One friendship that has grown over time into something extraordinary is the one I share with my Quaker friend Kathleen. Kathleen loves to tell the story of how she and I met at a Woolman Hill retreat a few years back: she had found herself, a deeply committed Christian, feeling at loose ends among the liberal Quakers she knew then, as few of them spoke much or often about the Christian aspects of their Quaker practice--and, indeed, many did not consider themselves to be Christian at all.
So, being Kathleen, she prayed about it. She asked to find someone she could connect with deeply about her spiritual journey, someone with as deep and important a reliance on Jesus as she had.
What she got was me.
This makes us both laugh--and laugh with joy. Because we can both see that Spirit gave her (and me) exactly what we needed, even if it was not exactly what either of us had been looking for. For, while she has gone on to make many committed Christian friends among Quakers, for some weird reason she and I have just always, from the first conversation we had, gotten one another. I understand her humor, her angst, her passionate commitment to her faith... and, though it is freaky enough to be the punch line of a joke, she gets me right back, in all my Witchy glory.
We'll be in the middle of an anecdote, Kathleen talking about an experience she had recently in worship, and I'll jump in with an exclamation that might equally well be about my experience among Friends at Mt. Toby, or about my coven life in years past.
She will laugh richly. "I can't believe we are talking about trance journeys!" she'll say. And she'll grin, and I'll grin, and we'll go on.She doesn't know why my weird Witchy perspective on Quaker matters make sense to her, and I certainly can't explain why her Christian language and understandings make sense to me. (Well, I admit: I have a theory, having to do with Spirit being a helluva translator). But work they do. In a world of people talking at one another, she and I are lucky enough to hear one another. Which is very cool.
What Kathleen and I mainly do, when we get together, is talk. We talk about her daughter, my woods, good diner food, movies we like... but most of all, what we talk about is our lives in Spirit. Because what we both share most, what connects us on a scary-wonderful level, is how stone in love with the Spirit we encounter in worship both of us are. And how strange, and strangely wonderful is it that we two, who see and understand that Spirit so differently can nevertheless see and understand that we are talking about experiences of the same Spirit?
I remember the first time I wept in meeting; I remember the first time I trembled in meeting--the literal quaking that Quakers got their name from; I remember how it felt the first time Spirit pushed me to my feet with a message: a big WHOOSH of Life and Power. And these experiences are deep and profound and mind-blowing and exhausting and intimate in a way that is very hard to explain to someone you don't trust to hear you right. It takes a measure of courage to tell people that you not only talk to God, but that He (She/It/They/We) talks back.
I have stood in a place where my whole life has seemed to tremble with the intensity of nearness to Spirit; Kathleen (especially lately, poor/lucky thing) stands there a lot. When a person stands in the bright Light of Spirit often, it gets overwhelming, sometimes. And you want to talk about it, but you don't want people to think you're crazy, or grand-standing, or self-important, or simply carried away. You actually sort of need someone who has looked into the Eyes of the Universe and fallen in to sit with you, hear you out, and say, "Oh, yeah! That is some kind of crazy shit, isn't it? And wonderful, too."
You need to be listened to matter-of-factly, but also with appreciation for how strange, how very strange and outside consumer-consensus reality this stuff is.
At least, I need that. And Kathleen needs it, too. And we're really lucky that we can give this thing to one another.
There are a lot of labels you could give to what we do. "Spiritual Friendship," is a good one. And there is an element of deliberate cultivation of our friendship for each of us. We recognize that we are helps to one another's spiritual development, and we arrange times to meet and to talk to take advantage of that. And we'll talk about daily life--we are both teachers, and parents--and take a walk or go out for french fries or ice cream. But we'll also unpack our spiritual challenges and journeys together, and even set aside time for what the old-timey Quakers called "Opportunities," when we will worship together in silence, or pray.
We do that a lot, actually. Before the end of most of our visits together, we'll sit still, me in my rocking chair and she on the couch next to it, and it will get very, very quiet. It's rare for us to have words for each other from the Silence--though not unheard of. It isn't rare at all to feel something in the intimacy of that silence that is deeper and truer than all the words, and that holds them together.
We both have a knack for irreverent reverence that works very well... despite, or maybe even partly because of, the ways we are alien to one another. Our conversations are a deep well of gladness for me, whether we are talking about her spiritual journey or mine, her Work or mine. I'm pretty grateful for that friendship, and I can hear God* laughing a deep, rolling, belly laugh over setting it up for us. It is a good thing, and it works.
And a few weeks ago, Kathleen came over for a visit.
Summer is a busy time for Quakers. All these "Yearly Meetings," plus gatherings, conferences, workshops... not to mention it being a good time for teachers to travel in general, and visiting individual Friends and meetings when traveling is a time-honored custom among Quakers. Kathleen in particular is drawn to this part of Quaker life, and a good deal of our conversation revolves around what that is like for her--not so much what different meetings or individuals are like, for she is not a gossip, but what it is like to be her, in her skin, encountering Spirit in so many different places. She is often led to visit a meeting or to seek out an individual person, and we have spent a lot of time this past year discussing what her sense of a leading is like. (Short answer: Strong. Urgent. A little bit breathtaking.)
We talk about eldering and ministry and how we test what we think we know from the world of Spirit. And we have a helluva good time, which is what we were doing that day. (Plus, she let me finish the onion rings!)
And in the course of discussing her travels, she talked about how another of her friends had inquired whether she might be overdoing her Quaker work just now. (She has been very active this summer.)
She felt clear that she was not. Her gauge? Joy.
And I agree. Deeply, passionately, clearly I feel sure of it: while following a leading may not always be easy, may involve struggle and hardship at times, it also always involves joy. No matter how difficult the Work, when it is faithful, there will be underneath it a powerful current of joy--like an underground river at one time, or like a river in flood at another.
As somebody once put it in Some Book Or Other, when our talents are harnessed correctly, "The yoke is easy and the burden is light."