A Feeling Sense of the Condition of Others.
Indianapolis First Friends
Pastor Bob Henry
November 4, 2018
Proverbs 2:1-5 (NRSV)
2 My child, if you accept my words
and treasure up my commandments within you,
2 making your ear attentive to wisdom
and inclining your heart to understanding;
3 if you indeed cry out for insight,
and raise your voice for understanding;
4 if you seek it like silver,
and search for it as for hidden treasures—
5 then you will understand the fear of the Lord
and find the knowledge of God.
As part of the “Slow Movement” we have been discussing the last 8 weeks, one of the important aspects for us at First Friends is learning to become a better conversational meeting.
Last week I mentioned this in several ways. One being the importance of staying open and “sharing” with one another in the meeting and also during worship.
With all that is going on in our world and the tensions that are being created, one of the things I continue to hear from all sides is that we have lost the ability to have a fruitful conversation with one another. Conversation is integral to our human nature and being. We are relational people. And as tensions, technology, and our gravitation to isolation increase, more and more we are realizing just how much we lack when it comes to talking with each other.
In my former meeting in Oregon, we took on having better conversations over about a four-year process (some would say that was rather “slow”). It began in our study hour in a class much like Seeking Friends which I lead on Sundays here. It was an open forum to discuss challenging and often controversial issues led by a member of our meeting. In our first year we explored things like:
· Who are our neighbors?
· How is Technology affecting us?
· Race and Profiling
· What really is Peace?
· God’s Economy vs. the World’s Economy
· Guns and Gun Violence.
As you can see these were not easy topics, but they did bring about many successes. Things like,
· Connecting and networking with people who share different beliefs or ideas.
· A discovered need for a deeper understanding of our own mindfulness.
· The difficulty with time constraints and wanting more time to dialogue.
· Learning that we don’t need to always be right.
· And probably the most important thing was developing a set of agreements for our conversations.
I would like to share with you the original agreements that we came up with. These developed as the participants embraced the understanding that as Quakers, we believe God speaks in one voice, but that it often comes through many mouths.
These agreements ended up being a foundation for almost all corporate conversation that took place at Silverton Friends. We used them starting with the open forum class, through our soup and conversation gatherings on Sunday nights, to even starting business meetings with these agreements. At one point the Yearly Meeting asked to utilize the agreements for their conversations. They were extremely helpful when we discussed marriage equality and difficult subjects where people were divided – much like we see on a daily basis in our world, today.
As I read them, think about your conversations, maybe the conversations that you wish could go better, or that you don’t want to have. How might these agreements help as you enter in? Also, think about how they could benefit us as we begin sharing, listening, and having conversations together at First Friends.
These are the original agreements.
We agree to the following:
· We will embody the fruits of the Spirit; love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
· We will practice empathy.
· We will seek to understand above being understood.
· We will wear a thick skin so others may express their authentic thoughts and feelings.
· We will actively listen.
· We will be prepared to agree to disagree if necessary.
· We will try not to ramble.
· We will not play the role of “know-it-all.”
· We will look for opportunities to find common ground.
· We will acknowledge Christ’s presence among us and in each one of us.
· We will lay down the need to persuade.
· We will try not to be defensive, nor will we posture ourselves for the offense.
· We will not be afraid of silence.
· We will intentionally listen to one another, suspending judgement.
At the bottom it states, This is a “living” list of agreements and may evolve as we journey together. Your input is necessary.
We found that by beginning with reading these agreements conversations started out on the right foot, were much more productive, and that people actually were able to listen and hear each other.
I believe those type of agreements flow from our Quaker faith and have a deep foundation in early Quakerdom. To me, agreements of this nature show our intentionality of seeking to love our God and our neighbor better and they flow directly from our earliest days as Quakers. Quaker Marcelle Martin wrote about, and I would like to highlight her 10 Essential Elements in the Early Quaker Spiritual Journey that can help us understand better who we are. Early Quakers were people of…
1. Longing – there was a desire for a greater intimacy with God and our neighbor.
2. Seeking – both an outward seeking (such as reading scripture or other books, spending time in nature, joining a spiritual community or book group, etc…) but also an inner seeking of our own being that led to new understandings and growth in one’s spiritual life.
3. Turning Within – or what we may call Centering Down. Moving our focus inward to that inner light and Spirit’s guiding, instead of the world or our own desires.
4. Openings – which include the ongoing revelation of God. This is as Quakers say, “Minding the Light Within” to become more sensitive to openings and becoming responsive.
5. Refirner’s Fire – A cleansing of our heart and mind to allow us to see God’s work more clearly in our life. Allowing distractions, disbeliefs, our own pleasures to be removed so clarity could abound.
6. Communtiy – The community becomes essential in the transforming work of God and helps to support the inward and outward struggle. A bond with the community develops so each person feels part of the greater community of faith.
7. Leading of the Spirit – In this community we can then hear, involve ourselves, and encourage each other to make a difference and follow the directions the spirit leads for change.
8. Sacrifice – As we wrestle together and respond to the leadings of the Spirit, it will demand a sacrifice of time and energy on the behalf of others. This may mean the loss of social status and at times persecution for our beliefs and actions.
9. Abiding in Love and Power – It is in seeking to live out and be transformed by the life of Christ that we are comforted and enabled to continue. God’s power is evident in our lives and helps us take risks and move forward with confidence. (I would say it even helps us have confidence in our conversations and in speaking more clearly in open worship).
10. Spiritual Maturity – As we work through these several areas, we will begin to build a spiritual maturity that will set us apart as followers of Christ and that will help us live and serve our fellow neighbors. It will not be about us or our meeting but about what God is doing in our midst.
Longing, Seeking, Turning Within, Openings, Refiner’s Fire, Community, Leadings of the Spirit, Sacrifice, Abiding in Love and Power, and Spiritual Maturity.
Now, I lay this all out because, I not only want to show how important our conversations are but also how from the beginning our Quaker spirituality supported this relational and conversational emphasis. As well, how important this is in our world today.
Again, I believe we as Quakers have something to offer our world. Not only in how we interact – but that the reason we have conversations and listen to one another is for the benefit of greater humanity.
And that leads me to one last area of conversation that needs attention at First Friends – open, waiting or unprogrammed worship. A place where we both listen, wait, and converse with God and one another. Waiting and Unprogrammed Worship is one of our deepest and longstanding roots. Last week, I mentioned how sharing takes place in this very room each week, as well as in the parlor during the week. I said, “It is a time when we often get a bigger picture of what God is doing in our midst, of how others experience God at work, or an opportunity to embrace people for who God created them to be.”
In many ways, open, waiting or unprogrammed worship contains each of those ten essentials elements. There is a sense of longing, seeking, centering, opening, refining, community, leading, sacrificing, abiding, and growth, because when people gather together it is a collective experience with a plethora of diversity to go around.
I love how Quaker Michael Birkel, from Earlham School of Religion describes waiting or unprogrammed worship. He says,
“In this quiet place, worshippers enter into expectant waiting, striving to be attentive to divine presence and hopeful that all may be blessed with awareness of the guidance of the Spirit. Here a door may open to experience the collective dimension of worship in community. In earlier times Friends called this “a feeling sense of the conditions of others.” One may feel an unspoken trouble in the life of someone else and minister to it simply by being present in silence and in love to that unvoiced difficulty. The centered state of some can assist others lost in distraction. Unawares, those thus assisted may simply feel “unfogged” and closer to a centered quietness. At times, all may feel knit to one another, gathered in the Spirit and canopied in the power of God’s uplifting presence.”
Open, Unprogrammed or waiting worship can be confusing for new people and birthright Quakers as well. So much can happen. The spirit can move in many different directions. I have a painting in my office of a Canadian Goose running wildly – in Celtic Spirituality the Wild Goose is the metaphor or picture of the Holy Spirit. If you can imagine running after a Canadian goose as it darts and squaks and moves in all different directions and without any patterns. This was their view of the Spirit.
I sense often that is what it feels like for some during waiting or unprogrammed worship. The Spirit is running all over our minds and hearts. Some of us don’t know how to process all that is going on in our minds – we can’t seem to catch that goose. Some of us are prone to speak before thinking…and some can’t seem to stay awake. We have thoughts, phrases, maybe even a vision, but it isn’t fully made visible. This can lead to a great deal of confusion, maybe frustration, or simply a dislike for silence and waiting. And it can also lead to us speaking when not fully prepared.
My friend and fellow Quaker minister, Wess Daniels describes open worship this way.
A time of worship that creates a space, or an environment, where we as a community practice listening and responding to God.
It is a time where we all practice being ministers.
Creates a space where God can have a chance to move among us and teach us.
Invites participation from all present. As we listen silently, we listen together for the movement of God’s Spirit.
Invites a learning-while-doing mentality. We learn how to listen often by speaking back what we think we heard the other person say, and that person or others around us can help to confirm whether what you heard resonated with the group.
Based in a trust of the spirituality of people. It trusts that God interacts with all people and that everyone has something to contribute to the people of God.
And he goes on to say that if we are led to speak out in open worship,
Make sure that it is said in a worshiping posture.
Be sure not to monopolize the time and space, we want others to be free to be led to share in ministry as well.
Ask yourself - Will this statement help in bringing the people in the meeting to a more gathered sense of worship?
Is this statement for yourself or something the whole meeting would benefit from hearing?
Are there things you feel led to share besides speaking such as: a song, a prayer, a piece of art created during worship, a passage of Scripture?
I am pretty sure I know where my friend Wess got a couple of those points. They are from the document that is in each of your bulletins (see below).
Much like needing agreements for better conversations, a few years ago, I realized we needed some helpful guiding queries to help us organize our thoughts and possible words during open, waiting or unprogrammed worship. Questions that focus us, so that we can keep longing, seeking, turning within, and opening ourselves to the Spirit’s leading. This simple wheel of arrows and queries were created Stan Thornburg, an outstanding Quaker minister from the Northwest who was both a colleague and mentor to Wess and I. Let’s look at this in more detail.