Many Quaker leaders in previous generations wrote “journals” as personal accounts of their lives and ministry. Often these journals begin with accounts of conversion experiences (usually referred to as “convincement” among Friends) or of early struggles to discover and hear God’s calling inviting them into deeper levels of faithfulness & work for the Lord. Often these struggles involved a great deal of spiritual turmoil.
Being a Friend takes an enormous leap of faith, a willingness to let go of one’s own fears and agendas and to lean utterly on God. There are many barriers to making this kind of whole-hearted commitment to live one’s life faithfully in God. Some struggle with a deep sense of unworthiness. Others are trapped in addictions. Still others feel arrogant and self-sufficient in their own powers and capacity to “make it” on their own.
Isaac Penington wrote a passage on willingness. A shorter excerpt beginning “Give over thine own willing…” is often included in Quaker disciplines. Here is a longer excerpt: Isaac Penington on Willingess. Paulette Meier set this passage to plainsong as Give Over Thine Own Willing.
Basic concept of open-heartedness
The late Christian psychiatrist, Gerald (“Jerry”) May, under whom I studied at the Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation, described this process best in his book, Will and Spirit. The book describes in detail two sharply contrasting ways of living and relating to God that May labels “willingness” versus “willfulness”.
I was invited in 2005 to give a plenary lecture at FGC Annual Gathering in Amherst MA. The topic I chose was Throwing Open the Doors to My Heart.
Letting go and letting God
Empire teaches us that we need to be in control if things are going to turn out well. It teaches us to mistrust others’ gifts and leadership—and even our own gifts if we let go and allow God to guide us without trying to “figure everything out”.
Lisa Graustein gave a message on “Leaning In & Letting Go” at Three Rivers Meeting.
“Let go and let God” is a slogan of the Twelve Steps approach to recovery from addictions. This arises from Step 3, “We made a decision to turn over our will and our lives to the care of God as we understood God.” Here is an article on the 3rd Step from Alcoholics Anonymous.
Special spiritual challenges for men
Men have tended to dominate the leadership of most faith communities over the centuries, in spite of the fact that the membership of many churches is usually disproportionately female. This is no accident. It is my experience that men’s upbringing provides significant barriers to a close relationship with God. Modern middle and upper class white men in the U.S. are taught to be strong, independent, intellectually sharp, “in charge”, and to avoid vulnerability and emotionality.
As a white male heterosexual upper middle class male who was the son and grandson of highly competent and overly ‘in charge” New Englanders, I have had a life-long challenge trying to learn the path of holy dependency and open-hearted willingness in relationship to God.
This seems to me to be in direct contradiction to the call to lean on God and turn over one’s life to the One at the heart of all. I like to refer to this counter-intuitive imperative for men as “holy dependency”.
I wrote a paper for the two year “spiritual direction” training program I took at the Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation on men’s struggles to be vulnerable. This paper was later published in the Journal of Christian Healing as Healing the Male Heart: The Beatitudes as Radical Model for Masculinity.
I dealt with this topic in more detail at a talk I gave at Ohio Yearly Meeting sessions held in Barnesville in 2009. Although the main topic of the talk was “Experiencing God’s Love through Health Changes”, I felt called to speak as well about the barriers I have felt as a man to a life of willingness and inward trust towards God.
I have been involved in “men’s work” since 1969. I was part of a Movement for New Society collective called Men Against Patriarchy in the 1970’s. We led antisexism workshops for men in the Philadelphia area. As part of this group I co-authored with George Lakey and others a manifesto entitled “Understanding and Fighting Sexism: A Call to Men”, which was later reprinted in a larger collection called Off Their Backs & Onto Our Own Two Feet.
I co-led the annual gathering of Quakers in Pastoral Care & Counseling (QPCC) in 2001 with Jesse Paledofsky, Worth Hartman & Ben Tousley on the subject of “Ministering to the Male Soul.”