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!"


cath said...

Patience is a virtue. ;)

If you've been attending Meeting for a year and still don't feel fully convinced, then perhaps you are meant to travel more slowly or further on the Friendly path or listen for other messages about your sense of Quaker identity.

I think any kind of convincement is a bit like falling in love--hard to describe, but you'll know when it happens.

And I doubt if it happens the same way to everyone.

Keeping your heart open and listening prayerfully will give you all the info you need--for now.

And the future will take care of itself.

Happy journey!


Lone Star Ma said...

One thing that helped me feel that I belonged to my Meeting, back when it was tiny and I had the only child and our Clerk didn't approve of her presence and about half of the four of us had very different ideas about spirituality than did I...was the mystical realization (by me and the others) that the gathered Meeting was more than just we who were parts of it...the Meeting is like its own entity with its own needs that we all sort of have to obey. Now we know each other very well as the creatures of that Meeting and even if we would not be friends in other settings, we are very intimate in this mystical way.

Anonymous said...

Speaking for myself only:

It is clear that you have decided to seek the Light. You have been convinced. It is our relationship with the Light rather than with each other that is significant. We Quakers might not like to admit it but most of the convinced have never heard of us.

Tom Taylor

Angry Progressive said...

Hi HysteryWitch,

Please indulge me, I've just started taking an angio-tensive receptor blocker, and I'm on the oddest high, but yet I also feel spiritually moved.

I've enjoyed this blog, and the comments from the other posters. I can see a lot of my own experience with Meeting, and different personalities therein. You know me, and my penchant for lengthy ranting.

Like youu, I am convinced of a mystic state of awareness. An awareness common to all religions ... but only in those religion's mystical traditions. I have accessed this state as a young child in PA, and reveled in it even at Baptist church services.

I reveled, that is, until after a move to FL, and I tried to share my enthusiasm and feeling of loving connectedness to my now Southern Baptist minister - fully expecting him to understand and identify with me. Instead, he used fear and guilt to convince me that only the fundamentalist-evangelical formula was the right way, and that the state of apprehending reality that I was refering to was the "way of the mystic," and that THAT way left "the door wide open for Satan to enter," and corrupt me.

For some reason, going to Church became more and more unpleasant for me;-), and I tried to shove aside those states of loving connectedness to God, and I felt fear and guilt when it happened.

When I was nearing 15, I was in church one day while the minister, during "Tithe Week," was delivering a fiery sermon on how two little girls, Mary and Jane, both did their chores for their mother, as expected - but one girl played when finished, and the other though, stayed on working and did more chores for her mother. Well, the preacher continued, "at the end of the day, which child did the mother love and respect more?" ... "Whah (remember I said SOUTHERN Baptist) the mothah loved Mary moah becaws she did moah foah hah mothah, then Jayne did." "Naow, Gawd loves ya when ya giv yoah expected 10% to tha chuhch, but BUT..., don t'ya think Gawd'd luv yah moah, if y'all wuh ta giv maybe 15 puhcent?" "Doomsday's raht 'round thuh coahnuh 'n ya don' wanna git cawt-up in the 'doomsday rush.' so pledge naow 'n avoihd it."

Well, Satan finally did enter, even though I wasn't in a mystic state, and the unholy presence made me loudly say "bullshit!"and walk out. I stopped going to the Baptist Church, and a couple of years later, I started going to a liberal, "Church of Metaphysical Christianity" which was heavily influenced by Theosophy, but had it's dogma too.

I went through other spiritual outlets where the mystic state was welcome and even sought and cultivated. I even read works by the Rev Timothy Leary, joined the "Church of Sixties' rebellion," and became involved in sacraments of the psychedelic movements. I also read a lot of Jung, and could see the mystic state as a psychological process which could be approached through individuation.

In my twenties and thirties, I was a student of Hindu, Sikh, and Buddhist meditative techniques, though I avoided guru personalities. Let me just say that Buddhist temples, and Hindu Ashrams are the richest gathering places for petty personalities who want to push their own interpretations of what spirituality should be, and how the spiritual are supposed to act that anyone would ever want to encounter - at least that's been my experience with it.

I finally, now in my fifties, went on impulse to a Quaker meeting one day, and I've been a regular attender since then. I'm now seriously considering membership at my local, non-directed Meeting house. I like the group because they can definitely relate to, and indeed practice, the mystic approach, yet they also put their beliefs into practice through participation in just social movements and causes, and do it nonviolently.

I too, want to intellectualize spirituality because I've seen it in different approaches via mystic approaches of different religious traditions, and psycho-spiritual evolutionary understanding. There are many people at my meeting house who are like minded, and have come from other disciplines - I'm thinking of a convert who used to be a Presbyerian, ordained minister. Another is a member who was a Haitian Buddhist - really!

I don't hold much back during meeting, or in after meeting socializing. I even use "colorful expressions" at times in three other foreign languages, and though, even though some squirm a little, they all seem to understand that that is my way, and they can suggest through eldering, how I can chose my expressions in a more "seemly" fashion. A lot of times they're right, and other times, they are being politely full of shit. Never though, have I felt more acceptance and fellowship, anywhere, and I am becoming more convinced - convinced that for me, this is probably the best mystic and socially conscious activist coupling that I have ever experienced. Of course, there are people who are stuck in their personal notions of what the world is, and how we should behave in it, but most are willing to work through differences.

Many of my fellow Meeting goers have taken to heart that "we don't see the world the way it is - we see the world the way we are." To be with people who can celebrate that kind of diversity is very uplifting.

Liz Opp said...

HW, you articulate your experience very well--the resistance, the uncertainty, the infatuation, the resistance again...

I also resonate very strongly with what Tom has written:

It is our relationship with the Light rather than with each other that is significant.

At the same time, it's also true that the monthly meeting is the group that takes one's membership under its care... though some meetings have a very loose or incomplete understanding of what "under its care" means. smile

I would say to "wear thy resistance as long as thou canst," to misquote George Fox and what he said to William Penn about his sword-wearing. You will know when it is time to yield.

Trust your timing. Risk when you are ready.

I hope you'll keep us posted as to how this part of your journey unfolds.

Liz Opp, The Good Raised Up

P.S. I have a nudge to point you to the pamphlet, Members One of Another. The author describes membership and growing into the life of the meeting in a very intriguing and important way.

HysteryWitch said...

Your comments have been good and serve to center my focus. I'm moving more gently with this worry as a result.

Perhaps there are two issues for me here. One is that I have problems with my monthly meeting. I do not feel the fit. My husband feels at home. My children seem happy. I feel like a misfit and cannot yet determine why that should be the case.

The second problem is that I am concerned that if I will commit to a religious community, then I will expect some kind of promise that I will not be betrayed. If one is a solitary practitioner of a faith, as I have been as a "Goddess-woman" then one is afforded the luxury of being able to jump and pivot as it suits. when one commits to a spiritual community, then one must also make oneself vulnerable to the emotional, spiritual and even financial health of that group. Key here for me is the fact that if I disagree, at this point I can still just walk away. I can shrug them off.

However, if I join my heart to theirs, then their weaknesses, their errors, their pains become my concern. I say "if". It is already too late. I'm in it deep. But I've remained cool, even dismissive about my deep feelings for Friends when discussing it with others (as if my attitude of disinterest actually fools anyone!)

Having experienced a truly painful rending from the spiritual community of my childhood, I am shy of embracing a new family. I watched my parents commit their time, money, energies, education, faith and love to their faith community only to find themselves the subject of vicious innuendo, gossip and condemnation. And I had to figure out how it was possible that people who used to treat me as one of their own children could pretend that I no longer mattered to them. How do you recover from that?

I am, to be honest, painfully aware (even afraid) of my parents' discomfort with my desire to become a Friend. They fear for me.

This is a real fear but I cannot keep living in spiritual isolation. I just can't.

TTaylor said...

I would like some clarification what betrayal by a meeting would be. What is it the meeting promises that it might not deliver?

Tom Taylor

Liz Opp said...

if I will commit to a religious community, then I will expect some kind of promise that I will not be betrayed...

Quakers are very human, in oh so many ways. I wish someone had been able to caution me that for sure I would be betrayed, disappointed, disillusioned because as humans, we're fallible. We have to take ourselves off the pedestal....

Other Friends have since shown me that I would be loved, held, nurtured, challenged, and buoyed by those same fallible human beings who are also Quakers.

If you haven't already done so, perhaps you could speak these honest things to Friends in your meeting. I have found that when I start tender conversations by saying, "One of the scariest things for me to tell you about myself is...," then the listener works that much harder to show compassion--and often reveals some tender things, too, that may not be as easy to get to otherwise.

Liz Opp, The Good Raised Up

HysteryWitch said...

Tom, thank you for the opportunity to clarify. My expectation of Friends is not that my relationships with them should require their perfection or doting attention to me. My writing may have sounded that way! My statement of fear of betrayal grows out of an old, painful memory and does not reflect the people of my monthly meeting who have never shown me any indication that they would intentionally hurt anyone. These are sweet, good people.

When I speak of betrayal I am not just speaking of someone disagreeing with me or even confronting me. It is annoying but still ok when I feel others are disinterested in me. I accept that long term relationships, even the best, include anger, misunderstanding and fatigue. That is ok with me and would not count as a "betrayal." If they have to tolerate me, then I can tolerate them! Brothers and sisters who love each other also quarrel. :-)

What I refer to was an event in my adolescence in which my church (U.C.C.) acted as a group against my father and his family because of his strong support of gay and lesbian rights. They lashed out at him both publicly and through vicious gossip which resulted in him leaving the church- (He is an atheist today.) This went far beyond disagreement with his ministry and leadership. It became convulsive and ugly as they also attacked various members of the church who remained loyal to him.

It was a severely dysfunctional church in a small community with an unfortunate history of attacking their clergy and I should not continue to expect such bizarre behavior from others...but I find it hard not to. We just didn't see it coming.

So that's what I mean by betrayal. I guess I'm afraid that I will say something that is just "too pagan" or too radical or something. Maybe I'll push people a little too hard without even knowing I have done so and find them acting to push me out of their community and treating my children with the same callous disregard as my father's church treated me when I was a kid. A recent experience in which I was pushed out of an interfaith group (as were other non-Christians) doesn't help my fears.

Liz, I thank you for your wisdom and kindness. You are right. I will try to release some of my bitterness by allowing the chance that kindness will be the response to vulnerability.

Also, I am thankful for the advice to become giving. Navel gazing and dark rumination may help me analyze the problem but eventually must give way to other things. At some point, I must choose to stop shielding myself so that I can reach out in love and focus on others. As my father often said, "Where selfishness fails, love succeeds."

Lone Star Ma said...

Not to go off on a tangent, but is U.C.C. the same as United Church Of Christ? I thought they were the ones (as opposed to the ones without the "united") who did support gay and lesbian rights. Please let me know if I'm wrong. I think the local church of that denomination here hosts a support group for gay and lesbian teens - I thought they were way cool.

HysteryWitch said...

U.C.C. is the United Church of Christ and they are typically accepting and supportive of gays and lesbians. But, they are Congregationalists which means that they are governed by the local congregation not by larger meetings, bishops, etc. Therefore, if you have an angry, hurtful congregation, they make angry, hurtful decisions that may not fit with the larger body's reputation.

cath said...

No Meeting is going to be able to do all the healing for your wounds from childhood religious experiences. You don't have to join a Meeting at any time. My Meeting has a 20-year attender. You will be led when the time is right.

I would repeat what I said in my first comment. Patience is a good thing. Take your time, reveal to selected people what you feel comfortable revealing (and I suspect the stuff you feel led to reveal will increase as time goes by) and see how things unfold.

It is scary, of course, to jump into what seem like the same waters that weren't so friendly in the past--but you are in a new place now (both in your life and in your worship community) and there might be a way to tread that water long enough to see some changes in your feelings and in those of people in the Meeting.

And, at the risk of sounding like a mother, please don't pick at the scab of your childhood wound too often. It slows the healing. :)

Good luck and may you experience courage and peace.


Liz Opp said...

Tom, I too appreciate the question about what it means when a meeting "betrays" someone.

In my case, I felt betrayed when the Meeting had opportunities to deepen itself as a spiritual community--as recommended by a clerk of the meeting and by two different long-term ad hoc committees within eight years.

Instead, the Meeting gave weight to a few Friends who asked questions like, "Why do we have to change?" and "Aren't things fine the way they are?" Or else we got stuck in our own process and chose not to reach out to Friends beyond our monthly meeting or yearly meeting for help in navigating something so amorphous as "deepening the life of the meeting."

I had understood that Quakers sought the Light and the Way forward together and therefore would labor with one another, especially when the counsel or ministry of one Friend brought discomfort. But when this did not happen, I felt betrayed and confused...

I also have felt betrayed when calls for mutual and corporate accountability have been pooh-poohed, with weight being given to the desire to avoid hurting someone's feelings.

Until then, I had understood that Friends were about ministering to one another, providing mutual encouragement, accountability, and eldership for us to live into the More and to allow ourselves to be opened and transformed by the Living Presence among us.

Over time, and with the support of an ongoing care-and-accountability committee, I continue to reflect on the interrelationship between my own expectations--often shaped by what others tell me Quakers are or aren't capable of--my personal longings, and what I experience directly within the Meeting and outside of it.

Through all that, I remain a convinced Friend: God has changed me and brought me into Love in a way that my most cherished relationships with others has not been able to. I am a better person for it; I like myself much better than I used to; and I often feel well-used as a result of striving to be faithful and loving.

The faith and discipline of the Religious Society of Friends speak to my condition, even if the monthly meeting as a whole, or individuals within it, doesn't.

Liz Opp, The Good Raised Up

Lone Star Ma said...


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