Saturday, March 7, 2009

The state of the meeting: just fine without me

Some who have read earlier blogs know that I have been struggling to be comfortable in my meeting. For a long time I have been a sort of Goldilocks looking for the meeting that was just right. One is warm and inviting but does nothing for me spiritually. One is too cold although spiritually rich. One is too big and too far away. Eventually, I decided I would settle on the first one, the one I've attended longest, the one that was closest to my home (green choice) which is also the one where I feel the spirit in worship sometimes. I felt relieved to have made a choice.

Except the meeting never felt any warmer. I never felt any more welcome. We kept talking about a place for my children to have First Day School so we wouldn't have to wait in the hallways and nothing ever came of it. I tried to talk to Friends after meeting but I always came away wondering if it really would matter if I never showed up to meeting again. Worst of all, I stopped feeling the spirit moving in the silence. The silence became a dead form. So I stopped attending. Not on purpose really, just little by little. I started dreading going the night before and in the morning, I'd feel tired and moody. The weather would be lousy or I'd have papers to grade or a lesson to prepare. There was always a reason. My husband would say, "Are we going to meeting tomorrow?" and my response would be "Oh shit. I'd forgotten tomorrow is Sunday."

I know I am supposed to be a Friend. I've known it for a long time. It is at the center of my life and thoughts and is an important, life-affirming, and joyful part of my marriage and my parenthood. So why should meeting be so painful? I just don't know and that's the simple truth.

I write this tonight because I feel a heavy sadness that I thought I might lay down if I could just write it out. I read the state of the meeting report sent to my private email address. I was not at any of the meetings and did not hand in the worksheets (although dh and I did fill them out carefully and honestly) so I did not contribute to the report. I don't know how I feel about this. They can't know how much pain I have been in for the past two years regarding my place in their meeting unless I tell them but then again, I don't want that to be their burden. If they are happy without me, then I don't want to bring the unwelcome drama. I'd rather just slip away and meet them in friendship in the community and at gatherings of Friends at holidays and regional meetings. I did note one line of the report that mentioned that perhaps they aren't as "accommodating" to new members as they might be. I did not know if that meant us. Maybe. It doesn't matter. I never wanted to be a bother. I just wanted to feel that I belonged and that never happened.

As I write this, I feel the frustration of feeling that I am the one who is the problem. It is so much easier when one can lay the blame elsewhere. But these are good people. Our clerk is dear and loving, the very embodiment of hospitality. She is among the most genuine people I know and I look up to her with great admiration. Her ministry in the prison and in the greater community is powerful. Her husband too is a beautiful person whose commitment to the environment and to the cause of peace inspires me. In fact, if I went around the circle of Friends who sit with me on a First Day morning, I could tell you how each of them is honorable, loving, kind, gentle... These are good people. Why can't I belong to them?

But I don't belong to them. I feel it clearly. They respond to me in that polite way people save for those they don't know very well. My children are not the meeting's children. My skills are not needed. When I walk in, I feel politely received but not welcome. After two years, I am an acquaintance, not a Friend.

12 comments:

Daniel Wilcox said...

Sad to hear of your meetings' lack of deep community. Hope you and your husband will find more fellowship, find a worshipful experience for you children, and all close to you.

Sometimes it's not easy. When I taught school in western Arizona, my wife and I would sometimes drive 2 1/2 hours one way into the closest Friends meeting in Phoenix. Rather a long drive. We usually just attended the Pentecostal Church of God 3 miles away:-)

I will hold you and the neetings near you in the Light.

Thanks for your honest sharing.

Daniel

Daniel Wilcox said...

Sad to hear of your meetings' lack of deep community. Hope you and your husband will find more fellowship, find a worshipful experience for you children, and all close to you.

Sometimes it's not easy. When I taught school in western Arizona, my wife and I would sometimes drive 2 1/2 hours one way into the closest Friends meeting in Phoenix. Rather a long drive. We usually just attended the Pentecostal Church of God 3 miles away:-)

I will hold you and the neetings near you in the Light.

Thanks for your honest sharing.

Daniel

Bright Crow said...

Hystery, you write:

"[If] I went around the circle of Friends who sit with me on a First Day morning, I could tell you how each of them is honorable, loving, kind, gentle... These are good people. Why can't I belong to them?"

It's not really a matter of blame, but there is a predicament I've experienced among modern Quakers.

We can be drawn together in to a Meeting by Quakerism's seeming promise of "friendliness," as if to a refuge from a culture which doesn't welcome our "liberalism" or our "private spirituality" or whatever.

Yet we may not feel safe to go much deeper.

Both deeper in terms of really engaging with each other...and deeper in the Spirit which requires yet enables tenderness and vulnerability toward others.

In my home Meeting, we had a tragicomic joke about the Quaker "niceness testimony." Be nice, avoid conflict, keep your disagreements to yourself.

Obviously this is a conventional American stance, especially among so-called "liberal" folks. It's not wrong, but it isn't very productive spiritually.

In Jane Wagner's The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe, one of Lily Tomlin's characters says of her divorce from her former Flower Child husband: "We thought we were being spiritual. It turned out we were just being passive-aggressive."

In one of your comments, you've touched on the question of eldering, and how modern Quakers tend to avoid it because they are uncomfortable with--and misunderstand--personal authority. That's part of the predicament, too.

As Daniel said above, I, too, hold you and your family in the Light.

Blessed Be,
Michael Bright Crow

Hystery said...

Michael Bright Crow,
It is interesting that you brought up the "niceness" testimony. This week has been sad for me because the Interfaith Institute for which I served as a board member has been in the news due to a destructive fire and as they rally, I feel my separation from them keenly. I left that board of directors a year ago for multiple reasons but one of the primary reasons was that I had grown weary of their complete failure to directly address religious difference among their own board members. On multiple occasions, their concern for avoiding confrontation led them to stand in the way of challenging programs that would introduce the community to unorthodox ideas (something we non-Christians felt so keenly that one after another, we all resigned in sadness and frustration).

I learned from the interfaith group that those with power and stability can substitute "toleration" for a more challenging and liberating love that is willing to listen deeply not only to the nice commonalities but to the scary differences between us. There is a difference between maintaining a polite peace of the powerful and engaging in the difficult work of living in a pluralistic Society.

Also this week, in the state of the meeting report that has so bummed me out, I noted that one of the members of our meeting said that our meeting practices love by "tolerating" our differences. Toleration is a poor substitute for love.

Bright Crow said...

This goes to the heart of what I meant by "deeper in the Spirit which requires yet enables tenderness and vulnerability toward others."

I hope you don't mind that I've just quoted you (anonymously) in the "Thought for Third Month" on Southeastern Yearly Meeting's peace and social concerns page: SEYMpeace.org.

Thank you for writing frankly.

Michael

Liz Opp said...

Hi, Hystery.

Even in a large urban meeting, a person can feel very alone and unwelcome. Such was my experience.

But when a Friend invited a few other Friends to come to her home for some fellowship and maybe some worship, the underlying motion was one of spiritual hospitality and warmth, rather than a weekly obligation to attend worship.

Out of that simple invitation has grown a worship group that continues to grow.

I wonder what would happen if you held your own worship space and invited one or two others to join you in seeking the Spirit...?

I know first-hand how it sucks to provide for others the very thing you yourself want others to provide for you, yet sometimes this is where and how God calls us to be.

While it may be true that one cannot necessarily be a solitary Quaker, it is also true that if we put the worship community in the center of our faith instead of having God at the center, we can be met with grave disappointment.

I'm sorry for how things have turned out. I hope that Way might open somewhere, somehow, for you to have some spiritual nurture.

Blessings,
Liz Opp, The Good Raised Up

Hystery said...

Liz,
I think your advice is excellent and likely the only way to break through this situation. Cat suggested something similar some time ago to me too. In fact, there is a wonderful couple who invite Friends from at least three monthly meetings to their home for holiday potlucks. These are wonderful events when I feel the most like a part of a greater family. I would like to create a kind of Quaker book club/potluck party in which we share our journey together through both silliness and occasional study. I'm a part of another group of people who do this and it is very rewarding.

BUT...

In this rural meeting, Friends live very far apart and have expressed an unwillingness to drive except for Sunday morning.

I don't know that I could have it in my home for a number of practical reasons.

We can't meet where we meet for worship since it is not open to us except on Sunday mornings.

There must be obvious ways around this that I'm just not seeing. Perhaps others can offer suggestions? I could use other brains. Maybe I will also mention it to the clerk of our meeting (who is also the very hospitable host of the potlucks).

Liz Opp said...

Some other thoughts, off the top of my head:

1. Is there a Jewish synagogue nearby? Their worship services and programs generally aren't on Sundays.

2. Classroom space in a university?

3. A public park building?

Also:

I want to encourage you NOT to figure this out, certainly not on your own. Be the sower and just toss the seed as you are led, rather than evaluating the seed and the soil before you ever reach into the seed sack.

It sounds like the couple that hosts holiday potlucks might be a place to start. "I've been thinking about.... or looking for.... What do you think of such a thing....?"

It's been a hard discipline for myself to lay aside my own needs and be a clear vehicle of the Spirit. I've written about that before, but the best I could do when I went looking for what I had written was find this post about being distracted from God, and a related post about service.

Perhaps other Friends and readers will contribute additional ideas. Just stay alert to the nudges and opportunities that may start to come your way.

Blessings,
Liz Opp, The Good Raised Up

Tom Smith said...

I certainly understand your feelings having had similar experiences.

I have no light to shed but trust that the Light will be shed on you.

Nate Swift said...

I too think that Liz' advice is good. I think that the question of "real" community is a major one for all loosely joined groups with scattered membership such as we find in our modern "churches," and I expect that a lot of people feel a need to participate in a little more organic community feeling. (btw, I think this will be addressed to a large extent in the November workshop on "convergence and New monasticism" mentioned in QuakerQuaker now. My question is whether in your situation it might be available as a sort of extension of use of Meeting facilities on First Day. Could you hold your book club/whatever some time shortly after Meeting at the building or someplace like a coffee shop close by? Ways of doing this kind of thing have been on my mind too.

In His Love,
Nate

Hystery said...

Tom, thanks for stopping by. It helps me just to know that others have experienced similar situations and feelings.

Nate, thanks for your contribution to the brainstorming. All of these ideas are really cheering.

Anonymous said...

It pains my heart that you have not been able to find the love and acceptance you need from your local meeting. It must be ever harder with children. I wish for you something like Cat describes in her latest blog, alas I don't thing it is anything that can be given.
peace & love
Glenn