“Are You Engaged in a Spiritual Adventure with Our Meeting?” by Joyce Gibson

Message given at Durham Friends Meeting, January 16, 2022

Today, I want to follow-up on my message from last week on Becoming a Quaker.  In thinking through our testimonies, community is the one that strikes me as critically important, and was the topic that a few of you commented on last week, as well.  Are we a distinct community?  What distinguishes us from other Christian or Quaker communities?  Many people join us from other faith traditions that feel more restrictive than ours, and are attracted by our belief that Christ, the Light or Spirit resides in every human, and that no priest or intermediary is necessary.  For me, nurturing that Divine Relationship is a challenge, and perhaps one I need more collective education about.  Daphne Clement once told me that just showing up was the most important thing to do in learning to be a Quaker; finding meaning and purpose here together is where we learn about each other and Quakerism.

Or maybe people are attracted to our understanding that God is LOVE for everyone, as described in one of our principles according to George Fox:  That the power and love of God are over all, erasing the artificial division between the secular and religious so that all of life, when lived in the Spirit, becomes sacramental.  The traditional outward sacraments, (such as crucifixes, rosaries, statues, palm leaves) again characterized as empty forms, are to be discarded in favor of the spiritual reality they symbolize.

How is the Love of God manifested in our community?

Do we have a corporate responsibility as a community of Quakers to share and demonstrate God’s LOVE?  The ten commandments offer guidance for building community, many asking us to take care of each other.  In Exodus 20: 2-17,  Moses relays a message to the people from God, how God wants to be regarded, and how they are to deal with each other:  These come from the Bible in contemporary language, THE MESSAGE)

  1. No other gods, only me.
  2. No carved gods of any size, shape or form of anything whatever, whether of things that fly, or walk or swim;  (no smart phones, TV shows, internet addictions?)
  3. No using the name of God, your God, in curses or silly banter;
  4. Observe the sabbath, to keep it holy.  Work six days and do everything you need to do.  But the seventh is a Sabbath to God, your God.
  5. Honor your father and mother so that you’ll live a long time in the land that God, your God is giving you;
  6. No murder;
  7. No adultery;
  8. No stealing;
  9. No lies about your neighbor;
  10.  No lusting after your neighbor’s house—or wife or servant or maid or ox or donkey.  Don’t set your heart on anything that is your neighbors.  Can we use the commandments as one guide to sustain community?

Here is what Faith and Practice (1986) tells us about community:

a)…While Friends had great respect for the individual person, the real unit in the society of Friends has always been the Meeting (p. 54, chapter 1, Quaker Faith)

In another section, there is a quote about Meeting as a Caring Community:

b)…To share in the experience of the Presence in corporate worship, to strive to let Divine Will guide one’s life, to uphold others in prayer, to live in a sense of unfailing Love, is to participate in a spiritual adventure in which Friends come to know one another and to respect one another at a level where differences of age or sex, of wealth or position, of education or vocation, of race or nation are all irrelevant.  Within this sort of fellowship, as in a family, griefs and joys, fear and hopes, failures and accomplishments are naturally shared, even individuality and independence are scrupulously respected. (Pps. 120-121, The Meeting as a Caring Community).

I think the magic words herein are: to participate in a spiritual adventure in which Friends come to know one another and to respect one another.  Are you engaged in a spiritual adventure with our Meeting?  How can we provide or promote such an opportunity for each of us?

I find myself spending more time on Quaker projects than I imagined I would; and when I think back to my youth and early adulthood, I could not imagine using my time this way!  I am so impressed with our young people’s sense of God and their relationship with God.  Some (like me) have been living in a clue-free zone about God for a long time.

It could be that we need a re-charging of our batteries, of our adventurous selves since we have been trying our best to manage the pandemic– in our families, at work, in the larger community, and certainly here at Meeting.  One of our Friends from the Putney, Vermont Meeting, has been facilitating workshops called “Reflecting on Our Collective Well-Being:  Grieving, Healing, and Community, wherever he has been invited, and I think the title is an apt one to consider for ourselves:  A conversation about our collective well-being would be useful to me.

How do we discern how to be a more caring community during a pandemic?  How do we discern our own role in helping to reduce the tensions, and challenges brought on in our regular everyday lives?

I believe that there are a number of ways that we already participate in spiritual adventures with each other, and it is one of the reasons I have joined a few different groups here at Durham, and affiliated with some in the New England Yearly Meeting.  Thus, when you join a committee, volunteer with the youth, call one of us to check on us, serve on Trustees or Nominating Committee, or engage in continuous prayer for the Meeting, you are participating in spiritual adventures. 

There is another way that many find much more powerful though—when we worship together and feel the Presence.  Michael Birkel, faculty at Earlham College, calls it the “The Collective Dimension of Worship”…Worship in community is more than prayer in solitude.  It is not simply common purpose but a felt sense of togetherness that joins worshipers.  We can experience one another at depths that challenge our experience to describe them (p. 44, Silence and Witness)

There is another, higher dimension of worship, that some have experienced that comes when we are together.  Thomas Kelly (one of my prayer mentors) wrote about it this wayIn the Quaker practice of group worship on the basis of silence come special times when an electric hush and solemnity and depth of power steals over the worshipers.  A blanket of divine covering comes over the room, a stillness that can be felt is over all, and the worshipers are gathered into a unity and synthesis of life which is amazing indeed.  A quickening Presence pervades  us, breaking down some part of the special privacy and isolation of our individual lives and blending our spirits within a superindividual Life and Power…(The Gathered Meeting, reprinted in the Eternal Promise, Richmond, Indiana:  Friends United Pres, 1977, p. 72)  THIS PRACTICE IN HIS PRESENCE IS UNIQUELY OURS!

Before leaving I must share a recent experience I had with a few women who identify as Quaker.  I was stunned at how one person introduced herself  because I had NEVER HEARD ANYONE COMBINE THEIR INTRODUCTION AS SHE DID.  We were asked to give our names, Meeting affiliation, pronouns, etc.   She used her tribal name and quaker as part of her identification, together, separate from identifying her Meeting; it sounded like her title—Wampanoag Quaker.  She went on to explain to us that her people view themselves as Community first, and that seeking a spiritual home, Quakers were the closest she and her people could find where community was valued as a priority.  This person embraces the DIVINE as part of her natural life; it was refreshing to behold.