i want to ‘lectrify my soul.

yesterday at meeting for worship there were a lot of tears. and when somebody spoke/sang about the belief that there will be laughter even after people go, my natural tendency toward making people laugh when times are sad, went into high gear.

i wanted to tell the “hilarious” story of my first quaker meeting. i was an american tourist in whitby, england, and i had a cold. i tried to get tissues before the meeting started but nowhere was open, and that hunt took so long that i got to the meetinghouse just as meeting was started so i couldn’t find the bathroom. so i dashed in and sat there, for my very first hour of silence. except thanks to me, it wasn’t silence. the silence was regularly punctuated by my sniffles, as i tried to sink into the worship in some way. as i remember, there were multiple doors into and out of the worship room, and so even if i had felt brave enough to get up to go to a restroom at such a mysterious and holy time, i didn’t know where any of the doors led. so i just sat there. and sniffled. and felt american.

at the end of the worship time, the elderly woman next to me, kindly turned and told me that she wanted to offer me a tissue, but they were all up her sleeve and she wasn’t sure if that would bother me or not, so she hadn’t offered me a tissue.

what i got from reliving that story in my mind yesterday, was actually less about the funniness of the story but of the tissues we all have up our sleeves that we are too self-conscious to share.

but i didn’t tell the story or the lesson i had learned from it. there’s this flowchart that’s somewhere in our meeting’s seeker’s packets that gets referred to sometimes, and it’s about how to test whether to share a message. the part that i remember the most is that you can ask yourself if the message is just for you or for the group.

here is my embarrassing and guilty quaker confession:

what keeps me from speaking at meeting for worship, more than anything, when i have these “enlightening” moments is that as i start asking myself if the message is for me or the group, another piece comes in, which is, “am i willing to live by this?” and sometimes i’m not sure. sometimes the idea of living by my own grand advice that seems like it’s from god to the group, with me sort of tangentially involved, is so terrifying or exhausting-seeming, that i keep it to myself.

also, yesterday, i finished reading a pendle hill pamphlet by ben pink dandelion, “confident quakerism.” when i went to return it to the library, the library committee member behind the desk asked what i’d thought. and it was hard to answer, because i’d started the pamphlet months ago, read half of it, and then read the other half today. as i recalled, the beginning had been somewhat irritating, but yesterday’s reading had been useful. as i recall, the beginning dealt with some theological mistakes the author had made, and something in how they were presented had irked me. but there was a sentence near the end about how conversations about our spiritual mistakes breaks open things between people. in my conversation, i hypothesised that maybe our mistakes our better talked about than written about (and now i am writing about that idea). maybe they crystallize a little out of context, when you see them in print.

but it was interesting to read that yesterday, because besides theological mistakes, another place where stuff breaks up in important ways, is when people talk about race and oppression. i’m looking at ph. d. programs right now and i just discovered this week that there are education programs that have whiteness studies as part of it, and that has gotten me really excited. so i got all excited about that as a theological exercise, too.

but of course i don’t want to mix up an academic field with worship.

but probably the core of my belief system is that god is there when you are open to the truth. and frequently that is messy and awkward.

(and at the same time something i am continually learning is the boundaries of one’s own messy-and-awkward and others’ messy-and-awkward. as a writer who has very little filter, i must be mindful that others have filters and boundaries, and they are there for a reason.)

after meeting for worship, my girlfriend and i trekked over to ocean beach to see gillian welch, old crow medicine show, and emmylou harris pay tribute to warren hellman, the man who had started the hardly strictly bluegrass festival, a free music festival in golden gate park. i can never be convinced to go to the festival anymore because it is too crowded and full of alcohol and pot, even if i think it’s a good idea. but i liked the slightly smaller (though still robust) crowd of this event, the considerably rarer instances of people lighting up anything near me (though i did have this funny interaction on the phone with my mom between sets. she said, “we’re lighting a fire in the pit out here,” JUST as pulled out a pipe and lit it right next to me, and so i said, “yeah, someone’s got a little one going over here, too.), the explicitly respectful vibe of the event, and the beautiful escape valve of the roaring ocean just behind me. i was actually able to enjoy the music.

life is sadder than sometimes i’d like to admit. and it’s hard. and growth is hard. but there is god in the music and the laughter and the time shared together and the solitude of the ocean and the mistakes we make and our ability to open up about those mistakes. and if there’s not, there’s something really close, pointing to what god really is.

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our lives had become unmanageable.

i went to quaker meeting today for the first time in, i think, over a month. it’s time for me to start making appearances, as registrar for the retreat, so i’m trying to push past all the cozy house things, busy craziness, and bitter-ish confusion that has kept me away of late.

and i’m really glad.

meeting today was very very vocal, and at first i was really resistant to the messages i was hearing. part of what has been making me reluctant to go to meeting lately has been my confusion about its relevance to my current life. when i first fell in love with the meeting, i was in a very different place in my life– i had time, and i had lofty, judgmental ideals. i still probably have the latter, but the realities of my life have dashed some of those. so, i’ve been having a hard time reconciling meeting as a relevant place for this person who is approaching the world so differently than i used to. is contemplation and “the inward light” only for those with free time and undemanding jobs?

and, of course, i know that, historically and right now, that is not the case, but… for me, is it? that’s been a big part of my questioning right now. because quakerism is both communal and solitary, and my busy-ness and the bitter disappointment of my job have really highlighted the way one can completely isolate themselves in this framework.

and then, in a brief moment of silence in meeting, after a few people had spoken, i had a good internal rage at god. a lot of these ramblings all came to a head and i was ANGRY about the girl who hates me and tells me i’m going to hell, i was ANGRY about the way that most of the students come from a culture where if someone hurts you, you believe you HAVE to hurt them back, i was ANGRY about the way my students punish me daily for trying help them, i was ANGRY about my helplessness.

but helplessness is where you meet god. in fact, helplessness is what we all have in common. they are as helpless as i am, and i am as helpless as they are. and helplessness was the theme that i found in today’s vocal ministry. and i needed to hear that. and even though even though even though i am still so upset that my students have these lives that are so hard and that even in my helplessness, i’m still supposed to help them, i also had this realization that god didn’t make their difficult situation, we did. not me and my students, but our culture, our greed, our lifestyles. my students are casualties of people forgetting that we are all helpless and we need to turn to something bigger and to each other. and that is something to be angry about.

but not really at god.

and then i was able, for the first time in a long time, to admit i was helpless and turn it all over.

i went home and talked to my girlfriend about it a little. a lot of the time, our different approaches to spirituality make me a little shy about talking to her about what happens to me at quaker meeting, but i was able to explain all of this. and we talked about that safety and security that we all want, that none of us have as much as we want to believe we have.

so, yes, i am powerless over the security, safety, and overall wellness, of myself, those i care about, and those i don’t know, and that is SO hard. and the only thing i can do is just turn it over to god. and that helps.

trying to read some blogs for once. i’m sort of debating getting a netbook at some point in the nearish-esque future, because i really don’t have a lot of time in front of a computer where i can really sit down and read or write. my emails feel very scattered because they are fast unconnected sentences with as much info as i can remember to include in a very short period of time. this isn’t because i’m particularly busy, but because the computers i use aren’t mine, so i always feel slightly invasive. this has been the case for years, but i think i’m ready to regain my computing independence. especially since i plan on going back to school in the summer/fall.

it’s been interesting, because the little bit of reading i just did all sort of “speaks to my condition.” let’s see if i can explain it in a semi-swift but still complete manner.

as you may know, i’ve had a sort of concern about diversity. this seemed to be leading me toward niyonu spann’s beyond diversity 101 workshop, but that has been postponed multiple times and now i’m not sure if or when i will be able to attend. i have a clearness committee that is theoretically around that, but the past few meetings have mostly enlightened me to how fuzzy-headed i feel.

at the most recent one, we decided to check in about meeting about once every three months. i was asked what i wanted in the meantime. i said, “conversations and resources.” everyone agreed.

a couple of weeks went by. i blinked a little. and then i started making some phone calls. and on an almost weekly basis, i’ve been getting together with a different person from my clearness committee. and some new things are starting to form. i’m a little shy about sharing them here just yet, because they’re… tender… and unformed somewhat. but something is actually starting to come into shape. and i’m getting a little excited again.

but/and… i’m going to be busy soon. i’m on nominating committee this year, which apparently always means that you join a committee that you theoretically didn’t have time for before, but when you get rejected so many times, you start to feel guilty and take on stuff. so i joined children’s religious ed. which i’ve meant to do for about a year now, so… and then there’s that whole starting school thing. and then there’s the busy-ness that i think my leading will… lead… to.

and so it was interesting to read various posts about tending the inward fire, and , and, er, reading batman. they seem linked. that blend of self-care and faithfulness. it’s good. i like it. i would like to post all three in my head’s bulletin board for easy access, but… i don’t have one of those, so… i’ll have to figure something else out. like, um, maybe a good inward fire.

i’m still figuring out if i’m knocking and it is being given to me, or if i’m just trying to put on some sort of show. but… my hibernation for the past few months hasn’t felt like much of a show.

at meeting for worship this past sunday, there were a lot of messages about the world and all that’s happening out in it… and if we’re willing to listen to god if god asks us to go, move, and do something about it.

it made me itchy. maybe because i’m not as informed about the rest of the world as i think i probably should be. maybe because i don’t feel like i’m doing enough. maybe because i was in a place of judgment of other people that i couldn’t get out of. maybe i just had a soapbox.

these moments have happened before, where suddenly i find myself feeling so passionate and so frustrated about something in meeting for worship or other quaker things that i immediately don’t trust it. it must be so much from me that no light is coming in, and i’m blinded by my own self and my own agenda.

my concern about “diversity” is like that. it feels so big and important to me that i fear it’s just my own thing, and my real leading is elsewhere.

AHA! in that sentence, i found in myself my issue with… what i have an issue with that i hadn’t quite put into words yet.

my family moved a lot. i’m closer to 30 dwelling places than i am to 30 years old. it came out of a combination of wanderlust, poverty, and family ties. and then after i went to college, i wound up moving a lot, too. and i will probably move many more times. i want to settle down, but there’s always some reason why this place isn’t it anymore.

so that’s my bias, my lens– the one that moving is great and exhausting and important… and it takes you away. you move and you get to be a stranger, you get to reinvent yourself, you get to screw up and have it be okay, you get to be welcomed, you get to be missed, you get to be surrounded by people who are foreign and other. this happens to some degree whether you move across town or across the world.

and i can’t get easy with the idea that god calls us to that exotic strangerhood over the deep sinking in to our neighborhoods, into our communities, into the big scary issues that are always right there and ready to be dealt with. there’s poverty, hunger, injustice, violence everywhere– in ourselves, in our next door neighbors, and yes, in communities across the world. and there is definitely something to be said for taking us and our rights and our privileges across the world and using those to help people who have less rights and privileges.

but in this weird way, it’s easier than taking us and our rights and our privileges across the street and using those to help the people there. because we might both stick around. we might change things and they might stick and we might have to continue to be responsible.

do we move when the spirit says move? can we even hear, respect, and heed it when the spirit says to stay right here? wow, that’s so much less interesting. but i’m starting to think… maybe just for me… but maybe not… that it might be more important.

“But kind people find that they are cruel, brave men discover that they are really cowards. Confronted with their true selves most men run away screaming!”

that line from the neverending story has been running through my head a lot.

my experience of quaker meeting and my life since attending quaker meeting feels sort of like going up to the first gate of the southern oracle (the quote is about the second gate, actually, i guess, but they’re both about being effected by who you truly are), laying down, and staring at those eyes– knowing that they will not burn me to a crisp, but instead purify me with their scary light. purify me by showing me who i am and letting me live in it.
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