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Back From Woolman Hill

NOTE: A more objective, content-centered post on this weekend is available here.

I've just returned from Woolman Hill, and from Jay Marshall and Jennie Isbell's workshop on Vitality and Ministry in the Monthly Meeting. Jay is the author of Where the Wind Blows: Vitality Among Friends; Jennie has written Leading Quakers: Discipleship Leadership, A Friends Model. Their presentation to us was sponsored by Earlham School of Religion. I take it they have done similar presentations all over the country, and one of the many satisfactions of attending it was both the grace with which they were able to slip into our New England variation on Quaker culture, and their willingness to offer contrasting experiences and perspectives from differing Quaker cultures across the country.

Another satisfaction was the chance to eat, work, chat, learn, and worship with men and women I mostly knew only slightly from New England Yearly Meeting, but whose faithfulness and depth are plainly part of the reason that body is such a strong and vital part of my spiritual journey.

It was a hell of a rich weekend, but it was crammed to bursting. So much to think about--so much to write about! And not only do I have not enough time, not enough energy, not enough brain cells that are still firing--I have not even got enough emotional stamina remaining, to begin to process all this.

I need to grade papers. I need a nap. I need a week of reflection and settling in. And I'm not sure I'm going to manage any of these things...

What I want to write about:

  • How it feels to be the pip-squeak in a room full of weighty, seasoned Friends.
  • How it feels to know that I'm outgrowing my pip-squeakery; recognizing the warning signs of another stage of spiritual growth coming on.
  • How, despite its lack of outward degrees and hierarchy, the 1st degree, 2nd degree, 3rd degree stages familiar to me from Wicca do fit some of the inward transformations of my Quaker journey; what it is like to find myself reduced to childhood, then struggling with adolescent identity issues, not just in my life as a Friend or my life as a Pagan, but in my marriages, my careers, and as a way of a life lived in (sometimes nervous or neurotic) transformation.
  • The importance of eldering and of naming and raising up gifts in spiritual communities of all sorts. (Gee--given the last couple of notes, can you guess why that's on my mind?)

  • My increasing certainty that the way I am hesitantly beginning to be able to read the Bible, as poetry and myth, is not only acceptable among Quakers in North America, but may actually be normative.
  • The irony of realizing that I actually have a "favorite translation" of the Bible, and the increasing frequency with which Biblical language and metaphor rises within me comfortably in worship...AND
  • ...The irony that I have a favorite psalm, and that a favorite piece of Wiccan liturgy seems to me pretty plainly to echo it. (ie: What's a nice Pagan girl like me doing in a religion like this, anyway?)
  • Why I feel it is so important to participate in the world of Friends beyond one's own monthly meeting (or even yearly meeting).
  • The slightly terrifying discovery that Googling "Quaker" and the words "Exodus", "Genesis", or "Book of Job" will bring up posts at this site within the top five suggested results. (What's that say about the need for other Quaker bloggers to spend time reflecting on this book? More unnerving, what does it say about my and Peter's responsibility to careful reflection and discernment as we write about our own reflections?)

  • The hunger I have for deeper and more intimate involvement with all of my spiritual communities.
  • The possibility of bringing some of the Quaker insights about leadership from this weekend (and in general) into my Pagan communities in the next few years.
  • The ways Herne (or perhaps the "angry god" of the O.T.?) can be a god of limits and limit setting for me, and perhaps guide me into a somewhat more benignly-ruthless leadership style: I am so paralyzed by the fear of letting someone down!
  • My growing realization that I need to be more willing to fail; that lack of time/energy or lack of any sense of leading should be the only reasons I say no to a suggestion prayerfully discerned by a nominating committee.
  • My uncertainty that I can take on anything more, anything at all, working at my current level of time and energy at my job.
  • My continual physical exhaustion, and occasional spiritual depletion, from my job.
  • The warm, deep, satisfying sense of being well used at my job--of doing a difficult thing creatively, empathically, and well on a regular basis.
  • My yearning to live where I hear birds rather than traffic, and my long-deferred spiritual need to feed my biophilia by seeing the natural world without an intervening windshield.
  • The inconceivability of moving without continuing to work at my current level of time and energy at my job.
  • How good it felt to be fully present in a body of mature, seasoned Friends... and to know that I did in fact belong, and had something to bring to the table.
  • How good it is to be seen and understood and appreciated by those we admire (revere?) in our communities.

Oh, yeah. And a summary of the actual activites and content of the weekend that started all these thoughts would probably be good, too.

Off the top of my head, I can think of at least two fFriends beyond my own meeting who would have been excited to have been present for the workshop, and whose meetings would be richer for their having been there. It would be good to offer at least a taste, for those who may wish to contact Earlham to see about arranging a similar workshop in their own locality.

Apparently, Earlham is being much more proactive about creating this kind of opportunity--traveling in the ministry of outreach to local meetings and gatherings of Friends to offer expertise. If this weekend was a good sample, we should all be jumping all over this.

For now, I'm going to rest my mind, though... and buy the groceries.

How I wish I had a week to write!


Liz Opp said…
This sounds amazing! I do hope Way will allow you to write more about your experience, but on the other hand, it seems as if you need time to continue to integrate all that you have gone through.

Liz Opp, The Good Raised Up
Yewtree said…
Dear Cat, this reminds me of a post I wrote a while back about the inherent similarity of the spiritual journey in all traditions:

Phase 1. There you are, trucking along, minding your own business, when wham! something happens to jolt you out of your complacency - maybe a contact with the numinous, or something that upsets or expands your current paradigm.

Phase 2. You try to ignore it, but it just comes back, louder and more insistent.

Phase 3. You give in to it and get involved. Suddenly all your prayers are answered (evangelical types), all your spells work (occult types)! "Woo-hoo", you think to yourself, "I've found the truth". "I must spread the word" (evangelical types); act all superior because "I know everything" (occult types); become a hermit (mystical types); or go on a pray-a-thon (CU types).

Phase 4. Your prayers (or your magic) stop working. Setback! "The God/Goddess doesn't love me any more / I've lost my super occult powers."

Phase 5. The pit of despair. Long dark teatime of the soul. Doubt. Assault by "demons" in the wilderness. Wrestling with angels.

Phase 6. You meet an inner guide, possibly an enlightened one. Possible responses to this:

* Get massively involved in the tradition associated with the guide, assuming it is the Only Truth. As in the game of Snakes and Ladders (originally an Islamic analogy for the spiritual journey) go back to phase one.
* Decide that all your journey prior to this point was worthless because you have now found the Truth, and previously you were deluded by the "powers of darkness". Go back to phase one.
* Realise that all the truthful guides that have ever appeared to humanity are messengers from the Divine Source. Proceed to phase seven.

Phase 7. Further up and further in. Acknowledge that all religions have the potential to facilitate contact with the Divine. Joyful embrace of the Divine Beloved. Find a tradition that resonates with your new inner reality.

Phase 8. Decide to both serve the world and enjoy its beauty. Share the blessing.

Observant readers may notice the similarity of this with Joseph Campbell's Hero Journey. I have seen facets of this journey in accounts of Christian mystics, the prayer lives of Christian bloggers, the spiritual journeys of Pagans and occultists. With variations, it seems quite widespread - perhaps even universal. Some people get stuck in one of the phases for a long time, in others they may last only a few days. And the journey may be a spiral around the mountain - we may revisit these phases several times in different ways.
Hi, Liz! A more detailed, outward-directed write-up of the weekend is now available at Vitality and Ministry in the Monthly Meeting, since Way dumped about a foot of snow on Western Mass (presumably not only so I could finish processing my thoughts on the weekend, but, still...)

Yewtree, though I may come back to the theme, what I had in mind was something more like the way I experienced the transition to "elder" status (as Pagans use the term, at least) as a Wiccan, and as I have observed others do so over the years. It seems to me that we enter our traditions filled with childlike wonder and "beginner mind," and then, as we gain enough experience and independence to begin to reflect critically on the ways our communities operate, we enter a kind of adolescence--what I think of as the "second degree crisis." For some folks, that gets expressed in the form of a lot of angry rebellion and harsh criticism of leaders... until, one day, we wake up and realize that, hey, what's this? OMG, we're supposed to take on this or that leadership task? This can lead to a real confusion as identity reforms around acceptance of one's strengths and power to make a difference--and some difficulties either with taking on too much or the inflated egos of the notorious "High Priestess' Disease" before hopefully settling down into a mature identity as a Pagan leader and teacher.

Some folks, of course, get stuck at the angry adolescent phase--probably in all spiritual communities--and others never develop the self-awareness or self-confidence needed to develop and share their gifts with their communities. There are a lot of blocks to individual spiritual maturity, though the ones I had in mind had less to do with dissatisfaction with a spiritual path than with the sometimes awkward process of remaking ourselves as Spirit and community nudge us to grow and change.

As I say, I may develop this theme into a later post... but I may not. I tend to write at the growing edge of my own spiritual development, because I find that the writing is most helpful when I'm writing, not with answers, but with puzzles and conflicts. On this question of stages of spiritual identity re-formation, I'm intellectually pretty settled... even as I find the actual process (yet AGAIN being reformed in order to grow) unnerving.

So, if you feel like sharing a link to your earlier post, please do! Because it's not likely that I'll do a lot of developing of the theme, at least from a Pagan perspective, any time soon.

Thank you both for visiting, and for your kind words. :-)

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