Building our house in the storm: A letter to New England Friends, Aug.6, 2016
08/06/2016 § Leave a comment
We are gathering in Vermont to worship, work, and spend time in companionship. Yearly Meeting can be such a blessed time for inquiry, growth, and consolation! In the quiet this morning, I find myself filled with gratitude because of the opportunities we have.
We will say many things about the needs of the world, and the calling we feel to respond, and the leadings we are following, and the evidence that some of us see that we are following our Guide, and the burdens we bear in our journeys.
Surely we can say that God is at work among us, and we are trying, at least, to walk as children of the Light. In my gratitude this morning, however, one question comes with urgency: Are we taking care that our meetings are in health? Are we being faithful to the gifts that are given, to help us all live close to the Wellspring of unity and our pure testimony, not of this concern or that, this “practice” or that, but the essential root, our reason for being a people at all?
All our outward doing, if it is witness — what is it a witness to? The Quaker claim is that acts of faithfulness speak of the inward life out of which they come. Recall the time when John Woolman sought to understand the origins of his concern to visit the Indians:
Twelfth of sixth month being the first of the week and a rainy day, we continued in our tent, and I was led to think on the nature of the exercise which hath attended me. Love was the first motion, and thence a concern arose to spend some time with the Indians, that I might feel and understand their life and the spirit they live in, if haply I might receive some instruction from them, or they might be in any degree helped forward by my following the leadings of truth among them.
If we don’t take the time to inquire where our doing comes from, to understand how my concern and your concern are rooted in the gospel life, then we can forget the grounds of our unity in the Spirit.
We may find substitutes for that dear unity — each with the people whose language and concerns feel most comfortable and exciting— but “issues loyalty” can become a reason to judge each other, a root of division.
My concern this morning is especially for those who are called to the work of ministry in all its many forms, whose purpose is to build up the community as a vessel of the divine life — in public worship or in private, in prayer or presence, in teaching or in preaching.
The work of the ministry, in all its forms, starts with listening, and waiting to feel where the unity dwells, and what the connections are between some present focus of concern and the whole story we as a people are acting out.
All the issues of our times are urgent, yes, but it is just as urgent that we take care that our worship and our witness are truly what we claim them to be, motions of the Spirit of Love. This has never happened except when some people (many!) have accepted their share of this work, and taken concrete steps to serve, and to grow in the service. What is called for from you, Friend?
Haggai was a prophet during the time of Israel’s return from exile, and he was the vehicle for an urgent call, which I feel this morning is renewed to us:
These people say, ‘The time has not yet come to rebuild the Lord’s house.’” Then the word of the Lord came through the prophet Haggai: “Is it a time for you yourselves to be living in your paneled houses, while this house remains a ruin?”Now this is what the Lord Almighty says: “Give careful thought to your ways. You have planted much, but harvested little. You eat, but never have enough. You drink, but never have your fill. You put on clothes, but are not warm. You earn wages, only to put them in a purse with holes in it…. This is what the Lord Almighty says: “Give careful thought to your ways. Go up into the mountains and bring down timber and build my house, so that I may take pleasure in it and be honored,” says the Lord. “You expected much, but see, it turned out to be little. What you brought home, I blew away. Why?” declares the Lord Almighty. “Because of my house, which remains a ruin, while each of you is busy with your own house.”
Let’s be about the building! I think it starts with a renewal of our praying, which is the workshop of all ministry:
Wait until we feel we are at the Center, and then in that confidence, ask: Am I just worshipping myself, or my longings and needs? We may feel convicted then, but there comes with the judgment the gift of freedom, and an opening to a clearer view of the true Center. There we can wait in God’s patience and compassion until all our certainties are overturned, and continue seeking until the Love comes which can be felt when certainties are gone, and our notions are taken from us, and we have felt the poverty of our own spirits. Then the blessing comes.
It is in that poverty that we can accept the gift of the common life, the unity that Jesus testified to and prayed for, just before Gethsemane and the Cross, and renewed again and again thereafter. You have tasted it, maybe! Then you know what Paul meant when he wrote (1Cor 2:16): “But we have the mind of Christ.”