This last week in meeting, I was doing my ordinary thing of sitting there trying not to think of anything in particular. I could say that I do this to hear the Voice of God over my own internal chatter but actually, I do this to avoid hearing the Voice of God. As it turns out, when I begin to think, the words shimmy themselves into a message and then I find my palms sweating and my heart beating in my ears and I feel compelled to give that message. Usually, it is a message that I don't want to give and often afterwards, I have a hard time remembering just what I said at least in the particulars. So I was sitting there thinking how I might just get through this meeting without having to embarass myself in front of these people I barely know.
I shudder to think of what they must be thinking of me. They probably think I'm a fruitcake for speaking so frequently. Maybe not a fruitcake...Maybe they just think I'm arrogant. And I am arrogant about a good many things but not about this. I speak publicly as a profession, but I sure as hell don't want to speak in front of them in that context. When I speak in public as a part of my career, I am in charge of what comes out of my mouth. I'm in control. What happens to me in meeting is like losing control and vomiting spirituality on strangers. It sucks. I don't like it at all. And I wouldn't come back if it weren't for my children who I wish to consecrate to the Friends (a story for another post) but I don't need this! I was very happy being a solitary feminist Pagan with a firm background in liberation and feminist Christian theology. That suited me just fine, thank you very much.
I'm not sure what to think about the meeting we attend. We haven't really made friends of the Friends even after these many months of attendance. I smell the vague wafting stench of disapproval among them. I don't know from whence it comes but it is there. This is a tiny group and I cannot get away from the strong sense that we are outsiders. Also, I'm having trouble adjusting to the silent worship thing. The clock on the wall is broken now so I can't even look to that to help me survive the hour of stomach rumbling, thigh-shifting, nasal whistling silence. If they have thoughts in their heads, why don't they share them? Wouldn't the discipline of conversation move them forward more quickly than the discipline of silence?
The other Friends rarely speak in my meeting.They sit there silently week after week (spoken messages are very rare in this group) and then I waltz in and disrupt all their dignified quiet with my ramblings. I honestly don't even remember what I said last week...oh no, wait.. It was about how I want the world to know Friends by their love and not for their words or what they believe or who they worship or why (issues of theology) but that when there is pain in the world, they are there because they are in love with the world. I don't even know if it made sense. I finished and then to my horror realized I wasn't finished because my heart kept pounding in the unpleasant manner and I had to open my mouth and dribble out a few more words. God, how awful.
A few weeks back I tried to explain this to the other Friends in our Quakerism 101 class because I wanted to benefit from their older, more experienced Quakerness. I made the mistake of referring to my reaction to this phenomenon as "obedience." The choice of this word meant a lot to me because I am not known for my obedience. In fact, I am known for being an asshole when it comes to authority figures. Now don't get me wrong. I am not some kind of rule-breaking hellion. I was always a good girl with a firm respect for disciplined behavior. The thing is that I like to be the one who determines the discipline. I wanted to obey my parents but when they gave me direct commands, I had a difficult time with compliance. We got around this problem because I anticipated their requests and fulfilled them before they asked so I wouldn't feel the need to tell them to stuff it. It is a matter of principle with me. I can't even be civil to doctors when they attempt to tell me what to do. I throw away prescriptions just because I won't be bossed. I consciously avoid judges, police officers and others because I would probably go to jail just for being an insufferable ass. So I don't like to be obedient. Well, maybe I'm not really all that unreasonable but you get the idea.
When I used the word "obedience" in reference to speaking in meeting, a Friend said she thought that was an unacceptable word. I forget just how she phrased it but it was clear that she was disturbed by my word choice. She may as well have yelled, "YUCK!" and hit me upside the head. I left that meeting feeling embarassed, unheard, angry and disillusioned.
But you know, I think she was wrong to admonish me. I think it is obedience that I am feeling when I speak in meeting. I think that given my personality and my reluctance to surrender power and authority to another, it may serve the Universe/God/dess/Great Spirit/Beloved to drag me by the short hairs to witness. There is certainly a great deal of literature that suggests that not everyone comes to spiritual message with lots of pleasant feelings. Hildegard of Bingen got migraine headaches. Moses had burning bushes (ouch). I have to try not vomit on my shoes when I open my mouth. Am I comparing myself to Hildegard and Moses? Sure. Why not? We're all of us just people. It is the Divine speaking through us. The message could flow through anyone. It doesn't make me more important. Now Moses and Hildegard did many other things and I wouldn't dare claim I can touch the fringes of their levels in terms of historical and cultural importance. But when it comes to opening your mouth obediently when the Spirit nudges you (hard in my case..."ooomph...Hey!" then we are sharing a common bond of humanity. The Spirit moves us. It shapes us. It surprises us, upholds us, informs us, inspires us. It even pisses us off. Those of us with arrogant souls may just need to learn the lesson of obedience because it does not come naturally to us to speak from spirit instead of power. Call it Divine tough love.