Saturday, March 8, 2008

Dangling on the Edge of Convincement

I hear people say they are convinced Friends. When does this happen? How does that work? I've been waiting for it to happen to me but how will I know? Is there some kind of ecstasy as you realize you are finally home? Is it gradual and comfortable? Perhaps there is some kind of telltale popping sound (ka-plock) as your soul suddenly, for the first time, fits.

I took the goofy Internet test that said I was a Quaker. I have studied the history of Friends seriously for some time now first as a part of my academic work and then privately because I could not get enough. I obsessively read blogs, articles, books, commentaries...I have attended a Friends' meeting for almost a year now. I am ready to concede that intellectally, culturally, behaviorally, I can "pass" as a Friend...

But I resist. "No, no. I'm not falling in love! I'm too sensible a person to leap headlong into a new community, into a faith community (Good God!). This is an academic interest, nothing more." But while my brain spins rationalizations, in my heart I know this is a conversion experience. And I'm terrified that this is a conversion experience because I'm too logical for conversion experiences! So I dangle here on the edge of convincement clinging to my rationalizations with white knuckles.

Sometimes I maintain that I am not convinced because others have not convinced me that this is the best path for me. I tell myself that perhaps my spirituality is too independent, too large to be contained within a "label." But you know, I think that my real fear is that others will see me as a "poser" and that they will laugh me out of the meetinghouse. That is what I fear whenever I speak either when moved to do so in meeting for worship or in meetings for business and Quaker 101 gatherings. I am afraid that others will hear me and say to each other on the way out, "Who the hell does she think she is?"

How can this fear be healthy? Well, I don't know but I know that the fear exists and that something in me has decided that it was time to move beyond my individualistic search for spiritual fulfillment and move toward a community. I am willing to exist with this fear which shows me that I may be ready for a community. But oh! what a pain a community can be! I have ranted all the way home from some meetings, "I don't need this!" But all of us must labor in pain to bring forth new life, right?

I have intellectualized my spirituality in recent years as I have jumped through academic hoops. At some point in that process, I began to objectify the process and to demand that it conform to rational arguments. I learned to discount my experience when I could not explain it (as if I was ever clever enough to truly explain spirituality!)

But now I must ask myself, Who calls this individualistic non-theistic Pagan to meet with Friends? Who calls me to speak? Who gave me my calling when I was a child and has driven me ever since? What Love compels me to move past my fears to share so deeply with these strangers? Do I really have to explain it or justify it? Can't I just let it happen?

Will I continue to be distrustful and suspicious in the midst of this great gift? As the Light shines in my life do I really wish to keep my eyes shut tight muttering, "I don't believe it. I won't believe it! And it is all their fault anyway!"

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Quietly Children

In my last blog posting, I hinted that I am tolerant of discomfort in meeting for my children's sake. I intended to write a post describing this. Then I remembered that I had already written such a post which follows:

Yesterday, we attended our meeting with all of our children. As we settled into silent worship, I began my work. My daughter sits across the circle from me. My older son sits beside me and my baby is on my lap. This week was my turn to mind the children so there was little chance of a repetition of the conditions that inspired me to speak at the last meeting. Instead, I spent my time observing my little ones. It is amazing how much a mother can say without saying a word. I look across the room to my daughter and with subtle nods or shakes of my head, with small, silent gestures and facial expressions, I tell her that she must be still, that she is doing well, that she must sit for just a little longer. Meanwhile, I hold my ten year son's hand squeezing it to show him I appreciate his patience or that I wish him to stop wiggling. As I monitor the older two, I breastfeed the toddler, shifting my own body to support his weight, watching him to see that he is content. I watch their bodies and faces to judge how much longer they can stand being so still. I can see what is stirring in their young souls. I know when they are restless and when they are at peace. I find joy when they answer my questioning smile with gentle little smiles of their own.

Time passes, fifteen minutes, twenty minutes, and we are still still. My daughter has left her chair to fetch a straw from the coffee table across the room. Later she tells me she just had to move because without her crocheting, she felt restless. My son yawns a little too loudly a little too often. So far, the toddler is content but shows signs that he may soon tire of the breast. I shift my weight to better support his head. I shake my head and my fidgeting son and motion for my daughter to sit. But I'm proud of them. These are minor interruptions. In earlier weeks, we lasted hardly five minutes before I had to usher them out. They are learning to BE. This is what I hoped. After half an hour, I decide to take them out of the room for our First Day School. We discuss Judaism and chase squirrels in the yard.

Throughout my worship service, I do not hear from God what I cannot see in my children's faces. This week, there are no lofty messages, no revelations. Motherhood ties me to the earth. Some would say that it interrupts my channels to the sacred. In fact, well-meaning brothers and sisters in my meeting express concern for me that I must spend so much time with the children and so little time in waiting worship. But I do not need to wait. I am living in the midst of sacred energy. I see God all around me. I am a Pagan Mother. I draw Her down into my body as I sit with child at my breast, as my daughter looks at me with her large, wise eyes and signs, "Mother." I draw God down when my son, ten years old and nearly as tall as I am, squeezes my hand reassuringly and shows me a glimpse of the man who is emerging from the boy I bore.

They sit because I ask them to. They do not yet understand but for me, they will do this next to impossible thing. They are there for me. And I am there for them. ----Because I want my children to grow in a community committed to peace. Because I want them to find a quiet space in their souls beyond the snares of corruption and fear. Because I want them to find solace in joyful silence when I cannot protect them from pain. They do not understand these things but they quietly wait with me, full of trust and love. And so, as I watch and shepherd them, they lead me closer to God.