To New England’s Meetings
Many of us are feeling under the weight of grief, fear, and anger in the face of national and world events. Many of us are digging deep, to feel where a prophetic response may be: Is there a word from the Lord that Friends are to carry at this time, in deed or in word? Is our spiritual condition healthy, alert, and clear enough to hear and receive such a word?
Here is one thing I know: A prophetic people is one which welcomes the arising of prophecy. The first motion is, in love, to make room for the leadings, and the people who are led, and give them opportunity to bring what they have been given. This advice comes from the earliest life of the Christian movement. In the ancient book of advice called the “Didache” or “Teaching of the apostles,” the little fellowships gathered in Christ’s name are admonished to be open to the motion of the Spirit as embodied in traveling ministers: “Let every apostle [one who has been sent] who comes to you be received as the Lord.” Knowing that we have this treasure in earthen vessels, we are to “try the spirits” and feel where the divine is present when someone feels moved to act or speak under the guiding influence of the Divine Spirit — but we are warned not to quench the Spirit’s motion, but to accept the unexpected activity of that Spirit in our lives as a community as well as individuals: “The spirit blows where it will, and you hear its sound, but don’t know whence it comes or whither it goes. So is everyone who is born of the spirit.”
As a people, we have fallen so far into a comfortable and secular mind, that we think concerns and leadings are somehow a matter personal to the concerned Friend, and our meetings can pick and choose whom to hear, whom to invite and allow to come among us! That is a way to avoid the uncomfortable evidence that the living God is still working through us, preparing individuals and pushing them or drawing them into service. It is a way not to change, not to grow, to keep control of our schedules and our attention; to keep ourselves unfree. We often talk about being “spirit-led,” but as a people how available are we really to that experience?
When we make time for the unexpected, when we accept the opportunities that come to us through Friends who are called to travel to us, and have the encouragement of their meetings to do so, we enable those Friends, and others not yet arisen, to learn better how to watch for, hear, bear, and accomplish their service. Our meetings are “schools of the prophets” — or can be if we recognize the opportunities that come our way, accept them with joy, and learn from them — both from the message and from our experience of reception and discernment.
I have known many Friends, newly drawn into service, who have been discouraged by the convention that prophets come to meetings only when meetings issue invitations. This turns the matter upside down, Friends: The calling and the service are given through the body, through and out of the common life in the Spirit, and represent an invitation from God to see, to feel, to know, and perhaps to act in fresh ways, in ways renewed by the living water of God’s life that brings these leadings and opportunities to us.
It can be inconvenient for a meeting to make room for such an unplanned, “wildcat” experience of the Spirit. It may also be that a Friend’s concern, to be brought to a meeting, will require some discernment by the meeting about ways and means. I can assure you, though, that it is pretty inconvenient for a Friend to have such a concern, to set aside other things, and dare to stand forth, dare to speak for God and for us. The sense of unreadiness, of unworthiness, of emptiness, is very sharp in such a Friend, and he or she is only too conscious of difficulties for themselves and for those they visit. Yet the act of faithfulness, however imperfectly accomplished, is a step into greater life, and if it is rooted in love, it is evidence of God’s work and life active among us. And Friends, there is such a famine among us, and among people in general, for such evidence!
So if a Friend reaches out to your meeting, with an earnest statement that she or he is traveling under concern, with the unity of their meeting (your brothers and sisters!), remember that we can earn a prophet’s reward even by offering a cup of water to a prophet. Find a way to entertain this Friend, as we are to entertain strangers sent among us, for thereby we may unexpectedly be visited by an angel — not the traveling Friend, but the beloved Spirit, the Shepherd and Teacher, made available in the giving and receiving of spiritual hospitality. Make room, Friends, light your lamps in welcome, live like people who truly love the Spirit, and who love to see the springs of Life break forth in any!
In Christian love your friend,