense that the wated didn't taste too much of the pipes--that I'd really managed to carry it faithfully.

Who doesn't like to hear when they got something right?

I do not remember the message, by the way. Not in the sense of trance amnesia, as many Wiccan HPs have for Drawing Down in ritual. (Pagans sometimes use that kind of amnesia as a yardstick of authenticity of _our_ messages in worship--though, on its own, it's a fairly unreliable one, I fear.) Just... it really wasn't my message, so I don't really remember what it was very well. Which is cool.

A little later, R. approached me to pass on a more general, but also really affirming comment which came out of the State of Society meeting he'd attended, where my name apparently came up as someone whose presence contributed to worship in a good way. And again, that was good to hear in ways that are so rich that it's almost scary.

The third piece of eldering came after meeting for business. It was really just a friendly reminder of a sort of procedural/boundaries issue; it wasn’t even critical—more empowering: a reminder of the fact that Ministry and Worship has the job of discerning a number of things on behalf of the meeting, and that we can do that with a fair degree of independence. I’d been very careful, in helping to craft the State of Society letter this year, to try and keep my personal flashes of wisdom or folly out of the writing. D. and I both worked, in our drafts, to reflect what we were hearing from Ministry and Worship and Care and Counsel as clearly as we could. Which was probably good… but when the meeting for business saw a need to add a missing piece to the whole, I got very nervous about doing it outside the careful process that we’d set up. Happily, D. remembered material I’d forgotten that _had_ sprung out of the process… but J's point seemed to be that, had he not, it would not have been an emergency. M&W is entrusted with being able to come to a good number of conclusions about the health of the meeting on its own.

The interesting thing is that, even though the communication was a very non-judgemental sharing of information, I really had a hard time hearing it. My initial feeling was one of defensiveness—something I hadn’t felt at all while the meeting for business considered the report, thank goodness. I often feel really inadequate about my lack of understanding of some of the more subtle and esoteric bits of how the Quaker world functions—in spite of a growing realization that no two meetings work quite the same way. And I sometimes hear sharing of information as if it were a rebuke of my ignorance—as if I should have been born knowing all I’d ever need to know in life! I know it’s silly, but I still feel like that at times. And J. is weighty enough in my eyes, that anything from her seems huge, for good or ill. It’s at moments like that that I most miss the feeling of weight I built up in my years as a Pagan. I know where I _am_ as a Pagan! I no longer need to wrestle quite so hard with my personal insanitites...

It’s as if I were a boat. In the Pagan world, I have a keel: you can praise me or educate me or critique me, and I’ll be able to take that wind into my sail, but keep sailing on course. In the Quaker world, I have no keel yet, so every shifting wind makes me veer off course. I don’t know what is right or wrong, who to listen to, or when to take things in with a grain of salt. It’s the curse of the newbie, and I’m endlessly off-balance because of it.

That’s the cost of being new, being open, letting myself be changed. That's the price tag, in other words, of finding Beginner Mind again. Lucky me.

I will eventually know how to take in eldering without losing my balance. I hope so, at least! Every puff of wind, from every weighty Friend, really ought not make me feel so disoriented. Still, I get homesick sometimes for the more familiar territory, where I was the elder, trying to gently and kindly direct newcomers in the way they ought to sail.

Ah, the awkwardness of growth…


Thank you for this post - the description of how you, and the woman whose blog you found, sometimes cry when worship moves you deeply has helped encourage me to find worship that works as well for me.
Brian said…
Thanks for the clarification.

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