Now I feel like I had two separate experiences at the annual session. A part of me had a wonderful time. I enjoyed participating in my worship with music group, traveling with Sarah P, spending time with Friends that I don't get to see very often, and exploring the University of Montana campus. I even liked playing the Holy Spirit in the skit we did for community night, though I felt much more visible than I am usually comfortable with.
The other part of me was filled with increasing dread as the weekend progressed at the thought of having to speak.
By Sunday morning, I was in bad shape. I knew I would have to give a message during the worship that morning, but I had no idea what that would be. Worst of all, I could not feel God, not even to be angry with God. I felt desolate and prayed for words, anything to give me an idea of what I was supposed to say.
After breakfast, my worship with music group met for the final time. In this worship group, we followed a pretty typical worship sharing format, except that instead of speaking, we shared through songs. Out of the silence, one person would suggest a song that spoke to the queries or her condition. We would all sing the song together, then settle back into silence.
The worship with music group was the spiritual highlight of NPYM for me. I love singing with other people and everyone in the group was very tender with each other. But on Sunday morning, about halfway through, I couldn't go on. I moved my chair so that I could pray on my knees as the group continued to sing.
A few minutes later, a Friend began to rub my back and I started to cry. I cried because I was tired and angry. I did not want to speak in front of so many people and I still had no idea what I was supposed to say. I wanted God to find someone else, anyone else, to give whatever message I was supposed to give. I wanted to enjoy the music and the worship instead of feeling so wretched.
I felt like God took some pity on me and agreed to give me something to start with. I recently re-read A Testament of Devotion by Thomas Kelly and a particular sentence stood out to me. After my worship group ended, I ran down to the bookstore and found the book in the stacks going back to the bookstore. I wrote down the sentence I had in mind, along with the sentence before and after it.
Before the meeting, I asked a few Friends to hold me in prayer if I did have to speak. I asked two to sit on either side of me and another to sit directly across from me. As soon as I sat down, I felt a little better. I have spoken in meeting before, and sitting in the circle felt familiar. I also felt drained and resigned―I was tired of fighting with God.
We settled into worship and I could feel my message changing. Others spoke, and they reminded me of the love of Christ and how that is the center of our faith. Finally, I felt a leading to speak. The chair in front of me was empty, so I held on to the back of it and said,
In the past month, I have asked Friends for a lot of money. I have asked for over $6,000 and I have gotten most of it. I filled out two scholarship applications to be here and I got most of that money too, which was good because otherwise I would not have been able to come.I sat back down and wept as the Friends on either side of me held my hands. I heard some messages responding to what I had said, but they rolled off of me. I felt like a burden had been lifted from me and although I was still tired and weak, I felt like I had been faithful.
In A Testament of Devotion, Thomas Kelly wrote, "We have mistaken the nature of poverty, and thought it was economic poverty."
I am grateful to Friends for your money―it makes it possible for me to do my ministry.
He also said, "The deepest need of men is not food and clothing and shelter, important as they are. It is God."
Our service is to turn others toward God, in whatever language you use. To turn others toward the Divine, toward the Light, toward Christ, toward Love. That is our service. And I wonder what our lives would look like if we knew it.
As difficult as that was, knowing that I had a message to give in advance helped me to ask for the support I needed. After the rise of meeting, many Friends approached me and said that they appreciated my message and that it spoke to them in surprisingly different ways. I am glad that the message spoke to them, but I still don't understand why it had to come from me.
Later that day, I got a ride back to Seattle with Friends. I returned to my ordinary life, tired and disoriented.
I talked about my experience of speaking in worship with a friend on the bus yesterday. I commented that I was still fighting with God. She laughed at me kindly and said, "You know God's going to win. You could surrender now and save yourself some trouble." I know. But I'm not ready yet.