The British Yearly Meeting publishes a list of “advices,” bits of useful Quakerly wisdom. The other day I ran across an advice that resonated in my soul: “Come regularly to meeting for worship even when you are angry, depressed, tired or spiritually cold.”
Before reading those words, I hadn’t really considered the idea of feeling spiritually cold, though I do understand feeling angry, depressed and tired. Certainly it makes sense that one’s spiritual energy and enthusiasm might wax and wane. Some days we are full of love for everyone; other days we’re frustrated with our friends, family, or even our fate. At times we may even doubt God’s love.
Which raises an interesting question: does spirituality have an optimum temperature? Someone who is spiritually on fire, burning with God’s love and will, can seem intimidating, even occasionally irrational. Quakers have a testimony against proselytizing; that message could leave those aflame with the spirit of God feeling they must tamp it down to avoid offending those who prefer their spirituality in a cooler tone.
But sometimes our spirituality freezes, becoming too sluggish to do us much good. Perhaps we feel abandoned by the spirit of God and fail to see it at work in the world, which can lead to despair. Sometimes loving one’s neighbor feels like a test we are bound to fail, and so we turn away from what we know is right. Perhaps our own imperfection makes us feel unworthy, and so we hide from the Light.
So what is the solution? As British Yearly Meeting suggests, just coming to meeting for worship can be the first step to warming your spiritual heart. The advice for spiritual coldness continues: “In the silence, ask for and accept the prayerful support of others joined with you in worship. Try to find a spiritual wholeness which encompasses suffering as well as thankfulness and joy. Prayer, springing from a deep place in the heart, may bring healing and unity as nothing else can. Let meeting for worship nourish your whole life.”
As these words suggest, the meeting itself – the community of people around you that cares and supports you – can help melt your spiritual ice. If the Light of God is in everyone, as Quakers believe, then maybe the spirit also resides and vibrates between us, in the sacred space that is our relationship with others. Feeling surrounded by people that share that belief, and care about us, can begin to bring us back to a warmer place.
Maybe we can eventually learn how to keep our spirituality burning even in the worst of times. There are some Quakers I know who seem unusually wise in the ways of God. I often sense they have a fire deep inside them that endures no matter what the emotional weather, a comforting spirit that glows like a hearth full of coals, brimming with warmth and understanding.
Wendy Swallow, Blog Editor, Reno Friends Meeting, firstname.lastname@example.org