I love the fresh opportunity the New Year brings, but this January I’m going to try something different when it comes to resolutions. Instead of worrying about my appearance (especially losing those last pesky pounds), I’m going to focus on resolutions for my spirit.
The idea of “lying fallow” comes from agriculture. It is an ancient practice used by farmers to rest and restore soil. The idea is to take a field out of production, plow it under and let it lie fallow for a year or two. During this time, nutrients in the soil are renewed so the next crop planted will thrive. As I’ve observed nature, I’ve noticed lying fallow is not just for soil.
But in the central innermost region of our minds there shines one pure ray of direct Light from the very Throne of God; one ray which belongs to each one individually; which is for that one supreme and apart; the ray which shining from the heavenward side of conscience, and so enlightening and purifying it, must of necessity dominate the whole being.
~ Caroline Stephen, 1834-1909
Have you ever wondered how Quakers center down and open to the Light? How they sit patiently for an hour in silence, waiting for messages from the Beyond That Is Within? In April, Reno Friends gathered for a worship sharing to explore these questions.
Reno Friends Meeting is currently taking a hard look at how we interact with each other. As part of this process, I’ve been thinking more about the importance of discernment in our Meeting life. Discernment is a process dear to Quaker hearts, and an important tool to figuring out the proper path for both the Meeting and ourselves as individuals. But what does discernment entail, and how does it differ from judgment?
Quakers typically spend an hour every Sunday morning worshipping together in silence. During this time, individuals sometimes rise to share a message that has come to them out of the silence. Such messages are not planned in advance, nor are there suggested topics.
My husband and I were hiking on a ridge above Lake Tahoe recently when I suddenly realized I could hear almost nothing. This happens out west – if you go far enough off road you can often find a place beyond the whine of the highway or the hum of the city. We were hiking late in the day, so there were few other people around. Even the birds were quiet. The tall pines and slanting light made it feel like we were walking through holy space, the world hushed in reverence.
Concerns and leadings grow out of the spiritual experience and contemplative practice of the Meeting. They are the living fruit of Friends’ faith that the Spirit will lead us forward into right action in the world. The impetus for action is often a concern: a pull toward a specific issue, an experience of the stirring of the Spirit about a particular topic, individual or group. A concern may thrust itself suddenly into the life of a Friend or may grow out of a long-standing interest.
Unity, the idea that we should seek consensus in our collective decisions, is a central testimony of the Pacific Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers). In this fractious time, however, it often seems the goal of unity has been nearly forgotten. Everyone seems to have differing views and fears and concerns, many of them deeply held. The anxieties of our age have taken a toll on our ability to talk with each other. In such a climate, unity feels nearly impossible to achieve. If so, does unity still matter?
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.”
In last month’s blog, I made the case for silence. Today I want to make the case for words.
Occasionally as Quakers worship, the silence inside the Meeting House is broken when someone rises to share a message they feel moved to say. These messages are usually simple, and most have a universal element since messages should be shared only if they offer something to others. So, yes, we Quakers worship in silence, but we also listen – to God, to each other, to our own hearts – and share that with the community around us.