Primitive Christianity Revived, Again
Brighton Meeting is having some difficulties with Meeting for Worship on the Occaision of Business. As in, they can't figure out how to integrate business with Worship. You know, the whole point of BM.
Today they did something different. And it shook me to my core. It was as painful as.... anything. So I'm writing about it to you guys as a form of a, this hurt! 'please share this with me'. You know, the way we've been doing for hundreds of years.
First: I love this meeting. And I love God. But, darn it, both can be difficult.
It started like a normal meeting for worship. There were little pieces of paper floating around. I had no idea what they said, i assumed they were for newcomers. I got into some very deep silence where god was showing me quite a fair amount of my own lack of integrity and virtue. 15 minutes before the normal close of Meeting, an elder stood up, and the meeting transitioned into business meeting - without closing Meeting for Worship. It was an attempt to bring worship into business. They went on like a normal meeting for business. Which in this meeting, tends to mean very little silence, a fair amount of chatter, and a discussion of something I didn't really understand.
I was fundamentally unprepared for this. I started quaking, like someone had ripped the carpet from underneath me. I had no idea that interrupting worship could possibly have that kind of impact on me - but it felt like someone was ripping away my bedrock and I was falling. Still I could hear that little God-melody that I associate with Worship. I tried to keep it quiet. But I could not get out of my mind the image that I was in a deep well watching a bunch of players on a stage. One thing was clear. I had to speak. I was shaking and my eyes were fluttering and my heart was beating like crazy.
I stood and said something along the lines of, 'we speak of good order, of coming to meeting with mind and heart prepared. But I am not prepared. I do not know of what we are doing. We speak of simplifying our practices. But this is all business as usual so far as I can tell. It sounds like we are simply doing the same thing we have always done without real simplicity or real discernment about what we are and who we are and why we are. So I am sorry but I can not approve of these nominations. I will stand aside, I will be obedient, if that is the will of the meeting. But for now, I can not.'
And then I sat down.
It was as if I had been gripped and then released. The rest of the Meeting went on. People agreed with me. Little changed, though dozens came up to me afterwards and thanked me. Before the end, I did not actually agree with much of what was said during BM, but I literally felt something keeping me in my seat. I was not called to speak. And so I did not.
I must admit, I have never had such a clear sense of ministry during BM. My experience of being summoned to speak and then called back into silence were as crystal clear as the morning sunrise. I had no question that I was faithful. I had no question of my truth. Speak truth to power? Maybe. I spoke truth. It was powerful.
What hurt was the sense that I knew I had to speak it - even if no one liked it. I had to be faithful. And I feared immense loneliness.
Right after BM, the loneliness came. The whole thing lasted maybe 25 minutes, and I was in such deep silence that I could not move even as others mulled around and chatted after Rise of Meeting. No one brought me water. No one brought me tea. No one sat next to me and just sat there, demanding nothing. I did not feel held. I felt alone.
I was not alone. But that was my fear, that was my darkness speaking, that was the devil in me itching to drag me under. And so I had to search, search, search. Where was He? Where was that Spirit in Whom Dwells All Love? Eventually I felt something. And then - and only then - did someone come and sit next to me. She was a very old woman, I don't know if I have ever noticed her before. Is there anything I can do? she asked. I didn't know. So she said, I will leave you to be in your contemplation with God.
I experienced great fury at certain Friends for not sitting besides me.
I knew I wanted them to save me.
Eventually, I rose. I rose and got myself some water. I then did the thing that I know to do: I went to the kitchen. By some miracle a friend was working the tea-station, took one look at me and wrapped me in her arms. I almost cried. and then I put myself to work serving tea. When in doubt, do service. It helped. Wash cups. Dry cups. Put cups into sanitizer. Repeat. I can do this.
After I was done, someone I used to be close to but then 'stuff' got in the way was suddenly before me. I've been vaguely ackward around him for a while. But in that moment, there was no room for the petty akwardness. There was just the honest truth - my fear and anger, his understanding, and a few moments of connection. And then, eventually, we went back into the next workshop. (It was a long morning for Brighton Friends.)
The really hard part is that all of these issues - of right order, of simplicity, of not doing too much, of good communication, of safety and trust and friendship and work and peace, are questions that I am embracing the way one embraces a cacti: with great reluctance. But it's up front and center in my life. No running away from it now. I either figure out some answers or I change my questions - as fast as possible. It's not just that I fear loneliness amidst Quakers. It's everywhere. And given the nature of my work, Meeting won't be the only place where I feel I have to say stuff that the authority figures might not really appreciate or agree with. And suddenly the fear was back. I don't want this, I thought to myself. I don't want this kind of insight, this kind of ministry.
Then I stood outside and some people came up and told me how much I changed the meeting, how much they needed what I said, how now, maybe, Brighton Meeting can turn a corner.
I don't know. It will take a lot of agency - and humility. The work is just starting. But there comments reminded me of why I don't turn this kind of thing down when it arises. Partly because I don't feel I have a choice. But I suspect I do have some choice in the matter. More so, it is because I know it can make a difference.
And here's the thing - I have to let go of even that desire. The desire to make a difference. I have to accept that I will and not worry too much about it, because it skews my ability to Listen. And Listening is the most important. Without Listening, there can be no opportunity for Obedience. Without Discipline, there can be no Listening.
So I say. But, most of the time, I do not do.
I will say this though.
I've spent a lot of time in the past few years with a great deal of unclarity.
It is an immense relief to have these moments in Worship where I experience great clarity.
It forces me to wonder, how can I live the rest of my life in a playful, Worship-full way?