At the Top
The second day of the gathering, after breakfast, everyone met together for meeting for worship. As I was sitting in worship, I had the sense that ‘God had called this meeting’ and that God had called it for the purpose of our ‘naming the spiritual condition of the world.’ I felt my heart pounding in my chest. I desired to be faithful, but I hesitated to share what I had heard. My sense of the message was that it was big and might be difficult for people to hear. I decided that I would only speak it if I was pushed to my feet or if it seemed to be in unity with the other spoken ministry.
I listened to the other messages. They seemed to be going a different direction. My heart stopped pounding so urgently. In the meantime, I received other pieces associated with the message:
a) God had called us from the edges of the Empire to come to this place, Richmond, Indiana. Rather than the gathering being composed of people from the Midwest, we had gathered from across the United States: from New Hampshire to Washington state, from Minnesota to Texas, and many places in between. The net had been cast wide. Prophets were being called to rise up from the ground that needed to be cleansed.
b) The purpose of naming was to identify that which has otherwise been left unnamed. I was already aware that sometimes all that needs to happen to change something is to bring it to awareness and identify it as what it truly is.
c) This call was a challenging spiritual task. While we had been reflecting at breakfast that this gathering was quite lovely because it was so informal (there were no business meetings to attend nor minutes to write), we had been unaware that the work that we were being called to do was profound, uncustomary and deeply challenging.
d) While this task was not new to Quakers, it would demand that we step out of our familiar routines. We are already aware of the deep environmental and social challenges of our world, but we were now being called to perceive and name the underlying, unmanifest spirituality that the physical and social conditions reveal.
After the meeting for worship, a Friend came up to me and said something to the effect of (I wish I could remember his exact words) ‘what this generation doesn’t do will be passed onto the next’. I noted his words and felt reassured and empowered by them.
After lunch, I shared with Marcelle what I had experienced during the night and heard during meeting for worship. She suggested that I share what I had heard during the open mic. It didn’t seem the type of thing that one would typically share during an open mic but, given my trust of Marcelle’s judgement, I agreed. I told her I also planned to share it with the interest group that would be talking about planning the next year’s gathering. She supported the idea.
I was still wary to share what I had heard but I also felt it was the appropriate time, so I shared what I had heard during the interest group for planning the next gathering. Mike Resman, the convener, responded by saying, “I have been sitting with this for ten months.” I felt he was open to what I had heard because it seemed to answer a question that he had been holding. He welcomed the leading and asked me to share it… during the open mic.
While I had thought that everything would be downhill from there, on Sunday morning, I found out otherwise.
I woke up that morning feeling odd inside. I had a sense that, “I wasn’t sure where I was.” Objectively, I knew that I was in a dorm room at Earlham College, but internally I could not find myself. As I sat with the feeling, I got the image of a butterfly getting ready to come out of a chrysalis. By reflecting on it, the thought, “I have become who I’m meant to be.” came to mind.
I didn’t know how to respond emotionally. I reflected back to a situation when my caregiver had told me, “Enjoy it!” So, I decided to do just that. The song “How Can I Keep from Singing” then came to mind. I decided to look it up in the hymnal during early meeting for worship.
There were no hymnals in the meeting room at Stout Meetinghouse, which was not unexpected given that it was primarily used for unprogrammed worship, so I decided to find it later and centered myself in the silence.
It’s hard to describe what happened next, but three elements clearly stand out in my memory. The first thing that I remember happening is my consciousness enlarging. The internal image I had was that I was pregnant, with the ‘bubble’ starting at the top of my head, extending out in front of me, and running to the end of my trunk. I also remember being in the Presence of God and witnessing God’s majesty. I was left with the sense that God was huge (so large that even a small part of God didn’t fit into my enlarged consciousness) and I was small, not insignificant, but definitely very small relative to God. Finally, I remember the strain of being there. It felt like something was being ripped out of me. I felt I could take the strain so I stayed with it, but I also wanted, very badly, for meeting for worship to end.
My sense of the experience was that my leading was ‘the real deal’. It’s one thing to think about ‘naming the spiritual condition of the world’, as I had in the past while reading and writing about what I’d learned from Walter Wink’s trilogy on The Powers, but it’s another to be called to do it.
I was shaken by the experience and wanted to talk with Friends about it. I met Mike on my way out of the meetinghouse. I mentioned it to him. He affirmed the humility that I associated with witnessing the majesty of God and reassured me that we were going to be okay because we were going to be following the call together.
During breakfast, I briefly mentioned my experience of worship. A Friend mentioned that she spent much of the time reflecting on what I had shared at the open mic the night before. She admitted that while she abhors some elements of the world she really enjoys others. After that, the conversation shifted.
I brought a hymnal in with me to the second meeting for worship. I let the words of the hymn resonate with my experience from over the previous couple of days. My experience during that service was more typical for me compared to the meeting for worship earlier that morning. However, I received another surprise after meeting for worship.
The conveners of the gathering had decided to close our time together with two songs. They were led by Paulette Meier, one was a hymn and another was a Quaker quote that she had put to song. At the end of the second song, a Friend interrupted the schedule by requesting that we sing another song “Pass It On“.
I immediately asked a Friend who was standing beside me if I could hold her hand. I knew that I was unstable internally and needed the grounding that another human person could provide. I was afraid that that song in particular would shake me up given my previous experience of it and the meaning it held for me.
I had sung that song at church camp when I was a teenager and had started hyperventilating in response to it. It had made me aware that I did not know what love was and that I was separated from it. But, rather than the song taking me back to that scary place, this time it confirmed that I was known and that the leading that I had received was true. We were being called to participate in spreading the fire that Jesus had started (Luke 12:49).