5.15.2007

Faithfulness at RFMM

A couple of weeks ago, my Friend Darcy and I were invited to facilitate a Saturday retreat for another meeting in our Quarter. The theme for the retreat was “What Makes Our Spirits Soar?” with an emphasis on spiritual hospitality. The local committee had already established an outline for the day and lined up local Friends to coordinate the food, lead some singing, and handle the registrations. Darcy and I were just asked to speak and answer questions for about an hour, to lead a couple of movement activities, develop worship-sharing queries and some topics for further conversation. Great.

No problem. We did some planning by email, some by phone and one final in-person meeting. We agreed on a question for a round of introductions, then I would speak briefly about the consultation on spiritual hospitality we recently went to in Pittsburgh. Then we figured out three things that I wanted to say, and three main points that Darcy felt called to share, with some understanding of the illustrations we could use. So far so good.

On the Saturday morning, I got there a little early and had time to walk around a bit by myself, drink some tea, sit with Darcy in worship for a few minutes, and go to the bathroom three times before we really got started. The local committee had arranged a mixer activity over coffee, then singing, then worship, then us. Perfect.

Right on time, the local organizer broke worship and welcomed everyone. The introductions went fine. The brief description of the consultation went fine. But then I started in on my first point, about spiritual hospitality as a calling and a gift, but the words didn’t come. I got my notes right in front of me. I gave up and moved on to the second point, about the inward and outward forms of spiritual hospitality but it just fell flat. I paused and prayed for guidance. No luck. I read out the third point, about the connection between our individual and our corporate practice, and then no more words came to me. I stopped and prayed another silent plea. The strong sense I had was that I should stop talking and sit down. The Holy Spirit was not present in what I was trying to do. Okay, not my will, Lord, but thine, now what?

I looked around the room. I explained that one of the things Darcy and I had wanted to share was how we try to pay attention to the leadings of the Holy Spirit. “And right now,” I said, “the nudge I’m getting is to stop.” I looked around again, took a deep breath and continued, “I’m not quite sure what’s happening, but I think that now we’re going to hear from Darcy [panicked glance at Darcy] and then maybe we’ll hear what I’m supposed to say to you.” My final look around the room met some looks of patient sympathy and one man vigorously nodding his head. I sat down and looked at Darcy.

Darcy, bless her heart, smiled at me, took a deep breath, and stood up. “The nudge I’m hearing is that I’m supposed to speak now,” she quipped. The titter of laughter relieved some of the nervous tension in the room. Or at least in my gut.

She went on to speak well about saying yes to Spirit despite living in fear; about the difference between surviving in a comfortable cage versus living life fully (citing Jens Braun quoting Chief Seattle); and about how meeting people living with integrity is a big part of what attracts people to Friends.

I just closed my eyes for a while and prayed. I prayed for Darcy, that she might find the right words for the fifty or so people in the room. I prayed for myself, that I might know what else to do. I was so embarrassed. All these people had come for the day, they’d asked us to come, they’d even paid our way, and here I was, frightened and humiliated. At least I remembered to breathe.

Darcy talked a little longer than perhaps she had planned, but she was on a roll and I had talked much less than we had planned. When she wrapped up, she turned to me and asked if I was ready. I said I thought we should just go ahead with the question and answer period and see where that took us.

Right away the questions were good. Some Friends shared from their experience. Others asked if we could say more about some points we had made. And in those questions came the openings for me to share some of the stories I had meant to tell in the beginning. And even some thoughts I had while I was preparing to come, but which hadn’t seemed to fit with my outline, so I had left it out (I’ll post that story tomorrow). Here it all came out, not all in one prepared speech, but organically, in response to the questions and concerns of the Friends who were present. It felt wonderful.

Afterwards, people were really happy with how the discussion went. The local coordinator was amazed that people “who never participate” spoke. One long time Friend said he was pleased with how Spirit-filled it felt. I think we reached the point that Martin Kelley was talking about here, where it was truly unprogrammed vocal ministry, and not just by the travelling ministers.

I’m glad we left room for the working of the Holy Spirit in our workshop. I also hope I’ve learned a lesson here and I don’t make it a habit of not having anything to say as planned. Please, God, please.

I’m really, really glad that Darcy and I were working together so that I felt more free to listen when the Spirit said “stop talking.” I didn’t feel like I needed to soldier on simply because people were expecting me to speak.

I am reminded of the old stories of travelling ministers who would call a meeting for worship and then just sit there, shut up as they called it, and who said they felt the people were too dependent on the human instrument and not enough dependent on God’s working in their own souls.

Not my will, Lord, but thine. Oh yes. Oh noooooo.

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7 Comments:

Blogger Cat Chapin-Bishop said...

Oh, Robin... I'm sitting here with tears in my eyes--I am just so moved at your ability to let go of being in charge of something, roll with the embarassment, and... be faithful.

(Isn't it amazing how often it's "duty"--the duty to give a workshop, in this case--or embarassment that are the obstacles to yielding to those nudges from Spirit?)

Thank you for sharing this. I can tell it's going to stay with me for a long time. :)

5/15/2007 6:47 PM  
Blogger Liz Opp said...

Robin, thanks for this testimony about faithfulness and the difficulty to be obedient... especially when "people are watching."

One person's faithfulness will inspire others to reach for that as well. In that way, we need each other.

Blessings,
Liz Opp, The Good Raised Up

5/15/2007 9:59 PM  
Blogger anj said...

Once again - I am finding the Spirit speaking to me thru your words. I wish I could have been at that meeting!

5/16/2007 10:58 AM  
Blogger Robin M. said...

I don't know. I'm still kind of glad there weren't more people I knew there.

But I'm glad all of you found something useful in this story.

5/16/2007 2:56 PM  
Blogger RichardM said...

Robin,

The fact of the matter is that the Spirit does not act in predictable ways. We can't control God. So when we expect God to give us words to speak sometimes he says "Sit down and be quiet." This happened to me once, at a memorial service for a man who wasn't a Friend but whose companion wanted me to preside over the memorial service anyway. It was strange and unnerving to sit down rather abruptly and have to trust that others would rise up and speak. They did, and it surely went better than it would have if I had tried to go against the flow of what I was required to do. This sort of thing is a very humbling experience. It really highlights the fact that we are not in charge and that it is not about our egos or showing off how wise or holy we are.

So, what I have to say to you is this: "Friend, thou were faithful."

5/16/2007 4:36 PM  
Blogger Liz Opp said...

I agree with Richard about God's unpredictable nature. I often tell committees that I clerk that when we end up in a place that we couldn't have predicted, it's likely that we were listening and discerning well.

Blessings,
Liz Opp, The Good Raised Up

5/17/2007 9:56 AM  
Blogger Robin M. said...

One of the things I cherish about the Quaker blogosphere is hearing other Friends' stories and experiences that help me feel less alone in my experiences. Thank you, Richard.

And Liz, thought-provoking and encouraging, as always.

5/17/2007 3:38 PM  

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