Proposed Queries for a Clearness Committee

I'm in the middle of a clearness process and I haven't been very happy with the questions that have been posed to me. So far it has largely centered on "why do you want/need a clearness committee?" Which is a good question, but it hasn't really helped me to focus on the content of the leading. Then I remembered that I'm on my clearness committee too. I finally sat down and made a list of some questions that I could ask about my leading.

  • Do you think I'm crazy?

  • Have I been faithful in following my leading so far?

  • Is there some reason that you can see why I shouldn't continue to follow this leading?

  • Does this feel rightly led in my own sense of reason and my experience?

  • Does it fit within Quaker tradition?

  • Is it reconcileable with a Quaker understanding of scripture?

  • Does it resonate with others in my Quaker community?

  • Will it lead to greater fruit of the Spirit? (love, joy peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control, for example)

  • Does it conflict (excessively) with my prior commitments?

  • Does it fit with other concerns/commitments I have undertaken? How?

  • Does this feel Spirit-led or Spirit-fed to you?

Some of them are queries that I should ask them and some they should ask me. I don't think these are strictly "if yes, proceed, if no, stop" flowchart type questions. Some of the answers might be "no, but here's why that's okay..." And the answer to the last query might become clearer in listening to the answers to the rest of them.

I'm open to suggestions for editing or additional queries that might be helpful. If any of these are helpful to you, feel free to use them. I want to be clear that I don't see these as a formula or checklist for all clearness committees. Just tools that I think will be useful to us now, and may also have some application in other circumstances.

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Blogger RichardM said...

These questions all sound just a little too rational. I know you don't intend for the questions to produce a kind of flowchart towards a decision, but they lean a bit in that direction.

Maybe the problem is with the composition of your clearness committee. I know there are those who still object to my calling it a gift but surely we can acknowledge that some people are better than others at this sort of thing. How large is your clearness committee? It might be too large. I have found that laboring towards clearness often works best in an informal setting (over a coffeetable after Meeting for worship) with only two or three Friends. In my experience it works best with no programming. The Friend seeking clearness is encouraged to talk about the issue and particularly to share her feelings about it. Friends on the committee should focus on listening. Is this a heart that is in pain a caged bird needing space? Is this a person seeking ego stroking? All of the above? After listening the other committee members should try to give helpful feedback. It's at this point where something like your questions could be used but I'd discourage anyone from using them mechanically. I think it is good to ask questions that encourage more talk about experience. For example, the idea you expressed about what have you done so far is good expecially if it is given the right turn. "When you did that (tentatively tried out the leading last week) how did it feel? How did the person you spoke to respond?" Alternatively, the question could go this way "When you thought you felt a leading to speak to X and then talked yourself out of it, how did that feel?"

I find that people can give all sorts of reasons why they sould do something and as many reasons why they should not. This is just the rational mind talking however. Helping a Friend towards clearness requires listening to the heart behind the words.

12/11/2006 2:48 PM  
Blogger Nancy A said...

My favourite has always been what used to be the Second Advice: Live adventurously. For some reason, that one seems to cover a lot of areas.

So then: Am I living adventurously?

I hope you find clearness...

12/11/2006 6:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've been on some clearness committees that have had some good guidance before we began our process. We were all asked to read a pamphlet before beginning and given a few other optional resources. There are some folks out there who have thought these things through systematically and expressed some core concepts and questions in a way that really helped me, and the clearness committees where I have served or been served, turn our attention to the work we needed to do.

Pat Loring's Listening Spirituality Vol. II; Corporate Spiritual Practice Among Friends is a good source both of food for thought and of references and resources, which she lists consistently throughout the text. Check out chapter 3. (Both volumes of Listening Spirituality are constant references for me.) She also has a pamphlet which I have not read in a long time, but which I remember as being quite good, called Spiritual Discernment: the context and goal of clearness committees.

Also on my bookshelf is Listening Hearts by Farnham, Gill, McLean and Ward. There's an appendix with questions for the person seeking discernment, for those serving on the committee, and for the group as a whole.

Of course, the questions that you need to ask and be asked depend so much on your situation.

Another good technique that I have experienced is some directed writing before the group meets. I was given some really good questions to start with, which of course I cannot remember now, but which got the committee up to speed more quickly with what individual discernment I had already done, and allowed us to go deeper more quickly into the discernment as a committee.

Blessings on your work!

Kathleen K.
Philadelphia, PA

12/12/2006 12:22 AM  
Blogger Lorcan said...

Richardm's comment comes close to what I was going to suggest. I always think we need to weigh our leadings against ego. On one hand, we need to be present enough to that still small voice within to stick up for it... voice that voice within, and at the same time, weigh how much we are interpreting that voice in light of our own ego. I constantly return to John Woolman, embracing the Native who ran at him with a tomahawk, when, after the fellow dropped his weapon and embraced Woolman, the next day, Woolman wonders if his actions were truly spirit led, or spiritual bravado.
So, that is always a biggie with me, do I have something to convey from a place of spiritual centeredness, or ego.

Thine, dearly in the light,

12/13/2006 4:26 PM  
Blogger Robin M. said...

Thank you all. I don't think I should comment too specifically on the workings of the committee at this point, but I want you to know that I am taking these suggestions seriously and in fact they mirror some of the discussions we have had locally.

12/13/2006 6:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Robin,

There's been a lot of wisdom in the comments here.

I think that the clearness process needs to come from the heart and through worship. The members of the clearness committee need to be courageous to follow their own leadings in terms of what questions to ask. At the same time, they need to stay connected with the speaker at a deep heart level.

It's not always clear to the person who is asking for clearness what questions she really needs to have answered. A clearness committee needs to be able to delve deeply (but with great sensitivity) to help the seeker confront whatever issues might be involved in the process.

This can feel very risky for those sitting on the committee. It's safer not to go so deep. There are risks to bringing hidden issues to the surface, and risks to asking the penetrating questions that will help the seeker get to the truth.

Are there ways that you can build trust with your clearness committee and encourage them to delve deeper? Are members of your committee too fond of you to want to give you a hard time if that's what you need? Is it possible that they sense that you are very attached to this leading and would not easily relinquish it if Spirit led that way?

Would it help to start with a longer worship session or to share readings that will help the members of the committee center down into the Spirit?

I wish you well with your clearness process, Robin.


12/14/2006 2:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Do you think I'm crazy?" is a fine question to ask, simply to see if you and the clearness committee are on the same page.

Your queries with the word "reason" in it -- "Is there some reason that you can see why I shouldn't continue to follow this leading?"and "Does this feel rightly led in my own sense of reason and my experience?" -- are, I suspect, what led RichardM to think you're being too rational. What would you think of rewording the former as "Do you have any feeling that I shouldn't continue to follow this path?", and the latter as, "Does this feel rightly led?" -- with the emphasis in both questions on the "feeling"? A leading's not a zen koan; you're not asked to leave all rationality behind -- but at the same time, reason and experience will have no mastery over a strong true leading, and some genuine leadings are to do something so precedent-breaking that reason and experience can get no insight into the "why" of them.

My reaction to such questions as "fitting within Quaker tradition", "reconcilability with Quaker understanding of scripture", etc., is that these are very good questions but a tad imprisoning. The issue is not simply whether it fits or not, but, more profoundly, what it means that it fits or does not. The clearness committee should question whether its fitness, or lack of fitness, is a good sign or a bad one.

I would simply take the questions about whether it conflicts (excessively) with your prior commitments, and whether it fits with other concerns/commitments you have undertaken, and just toss them out the window. It seems to me (just speaking personally) that leadings have nothing to do with such concerns.

Finally, I would humbly refer you, if I may, to this entry and this one in my own Earthwitness Journal, where I wrote about my own meeting's struggle to discern whether my leading to walk across the country was genuine or not.

12/15/2006 7:52 AM  
Blogger Robin M. said...

Thank you Heather and Marshall. These are both helpful.

My questions about prior concerns/commitments helped me to think about how my new leading was a continuation (or not) of prior concerns. It's not a matter of, "Do I have time to do this?" It's a question of how does this fit into the whole of my spiritual life? Is it consistent with the kinds of concerns I have felt in the past? Is this a completely new direction for me? How will the commitments I already made make room for this leading? Like parenting, for example. It's a big time sink, and it's not going away. But I can ask for help from my Meeting, I can find ways to work around it, I can draft my children into helping. I have some options here.

I have a numinous feeling when I consider that another commitment I had taken on, out of a sense of an old obligation, actually turns out to be an opening in the direction of my new(ish) leading. Some folks say there are no coincidences; I think God helps us to find the meaning in them.

12/15/2006 5:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Some of the best experiences I've had when I have been the one who has requested a clearness committee have been when I have taken time to reflect on what one or two items are important to me that I feel the committee has not heard me fully on.

One time, I interrupted what was going on in order to say something like, "When I hear you say that [whatever it was that was said], I don't feel like you understand the relationship I have with God."

The Friend's mouth dropped open and she responded seriously and graciously with, "No, I don't. But I can tell that that relationship is really important, and it's important that I do understand what your relationship with God is like. Please tell me!"

It changed the nature of how the committee went on from there. So continue to be an advocate for God, even while others are wanting to hear more from you about other things seemingly unrelated.

Liz Opp, The Good Raised Up

12/16/2006 11:14 AM  

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