Coming Down… with a Living Heart
While Friends at the Gathering of Friendly Mystics had been clear to move forward relative to the leading, I was still needing some reassurance. While one part of me was clear, I discovered that the less secure parts of me were not. I was thinking, “It’s just too perfect!” I could see how other things that I had done and were important to me were in line with it, but I feared that a leading that seemed so well designed had somehow been made by me rather than for me. I worried that it was ego driven rather than created by God.
Prior to the Gathering, I had learned that Lloyd Lee Wilson, a Conservative Friend from North Carolina Yearly Meeting, was going to be conducting a workshop at Bloomington Friends Meeting on the Saturday after the Gathering. The topics were Discernment of Leadings and Vocal Ministry. At the time, I didn’t care what the topics were, I just wanted to meet him and hear what he had so say. (I had read and resonated with his book “Essays on the Quaker Vision of Gospel Order.”) I decided to go.
I sent out a number of email messages trying to find out who else was going. I wanted to get a ride with someone else, as my husband needed the car that day. I contacted people from all three Friends meetings in Cincinnati and a couple of people from meetings outside of Cincinnati. No one else from the area was going!
When I told my husband that I couldn’t find a ride, we decided that he should start exploring other options. David thought perhaps that his mom could come pick them up. It turned out that David’s dad was out of town that weekend with David’s uncle, so his mom was spending time with his aunt. David’s mom was happy to drive as that would facilitate them getting together and give herself and my husband’s aunt something more to do! Way opened for me to go.
Also in preparation for going, I discovered that there was recommended reading for the workshop. Although I didn’t have much time, I decided to read as much of it as I could. As I was reading,”Discernment: Coming Under the Guidance of the Holy Spirit” by Lloyd Lee Wilson, I was struck by the phrase, “looking backwards, we can see that “the road is straight” leading up to this moment (see page 5).” What a relief! That phrase helped to resolve my fear that the leading was “too perfect.” Rather than confirming that the leading was false, my ability to connect many of the things previous in my life to the leading was an affirmation that I was on the right track and continuing to be as faithful as I could be.
The day I went to the workshop, I felt led to wear my zebra dress. I wasn’t sure why. When I sat with it, I sensed that “if humans stood really still [like zebras standing still in tall grass], we would not be known as being separate from the earth. We would emanate God consciousness. We would serve the purpose that God has given us, to consciously communicate the wonder and joy of being back to God.” I also wrote in my journal that morning, “It is a burden upon my heart that we not only don’t recognize our purpose but we hinder its development in our children, and many laugh at those who… have found their way back to this reality.”
During the workshop with Lloyd Lee Wilson, I realized that I hadn’t considered mentioning to anyone in my meeting the leading that I’d received during the Gathering of FM. With reflection, I realized that it was due to fear that they would not support me, as some people in the Meeting do not recognize the authenticity of spiritual gifts. I was afraid to talk about what had happened as I didn’t want to share what I was being called to yet have it not be seen or heard. I shared my concern with Lloyd Lee. He conveyed, among other things, that he felt the leading was authentic and cautioned me to stay in the river, to not try to push it.
The following Sunday morning, I felt internally scattered. I realized I needed a container. My body wasn’t doing it. I realized that I needed to talk with someone that I knew to help me feel contained. Getting the leading validated by Lloyd Lee Wilson, whom I considered a Quaker ‘big wig,’ led me to feeling grandiose. I could not psychically contain my excitement. Once I talked with someone who knew me well and could hear me, I returned to a grounded state.
We were planning to leave for the FGC Gathering that coming Wednesday. As my husband and I were working through our travel plans on Monday and Tuesday, I was getting feelings of pressure on top of my head that were associated with panic. I couldn’t focus on details as I usually could. I had the feeling that I was getting things wrong, but I couldn’t understand why. I was getting more and more frustrated. I decided that I needed time and space to sit and discern what was coming to me.
While sitting with the feelings, I discovered that we needed to change some of our plans for going to the Gathering, which was being held in Greeley, Colorado. We had been planning to drive through Kansas on the way to Colorado, but my sense was that we needed to go the north way (I80 through Illinois, Iowa and Nebraska) rather than the south way (I70 through Kansas and Missouri), as I needed to visit Mariellen Gilpin who lives in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois.
I also discovered that I was not to go to the workshop that I had signed up for. I couldn’t tell for sure which workshop that I needed to go to, but my sense was that it was either the “Practicing Prophetic Ministry” or the “Convergent Friends” workshop. In addition, I also felt it was necessary that I call some Friends and ask them to pray for me while we were away. Finally, I felt led to call a Catholic priest with whom I had visited twice before. I hadn’t seen or talked with him for about four years, but I followed through and spoke with him briefly before leaving.
While I received some clarity about what I needed to do, I also realized that I needed to talk with someone to discover why I felt panicky. Previously, I had experienced feelings of pressure on my head which when I sat with them I discovered what I needed to know, but they hadn’t been associated with panic. With help, I learned that unconsciously I believed that I deserved either to carry the leading or to be loved. In my mind, I could not carry both the leading and the sense that I was loved.
On Wednesday morning, I woke up again struggling to discern my internal condition. I sensed a small girl inside me who was scared. I told her that she could come out now. In the midst of that experience one of my sons came into the bedroom and wanted to snuggle. Through that, I discovered that I was emotionally different from my mother, in that I could be intimate with my children and retain a sense of myself. After my son left, I felt a strange sensation on the left side of my head. At first, I couldn’t tell if it was positive or negative. I asked for protection. Eventually, I discerned that it was positive; it seemed like Light to me. Upon reflection, I surmised that by releasing the fear that I had previously held, I could now accumulate Light that I could not contain before.
I met with Mariellen on Thursday afternoon and again Friday morning. We felt that the action that we needed to take was to create a blog. We decided that the blog would be coordinated by the WCTS editorial team and gathering planners. Our hope was that it would assist us in spiritual preparation for the next gathering.
I wrote in my journal on Saturday, the day prior to the Gathering, “I feel like I’m on a pilgrimage, traveling through the deepest part of the forest one last time. This time I can see the path through. I won’t have to come this way again. I will be in the sunlight then.”
The Gathering began Sunday afternoon. When we got to registration, I realized that I did not yet know which workshop I should attend. I told my husband that I needed to stand to the side for a bit so I could center myself and discern what I should do. With all the people and noise, I wasn’t able to get centered. I had noticed Jonathan Vogel-Bourne, who was the co-facilitator for the “Practicing Prophetic Ministry” workshop, standing a table or two over from us, but I hadn’t wanted to rely on an external indicator to determine what I should do.
Given however that I couldn’t discover the way internally, I decided that I should take his being there when we were there as a sign that I should join his workshop. When I asked him if I could still get into his workshop, he told me that he couldn’t give permission, that I needed to go through the appropriate people who were coordinating workshop sign-ups. He mentioned that he knew of one person who had signed up but wasn’t able to come, so he believed there was likely a space for me. When I went to the workshop table, they confirmed that there was an opening, so I officially changed workshops. I was not sure why I was to be in the “Practicing Prophetic Ministry” workshop, but I didn’t mind. It was one that I had previously considered attending.
On Monday morning, I had a dream. At the end of the dream, I am making a quilt. I was going to sew a chain of crosses around the edge of the quilt as a border. I wasn’t sure that was okay as they were going to be laid on top rather than integrated into the other pieces. My interpretation was, “My security is the cross. By surrounding myself with them, I will gain security. It’s the work of crucifying my inner demons that frees me, that gives me eternal salvation. I can be confident because I have placed my confidence in God.”
During the workshop Monday morning, we were asked to participate in a guided meditation. We were asked to write down our mentors’ names and what drew us to them. Then we were asked to imagine walking through a meadow and into a forest until we came to a stream where we were to talk with one of our mentors. In the conversation with my mentor, she confirmed that I was being faithful, that what I needed to do was “just show up.” She told me that she didn’t have more guidance to offer, so she was replaced by Jesus.
Jesus took on a variety of forms but in the end, he was Native American. He appeared wise but haggard from the years of deprivation that he and his people had experienced. I asked Jesus, “How do I become one of your people?” During the meditation, we also received a gift. I received a heart made of rose quartz. It resembled one that I had recently received as a gift from a Friend; the difference was that this one was living.
When reflecting on the meditation, I wrote, “I believe that I need to recognize and value my heart…, one that is just learning to love, but one that is grounded in the Love of God. As I have learned, I need to trust my heart… to lead me to truth, to trust that my deepest desire is… the desire of all people, even those corporate executives who from a distance seem to me to be blind and living in the desert. I need to find words that will draw even them to the well, there Jesus is pouring out the water of eternal life…. I am not alone, I am surrounded by Friends who will help me and walk with me as I do my task and they do theirs.”
I could not really make sense of Jesus showing up as a Native American in the meditation. I hadn’t previously had any particular concern for or read anything on my own about Native Americans. I had not done a guided meditation in a long time, so I kind of chalked it up to that and didn’t think much of it.
On Tuesday, I met with Judy. We discussed technical details regarding blog set-up and maintenance. We also started talking about what we might name the blog. We decided, since the blog was going to have multiple authors and neither of us knew what that would entail, we needed help. My husband had a strong technical background, so I volunteered to set it up with his assistance.
On Thursday, July the 4th, my husband and I went to the evening plenary session hosted by Vincent Harding. As I had never attended a presentation by someone who had worked with Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. during the Civil Rights Movement, I had been very much looking forward to going. Soon after getting to the session, I was surprised by two things. First, Vincent Harding was being joined by a American Indian, Dr. George E. (Tink) Tinker, who had been a colleague with him at Iliff School of Theology. Second, they had designed the session to be a dialog rather than a presentation.
Vincent Harding began the discussion by describing how it had arisen that he and Tink Tinker came to share the session. He also talked about why they were conducting the plenary as a dialog and stated his concern for how our children would come to learn the truth about the formation and development of this country. Then Tink Tinker described his background and his concern for truth relative to the historical treatment of American Indians as well as their current plight. The primary thrust of the session was to begin a conversation about how African Americans, European Americans, and Native Americans might begin to live together honestly and respectfully in this country. After those introductory statements, Vincent Harding opened up the floor by asking if any one had any ideas, thoughts, concerns and/or Light to share.
While I had been surprised by Jesus appearing as a Native American during the meditation and I had been surprised by an American Indian being at the plenary session, when Vincent Harding asked if anyone had Light to share, I felt like those realities, one internal, one external, was not coincidental but that the content of what I had seen during the meditation was meant to be shared with the plenary session. I stood up and was the first person recognized. After introducing myself, I described how Jesus had appeared to me and stated the question that I had asked, “How do I become one of your people?”
Vincent Harding seemed to appreciate the image and stated the importance of ‘living with the questions.’ Tink Tinker didn’t seem to respond to the image and appeared uncomfortable with the question. He said that living into the question would require that one live for twenty years or more with American Indians in the conditions that they live in before one might begin being one of them. He stated that even changing tribes was almost unthinkable.
I felt very conspicuous when the session was over. While I knew that there would be a smaller conversation that followed the plenary, I just left quickly as I wanted to get back to the privacy of the dorm. When I realized that I left my sweater in the room, I sent my husband back to get it. I didn’t want to face anyone, especially anyone who knew me. However, I was a bit relieved the next day when I ran into a woman whom I had met earlier in the week. She said that what I shared seemed helpful. She said that she had been worried about how the discussion might go, but when I had shared what I did that she felt it got the conversation off on the right foot.
I didn’t think much more about what had happened at the Gathering. Once I returned home, I focused on creating the blog. I had some internal struggles regarding my ability to feel free to do that, but I’ve gotten through that now.
Over the past couple of weeks, as I reflected upon and wrote this post, I came to see that I had overlooked connecting the leading to “name the spiritual condition of the world’ with what happened at the FGC Gathering. Up until beginning to write this part of the post, I had believed that the leading ended with my visit with Mariellen. In my next post, I will flesh out what I believe is the meaning of the leading, as seen in its entirety. In sum, I believe we are being called to become a ‘wilderness people,’ so that we might become the beloved community of all peoples.