Primitive Christianity Revived, Again
Yesterday, I attended a volunteer tea at my daughter’s elementary school. It was the last chance since she will graduate sixth grade next week. I’d been once before and skipped a few years. However, this time, I wanted to savor the last invitation.
It was a journey down memory lane: a very emotional one. I knew practically none of the mothers or kids as they were younger than I or my daughters. Even the faces of many of the teachers have changed in the nine years we’ve part of this warm and receptive community.
So, I deposited myself in the midst of some more youthful women, including one with a toddler attached to her hip, and announced: “since I know no one, I thought I’d meet you today.” They were very gracious and we traded ages and grades of our children.
There were delicious snacks, a round of official thank-yous and then some magnificent performances by primary students, capped off with fifth-and-sixth-grade jugglers. The kids were darling and enjoyed performing. It seemed very informal and they felt no pressure. I loved the first-graders doing something called the “Tooty-Ta” song. I giggled and my heart smiled. I had not thought about this crazy multi-verse song where kids end up with the tushies extended, knees bent in, feet and elbows out, eyes closed and tongues wagging in years. It was hilarious and reminded me of when my eighth grader would do that in pre-school.
Then, it hit. The fact that I am in such a different stage of life right now, especially with my children. They will enter junior high and high school respectively next fall and it’s a whole ‘nother ballgame from elementary. Not one I am necessarily not looking forward to. They really are becoming more of themselves and I relish these regular discoveries … sans the door slamming, pouting and eye rolls.
It’s such a far cry from when they needed constant supervision; now, sometimes, it’s hard to find them at home and with a chunk of time to chat.
I also find myself branching out into ministry and vocation because I do have a bit more time; no pudgy fingers grasping at my thighs.
Yesterday, I wasn’t contemplating the change, though, but lingering, even basking, in the joy of what has already unfolded. I am grateful for the gift of growing children.
Please remind me of that mid-summer when I am mediating teen wars.
• In what stage of life do I currently find myself?
• How has that been defined by others, including children?
• How do I define it myself?
• How have I expressed gratitude for the past?
• How am I awed by the possibility of the future?
two minutes ago,
waiting for me
when they are
home, they race
to their rooms,
cell phones or
ipods to catch
up with friends
they just saw
before my eyes
like time had stopped
feedings took decades
days acquired the
weight of months
in the midst of diapers,
big purses and time-outs
yet, they still
require at least one
good-night hug and kiss,
shelter from the storm
and a pep talk
I am needed,
but in a new way
one more freeing
for them and me
I am slowly working
myself out of
I woke up three hours early this morning. God’s to blame. She always uses the early morning to nudge me about the things that are good for me. The trouble is, I wake with the nudge, and then have to work at figuring out what the nudge is telling me. That’s why I’m writing now – to figure out this morning’s nudge.
I woke with worried thoughts about my children. My kids, of course, think I worry too much. All kids think their mothers worry too much. They don’t know the half of it, because for a good portion of the time I have spent worrying about these particular children, they were too young to know any better. Then, when they were old enough to understand my worry, they were unconscious – figuratively and/or literally – in bars or hospital beds. Now they are grown up, living wonderful and meaningful lives, and my responsibility for their safety is long over. But still I worry. Because there is so much life still ahead of them, and I know – deeply – that neither I nor anyone else can protect them from the hard parts.
“Whoa,” says God. “What about me?”
This was the accomplishment of a mother who used to chant God’s praises with her young son sitting in her lap each morning. We would each supply some of the words of the prayer: “Praise God, all you dewdrops and maple leaves! Praise God, all you bumblebees and dragonflies! Praise God, all you worms and Spiderman!” I didn’t think God would mind too much about Spiderman, since this beautiful, innocent, bright-faced little boy was learning to love singing to God.
So to leave God out of my conversations with my teen and young adult sons was no easy task. But I managed it. I continued to pray for them. But I have made a terrible error. I haven’t understood how important conversation was to tending the relationship between my sons and their own Inner Light. I have been shown that it doesn’t matter where the conversation happens, but happen it must. When I stopped talking to them about God, I could have intensified my talking to God about them. But I didn’t. As a result, my prayers about my sons became fewer, further between, and less juicy. It became a matter of going to God when they were in real trouble, but otherwise not really thinking of God and them together in the same thought, as if they inhabited different lands within my fractured psyche.
I thank you for my sons, for their partners, and for their children, the ones who are here and the ones who will come. I thank you for our ancestors, who did their best and got us this far. I thank you for our descendants, the future generations, who will carry us further. I thank you for pulling me up short, and for reminding me: “What about You?"
This book is of particular and timely use by Quaker parents. It provides a basis for Quaker parent and youth reflection and conversation on the appearance and consequences of incivility in daily life. What people experience as rude, where and when this rudeness happens and what takes place in the exchange between the participants is complex, subtle, broad in scope and rapidly changing. No wonder our children are confused.
Young families need Quakerism, and Quakerism needs young families. Where does the Religious Society of Friends stand in relation to today's "beleaguered moms and dads"? To the extent that Quaker culture has not intentionally organized itself around the needs of young families, many people of my life stage have opted out of participation in organized Quakerism. We know this from research as well as experientially, as many Friends' own adult children--and therefore their grandchildren --are not active in a meeting community.
I know that there are Quakers with enormous experience in conflict resolution. I know Friends who have personally faced angry mobs, who have taught non-violent resistance around the world, and who are highly skilled in defusing dangerous situations. But as far as I can tell, they’re not teaching our young people how to do the same.
I'd like to offer some suggestions for things to read in meeting to help with spiritual formation and centering. Ideally, they wouldn't just read all through worship, but if something caught their attention, I wouldn't stop them.
At Meeting yesterday, the subject of raising children found its way into the messages of many. Prompted perhaps by the presence of happy children singing Christmas carols early into worship, vocal ministry focused on the dual blessing and challenges of parenthood. Many moving, emotionally rich stories were shared. Each of them had a common thread, but each also stood separately by themselves as their own unique offering. Much wisdom and humor was present as well, and I am a fan of both. As some contemplated the fragility of the infant Jesus, it seemed fitting that this would be the unofficial subject of the day. When it works well, the exercise in instantaneous revelation that is most Quaker worship is a rich, multi-layered experience, one that, in this instance, left several in tears.
This is why I feel like a stick-in-the-mud in criticizing these unselfish outpourings of love and affection. Long have I wished to see the the Spirit speaking within different people with different life experiences. Most of the time, however, though anyone is always free to share a message and at any point, the same few vocal ministers usually speak. Some who do not vocally share believe that their calling lay elsewhere, which I understand. Some rise to speak only once in a blue moon. But it is notable that almost everyone who served as God's mouthpiece in worship yesterday was female. As best I can reckon, those ordinarily hesitant to speak found a topic upon which they considered themselves a relatively reliable authority. A leap of faith is required for all who would rise to their feet and talk, but some leaps can be reliably made without the fear of failure. Anxiety need not be a disqualifying factor, but I fear it often can be.
My reservations in this are that it took a topic like this one for many women to feel comfortable speaking, even once. Child rearing was the exclusive domain of one sex for a long time and it still is, even with recent changes in attitude. I suppose I always wish that women would feel less constrained to speak on a subject that goes beyond merely so-called "women's issues". Part of gender equality, to me, is the state at which topics aren't automatically relegated only to one or the other. If increased participation is what we seek, be it in houses of worship or in everyday interaction, these deceptively subtle signs must be observed and addressed. It is ironic that Quaker unprogrammed worship begins in and is largely conducted within complete silence, when the everyday silence of women who do not contribute to the greater discourse superficially add to it. Silence to Friends is holy, because there is something weighty and substantive to it, but silence in the form of non-participation is something else altogether. I show up to Meeting every First Day (Sunday) always hoping to hear a different bearer of the Spirit or to observe a message that arises from an altogether unexpected place.
It is choice, above all, that I desire. The choice to minister or not to minister is always present, but I would prefer that the decision be made on theological, not societal terms. I stay seated in the active quiet until a fully-formed message arrives. Often the matter upon which I have spoken instantly takes me out of my comfort zone. Each of us have our interests and passions, and anyone's vocal ministry routinely reflects those. Far be it for me to denigrate anyone else's. The women who spoke were passionate about parenting and Bringing Children Up the Proper Way. To reiterate, this is why I write this post with my own hesitance. Yet, beyond religious expression or practical knowledge, or even gender, I encourage each of us to refuse to silence ourselves. Some traditions are worth preserving, but unlike what some believe, reform doesn't automatically mean that the worthwhile parts of anything will be swept into the gutter at the expense of the new. Women will always be nurturing caretakers of the young, as they always have been. But they don't have to be the only ones, either.
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I have parented by gut instinct, thoughtful insight, and sheer exhaustion. The image or model that has been most helpful to me is to think like a clerk in a Friends business meeting, always looking for the third way, the sense of the meeting, the underlyi