My spiritual journey in five minutes or less

Actually, I think this took ten minutes, but this is basically what I shared on Monday night as part of our interest group.

I started going to Quaker meetings almost fifteen years ago, first in Washington, D.C. and for the last eleven years in San Francisco, California. I met my husband, Chris M. at 15th St. Monthly Meeting in New York City.

I came to Quakerism from a mildly Presbyterian home and a Catholic university. In what would have been my junior year in college, I had an earthstopping (for me) mystical experience on a mountainside in Chiapas, Mexico which left me groping, seeking for a way to respond to God, who was talking to me. A year and a half later, by a series of coincidences, someone invited me to a Quaker meeting and I found what I'd been looking for. People who also believed that God communicated with them, who also believed in simplicity and non-violence and the equality of women. What I'd been trying to do all by myself, they'd been doing together for over three hundred years. Wow.

About ten years later, well after I was a member of San Francisco Monthly Meeting, I finally stopped being in such shock that God was talking to me and I started to be able to hear what God was saying. That original mystical opening was about my place in God's creation: how infinitessimally small I am and how incredibly important I am, like mountains, for example, and every blade of grass. Now when I say it like that, I can see that it's an ecological type concept. But I was and still am very resistent to that. I grew up in a small logging town and I didn't want to be one of those environmentalists. But that is what God is calling me to, whether I like it or not.

This seems to be a pattern with me.

Last year I had two other experiences in my spiritual life that I am still somewhat resistent to. However, I think I've learned something in the last fifteen years of Quakerism and it's not taking me quite as long to catch on this time.

First was that my husband sent me an email with a link to the Quaker Ranter. Not very long before this, mind you, I had refused to get my son's school's newsletter online because, I said, "I'd never read something like that on the computer." Oh well. In fact, I was really amazed to find someone else saying a lot of the same things that I'd been saying, but much more articulately and coherently than I could. He was writing about the power of traditional Quakerism and asking why aren't there more young people? He was writing about his experiments with plain dress and plain speaking. He was writing about finding a balance of waiting on God and following God into the peace and justice work of the world. And better yet, he was writing about it in this public forum and other people were writing back. There was this whole movement going on that I didn't know was out there. I knew I wasn't the only one with these concerns - some of the people I was hearing that from are here in this room. But I didn't know it was happening in Philadelphia Yearly Meeting. Or New England Yearly Meeting or Northern Yearly Meeting or Northwest Yearly Meeting - that's the EFI meeting, and I'll come back to that in a moment. This was much bigger than I thought. It seems obvious now, but I/we in Pacific Yearly Meeting weren't the only ones reading Lloyd Lee Wilson's book Essays on the Quaker Vision of Gospel Order. And a lot of the other people were relatively young too. It's broadened a bit over the last year but at that point, in the blogging crowd, I felt old, at 37. That's a different experience of Quakerism for me.

So I've given in to the blogosphere. In part inspired by Liz here's example and her ability to model a different voice than I was hearing on the internet, and her ability to pose gentle, thoughtful, respectful and challenging questions. Actually what I found was that I was starting to forward bits and pieces of people's blogs to other Friends, and I started to worry, was that like forwarding chain mail and email jokes? I thought what my friends would rather read is what I have to say about something. Thus the name of my blog is "What Canst Thou Say?" Not what Martin sayeth or Liz sayeth, but what can I say? This has fit in nicely with my own desire to learn to write more, more often and more disciplined, and the blog format has helped. I like discussing things with my readers. Even the ones who don't agree with me. The comments are the fun part. Writing otherwise is always hard.

The other new experience is that God started talking to me about Jesus. I am still resisting what this might mean, but I can't deny it anymore. And as I've looked around, I've found a lot of support for that. In my monthly meeting, there is a solid core of Christian Friends. The Thursday night Quaker study group has been a major influence on me and our Meeting. Over the ten years I've been in San Francisco, more and more of the solid, weighty, committed and inspiring Friends have come to acknowledge the work of Christ Jesus in their lives. Some of them are more comfortable with the name Christ than Jesus, others wouldn't call themselves Christian but they will cop to trying to follow Jesus. Others, like me, are still teetering on the brink, but likely to swallow hard and admit to being Christian if pushed.

This has coincided with a growing friendship in the blogosphere with evangelical Christian Friends. And it has been amazing to me to realize that they too are hungering for more traditional Quakerism. For following the leadings of the Spirit, for Quaker witness around peace and justice, and for proclaiming and practicing the radically inclusive love of Jesus.

Last March, I went to Quaker Heritage Day at Berkeley Friends Church. The speakers were Margery Post Abbott, a former clerk of North Pacific Yearly Meeting, and Peggy Senger Parsons, the pastor of Freedom Friends Church in Salem, Oregon, an intentionally LGBT friendly evangelical church. And through blogs, I was able to invite Peggy and Marge and Max Hansen, the pastor of Berkeley Friends Church, and a young couple who are members of an Evangelical Friends International - Eastern Region church in Ohio but currently living and going to seminary in Los Angeles, to come to dinner at my house.

This to me was a good example of a convergent Friends experience. It wasn't a formal conference; it was a communal meal in my home. It was prefaced by several hours of worship, really, with speakers who were unafraid to use the words Jesus and justice, to talk about politics and the peace that surpasseth understanding, who linked that intimately to our common Quaker heritage and invited us to think boldly about the future of the Religious Society of Friends.

And you know what? It wasn't hard or awkward. It was fun. We found out that we had a lot in common - not the least of which was that we all felt something was missing from the Quakerism we saw practiced around us that was vibrantly present in early Friends.

It was that experience that made me want to have this conversation again and again. Not just online. But in my monthly meeting and my yearly meeting. Here at FGC. Next weekend in Newberg, Oregon, headquarters of Northwest Yearly Meeting. Next month in Los Angeles, right after Pacific Yearly Meeting, at the home of Wess and Emily Daniels - the young EFI couple who came to my house in March. And you're invited. You're invited to join me AND I encourage you to make an effort to find the Friends who live near you who also hunger and thirst for a renewal of Quakerism. Even if they're coming from a very different place and have a different direction to travel.

I think the winds of the Spirit are blowing across all the branches of Friends - blowing us in the same direction. And I think this is the real meaning of convergent Friends.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Robin - I really appreciated getting to read more of your story. I didn't realize that you have a background in Catholicism, or that all that stuff about God nagging you about Jesus.

The Spirit is certainly on the move.

I can't wait for you and the fam to visit.

7/12/2006 1:26 PM  
Blogger Robin M. said...

I did go to a Roman Catholic college - but I somehow had missed that part of the brochures. I had completely forgotten that until I showed up for the first day of school and went to the welcome address from the President who was a Jesuit priest. Since then, I have worked for a few RC organizations. But I have never been tempted to join the RC Church.

We are looking forward to seeing you next month.

7/12/2006 3:10 PM  

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