by Deborah Fisch
SEYM Michener Lecturer—January 19, 2014
I thank you so much for the invitation to journey with you for a while. One of the first things I often share with people who have invited me to share ministry with them is that if I stop in the middle of speaking, put my head down and get quiet, and you think to yourself, “I don’t think she knows what she is going to say next,” you would be doing good discernment. Sometimes I need to listen to the Spirit for a little while again before I speak. I would invite you just to hold me in the Light and listen with me so that we can discern together where it is that we’re called to go next in our time together. We will see where we’re led together to spend this precious time that we’ve been given.
I’ve been asked to speak about Growing the Beloved Community. During the time that I’ve been preparing, I’ve been learning how to hold on and let go at the same time. For example, my time here started on Friday with many opportunities to learn and practice patience. Be careful for what you pray!
For example, my plane was delayed leaving Des Moines, Iowa, so I got into the Detroit Airport with 15 minutes to get to my next plane. I was in the end of C Concourse, but of course my plane was leaving from the end of A. I ran through the C Concourse, down the escalator, through the rather long tunnel, up the escalator to the A Concourse and to my departure gate. The gate agent had just closed the door to the plane as I got there. There were a lot of other unhappy people.
And there, right before me, was an unplanned opportunity. A woman was in distress because her father was facing surgery that morning, and the delay was causing her to be late getting him to the hospital. Her worry about her seriously ill father showed itself as anger. She was very angry and letting everyone know it. She was not a frequent flyer and didn’t understand that once a plane’s door is closed, it’s not re-opened for anything but a plane emergency. She was calling the gate agent names and was about to be kicked off the next plane. I found myself intervening, trying to explain, and getting her to just breathe for a bit. It helped me too because in helping her breathe, I was reminded to breathe. We spent the time breathing and waiting together and gradually she calmed down. Of course, the person picking me up in Orlando was happy to come a little later, so I got here just fine.
Right away, I started learning about being present. During my time here yesterday, I got to sit with you, worship and be a part of your Winter Interim Business Meeting. I was able to witness the business that you as a meeting are called to. I got to see your meeting covered by the Spirit as you recognized that one among you, a young Friend of the meeting (and of God), had been given a leading to bear witness against mountaintop mining. I heard some of you testify of your witness of love growing in that young person’s life. It wasn’t just something that she wanted to do. It was a part of who she was becoming. The way she was living her life testified and that is how you knew that this was a true leading for her.
Your hearts leapt at the opportunity to enable her to get the training she needed to step into this ministry. An excitement settled over the meeting. I heard Friends saying, “If we’re led to do it, Way will open.” Then Friends considered the need to rein in their own enthusiasm. I heard Friends say, “Let’s not try to push Way opening. Let’s just make the space for this Friend to be able to say yes to the Spirit, instead of telling her how to do it.” You sought to go deeper and found ways of supporting and nurturing the ministry of one of your own called to work in the world!
I heard Friends talking about the tension in the meeting between “Let’s do it now” and “Shouldn’t we season it and make sure we’re rightly led first?”— the tension that happens when Friends don’t recognize what is happening. I have come to believe there is no such thing as being “rightly led” because God always leads us “rightly”. I have come to think of it as we “rightly follow.” The problems occur when we don’t rightly recognize what is being said or we don’t have the courage to follow.
I was reminded of my guitar strings. They don’t play any music at all when they have no tension. Have you ever tried to play a guitar string with the tension removed? It goes “Whap!”—nothing. On the other hand, if you make those strings too tight, “Snap!” They break. Each string is created to be tuned to a different note. When tuned and played together, the strings make beautiful music.
I was reminded that all of us have been given different notes to sing, alone but also in harmony with others. Those gifts that we’re given are tuned by the Divine so that when we “sing” together, the music is as perfect as we can possibly let it be. The Spirit is able to move through us.
I heard Friends talking about how your meetings had been through a time of struggling together in recent years regarding your membership in Friends United Meeting that you eventually left. But I also heard that this time of struggle has taught you to listen to each other and be with each other in the hard places instead of running from the conflicts as Friends so often do. Trying to keep peace, we simply avoid the conflict, and that often leads us into more conflict! I learned that having recently moved through one of those times, you have a concern that you not now become complacent. In resting in the afterglow of that hard work, you don’t want to miss opportunities that are before you. You need to rest, but you don’t want to rest too long.
I heard you talking about all of these things and more, and I said to the Divine Still Small Voice in my heart, “Why was it that they wanted me to come here? What would I possibly have to share with these Friends?”
This morning in worship I heard the invitation to unwrap the package with you. I thought of my daughter, an artist, whose Christmas tree every year has packages under it that are works of art. You almost don’t want to open them because they’re so pretty. You’ve seen those, haven’t you? But if you don’t open them, you’ll never know what’s inside! You’ll miss the whole reason that they were so lovingly wrapped, because they hold something picked out with love just for you! I heard a Friend ministering to us about that and then another Friend accepting the invitation.
So, let me unwrap this beautiful package that is Love with you and pass it around the room for all to enjoy! Then another package that is the community of Friendship and another that is Service. Let’s not only unwrap them but also appreciate them and share them. This verb “Love.” We identify the Spirit as Love and Jesus as Love. So if capital “L” Love is a verb, we could say Jesus is a verb! I’ve never heard anybody say that before: “I’m going to Jesus you!”
One of the first times I had the opportunity to worship with SEYM Friends was when I started the job with Traveling Ministries at Friends General Conference. I have no sense of direction and it made no sense to me that you were called Southeastern Yearly Meeting. You’re Florida. You’re just south for me. But when I started working for FGC 14 years ago, I’d really never traveled that much yet.
I think Cathy Gaskell picked me up in her van at the airport. I was all excited! It was the first time I’d ever been in Florida. I had a lot of energy, and when I climbed in, I found there were other people in the car too! You had a lot of visitors. You have a great yearly meeting, and it doesn’t hurt that it’s held every Easter when it’s still cold in other places. In my head I’m thinking, “Now here’s what I’m going to do. When we finally get to this camp, I’m going to go in, get registered, get to my room, settle in, get centered and then go over to worship.” That became my mantra on the ride: “I’m going to go in. I’m going to get registered. I’m going to go to my room, unpack, get centered and go worship. I’m going to get there, go get registered, go to my room, get unpacked, get centered and go worship.”
Cathy let us out in front of the auditorium, and I walked up to the door repeating my mantra to myself. As I reached for the door, an older gentleman opened the door and said, “Welcome, beloved child of God.” His name was Bob Allenson, but I didn’t know it then. I thought “Oh, well, that’s different.” And I returned to my mantra, “I’m going to get registered. I’m going to go to my room, and I went right by him with a quick, but very polite, “Thank you.” I got registered. I went to my room. I unpacked. I got centered, and I started walking across the campus to worship. At some point, it almost felt like time slowed down for me. And then I finally heard Bob’s words in my heart, “Welcome, beloved child of God!”
Through the next several months, from time to time, as I traveled among Friends, I felt called to share this lovely, simple ministry that had been given to me through your yearly meeting. From time to time people would come up to me and say, “Welcome, beloved child of God. I heard from somebody who heard from somebody what happened to you at Southeastern Yearly Meeting.” It must have happened a thousand times over the next few months.
A couple of years later we were inviting yearly meetings to send representatives to an FGC consultation on ministry and your yearly meeting hadn’t responded. When I called the SEYM office, the person said, “Someone will get in touch with you today and let you know.” Within a matter of minutes, I got an email: “Greetings, beloved child of God, my name is Bob Allenson. I have been invited to be the representative of Southeastern Yearly Meeting to your consultation.” I emailed right back, “Are you the person who greeted me as beloved child of God? If you are, I have a story to tell you.” Right away I got a reply: “I am he. I have already heard.”
Bob was actually doing that first part of growing the beloved community. By being faithful to this one piece of ministry, over a long period of time, never knowing how it was being received, but being faithful to give it and give it with Love for as long as led, Bob was being an example of what it means to be a “Friend.” That simple act, repeated by several people along the way, faithful by receiving it and faithful in sharing it with others, started impacting the world.
I want to hold up to us that sometimes we put so much weight on ourselves around “How do we take who we are into the world?” I think the answer is found at its very foundation: The Spirit of Love or God, speaks (or sings, or gives music, or dances) through each one of us. Because we are listening, we are able to hear and receive it. We can ponder it and can talk about the message later. We can explore with each other ways to share the message, perhaps changed a bit, but still with intentionality. At its base, the way we must do this is by being faithful to the gifts that we’re given and gathering together to nurture each other. Then we must be faithful as we walk in the world joyfully, sharing our gifts with others as well.
Thanks for that, all of it. It continues to inform my life. You may think, “Oh, but that was Bob’s ministry.” It was your ministry too. Any gift given to a member is a gift given to the whole body. He couldn’t have been faithful to his ministry if you had not been faithful to yours in giving him a spiritual home in which to share it. In the 21st century, how are we called to be Friends? How are we called to be in community together, as a faith community?
What is it that we seek by being in community? One of the blessings of my work— I think I have pretty much one of the best jobs in the world— is that I get to travel among Friends almost every day of my life. Some people might think that’s because it’s the only way that God could figure out to help me stay faithful as a Friend. It’s easier for us when we’re together, right? We feel more of a responsibility to be faithful when we know we’re surrounded by other Friends who are keeping an eye on us. God said, “Let’s put Deborah where there’s somebody who’s going to be keeping track of her all the time.”
When I first found myself planted in a meeting, there was a knowing. I recognized with my first breath of worship that God was there, in that meetinghouse, as experienced by and testified to through the people sitting there with me, and who had sat there before me. I’ve heard some of you speak of it too.
What we learn, as one Friend said in meeting this morning, we learn experientially. And what we learn we can then share with each other—the things that touch our hearts that we come to know, not know here, in the head, but know here, in the heart and gut. Those are the things that are authentic, that we can share with each other.
What I hear people sharing with me is what I also recognize as Truth in my heart. We have a desire, a yearning, to be known and to be loved for who we are. We have a desire to be known right where we are, and then we want and need help to be better and grow into that perfection of love. I think that’s part of the reason that we feel called to be in community together. We have a hunger to be known and to know others as well.
Many, many of us are spiritual refugees, as I’ve learned as I’ve traveled among Friends. In many of our meetings, the only birthright Friends are the children. After college, I found myself settling in an area where there were no First Christian Churches, the church I’d grown up in. I didn’t leave my church home because I was dissatisfied with it, but because it just wasn’t there. I had to find a different faith home. I happened to be active at the time in the Nuclear Freeze Movement and was running into a lot of Quakers. Also, I had extended family members who knew some Quakers.
Finally, my Quaker friends just quietly said, “You know, you’re doing everything else with us. You might want to try meeting for worship too.” I said, “You guys don’t have music. I can’t imagine worshipping without music!”
They said, “Well, think about it.” A few weeks and months passed. They said again, “You’re still doing a lot with us. You might want to come to meeting for worship. We’re starting a First Day School.”
I had a 3-year-old, so I thought, “Okay, I’ll try it once. Maybe they’ll quit bugging me.” It was a gentle bugging. After First Day school, we picked up our daughter, went into the meeting house and sat down on the bench closest to the back.
It’s an old prairie meetinghouse that used to have a women’s side and men’s side. We sat on the bench right inside the door, and I thought, “Well, if I can’t stand it, I can quietly leave.” I sat down and got my daughter settled. I kind of looked around. I’d read a lot about meeting for worship by then. I knew that I was supposed to kind of listen, so I started listening. My heart heard. It was as if I’d breathed for the first time. I knew I’d come home! So many of you have shared similar stories with me, of a knowing, an understanding deep down inside that you’d come home.
So, I just knew. I still love music, but now my heart sings in a different way in worship. I find plenty of other opportunities to sing and make a joyful noise outside of meeting for worship. I come back to— and for me this is the basic thing that draws us together—a knowing that’s beyond our intellect that pulls at our hearts.
Another reason we want to build spiritual community and nurture our meetings is that they’re places where we can practice becoming the kind of people we feel called to be by the Spirit. Our meetings are places we can create the place and person we want, where we know that people love us enough to nudge us back to center when we miss the mark. This Spiritual home is where others encourage us to grow into the gifts that we’ve been given so that when we go out into the world, we’ve had some practice sharing what has been laid on our hearts. Community is a place where we practice discernment together, kind of a testing.
As I said to some Friends earlier this weekend, “You know, I don’t always hear the Spirit correctly the first time. I’m a little hard of hearing.” I don’t always correctly translate Spirit talk in my head. Sometimes I’ve had the message, “Here’s the leading” and I think it’s a “Go!” But actually, the message was “Here’s the leading. Now prepare yourself to go.” I missed the “prepare yourself” part. Other Friends have helped me learn that there is a time of preparation before we step into the world. When we hang out together, we can risk testing things out with each other. It doesn’t feel as risky now for me to do that. (Notice I say “as” risky.)
Often I hear Friends say, “One of the things that we haven’t been doing as well in recent years is sharing of ourselves with each other.” I hear a lot of people telling me, “We don’t really know each other at our meeting anymore. We worship together. We do committee work together. Occasionally we do some sit-ins or demonstrations together or we write letters to Congress, but we don’t talk about our spiritual lives.” The reason we don’t, they share with me, is because they’re afraid that others will be offended or they might say the wrong thing and unintentionally harm others.
We know that we come from many different traditions as spiritual refugees. Some of us have experienced great wounding from other faith traditions. As people of peace and love, we desire not to further harm each other. In this place, that starts from a good place of not wanting to cause further harm, we err in not sharing at all. For new attenders, this feels nice at first, even safe. But after a while we notice that something is missing. I’m hearing this from a lot of Friends, not just in SEYM, but across the US, Canada, and across all our own denominations. Not that all meetings are doing this, but I’m just sharing what I’m learning from Friends, one of the things for which we hunger. As a people of faith, we long to know each other at a deeper level than we do, to find ways and times to be spiritually present with each other.
I hear Friends talking of the “good old days” when we used to have more opportunities to hang out, laugh together and share stories of the “ah ha” moments in our lives. We aren’t doing that as much anymore. The good news, Friends, is that we as a Religious Society of Friends are hungry for the more. We want to know each other more. We want to be more faithful to sharing our inner light. The challenge is to create the space and time and take the risk to do it.
The other piece I hear is, “We don’t have the same kind of time we used to either. Our Friends are scattered over maybe a two-hour radius from meetinghouses. To meet mid-week like we used to becomes impossible. People can’t travel two hours for an hour worship mid-week, travel two hours back and then go to work the next morning.”
Also, I hear, “Our children have soccer games on Sunday morning now. Work calls me to do this. This obligation calls me to do that.” These are the typical demands on our lives these days. We hunger for more, but our lives are full. What I would share with us is that we have the same 24 hours in a day that we’ve always had. If want a greater closeness in our meeting communities, we need to become creative about putting that together.
Part of the work that we have to do as Friends is to discern together how to prioritize our time and decide what we want to do with it. We can help each other do that. We can also start thinking outside the box. Just because meeting for worship has always been 10 to 11 on First Day and 7 to 8 midweek doesn’t mean that it always needs to stay there. The capital “T” Truth is we need to find times to worship together! The little “t” truth is that our worship can be whenever we do it. Dare to think outside the box: If we need to find times to be together more, use the tools we have today in the 21st century to find ways to do it.
I know a meeting in Wyoming—there’s only one, so I know it. They have one meeting for the whole state, but they don’t call it a meeting because they don’t meet monthly. There are little pockets of worship groups around the state. It’s patterned after the British model: small groups worship together weekly and then once a month meet together. But, Wyoming Friends live too far apart even to meet monthly so they meet a few times a year, but on a regular schedule.
When they gather, Wyoming Friends stay in each other’s homes and do work together. Sometimes they have a service project, and always they worship together. They spend 24 hours a day together for a few days with opportunities to sing, worship, share their stories with each other and play. In the summer, they invite a speaker, which is how I got to know them. During the year, they find ways to stay connected with each other as a whole group. Also they have a newsletter in which share what’s going on in their family and personal lives, as well as in their meeting. When they are in need, they reach out to each other for help. They are an example of ways that people are thinking outside the box to meet some of their spiritual needs.
As we as Friends look for ways to get to know each other on a deeper level, how do we do that? I met a Friend a number of years ago, Linda Chidsey. Some of you may remember her giving the Walton Lecture a few years ago. She invited us to “listen in tongues.” The Hebrew and Christian scriptures talk about speaking in tongues, but she said, “Speaking in tongues is not such a big deal. Nobody has to understand you! But what if we give each other the gift of listening in tongues?”
If our love has stopped us from sharing for fear of offending, let’s give ourselves and others the gift of listening in tongues, so that I can say to you, “You are so important to me in my life and I want to know the ‘ah ha’ moments of your life.” Have you ever had the opportunity to share in this way?
Let me share with one of my “ah ha” moments. I used to live on a farm where we raised a small flock of sheep. During lambing season, you need to check pregnant ewes every three hours around the clock. If they’ve gone into labor, three hours have passed, and they haven’t delivered, you need to stay with the ewe to make sure nothing is going wrong. Part of my job was the watch in the middle of the night, in Iowa, in winter, when cloudless skies and a bit of a wind put the wind chill factor at -75F. Iowa winter nights are very cold, but very beautiful. That, however, was often lost on me. I got up at midnight and 3 a.m. each night hoping to find a ewe in labor, or even better, some nice healthy sets of twin lambs to shut up with their mothers.
The walk out to the barn was perhaps half a city block, plenty of time to get frostbite if you weren’t careful. You don’t build a barn right next to the house where it would be much easier to get to in the middle of the night because, well, it doesn’t smell so good. So the barn is built a ways from the house.
This particular night was very cold and windy. After I went through all the work of waking in the middle of the night, getting bundled up and walking to the barn, you would think at least one sheep would give me the grace to be in labor. But on that particular night, not a single ewe was giving birth.
My trek had been all for naught as far as I was concerned, and I headed back to bed. But as I was trudging back to the house, for some reason, I looked up. In Iowa when it’s -20F and a clear sky, it’s as if the stars come down and touch the ground, and you’re swimming in stars.
I just stood there a moment and gasped! I felt filled with the Creator’s magnificence and could barely breathe. I was so in unity with creation at that moment that I could hardly stand it. I stepped away. I thought, “What am I doing?” I stepped back in and looked up again. That was an “ah ha” moment for me. When you have that kind of a moment, it hurts to hold it in. You just want to wake up everyone in the house and tell them about it. If you don’t then, at least the next morning. You want to be able to talk about it. You need to talk about it. It’s a gift you’ve been given, and you want to share those types of gifts.
Too often I stop myself because I’m afraid that if I say, “God came down and touched my heart!”—you may not be able to hear that, or even worse, feel offended or harmed because others have done unkind or even evil things to you in the name of God. So then I miss a moment of connecting with you because I am afraid my joy will somehow hurt you. As a result, my own heart is hurt because I have no one with whom to share that incredible “ah ha” moment with the Divine. We must begin giving each other the gift of listening in tongues! Think how our conversations would change when each of us could speak trusting the other to listen in tongues.
It is also true that even given permission to speak from the heart, trying to put into words that describe or explain your “ah ha” moment with God can feel as if it diminishes your experience. But it is worth the risk! Likewise, it is just as important for me to hear your “ah ha” moments. We all grow in the Spirit when we risk putting holy times into words so others can hear and know us on a soul level, who we truly are.
So this weekend, you just go ahead and share in your heart language for me. I’ll translate. I’ll listen in tongues. Meetings are being transformed by our simply saying, “Let’s tell each other our stories.” Let’s start with some easy things. Nobody wants to jump in the deep end if you’re afraid of face floating, right? I was a swimming teacher for a long time, so I know this experientially. Let’s start in the shallow end where everybody can play. Let’s begin by sharing stories of “ah ha” moments that are easy to share.
Start now. Start over meals. Share your favorite experience in meeting. Share with me a story of somebody who’s touched your life and changed it. Share with me your favorite childhood memory of a time you remember being touched by something beyond yourself.
We can start with easy questions to share with each other and then move towards the ones that scare us more: How do you find the Divine in your life? How do you experience it? Who’s Jesus to you? What does George Fox’s testimony, “There is one Christ Jesus that speaks to Thy condition. When I heard it my heart did leap for joy!” mean to you? These are the kinds of questions that I’m learning to ask others and share with others.
We’re hungry to share with each other. We need to give each other permission to share in our own language, whether it’s God language or Divine language or Creator language or Earth language or Wiccan language or “I don’t know” language, it’s the same capital “T” Truth. It’s way cool! What I would hold up is that I think Friends in the 21st century have the job of re-discovering how to share the “ah ha” moments with each other, so that we can begin again to share them in the world.
Our meetings are places for us to discern, practice, and test. Discern is one of our favorite words as Quakers, isn’t it? “Let’s do some discernment around that.” “Let’s appoint a committee to look into it and to discern about how we do discernment!”
Way before I was a young Friend, Young Friends at Iowa Yearly Meeting Conservative wrote a song to the tune of What Do You Do with a Drunken Sailor? They called their parody, Hot Air and Up She Rises. I’m told they were on a hayrack ride and started talking about that day’s business session. I don’t know what had happened, but it seemed to have taken the meeting to extreme circumstances! The song was about what the business meeting looked like through their eyes. The chorus is: “Hot air and up she rises. Hot air and up she rises in the Business Meeting.” As you may know, sometimes we’ve been known to do some wordsmithing on minutes in our Meetings for Worship with a Concern for Business. Often we rather easily approve a piece of business and then once the clerk or recording clerk has written it and it has been read aloud, we begin wordsmithing from the floor. Does that ever happen at your meetings? So that’s the background for the following verse: “Move the comma one word over. Move the comma one word over.” Another verse that relates to what I wanted to share with you was: “Make a committee to look into it.” The capital “T” Truth under that is the reason we do make committees to look into things. If an item of business cannot be easily done by the body on the floor of a Business Meeting and is going to take more than one person’s discernment, a committee can be appointed to take the time for an in-depth discernment. However, if such an arrangement is to work, we need to trust the committee to look into it and not then pick their report apart when they bring it back with a recommendation. Right? While we must from time to time ask questions, in general we should expect that the committee has faithfully done the work needed and the work we asked them to do. This only happens when we trust that committee members have been faithful.
The way that we get to trust each other is how, Friends? We get to know each other, each other’s strengths and weaknesses, interests and life situations so that we know those we ask to serve on any committee have what is needed to bring forth a good recommendation with fellow committee members. We have spent enough time together in various meeting settings—work and play—to know what gifts of the Spirit each of us has been given to the betterment of the whole meeting community. Other Friends help me by recognizing my gifts and giving me opportunities to develop those gifts. Like all of us, I need to grow into the gifts I’ve been given and prepare to take up my work in the meeting.
One time I was at a meeting for singing with Northern Yearly Meeting Nightingales and our Iowa Yearly Meeting Conservative Meadowlarks. In many ways, we’re their poor younger cousin. At one point IYMC Friends pondered possible names for our group, and someone mentioned that we should be called the Prairie Chickens because that’s about how well we sing. We are after all, Conservative Friends! We took upon faith the “making a joyful noise unto the Lord” verse. Like other unprogrammed meetings, we have no time set aside during meeting for worship for Friends to sing together. But many of us came into Friends meetings from other faith traditions that sing a lot during worship and we miss it. What started out as late-night singing after evening collections at annual meeting, blossomed into scheduled opportunities to get together with nothing on our agenda but singing (and of course eating) for a whole weekend.
So it was just a matter of time before members of the Meadowlarks of IYMC and the Nightingales of NYM started meeting together for singing weekends once or twice a year. This one weekend, we were at a retreat center in the country. As we gathered, a young adult Friend said, “Did anybody else hear that tonight there’s supposed to be one of the best meteorite shower viewings for the next few years?” Somebody replied, “Yeah, I heard that. It’s been snowing. It’s overcast. We’re probably not going to be able to see anything.” The young Friend responded, “Yeah, yeah.”
After singing awhile, we took a break and pretty soon that same young Friend said, “Did I happen to mention there’s going to be a pretty spectacular meteorite shower tonight?” Other Friends said, “We think that we did hear that from you.” Then someone asked, “What time is it going to be?” The young Friend replied, “Two in the morning.” The folks in the room just went “Mmm.” We continued singing.
The standard practice of both groups is that we sing on into the night, and people simply go to bed when they get tired. Otherwise, we stay up singing. I was a younger Friend then and was usually among those still singing into the early hours of the morning. We would sing often until one, two, or three in the morning. All of a sudden there were only about six of us left. That young Friend was one of them. She said, “Did I mention that… .” This Friend had a leading. It hadn’t left her, and she was persistent in testing it! Finally, we said, “Well, let’s go look.” Three of us ended up going outside. We had to move away from the parking lot lights and the lights of the lodge to see the sky and what was going on. We felt emboldened, or at least the need to seem so, as we walked off together into the dark, carrying our own inner Lights, I guess. But, we were also a little bit nervous about going into the darkness in this area that we didn’t know, and with little visibility.
But it was beautiful! There’s something calm and peaceful out in the country on a cool, dark night. The clouds had lifted! Then, just as we were about to go about the business of looking for meteorites, we heard this growl in the distance. Just that summer a bear had been spotted at Northern Yearly Meeting, so that was on our minds. The young Friend said, “That wasn’t a bear!” We listened again and then it went “Roar!” It was motorcycle! Up in the hills miles away, we could clearly hear it roar away.
We decided to walk out just a bit farther from the lights. We soon stopped and looked up. Sure enough, there it was! The most glorious meteorite shower! One would shoot past, and someone would say, “There’s one!” Sometimes it happened so fast that only one of us would see it. Sometimes one would go clear across the sky, and all three of us would be able to see the same one! The meteorite shower was happening so fast. So cool!
Then, all of a sudden, we became aware of a kind of shuffling sound, an animally kind of noise, but not any of us! We stopped and listened more carefully, huddling near each other. The noise got closer and closer. “What’s going on?” one Friend asked. The other said, “Well, my car’s in this parking lot over here. I have my keys on me. Let me just go turn the lights on and see what’s out there.”
I was impatient, and as the oldest, truth be told, I probably felt that I needed to take leadership. I said, “Well, I’ll just go look.” I took a few steps out into the pitch black towards the noise. All of a sudden the two other Friends yelled, “Stop!” I stopped in my tracks and quietly said, “What?” They responded, “There’s a retaining wall about a foot in front of you. Don’t go any further or you’ll fall off!” So I returned to the two Friends, and then we went into the parking lot and used the car lights to see out into the distance. Turned out to just be some cattle. There was a fence between us, so we were fine. We laughed a bit at our timidity and then watched a few more meteorites go streaking through the sky. Eventually, we got cold and our necks got stiff, so we went to bed.
The next morning I got up and thought, “Well, I’m going to go see if those cows are still out there.” Sure enough, this little herd of cows was still there. But, there were also two donkeys! I remember thinking, “That’s pretty cool.”
Later, I was sitting in meeting for worship minding my own business, when I heard this Still, Small Voice say, “See, that’s discernment.” I said (quietly in my mind), “What?” Then I understood. It took one Friend lifting up a clear leading and being a little persistent. Even though she initially found little response to what she thought was a no-brainer, she continued very gently to bring our attention back to the upcoming meteorite shower. She trusted that way would open and it did. First in the lifting of the clouds and then when two other Friends agreed to go along with her into the pitch dark of the unknown. There in micro-example, we saw faithful testing, persistence in sharing the leading, faithfulness, way opening and then faithful follow through.
Still, the path wasn’t easy. We had to band together to find the courage to walk into the unknown and then two different times hearing noises that would have meant the end of the trail for any one of us by ourselves. We were able to discern together and find the strength to continue. Plus we used knowledge we already had to prevent each other from erring, like when I almost walked off the retaining wall. We shone the Light that we had, and it was enough. Now it was my turn. I heard the Still Small Voice say, “This morning, it took the sun to show you that you didn’t see everything that was out there last night, didn’t it?” By discerning together and using our own knowledge and light, we were able to see the unknown and experience the grandness of creation, BUT we weren’t able to see everything. It took the Light of the “Sun” to clearly reveal all that we had experienced! How cool is that!?
It’s only Divine Light that can totally inform us. We work together. We’re given gifts. We work together, and then with the help of the Son, the Great Light Within, the grace of God’s Love opens our eyes to all there is to experience.
Like many of you, I’m sure, I learn best by experience. I find myself sometimes in these wonderful opportunities that don’t feel so wonderful at the time, but in retrospect they were okay!
I was visiting another yearly meeting, also during Easter like yours, with a practice of sunrise worship on Easter morning. At supper the night before, someone from the Ministry Committee announced the time of Easter sunrise. Chairs were placed in a circle on the lawn with an opening so everyone could, in theory, see the sunrise. People gathered just before sunrise on Easter morning for some silent worship and singing. The intention was to worship until breakfast. The first time I visited this yearly meeting, I had a stomach ache and got little sleep, so I intended to sleep through the sunrise service. Besides sunrise is really early.
But, my stomach, or was it the Spirit, woke me up, and I heard, “You know, as long as you’re awake anyway you might as well go out.” It had been kind of rainy during the night, the clouds had made it especially dark, and that is how I explain what happened. As I arrived I saw that everybody was facing this beautiful little hill as they waited in the quiet for the sun to rise over it. I thought to myself, “I thought the sun came up over that road back behind us when I was walking to breakfast yesterday morning.” But then I thought, “Deborah, you know you have no sense of direction! Anyway, what do you know? These people live here!” So I sat down and waited. We all waited together. We waited some more. Pretty soon a bird started singing. The cattle over the hill started waking up and making their “cattle over the hill” sounds. The sun was up. We thought, “Well, it obviously didn’t come up come up over here!”
Still, we were all together and it was Easter morning, so we sang “Morning Has Broken” anyway, kind of, (we are Quakers after all) and we broke meeting. We picked up our chairs and started back to breakfast. Sure enough, there was the sun coming up over the road, exactly where I’d seen it the morning before! It was coming up in the very same place! We all had a good laugh.
Later, I’m sitting in worship, once again minding my own business, when I hear, “See, the most important thing was that you got up and followed the leading together. Even though you were looking in the wrong direction, you were looking. There was enough Light anyway. It still became morning even though you were looking in the wrong direction! You should learn from that.”
What I learned is that it’s most important that we look together, that we seek together. We don’t always even have to be looking in the right place as long as we’re looking, because God’s Grace and Love are enough to pull us in the right direction once we understand that we’ve become “temporarily misdirected” as I call it. It’s another part of discernment that we must do together. We use the gifts we’ve been given, but sometimes, even when we have faithfully used our gifts to the fullest, we don’t always look in the right direction. But, and this was what was so cool for me to be blessed to see firsthand, in looking together, we eventually find the right direction together. God’s Grace, Light and Love are enough. They shine brightly enough to pull us toward the right direction if we’re looking!
Just like this morning when the Friend talked about knocking and the door opening. The New Testament talks about knocking and seeking and asking: ”Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened” (Matthew 7:7-8). Ask and it’ll be given. In the “The Amplified Bible” that quote actually translates as “Keep on seeking, keep on asking and keep on knocking.” That’s what I was learning about with those Friends that First Day morning.
What I want to share with you all is not to become discouraged if at first the direction that you seem to be taking as an individual or as meeting seems a little bit off. Keep seeking together because God’s grace will pull us in the right direction.
If we sleep in or don’t go and look, we won’t find what we’re seeking, not because God is withholding something from us, but because we simply aren’t looking. In the looking, we take a first step. We may not always have Friends along who remember in the middle of the dark night that there’s a retaining wall right where we are about to venture forth. If we’re going to stumble, let’s at least stumble forward.
As a first step, it’s really important that we practice with each other, recognizing, naming, and nurturing each other’s spiritual gifts so that we can grow into them. Spiritual gifts come in many forms, and no one spiritual gift is more important than another. They’re all necessary and important.
In 1st Corinthians 12, Paul was talking to a whole meeting, a church in Corinth. Apparently, people were arguing about their spiritual gifts and which were the most important, and Paul heard about it. (The church grapevine worked well even in pre-Facebook days!) Paul used the human body as a metaphor: “Look, it’s like this. The hand doesn’t say to the foot I don’t want to be a hand, I want to be a foot. Therefore bug out and let me do that.” Paul reminds them that each part of the body is essential to the well-being of the body. Every piece of body has its own work and at the same time, they all work together. He says, “Don’t worry about what you’re called to do. Just be faithful to what you’ve been given to do, and encourage each other in using your gifts faithfully.”
My favorite verse in the Bible, right now anyway, is the last verse of First Corinthians, Chapter 12. This connects us to the next chapter, the Love chapter. Basically, Paul tells them to use the gifts they’ve been given. Don’t covet each other’s gifts. Use the gifts you’ve been given. Encourage each other to use your gifts. He ends by saying, “Yet I will show you the most excellent way.” Isn’t that the coolest verse ever? “Yet I will show you the most excellent way.” The next verse is “If I speak with the tongue of man or angels and have not love, I’m a noisy gong or a clanging symbol. If I have enough faith to say to a mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ but I don’t have Love, what’s the big deal?”
Okay, it doesn’t say “What’s the big deal?” But it means that. What he’s saying is that if we aren’t rooted and grounded with God’s Love, our gifts are less than they could be. They are less than they were meant to be. Friends, after all the times I’ve been able to hang out with you, one of the things that I know is that love is here among you! You have something great to share with the world!
So how do we build and grow that capital “L” kind of Love?”—not the “I love my Prius kind of love,” and yes, I saw many of them out there in the parking lot. But God’s Love meets us out where we are and helps us grow into who we can yet be. How do we share that with each other so that we can all grow into that Love together and then share it with the world that is hungry for Love?
As members of the meeting, we each have a gift, exactly what we need, planted as a seed. But in some cases, the ground around the seed needs to be turned over a bit and made more hospitable so the seed can sprout and grow. That can be the job of the meeting, to encourage and nurture these budding gifts, especially among the young who are growing up in our midst.
Also part of our work is to recognize and name our gifts for each other so we can grow into them. Few of us are given full-blown gifts, but small fledgling gifts that need care and nurture from the world around us.
When I was young, I had the gift of music which I enjoyed very much and I was encouraged by my family. But after several teachers, I didn’t cooperate, got frustrated and gave up. I may have been the best primer piano player there has ever been, but at Book 4, that was the end for me. My sister-in-law, on the other hand, had a desire to play, was encouraged but was also led to work hard to increase the potential of her gift. She’s now able to accompany others. We may be given the gift but not the full measure of the gift. My gift of piano playing didn’t reach its potential. It can be the job of the community to recognize the gift but also give support when the work gets hard.
There are many gifts among us in meetings, and it’s the job of the members to encourage each other in our gifts whatever they are: teaching, preaching, healing. There’s also the gift of accompaniment in sorrow as well as the gift of carpentry. We need all these gifts and need each other to help us use our gifts.
There was a fellow in my meeting, Uncle Joe, actually he was the uncle of your last Executive Secretary, Lyn Cope. He always sat on the facing bench but didn’t speak in meeting and was quiet on committees. He always arrived early for worship, so the room was settled when we arrived. Every First Day he filled his jacket pocket with pink peppermints. To the children who sat through the whole hour of worship in that meeting, receiving a peppermint after worship was an important ministry. When he died, someone else took over the ministry, but they chose malted milk tabs with less sugar. So the ministry continues.
Many people in my meeting have been people who listen well to children. Religious Education can take different forms than we expect, not just First Day School lessons, but also the adult who listens to a child tell about her artwork. Where is the ministry in your meetings and how do you learn to hear each other’s ministry? In the beginning of Quakerism, we laid down the laity, so that means we all are ministers. We are given the gifts we have to serve others and to bring us closer to God’s Divine Love.
In sharing our gifts and our “ah ha” moments with each other in trust and love, we create the Beloved Community out of which can come a ministry to the world, which longs to be listened to and experience the same love and spiritual sharing.
Let us always remember, Love is the first motion. Thanks.
I would now like you all to share some examples of ministry and gifts in your meetings.
Speaker #1: People pick up someone who can’t drive so they can be in community with us.
- Speaker #2: In Orlando Meeting, someone is good at communication and, setting up Wi-Fi and the website. He doesn’t make people feel small if they don’t get the language.
- Speaker #3: In Gainesville Meeting, someone takes home the guest book and writes notes to visitors.
- Speaker #4: In Fort Myers, someone has a tablet with a keyboard and loves taking notes. He takes the notes for everyone which is appreciated.
- Speaker #5: At Palm Beach Meeting, there are many visitors, transients, and sojourners. People travel a distance to the meeting, so they have a potluck every week. This is a ministry of hospitality, creating a welcoming place for visitors. There is the ministry of the dishwashers. The speaker commented that it could be a burden, but people felt appreciated because she affirmed their efforts and this made them realize it was a ministry.
HOW DO WE SEE THESE GIFTS AND LIFT THEM UP? We can affirm by saying “I see God’s gift in your message, in your ministry. In the past people would say, “Thee was well used. Thy pipes were clear.”
After I had been attending meeting for a while, a man who sat other side of the room, Merl, came over, shook my hand and said, “I notice you’ve been given a message. Could you move to my side of the room so I can hear you?” I felt encouraged, but explained that this was my side of the room. The next week I saw him sitting near my family, but shortly after that he moved back to his side of the room.
When we notice and acknowledge gifts, we are extending love and encouragement. In the sharing of our gifts and our stories, we create a place of trust in our meetings. Sometimes a ministry can go unnoticed by the meeting at large, but it can be greatly supported by someone using effective eldering. The lifting up and affirming kind of eldering, not criticizing.
GROWING THE BELOVED COMMUNITY
AND BRINGING IT TO THE WORLD
Ways to bring it to the world—which is hungry and longing for community and affirmation. Once we are strengthened by our communities, every time we go into the world, we go with a heart that has been cared for and gifts that have been recognized and affirmed. We know Friends are wary of mentioning who we are outside the doors of the meetinghouse—might be proselytizing! But our presence in the world doesn’t have to come with a billboard. Remember that old hymn, or probably camp song for some of you: “They will know we are Christians by our love.” It isn’t who we are that will matter, but how.
We bring our community to the world by being present to people, as fully as possible taking in their beings. Yes, it can be embarrassing for people to hear, “Welcome, beloved child of God,” so maybe we tune it down a little, say, “Hi, how’re you doing?” But all the while holding them as a child of God in our hearts.
We share our message best by being real and allowing ourselves to get beyond our comfort zone. Ask the car mechanic how his or her day has gone. Attend public meetings of community organizations and make a commitment as a meeting to be present in community faith networks.
We can also attend other faith services and invite members to attend our public events, especially eating events. Listen. Remember George Lakey’s admonition about what to say to people we want to help: “What do you need and how can I help you get it?”
One of the failures of these times is the lack of contact among neighbors. In the past, we died if we didn’t know who to turn to if our barn was on fire. Now, we hardly know the names of the people two houses away. It isn’t hard, though, and yes, we need to make the effort. Get a dog, for goodness sake, one of those big ones that need frequent walks. You’ll meet your neighbors in a heartbeat! Unless you’ve got a growly one, but I doubt that would make the Quaker cut.
Let us always remember,
Love is The first motion.
—Will Carleton, Farm Ballads 1873
About the Lecturer
Deborah Fisch is a convinced Friend and long-time member of Paullina Monthly Meeting, Iowa Yearly Meeting Conservative. She lives in Des Moines, Iowa.
Deborah worked for 16 years for Friends General Conference. Shew was the FGC Associate Secretary for Ministries and also coordinated the Traveling Ministries Program. She served as Clerk of IYMC for 12 years and as Assistant Clerk for eight years prior to that. Deborah has also served on the Scattergood School Committee Board of Directors and on the Board of Governors of Friends Journal.
Before beginning work for FGC, Deborah served as coordinator for Iowa Peace Network, a faith-based peace and justice organization, owned and operated a small town weekly newspaper, and worked on the Fisch family farm in rural northwest Iowa.
She travels in the ministry with a minute of travel from Iowa YM (C). Traveling in the gospel ministry, she has led workshops and retreats across the United States and Canada. Deborah feels blessed to have the opportunity to travel among Friends. She loves meeting people where they are in their spiritual lives, and traveling with them on their spiritual journey.
The Dwight and Ardis Michener Memorial Lecture, ISSN 1534-5211—M2014 Published annually by Southeastern Yearly Meeting Publications, Southeastern Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends, a nonprofit corporation founded in 1963.
www.seym.org / SEYMQuakers. org
© 2016 All rights reserved. Used here by permission of Southeastern YM.
Requests for permission to quote or to translate should be addressed to Southeastern Yearly Meeting Publications.
Lecture recorded: William Carlie.
Transcription: Carl Hersh.
Manuscript and Copy Editor: Ellie Caldwell.
Cover and content layout and design: Lyn Cope.
Cover image: Ruminating by J. Brent Bill.
Print masters provided by SEYM Publications.
Film and offset printing: Pioneer Printers, A Coastal Lithographer, Inc.
E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org; www.seymquakers.org.
ISBN 978-1-939831-17-0 (eReader MOBI)
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About Dwight and Ardis Michener
Dwight W. Michener and Ardis Roberts Michener were life-long members of the Society of Friends. They met at William Penn College, Oskaloosa, Iowa. Throughout their lives, Dwight and Ardis embraced the William Penn College ideals of equal access without discrimination to race, gender, age, religion, or national origin. Social Concerns and support of Quakerism would remain a burning passion throughout their lives.
In 1941 Dwight and Ardis worked for the American Friends Ser vice Committee (AFSC) in Marseille, France, as financial managers for “money transfers” to “suffering France.” They managed the office that supervised programs that included feeding children, vitamin distribution, milk distribution, emigration, relief work, village reconstruction, and farm projects to name a few. 23,961,244 French francs were gifted. When the US entered the war, the AFSC asked all volunteers with children to return home, so the Micheners returned to New Jersey to be with their daughter, Jean, who had spent her sophomore year at Westtown School while her parents were in France. The AFSC report (AFSC.org) of this project includes letters and drawings sent to Dwight and Ardis and other volunteers from the French children.
After returning to the States, Dwight and Ardis were asked by AFSC to help raise morale in some of the Civilian Public Service (CPS) Camps by visiting conscientious objectors. COs who worked for peace and opposed war were assigned to work on farms, in hospitals, and mental institutions, or were imprisoned. In 1947 the men listed affiliation with 231 denominations, the majority from peace churches. Many were exposed to harsh treatment and required support. Many suffered from PTSD. Dwight and Ardis did what they could to encourage them in their service.
While Dwight’s career as an economist was at Chase Manhattan Bank, Ardis was an ardent volunteer, working for numerous Friends concerns and devoting much time to the Girl Scouts. They both were very involved in Montclair Monthly Meeting and in the Cape May Conference (later Friends General Conference). In 1955 they hosted two of the 25
Hiroshima Maidens who came to New York for reconstructive surgeries. “The rejuvenation of these young women [is] scarcely referenced in… archival documents available at Friends Historical Library, Swarthmore College.…as it was taken for granted that Quakers would help.” (Annie Devon Kramer, Stanford University).
In mid-20th century, the Micheners bought a home on the edge of Lake-Walk-in-Water, Florida started a Friends worship group there, and invited many renowned Friends to visit. Feeling strongly about helping the fledgling Southeastern Friends Conference, Dwight and Ardis invited guests to present lectures, arranging location and hospitality. All Meetings were invited. This became known as the Michener Lecture, and in due time outgrew the Lodge on Avon Lake and was moved to the Orlando Meeting House with the annual date becoming the First Day of Martin Luther King weekend and under the care of the now incorporated Southeastern Yearly Meeting.
Fortunately for Southeastern Yearly Meeting, daughter Jean Michener Nicholson, Westtown School and Swarthmore College schoolmate of Cathy Jones Gaskill, a member of Southeastern Yearly Meeting, determined this tradition should continue to enrich Southeastern Quakers in Florida, southern Georgia, and coastal South Carolina by arranging an endowment, a permanently restricted investment to help fund a lecturers’ expenses and to publish the lectures. Commencing in 1970, there have been continuous Michener Lectures now known as the Dwight and Ardis Michener Memorial Lecture under the care of the SEYM.
—Lyn Cope, edited by Judy Nicholson Asselin