Thursday, August 6, 2009

Outward signs of inward grace (and truth, and transformation)

This weekend at Meeting for Worship with Attention to Business, my Monthly Meeting approved my membership, and later approved a revised letter of introduction and support for my ministry.


I am still settling in to how this feels. Do I feel different? If so, how?


This has been, and continues to be, a powerful journey.

The experience of my entire membership process in this Meeting has been such a gift.

I feel known, loved, and respected in this Meeting, and yet the membership process has still been hard: challenging for me personally, and hard work for me, for my clearness committee, and for my Meeting.

But my Meeting has been right here with me, has met me with openness and grace, with openness to grace, with a commitment to Quaker process and to asking how we're led. With a commitment to talking about the elephants in the living room, about spiritual and thea/ological diversity, about the fact that I'm moving across the country soon. With a commitment to understanding, as much as another human being can, well enough to explain it to someone else: What do these words mean to you when you use them? What is your lived experience? How does the Spirit move in your life? With a commitment to asking, and seeking to answer, What other gifts that we don't know about yet do you bring to the Meeting? How can and does the Meeting support your spiritual life and spiritual growth? How might this work?

People keep telling me how much my openness, honesty, and forthrightness have helped this process, and that my membership request has been a gift for the Meeting. I have tried to help those who tell me that understand -- all my openness in the world would have meant nothing if the Meeting hadn't been able to meet me with its own openness. This is a gift, and a grace. It has sustained me and blessed me.

From the very beginning with my clearness committee, I felt their deep commitment to Quaker process and to coming to know me. I felt held. Over the course of our meetings, I was able to move to a place beyond fear of judgement -- not just here, but among other Friends. What a difference this has made in so many areas of my life!

When I read my clearness committee's report to the Oversight Committee, it was amazing. They got it. They understood.

And, they could explain it to other people.

That was powerful.

As the process continued to unfold, I moved from feeling held by my clearness committee, to feeling held by the Oversight Committee and the Clerk of the Meeting, to feeling held by my Meeting.

It was from this place that I went into my ministry at FGC Gathering. And the amazing and wonderful support from my Meeting -- the members of my ministry oversight committee, my elder for my ministry at Gathering, but also the way I felt held by my Meeting as a whole -- enabled me, first, to move beyond my previous limits as a workshop leader, and second, to meet a whole new slew of challenges I never could have anticipated. To be faithful and to stretch and grow beyond where I'd been before.

I was held.

I am reminded of something Ben Pink Dandelion said in his plenary talk at FGC Gathering: "How much have we changed, or allowed ourselves to be changed, by the Holy Spirit?"

To be engaged in a spiritual life means being open to transformation -- means being open to being changed by the Holy Spirit. To be engaged fully in a living Quakerism means being open to transformation and change.

To magic.

This year, I have been changed and transformed. It has not been an easy process, but it has been a joyful one -- each unfolding has brought greater expansion of my heart and spirit, deeper rootedness, more tenderness. Less contraction. More joy.

In my membership process, I have been transformed. In ways that have helped me be more faithfully myself.

In our Meeting, the proposed member stays in the room during the reading of their letter and the Oversight Committee's report. The second Meeting for Business, the proposed member then leaves the room during worship around their proposed membership.

It took a long time.

I understand that part of why is because a fair number of Friends stood and gave vocal ministry -- about their transformation and change, about faithfulness, about ways in which my proposed membership challenged them and why they now felt we had to approve it, about how issues around my membership are similar to other issues the Meeting has dealt with before with other memberships, about how issues around my membership are different than others the Meeting has dealt with... and, I think most of all, about the ways in which I've been as fully present as I could with the Meeting during my time here.

In the worship later in the day, around the revised letter of introduction and support for my ministry, there was some wordsmithing which made it a more powerful, more true letter.

One of the things that has kept coming back to me, in the days since Sunday, is the suggestion of one particular Friend. This is someone from whom I've never felt any disrespect or ill-feeling, and yet who has been completely open with me that my ministry and my language have made them uncomfortable.

At Yearly Meeting, which was between the first and second readings of my proposed membership, they sought me out to talk. And we had the kind of chewy conversation that feels like true community. It was wonderful.

In Business Meeting this weekend, when we were discussing the revisions to my letter, this Friend's suggestion -- that the word "faithfulness" be added to the description of me -- struck me right in the heart.



So, I'm a member of the Religious Society of Friends now. Do I feel different? If so, how?

I have been thinking about when Beloved Wife and I got married. We didn't feel much different at first, in part because it was true, our wedding was an outward sign of inward grace, of inward truth: our marriage.

But something did change pretty dramatically almost immediately: our relationship with our community. I still don't know quite how to put it all into words, but part of it is that now our relationship belonged to everyone who cares about us. We still bore primary responsibility, but our community -- our families, our spiritual communities, our friends, everyone who cares about us -- their own kind of responsibility was now explicit. Especially in the signing of our certificate.

Oversight's report recommending my membership spoke about my membership as an outward sign of an inward truth. If that's the case, how does the formal recognition change things?

I don't know entirely yet.

But I'm also reminded of something my F/friend Vonn said at FGC Gathering, during a long conversation about life and ministry. Vonn talked about how, when you get a minute of religious service from your Monthly and Yearly Meetings, it's amazing; your ministry no longer belongs just to you.

"Um, in a good way or a bad way?" I asked. (The thought made me nervous.)

"Oh, it's totally amazing," she breathed.

I feel owned. In a good way. Claimed. I belong to them. The ownership of this relationship definitely goes both ways.

In terms of ministry, they will help me, as they have all along, listen so that I may be faithful to the leadings of the Goddess.

This Meeting is home.

But I think I should ask that question again -- So, do I feel different? How? -- after my welcome dinner. :)


Jami Hart said...

Being heard and truly understood is the most powerful feeling that I believe exists. It is how we realize that we are known. It mirrors knowing and being known by the Divine.

environmentspirituality said...

As I've already said to you, as a member of the Meeting, the process was a blessing. I love your description of being held, and being home.

Oliver Danni said...

I can feel your joy flooding out across the universe right here in my heart from reading your post here. Thank you for flooding us all with it. I am so happy for you that you have found this!