NOTE: This letter was sent last year, following a visit Darcy Drayton and I took to West Hills & Multnomah meetings. A word of context: In those lively meetings, Friends are coming under a shared concern to respond to climate change, but there are a lot of different kinds of leadings. Some expressed a longing for more coherence within their community. It was with that condition — of creativity, movement, and diversity — that I was sitting when I was led to write this. Since then, the letter’s been circulated around, and some have asked for copies. In case it’s useful to others, here it is:
To Friends in and around Multnomah meeting,
Since we were with you a few days ago, I have found that, when I sit in the quiet, I am not free until I share one thing more with you. This is to encourage you in love to pray towards unity as you follow your concerns. Indeed, this prayer towards unity may itself be a concern to follow, when no other path or leading is discernible. What do I mean?
1. Imaginative participation. Prayer takes many forms, and some of those forms are available even to someone who does not think they know how to pray. A wordless, steady regard, in a time when one is quiet in reverence, is a powerful way of working, or rather of allowing oneself to be worked upon. When we are truly centered, even for a short space of time, we are tender, that is, vulnerable and teachable. If then we bring into that place a longing or need that is on us, it can be a time of discovery and movement, and imaginative participation in the concern we are holding, and the community we love.
2. Heightened awareness. One of the results of this kind of contemplation is heightened awareness. In that receptive place, where we are most able to hear (or see or feel) the truth, one is often given fresh understanding. One may perceive more details about the community life — or one’s own participation in it — seeing connections, or even questions, that were not apparent before. As ever in such times of quiet openness, as we feel safe or grounded, we may be given to see barriers that need to come down, if growth is to occur, or new things that must be learned, or rifts that must be mended. A deep fruit of this kind of work is an increase in inward spaciousness and freedom, a peace that is the peace of the ripening or opening seed; and a gift of thankfulness. It is quiet, but it is also the workshop of turbulent, organic creativity, as in the stillness and tenderness all the materials of ourselves, our works, and our world can be in fluid contact. Remember how Jesus said, “My peace I give unto you — not as the world gives, give I unto you.”
3. Praying towards unity. The Spirit by which we are guided, and which underlies all our separate concerns, longs for, persuades towards, our unity. A frequent attention to the community, and a waiting to feel where the unity stands (beneath all our diversity), is a gift to oneself and one’s meeting. Gifts are not elicited by demand or strength, but are things received from love. The kind of prayer I am advocating is one in which our selves, and all the parts and actions of our spiritual body, are held lovingly and known at bottom to be deeply connected. As we make this kind of attention, or attentiveness, a steady thread of our practice, we can find our way, experimentally, into an understanding — and an ability — to see, and then to live, in unity, in some measure. We may well lose sight of the unity, but once we have had the taste of it we know that it can be found and felt again.
This unity may be expressed in many ways, and may well grow into a strong, shared vision for community life. The beauty of this is that such a growing understanding, rooted in prayer as well as hard work and good thinking, may be a fresh way to understand and share Gospel living — remembering that the good news is the power of God to work liberation. This can be a way to live into a demonstration of that.
“Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind.”
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When Darcy and I came away from our time with you, we were refreshed and encouraged by you, and by the sense that we had been faithfully led among you. The encouragement, curiously, was a longing to be more ready for any next opportunity for service. This is often the way, that acting from a right place, being faithful in one’s measure, is nourishing and healing, makes one humble in growth, gives capacity for further work under the Spirit’s guidance — and gives a sense of hope and excitement.
Many of you, however, spoke of the familiar problems of action that is dispersing, and may be mixed so much with fear or urgency that each one’s work, however good, feels like a private matter, and not vitally connected with others’ activities. Even thinking through the logical ways that “your concern is related to mine” does not satisfy the need for substantive connection.
The prayer that I am writing of is a path towards safety, of practicing so that our action and concern are not scattering, but in some measure gathered in the Spirit — and once we live up to our measure, more will be given. This way is founded on longing and desire, a sense of need, a love of justice and truth, a watchfulness and faithful response to what is shown us. So many great souls have shown us how it can be a place of rest as well as renewal, and as we are unified in ourselves, we find ways to come together as one community, whose actions in the world are various, but come with power out of the work of discovery, and unification, in the Spirit.
In Christian love your friend,
Friends, whatever ye are addicted to, the tempter will come in that thing; and when he can trouble you, then he gets advantage over you, and then you are gone. Stand still in that which is pure, after ye see yourselves; and then mercy comes in. After thou seest thy thoughts, and the temptations, do not think, but submit; and then power comes. Stand still in that which shows and discovers; and then doth strength immediately come. And stand still in the Light, and submit to it, and the other will be hushed and gone; and then content comes. GF Ep. 10.