Sunday, May 31, 2009

Filled with Light

When the Feast of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Without warning there was a sound like a strong wind, gale force―no one could tell where it came from. It filled the whole building. Then, like a wildfire, the Holy Spirit spread through their ranks, and they started speaking in a number of different languages as the Spirit prompted them. Acts 2:1-4.
For a for a few years beginning when I was about five years old, my family attended a charismatic nondenominational church. People danced and sang, fell before the Lord, and prayed intently for the rapture. It was a little disconcerting.

One of my earliest church memories is of people speaking in tongues. This was a frequent occurrence at the church, to the point that in my Sunday school class, we had a workshop dedicated to helping those who did not know how to speak in tongues to learn. I did not know how to speak in tongues, so my classmates and I prayed together that God would give me the ability. I never did get that particular gift.

I mentioned to a few Quakers that today is Pentecost. They said they didn't really know what that meant, so I briefly described the story of the Holy Spirit descending on the apostles, allowing them to speak in tongues. They said, "Oh, Pentecost, like Pentecostals."

It makes me feel a little sad that it seems like one group gets to be associated with Pentecost, and that in my circle of liberal Friends, those associations are generally negative. Although they wouldn't come out and say it, I think the assumption is that all people who speak in tongues are closed-minded conservatives.

I still do not speak in tongues, but I see many parallels between Pentecost and Quaker worship. We gather and wait in a house for the Holy Spirit to come upon us, and we speak as the Spirit prompts us. We may not literally see tongues of fire above each others' heads, but we do believe that there is the Light of God in every person.

I sometimes think that Quakers are too comfortable in our silence, that we are not paying attention the call of the Spirit in our lives. I pray that when the Spirit gives us words to speak, that we will be bold and share our good news, so that others will look at us and ask why.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Resolution Update

I realized today that I haven't been posting on my blog very much this month. I think I have been too busy being a Quaker to have much time to write about being a Quaker! I did want to post an update on my New Year's resolution. This year, I resolved to have a garden.

For a long time, my garden pretty much looked like this:

Fortunately, my Southern Alter Ego came to town for the weekend to lend a hand.

We took the bus over to the Seattle Tilth edible plant sale and bought a box of delicious looking plants.

By the end of the day, my garden looked much better.

A few weeks later, it looks even better!

In case you are wondering, we planted parsley, sage, garlic chives, rosemary, dill, cilantro, thyme, fennel, basil, onions, peppers, and cherry tomatoes. I focused mostly on herbs because I will be getting lots of vegetables when my CSA starts in a few weeks.

I am looking forward to all the delicious things I will be eating this summer and I think I can say that my New Year's resolution is a success!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Travelers on the Road

I usually have a pretty good sense of direction but this weekend in Portland, I kept going the wrong way. The worst was on Saturday morning. Sarah P and I were walking down an unfamiliar street, trying to find a Safeway. We were trying to buy snacks for our committee meeting that afternoon, but we couldn't find the right street.

Finally, we spotted a waitress at an outdoor restaurant and asked her where the street was. She pointed in the direction we had come and told us that it was about a mile that way. At that point, we only had about ten minutes before we were supposed to be back, so we turned around and hurried back down the street.

We were nervous about the committee meeting. Sarah and I are co-clerks of the committee and we are both relatively inexperienced at clerking. We had spent the morning going over the agenda and preparing, and getting lost trying to buy snacks was the last thing we needed.

But about a block later, we spotted a Trader Joe's sign on the other side of the houses. And as we walked toward it, one of the houses had an AFSC "Friends for peace" sign in the window, just like the one at my house. We took it as a good omen, went and bought snacks at Trader Joe's, and made it back in time to catch the bus to our committee meeting, which went very well.

The next day, we visited Multnomah Monthly Meeting for morning worship. As we walked into the meetinghouse, I told Sarah that I was suddenly nervous. She smiled and said, "You'll probably have to talk."

I realized a few weeks ago while sitting in worship at University Friends Meeting that I was not afraid to speak. This was a little unnerving for me because fear of speaking has been a large part of my experience of giving vocal ministry, and I was unsure how it would feel to be led to speak without my familiar anxiety. But on the day I realized my fear was gone, I also knew I did not have a message to give.

During worship at Multnomah, I thought about my sudden lack of fear and also what Sarah had said. Eventually, I asked God whether there was a message that I was supposed to give to the meeting. For a long time, I felt nothing. But then, I had the unmistakable feeling I get when I know I am supposed to speak―my heart was pounding and I could not stay in my seat. I stood and said,
When God made man, God made two people because man was lonely. We need God, but we need each other too, because living a life of service is hard. We need others to tell us if we are going the wrong way and when the pain is too much for us to carry by ourselves.
My experience of giving the message was the same as in the past. I said the part that I had, then waited for the next part, and sat down when I had no more. When I was done, a wave of peace washed over me.

After the meeting, a Friend thanked me for letting the message come through me. I was grateful that she said that, because it was exactly how it felt. I think on some level, I had been worried that my fear was an essential part of my vocal ministry. Instead, I think it was one more thing keeping the message from coming clearly through me.

Later, I told Sarah that she had called it on the way into the meeting. She said, "Well yeah, you speak every time I go to meeting with you." I had not realized it, but it's true. It is almost as if when Sarah and I travel together, she is the lightning rod for messages that I feel led to give. I keep telling her that I really don't talk in meeting much, but I'm not sure she believes me.

Even though I am not as terrified of having to speak, vocal ministry is not easy for me. I told Sarah that I just had to stop going to meetings with her so I wouldn't have to talk as much. I am grateful when Sarah is there, though, because I know she is holding me in the Light when I speak and trusting along with me that the message is for someone.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Everything Is Everything

My job is ending in August and I am worried. My job ending is not a surprise. I knew when I took the job that I would be there for two years. Of course, that sounded much more reasonable in the fall of 2006 than it does now. I'm sure it will not come as news to anyone that this is not a great time to be looking for a job.

A few weeks ago, I was discussing the bleak job market with a co-worker and she said, half-jokingly, that if I don't find anything, I could spend the time focusing on my Quaker ministry. I was surprised, because she is not a Quaker. After the initial surprise wore off, I said, "That sounds nice."

Unlike my job search, most of the Quaker things I am doing seem to be going pretty well. Although there have been difficult times in some of the committees I have worked on, I feel like I can see positive results from the work I have done. I am going to be traveling quite a bit in the next few months and I am excited about the Friends I will meet and the places God is leading me.

But at the same time, the Quaker work I do is not paid and I do not expect it to be. So I am back to thinking about my livelihood and worrying that I will either not have the money or the time and energy to continue doing the things I am doing.

It's a good time to be reading the Gospels. In reading through the Bible, I have just started the Gospel of John. I had forgotten how many of the stories about Jesus are repeated in the different Gospels, and it is comforting to hear them again and again.

One of the things that I've noticed on this reading is how physical Jesus's actions are. Yes, he told a lot of stories, but he also spent a lot of time feeding people and healing the sick. I guess part of me had internalized the idea that God is there for our souls and doctors and cooks take care of the healing and feeding.

When I was sitting in silence at the Friends World Committee for Consultation annual meeting in March, I got a very clear message. God said to me,
It was so powerful, I thought I might be sick, but it was also confusing. It didn't feel like a message for me, but I also didn't feel like it was for the people at FWCC. I ended up writing it down and later shared it with a few friends, but I felt unsettled.

I am still not sure entirely who the message is for, but I think it is partially for me now and in the months to come. It is true, I do have everything I need. I have a place to live and food to eat and a source of income (for now, at least). I also have the support of people who love me and places to go if I can no longer afford to pay my rent or grocery bills. Compared to many people in the world, I am extremely fortunate.

Beyond that, I have a relationship with a God who cares about my body as well as my soul. I know that I am not immune from sickness, pain, or death, but I also have the Gospels to gently remind me that I don't need to fear those things. I have everything I need, and I am grateful.