"You are the electrodes of the world. But if the electrodes are not plugged in, what are they good for?"... so to speak.

[Well, this site seems do be doing exactly what I was hoping 'QuakerWaterHole' (aka acitycanbemoved.blogspot.com) might accomplish; and it's been happening without me, yay! I'm not sure when it was I signed up here, but offline events distracted me soon after, so that I'd entirely forgotten about it until today, when I returned seeking comment on a blogpiece which I've now reposted here. Aside from that...]

"Juice" was one of Stephen Gaskin's favorite metaphors for the palpable power of the Spirit in & between people. That juice, he said, is what churches and religions are meant to convey. People substitute a lot of ideas and show biz (things they can predict and control) for that live, wild spiritual power, but the more a religious organization comes to depend on such things, the deader it gets.

Rebecca Mays, a favorite teacher/editor at Pendle Hill, was trying to get her classes to think in terms of 'sacraments' when I was there. This was because of her feeling that we would someday need this concept to communicate with the large majority of more traditionally-oriented Christians in the world (not a goal I saw much point in at the time...) But leaving aside the traditional Christian examples, concentrating on the essence: A sacrament is an action that plugs us into the Juice.

How can a physical act--a dip in the pool, a cookie with grape juice... a tab of LSD... connect a human being with the Spirit? How do we know it works? What kind of things can work?

[Taking a detour here] I've been highly impressed with Erich Schiffmann's book: Yoga: The Spirit and Practice of Moving Into Stillness. This is a yoga book with a Quakerish flavor, because what he was writing about was how to use Hatha Yoga (and meditative practices) as a sacrament! If you wrap yourself up in some dozens of impossible positions, it shouldn't be for your health or your ego alone; he says you can do it as an occasion for seeking divine guidance. He also suggests a daily practice of asking God for guidance in making small, unimportant decisions, like "Which cucumber should I buy?" It isn't that the decision matters; asking matters. The guidance is available, but you won't get much use of it unless you're alert to it, and practice helps. (Now if I can just remember to do that--instead of automatically trying to 'figure out' which cucumber ought to be best!...)

Dorothy Day (and at least one friend of mine) found spiritual power in the Catholic Church's ceremonies. This was not because she found the Church of her time admirable--although she'd found precedents for her work in Church traditions of hospitality, etc. My friend is utterly repelled by the hierarchy & authoritarian politics of the Church, but he tells me that their services inspire him in a way that Quaker meetings do not. I don't know if there's any religious tradition on Earth, no matter how strange its doctrines, that has not, at some point, worked to put some human being into contact with the Truth beyond all that.

A sacrament can also fail. Even that tab of LSD can fail... in the sense of not connecting a person to the Spirit. It's a matter of intention and expectation (not that these are ever simple matters!) A cookie may be only a cookie, if you don't see that it's food from God.

Sarah Miles...Take This Bread... She was an atheist; she didn't think she had any particular intention or expectation in attending an offbeat Episcopalian communion service with someone's new experimental liturgy... and all of a sudden, she says, she Knew that the bread was full of Jesus! She spent weeks wondering what it meant, but she utterly knew it!
I knew a very sedate Unitarian student at Pendle Hill who was similarly overwhelmed by attending a Sabbath service at P'nai Or Synagogue in Philadelphia, with very similar results. My wife and I were weeping, and there were others in our group entirely unaffected, wondering 'How much longer does this go on?'

At some level, not necessarily conscious, I imagine that a person needs to be seeking, to have reached some level of 'ripeness,' for a sacrament to take hold.

The basic Quaker sacrament--sitting silently with a likeminded group for one clock-hour--has the same potential for success or failure. I am guessing that most of the time, for most modern friends, it has precisely the same effect as cookies in church. Is this true? I can only go by what people say and do afterwards, which shows little or no difference from there usual state.

Going to yearly meetings, I'd meet people who were definitely connected, and between us all we built up quite a charge! Coming home again, I'd slowly sizzle back to 'normal.' In deciding to go to Pendle Hill, I hoped I could get into that Juice for a longer period of time... and it was truly that kind of experience. We didn't achieve perfection; but having others around who wanted to feel the Spirit at work, we had an intense time of it. It's taken me some years, afterwards, to fully feel the obvious truth that it is, after all, as much God's world here as that was!

So. How to reignite that old fire, in a much damper spiritual environment? What is it, in the conventional Quaker Meeting, that can make such good people so utterly deadening to self & others? Help?

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I love it! This is *it*. That juice, fire, spiritual electricity, that's what I understand the whole thing to be about.

My experience is one of being convinced by seeing other 'plugged in' Quaker people at Yearly Meeting or at Woodbrooke, the Quaker Study Centre here in the UK, since I was around Quaker folks a lot before I got into God for myself. Then experiencing getting connected myself through meetings with such folks. I think that was the start of my spiritual journey, asking "what is this, what is going on here?".

I found a need in myself that I now understand as a commitment to finding out how to live juicily myself. I thought it was so good to experience that juiciness that I wanted to be able to get that in my everyday life not just in certain places. I felt I didn't want to have to depend on other people for it - I suppose this tells you something about my own struggles with life! So in a sense my spiritual practice has always been driven by the question of what helps me stay in that relationship with God which keeps me plugged in, fired up, full of juice or whatever.

The reason I love the Quaker path - I think it sets us free to follow the juiciness of God. That real experimental approach - what gets us plugged in? What really works? What helps us remember to keep reconnecting? It's the directness, the intimacy of starting where we are all the time and asking how we get to that plugged in state.

When I'm in that plugged in state I am not afraid. I can interact with aggressive people, crazy people or whatever I have to. Makes me realize how much I can be driven by my fears when I'm not! It's not my own strength I rely on, but (I am scared to say it) what I think is God's power moving through me, in my small way. My part is to ask how I can get back to God-connection, learn how to do it anew each time my current method mutates, and keep doing what it takes. That's what praying is for me - turning to God and asking how I get back to the connected state.
Reading posts like this along with their subsequent comments gives me "the juice." I get chills of recognition. Thanks, Forrest, Hystery, and Alice.
[About the problem of being low-income Friends, but finding powerful connections rare except through travel to yearly meetings, etc: ] I can usually hit up my Meeting for traveling money... but contributions have been down, and other needs for their money (as the real economy continues to collapse under the weight of the financial rackets) are likely to be more urgent. There is also the fact that we don't feel as easy as before about the impact of our travel on the environment.

There's something we get from personal contact that doesn't necessarily happen via email. It can happen, but not everybody connects that way. [When Ursula LeGuin wrote about phone conversations being inadequate as a means of communication, it fit my experience of phone talk. But to my son, the phone feels like a natural means of talking with people. People vary in which modes they're comfortable using.] I've met people who inspired me deeply when they were around, but if we try to meet via email, the conversation languishes. This happens even with people who are strong email friends, whom I've never met personally but feel a solid bond with! I think it has to do with rhythms of statement/response. & using blog-forums? I've felt drawn and gratified by what everyone here was saying, but felt I should leave time for more responses.

I'm intrigued by the "potential-difference" metaphor. In one sense, of course, we are all in communication... and in another sense, the one in which Fox spoke of Christ being imprisoned in many people, we aren't even necessarily in communication with various aspects of our one individual self!

Samuel Bownas, a Quaker minister around 1700, had a sense that some Meetings were losing the juice: "And I found it very hard work in many places, and in some meetings was quite shut up; but where the people who did not profess with us came in plentifully, it was not so, there being an open door. [An example of your 'potential difference'?]....

"I asked what he thought might be the reason, why it seemed more dead amongst Friends in this nation now, than in some other places. He gave this as a reason, 'That the professors of truth in that nation were very strict and exact in some things, and placed much in outward appearances, but too much neglected the reformation and change of the mind, and having the inside thoroughly cleansed from pride and iniquity, for thou knowest,' said he, 'the leaven of the Pharisees was always hurtful to the life of religion in all shapes.' "

I'm afraid we're mostly going to need to make our connect with/through people nearby. It seems to lead to two related questions: How to make our own Meetings more conductive for everyone involved-- and how to involve outsiders, including people who have found powerful connections of their own through other practices.
I have experienced 'juice', the felt presence and power of God, and I crave it. But I wonder if it is helpful to seek it. It seems to me that the spiritual journey always includes dark times and dry times, and that these need to be endured faithfully rather than avoided. For me the important question is one of faithfulness: do I keep acting in accordance with what I know to be true, even if it doesn't *feel* true to me at the moment? And do I keep listening so that I can be set right if I am wrong? If I do these things I hope that I will come again to the times of grace, fulness, fire. And the faithfulness matters more than the fire, though it's not as much fun.

I don't mean to discount the importance of reaching for live contacts in and with Spirit. I certainly have experienced drought that comes from my own distraction, confusion or habit-bound nature. But I also think there can be a danger in pursuing ecstasy, in religion or anything else.
I entirely agree this could apply to my own impatience and greed. But that is something between me and God, and not what I'm talking about.

When the Society of Friends was forming, God was drawing people together and joining them in practices that, at that time, facilitated their finding and enjoying God at work among them.

When the practices become too routine, when too many people are coming to worship without the expectation of knowing God's presence, we get like the Pharisees of that quote, standing in the door of the Kingdom, neither letting others in nor entering ourselves.

Simone Weil: "The danger is not lest the soul should doubt whether there is any bread, but lest, by a lie, it should persuade itself that it is not hungry."

That, I fear, has become a common condition. But if we can be trapped in habits and structures that frustrate one another's spiritual aspirations, we can also ask for, and be given, opportunities to enhance them.
But if we can be trapped in habits and structures that frustrate one another's spiritual aspirations, we can also ask for, and be given, opportunities to enhance them.

What are you talking about here? Can you say more?

This makes me think about my own experience. I have felt murderously frustrated by other Friends, but not that it is wasted. It's the very foundation of community that we are obliged to work with each other. If I think another friend isn't in the Way of Christ then we can discuss with them as if they were a newcomer - I know I sometimes need that service. It's important to me that we are all necessary, all equally loved by God - that's the God I am following! There's lots of guidance in scripture - what fruits are being borne? (Gal 5:22), is the discipline of conflict resolution available (Matt 18:15-17 *)?

When other Friends are in our way, that's the call to reach with them, together, into the source of all life that unites and guides us. I have found it useful to learn how to pray out loud, because that can help me reach out to God in such situations. I have a lot of experience in my own life of God using such opportunities to reach me and I think other Friends as well, certainly the discipline of going with-not-around other Friends has resulted in my finding my local Meeting a much more God-filled place. It seems like the more I am able to change myself to submit to God's way, the more the human beings I meet are easier to connect with in God's unity.

I thing the "due process" stuff that Friends can do collectively through our Meetings for Woship for business can be almost unbearably frustrating when I feel inspired and alone, but at the moment I can fold my confidence that the processes in my Area Meeting are like the sticks piled across the tinder when a fire is being started? They might seem to be in the way, they may frustrate and feel to threaten the tiny flame but if it perseveres, the whole bunch get set alight? I think at best we labour with one another in love so that we can be unified by God's power for God's purposes, to glorify God. I have been wondering about whether I need a "support and accountability" group and I have heard that can help a lot if a Meeting is too painful to be with - two or three Friends to meet with once a month to ask me about how I am being faithful, pray with me to help me follow God.

*[I think that "pagans and tax collectors" - or however your translation has it - need the Message/God's Love the same as we all do and may be able to show us parts of it we haven't seen, we can learn from everyone right? Though the process has to be fresh and new?]
[Hello Joanna! How lovely to hear your words here.]

I don't know! I am a bit of an enthusiast. I don't think I know much apart from God's love so I think that's why I'm shaping my path around hanging on for the direct experience. When I'm on my own my anchors are stuff like, remember to breathe, feel gravity acting on my body, and pray. I don't feel I can hold onto much of God without God, I only trust myself to look for God.

I guess when I've lost the path I think my duty is to run back to God as fast as I can, like a child who goes astray on a walk. I have to use all the tracking skills I've learned over my few years so far ... where is the good news for the poor? Where is the love that does not countenance evil and never fails? Where are the fruits of the spirit ripening and where are the roots of the vine?
>What are you talking about here? Can you say more?

In quieter times, Quakers could visit each other socially--and then find periods when silence came upon them naturally, when everyone would do a brief unscheduled worship. That was a practice that facilitated.

What we take for granted... We will meet socially after meeting, and make conversation. Religion will not enter the conversation, except occasionally in amusing accounts of those pesky 'fundamentalists.' We will meet to deal with practical problems, and talk about what to do, tacitly assuming that God is not an agent that need be consulted in our endeavor.

That inspiration to pray out loud you mentioned would be a good gift, so far as one avoids the temptation to pray at one's companions. (And I was amazed the other day to realize that I had been praying online. The effect has been... that I was answered, but not in a way I understand clearly yet.)

There were times in Friends' history when soldiers and rowdies came into meetings and actively tried to disrupt them. People whose job had been to persecute Friends were sometimes moved to join them. Should we, then, hire screamers & thumpers for our own meetings?

Likewise, I've found that wondering if I'm to be arrested 'concentrates the mind wonderfully.' But I consider it best not to seek such opportunities!

Some things are, as you suggest, better developed through having difficulties to overcome. When it's a f/Friend who's the difficulty.... A Theosophist friend calls them "patience teachers." They teach other things as well, like how to recognize traits we'd forgotten belong to us.

God is really the only one worth being angry at! And that, when it happens, is of course a sign that I've missed something.

As individuals, we know certain things aren't good for us. If we eat ourselves sick, if we get drunker than fun, if we expose ourselves to emotional violence for 'entertainment,' we'll get lessons from God we need--but not the lessons we'd like.

[You, like that prayer, are answering me in ways I hadn't expected! One of my pet gripes was the fact that my Friends here, asked to consider a spiritual problem, automatically respond with practical suggestions... not that the suggestions are necessarily bad, but that physical/social reality, and the 'solution' mode, are all they know. So you've caught me out, here, asking for practical answers & getting a spiritual response! ]

I'd been about to continue, saying that we get more from meeting spiritual people in a spiritual context than from passing time with people striving to stay shallow... But thinking of the time I needed to appoach a man who was abusively, threateningly shouting at his significant-other, when I couldn't speak over the barrage of abuse he immediately directed at me, when he came out with a knife while the woman went rapidly off the other way, fast as she could go... This was anything but 'a high.' If I hadn't been utterly concentrated, on sympathy for him and on the urgent need to stay tuned to God, I should have been afraid; I would have been as much endangered as I appeared to be. (It was even a reassuring experience, one which showed that God can still use me, even though I can not!)

The answer is, always, to look to God for answers! In this case, I believe, his answer includes having me continue to seek practices that enlighten us by less drastic means!
Absolutely! Being still is difficult and I don't always think it means being unmoving or complacent. I sense God works through you and us all in ways we fail to see easily. You sound open and ripe for goodness to work. Thank you for considering getting juice from newbies and vice versa. This is one who is feeling the juice stir in new and encouraging ways simply from exploring the comments here. I hope I can apply this somehow usefully and let the ripples travel...
Hello Alice, and thank you for the lovely note which ended up on my profile page. I was trying to reply to that and suspect this isn't the right place; I don't understand this social network thing very well...but it is lovely to hear from you. I greatly enjoyed our time together at the World Gathering and it's good to get a glimpse of what you're doing now.

Congratulations on your daughter (what's her name?), on your pending doctorate and on keeping up your sanity while attending to both and also finding time for online Quaker conversations!

I'm still at the Catholic Worker farm (www.stfrancisfarm.org), putting in the garden, tending goats, welcoming and coping with guests, organizing TV Turnoff Week activities and playing plebeian's advocate in class discussions among local social service agencies.

For me, now, part of faithfulness is keeping an inner quiet, keeping an open space where I can hear God; the other part is slogging on, trying to remember what is true when it doesn't feel true--to know that difficult guests are the main characters in their own stories, not just peripheral characters in mine, and that at the root we are all in God's story and are united there however we differ on the surface; to keep milking and weeding and listening and remember that this work is worth doing even when I can't quite remember why. And, so far, I keep coming back into the place of grace and life--not always as soon as I want to, but in between I trust that I will return again.

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