Saturday, August 20, 2005


Google has just recently introduced a feature to help reduce the amount of spam in comments and I have activated it on this blog. If you post a comment now, you are presented with a word in a funky-looking font and you are asked to enter that word in the "Word Verification" box. This should help reduce the amount of spam on blogs while still allowing anonymous comments.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

If you're not part of the solution...

The old saying goes, "If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem." I prefer the geekier version: "If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the precipitate."

I was going back through some posts on other Quaker blogs and I came across this quote on beppeblog:
As a side note: I also feel that this blog has turned into a complaning place - my complaints about the Society.

I think it is natural to do a bit of complaining, especially because we have all noticed some glaring problems. It is better if a complaint is accompanied by a possible solution. The "War Is Not The Answer" signs are good, but why not propose an answer?

I have read a number of different complaints about liberal Quakers lately, but it seems like the biggest one is the lack of Spirit-centeredness. It also seems like a lot of meetings are aware of the problem but don't know what to do. You can't just say "we need to be more Spirit-centered in our work" and expect that to do the trick. I read an interesting passage by Rufus Jones describing the household of his childhood:

The word "mystical" was never spoken and of course had never been heard in our circle. It was implicit practice and not explicit theory that counted. I was immersed in a group mystical life from the very birth of consciousness and memory. Every day at breakfast we had a long period of family silent worship, during which all the older members of the group seemed to be plainly communing in joyous fellowship with a real Presence. The reality of it all was so great, and certainly of something more than just ourselves in the room was so clearly felt that we little folks were caught into the experience and carried along with the others. The mysterious high had its own awe and the rapt look on the older faces deepend the sense of awe and wonder. By the time I was four years old I had formed the habit of using corporate silence in a heightening and effective way. It brought with it, even for the child, a sense of Presence.
            From Rufus Jones: Essential Writings

The reason I included this passage is the quote "it was implicit practice and not explicit theory that counted". What is it about our practice today that is failing us and what can we do to improve it? I don't really have an answer to that question, but I would like to start with two observations:

  • The main thing that keeps coming to me right now is "time limits". From what I understand, Meeting for Worship used to end when the clerk discerned that it was time for it to end. These days, that "clerk" is usually a wristwatch.

  • If children are in meeting, it is often for only a short period of time. I don't know about other meetings, but in my meeting, I have noticed that there are very few messages in the 15 minutes that the children are with us.

I can understand that the time limit issue can be particularly difficult for Friends, but the voice inside of me keeps saying "is there something more important than God?" It's not that I am saying that longer worship is what we need, it's that we need to relinquish control of when the meeting ends. I wonder if maybe for starters, there might be once a month when the Meeting for Worship has no set time limit.

I know that many meetings have discussed the issue of children in Meeting for Worship, with varying results. Many people find the presence of children distracting, and children these days have a harder time sitting still in meeting. For large meetings, perhaps a special family-friendly Meeting for Worship might be a good idea -- something where the children are expected to stay, and to behave, but where Friends understand that it will take some patience. Rufus Jones said that even at the age of four he attended MfW for almost 2 hours every week. Of course, he didn't have TV, radio, CD players or video games to distract him, and his family had daily periods of silent worship.

Since I have been considering these kinds of issues for some time now and seem to have an interest in it, I am beginning to think I should join the Ministry & Worship committee. That might give me a better idea what is being done, what isn't being done, and what has been tried.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Mary & Martha

[Updated 8/14/2005 to add a link to beppeblog]

I was talking with my friend Shane earlier about Thomas Merton's book "Wisdom of the Desert: Sayings from the Desert Fathers of the Fourth Century". I didn't have my copy handy, so I had gone to Amazon to use the "Search Inside" feature and send him an example saying. I came upon one that I really liked that refers to Mary and Martha of biblical fame. The story was a little long, so I tried googling to see if anyone could save me some typing, and one of the first entries was this sermon.

The sermon talks about Mary and Martha as a metaphor for our balance of inward activity and outward activity. Another way to look at it might be the balance between the Great Commandments - love the Lord with all your heart, mind and soul and love your neighbor as yourself. If I had to rate myself on how balanced I am, I'd have to say that I come down more heavily on the Mary side. It feels overall, though, like Quakers (of the FGC variety, at least) tend to be more Martha-like (outward-facing, action-oriented). While it's not a bad thing to act, I feel like we have been neglecting our Mary/inward side. This post on Liz Oppenheimer's blog seems to show one example of that. I think I hear many more outward-oriented messages than inward.

The sermon mentions that without Martha, Mary will starve, and without Mary, Martha will burn herself out. In a previous post, I mentioned the Meeting for Worship for Peace that Red Cedar Friends Meeting has been doing. One of the things that motivated them to try this alternate form of meeting was that their Peace & Social Justice Committee was getting kind of burnt out. Once they started getting more in touch with their inward/Mary side via a more worship-oriented meeting, they felt renewed.

Thanks to LizOpp's catalogue of links I saw this post by Beppe about Mary & Martha.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Holding in the Light

We only had three people for Meeting for Worship for Healing on Monday, but I felt that it went very well. We had 6 requests. For one of them, towards the end I had this image in my head of Jesus holding his hand. I don't usually get images like that, or I am not very aware of them.

I spoke with my friend Richard on Monday night after MfWfH and we had a nice chat about both the healing and the peace meetings. He also hopes to see this kind of format used more often because he believes that it is closer to the manner of early Friends. Although I recognize that I am able to connect with God's spirit much more closely in MfWfH, I wonder if it is just me, or if the format of trying to hold people and situations in the light is beneficial for most/all Friends. One of the things Richard told me was that even though the Meeting for Worship for Peace has roughly the same format as the healing meeting, it developed, at his meeting, independently of MfWfH. That tells me that perhaps there are quite a few Friends who resonate with this format.

It occurred to me today that perhaps clearness committees could adapt this concept. Maybe some brief discussion of the situation up front, followed by a long period of holding the person or situation in the light (at which time I suspect there would usually be some vocal ministry), then some reflection afterwards. I suspect that the holding in the light gives you a focal point that you might be missing by just sitting in silence, you aren't as distracted and you are more intentional about being with the Divine. Perhaps this all comes more naturally to more seasoned Friends.

Monday, August 8, 2005

Stop the music!

You always hear people complain "I can't get that song out of my head". I have that problem, only it is fairly constant, and it isn't just one particular song. It's like I have this insane unstoppable jukebox. I can change the selection by just thinking for a second about a different song and then BAM! that song starts playing and won't quit until I change selections. I try to change genres, it doesn't help. I went from The Presidents of the United States of America (dang it! there they go in my head again!) to Verdi's Rigoletto in half a nanobleem.

The thing that bothers me about this constant soundtrack is that the times when I have felt closest to God, the soundtrack wasn't playing. So I am thinking that the soundtrack is drowning God out, or at least distracting me. I have stopped listening to music again hoping that maybe I can starve the jukebox to death, but it has a big, fat 40-year-old gut to work off first, so I don't think it will stop any time soon.

I had a funny thought occur to me this afternoon, though. Maybe the music is just God putting me on hold.

Sunday, August 7, 2005

Meeting for Worship for Healing

Tomorrow is our monthly Meeting for Worship for Healing at Atlanta Friends Meeting. This is something very near and dear to me because I feel most connected to the Holy Spirit when I am "holding someone in the light". Although "holding in the light" is often used as a Quaker euphemism for praying for someone, my friend Richard Lee has a much richer description which I will summarize by saying that you are fully connected with God and you take that essence of the person, that "child of God that's within them" and put them fully in the presence of God.

At the end of this message I will describe the process of Meeting for Worship for Healing as fully as I can in case it is something you wish to do at your meeting. Before that, though, I'd like to say that this meeting tends to lead to very deep worship. I have yet to be in a regular Meeting for Worship where I have felt inner peace and joy as deeply as I have felt after Meeting for Worship for Healing. Perhaps it is the focus, or perhaps it is just because I have a spiritual affinity for this kind of thing (being the son and grandson of nurses, that's not a huge surprise, I guess). There may be other reasons, as well. No one is talking about politics in MfWfH. If someone speaks, it is usually a deep insight for the person we are holding in the light. The whole process of holding someone in the light is a deep expression of love for that person. It is my hope that one day, this kind of meeting is a part of every Quaker meeting.

Along the same lines as MfWfH, there is a Meeting for Worship for Peace. Richard Lee described the process for me (hopefully he will write an article for Friends Journal about it, too), and it is basically the same process as MfWfH, but instead of holding someone in the light for healing, we hold people and situations in the light for peace. In the typical MfWfP, they try to hold people in the light who are doing specific peace work. That is, instead of trying to hold Iraq in the light, they hold in the light a person or a group of people who are doing peace work for/in Iraq. Immediately following this meeting, their Peace & Social Justice Committee decides on any actions that come out of the worship. What tends to happen, according to Richard, is that the things that come out of this deep worship are often very creative, and usually get more support than programs they had come up with before they implemented MfWfP. What I believe happens with MfWfP is that the people in the meeting do a better job at connecting with the Holy Spirit and listening to the divine guidance because they are not focused on having a planning meeting. Although we as Quakers are supposed to allow God to guide our work, it feels to me like we don't maintain as close a connection as we should during committee meetings. Maybe it's just me, I know I feel that way. MfWfP provides a way to focus on and listen to God for an extended period of time before any business gets done. I wonder if there are other areas where we could apply this same focus.

There are a few important guidelines to remember when holding Meeting for Worship for Healing. The first is, you don't pray at somebody, you don't pray for somebody that wouldn't want you praying for them in this way. For example, if you hold President Bush in the light (and I believe we all should), you aren't doing it to try to change him and make him do what you want him to, you just pray that God will help him and heal him from anything that is troubling him. In MfWfH, that might apply to one party in a divorce, or someone that needs to change some self-destructive behavior. If that person doesn't ask for healing, or it is likely that they wouldn't ask, we don't pray for them.

Second, we aren't praying for a specific resolution, we are just holding that person up to God and asking for God to heal the person or situation. If someone is dying, the end result might be for the person to die, we don't always know what is best, so we put our trust in God.

Third, sometimes people feel moved to lay their hands on the person being healed. I have a tendancy to do this. We make sure that anyone requesting healing is comfortable with this or not. If the person is not comfortable with it, we make sure everyone knows not to put hands on them. There are so many reasons why someone might feel uncomfortable with touchin and it is important that people not feel that pressured to accept touching, it can do more harm than good. Also, Friend Hildie Weiler told me that when she trained in England, they warned not to place hands on the top of the head. I don't know why, and I have to say that I have never felt moved to place my hands there, but I pass this information along.

The Meeting for Worship for Healing has a clerk, or a convener, who initially writes down the requests. We prefer that the person to be healed is present, but we also take requests for people who aren't there (assuming they would approve of our efforts). You should do no more than 8 requests (I have done 9 once, but it did get pretty long -- it can be an exhausting process, don't overdo). Once the clerk has a slate of requests, the group goes into silent worship for a period of time. When the clerk feels moved to do so, he or she reads off the one of the requests. The clerk discerns which request to present next, they are not necessarily in the order they were first taken down. It is also up to the clerk to discern how long to spend on each request. I find that we tend to spend more time when the person is actually present, and there also seems to be a pretty clear sense of when we are done. I think that so far, it has been rare to spend more than 10 minutes on someone. When we have gone through the slate of requests, the clerk asks for any other names to be held in the light, this is usually done at about the speed we do at the end of Meeting for Worship. When the meeting is over, we either shake or hold hands. Sometimes we all join hands and stand for a moment.

Richard Lee always recommends having refreshments handy for afterwards. The meeting can be pretty draining, especially with a full slate of requests. We haven't really gotten into that habit at Atlanta Friends Meeting yet, that's probably my fault.

A Watermelon Grows in Queens

When I was 4 years old my Mom and I lived with my grandparents in Jackson Heights, New York. I used to have this little spot in the back yard where I just liked to dig and dig. One day, I decided that it would be neat to grown my own watermelon, so with Grandma's help, I planted some watermelon seeds. I watered them every day and they actually sprouted. One day, Grandma took me out to the spot and there sat a nice big watermelon. I was so proud, I told people about it for years.

Okay, so I'm a little gullible. I was at least in my twenties, if not my thirties, before I found out that Grandma put that watermelon there. There was pretty much no chance that the scrawny little sprouts were ever going to produce a fruit. Although I may be a little disappointed that my thumb is not as green as I once thought, I think Grandma's little deception is a great example of how God loves us.

Grandma put that watermelon there because she loved me and wanted to see me happy. Not only was she not worried about a "thank you", she didn't want me to even know she did it. How much greater must God's love be for us!


I am a little dismayed today. I didn't feel like Meeting for Worship was particularly spiritual today. Then when I got home, I was looking through back issues of Friends Journal trying to find anything on Meeting for Worship for Peace, and I kept coming across disturbing statements like "many Friends have difficulty with the term 'prayer'" and I think the same article started to do a tap dance when it mentioned "cross". I feel like some Quakers are becoming afraid of God. I don't think it's the kind of fear of God that the Hebrew scriptures talk about, either.

We may have different words for God, we may understand God in different ways, but we need to be willing to let people talk about God the way they understand God. This may not always be the easiest thing for us to deal with, but the alternative is to water our speech down to some lowest common denominator. I don't know if this happens to other people as well, but there are certain expressions where I just feel a disconnect -- that is, I start to feel like we aren't talking about God. My personal disconnect happens when someone uses non-personal terms like "Nature".

Now, I consider it to be my problem that I have this disconnect. I feel I should strive to hear God's voice in those statements. I also understand that some Friends are "refugees" from some churches that display a less-than-Christ-like attitude to the world, and strongly Christian language can be a point of pain for those people. I'm not sure what the solution is for this problem. I don't feel that it is right to just say "suck it up" to someone experiencing that pain, but it is also not right to tell someone that they can't express their relationship with God through the eyes of their own beliefs. I hope that one day, with God's help, we will understand what to do.