Wednesday, July 22, 2009


About a month ago, I started to get nervous about going to North Pacific Yearly Meeting annual session. At first, I just had a sort of general dread and I couldn't figure out why. Eventually I realized that I was worried that I would have to speak in meeting for worship and I was afraid that I would have to say hard things.

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.

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.
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.

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.


  1. Oh Ashley! Thanks so much for your faithfulness. Well done for getting the support you needed - I'm inspired.

  2. Hi Ashley,

    Ah, Thomas Kelly! What a lightning rod of God's Spirit, right? I still remember coming across one of his books, The Eternal Promise, at a yard sale during a troubling time of my life--it helped so much.

    Your reflection radiated spiritual concern and worship, but it was a bit unclear why you were so certain you would have to speak at meeting. (Maybe I missed a past post that explained this. I find meaning in reading your blog but don't always get here.)

    And lastly, since I am a avid reader, I also read down your "books i love" column. Intriguing list. But I don't understand why Nabokov's book is there. I am baffled why individuals like it; to me, as a former teacher, Lolita seems the nadir of fiction.

    I know it is dangerous to get into a discussion with a lawyer )just kidding;-) but may I ask, why do you like the book?

    In the light,

    Daniel Wilcox

  3. It was that message because... That is the message, isn't it! Friends have been saying it for a very long time, because it seems so simple, and because people need to "get" it, but fail because it sounds "too simple" to them!

    Why you? Why did it have to be a mystery beforehand, all the while knowing there was something you would be called on to say? Wouldn't it have seemed too simple, something you'd need to explain, elaborate upon?

    Two people I know have a lot of trouble in their lives, and the only advice I have to give them, is to stop trying to "figure out" what they need to do & how they should do it. To simply ask. I never know how, or when, I can tell them this in a way they can accept. It may be only tacitly... but every time, I need to ask.

  4. I cannot remember who it is at UFM who tells a story about someone offering a stirring and highly topical message in Meeting for Worship. For the person's trouble, after worship, someone else said "Thee was favored and thee was faithful."

    It rather sounds as if that is true here, but perhaps it would be interesting to probe the whys of your misgivings. It is true that sometimes, there is no "why." One simply serves, like the toilet paper roll (RantWoman promises separately in her own blog to elaborate on the toilet paper roll image, a nugget she gleaned from asking several Friends for their high points from Friend in Residence John Calvi's message). Sometimes though poking at the why's leads either to more insights or to more peace about fulfilling a specific divine purpose.

    I also think for all the process of doing business and a rich sense of rewards in some of the business done that messages like yours are essential for keeping us all grounded.

  5. Alice - Thank you.

    Daniel - Although on some level I was certain I would have to speak, I had doubts until the moment I stood up. And no, there is no past post about it, mostly because I don't want to presume that God will do anything. That said, I have spoken in meeting enough times to be able to recognize certain physical signs when it is likely that I will have to speak.

    As for Lolita, I have to confess that it has been several years since I read it. The reasons I loved it were because I thought the language was beautiful (especially considering it is not Nabokov's first language), and I think it shows the power of literature to make even the worst characters sympathetic.

    Forest - I think you are right about me not getting the message earlier because it was too simple. After I sat down, one of the thoughts going through my head was, "That was it?" It is hard to just trust and not try to figure things out.

    Rantwoman - Yes, the toilet paper roll---a good analogy for the weekend. I can't say for sure, but I think my misgivings have more to do with my general unwillingness to speak than the content of the message.

    We did get a lot of business done over the weekend, didn't we? It was nice to see you there.

  6. Ashley,
    We are all given gifts (1 Cor 12:25-31)and in order to have a "mutual interest in and care for one another" we must know what each of us needs to carry out our gift to support the work of the Spirit, God, the Divine. Otherwise the work does not happen.

  7. Thanks for sharing your experience. I just recently "delivered" my first message at Meeting and wrote about it here:

    Thought you might find it interesting. Keep on blogging!

  8. Jami - Thank you for your support there and here. Lately I have been thinking that the flip side to all of us having different gifts is that if we are in community, we don't each have to do everything. It is a comforting thought.

    J.A. Seeker - I am glad to hear that you also wrote about your experience speaking in meeting. I think Friends really benefit from hearing from each other's experiences in worship, whether they feel led to speak or not. Thanks for the encouragement.

  9. i'm very glad you spoke. i was close to you and felt your presence and your fear. i also felt spirit surrounding us and holding us up. your message moved me for both it's content and it's depth of spirit.

    i'm also glad you blog.

    i thought to ask you about the book you mentioned, but after meeting i got caught up in dorris, who was sitting next to me and is one of the most beautiful people in the world.

    so now after reading your blog, i've gone to the library and checked out a testement of devotion and am presently having my life changed.

    thank you.

  10. Parise - I am glad that you found my blog and a copy of A Testament of Devotion. It is a challenging book. Each time I read it, I find something new. It has also been a significant book for me because it was the book Freedom Friends Church gave me when I moved to Seattle and the place I got the title for my blog. I hope that you find it to be as rich as I have.

  11. Ashley: I echo the thanks of others for your willingness to share this here.

    One possible reason the simple, deep message had to come from you is simply because of your recent experience of asking for scholarship support. That directly informed and grounded Thomas Kelly's words in the Spirit in which they were written. Otherwise, just repeating his words would have been an empty form.

    This experience seems like the same process as Bible reading in the manner of Friends.

  12. Chris - I agree that few others would have had my particular message. It is just hard for me to see why I have to speak when it is so difficult for me, when it would be easy or even enjoyable for others.


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