Wednesday, July 13, 2011

A Story before Sleep

Here’s some all-purpose advice from Mabel, a 3-year-old friend who lives near Bristol, England. The story is conveyed by her grandfather, Richard, a friend of much, much longer standing.

Mabel is being visited by another small girl for an overnight. Mabel’s parents are socializing with the girl’s parents while the two children are sent off to the bedroom.

Richard reports that Mabel’s mom, Ruth, checks up occasionally on the two “to find that they have transformed the bedroom into a dance hall, then a pirate ship. At last, the kids snuggle themselves down and Mabel reads a goodnight story to her companion.”

When Ruth peeks in again, it seems that Mabel hasn’t realized that a goodnight story is just that — an end-of-the-day, drop-off-to-sleep event. “Every time the friend nods off Mabel shouts, ‘Wake up! We aren't at the end of the story!’”

Richard shared the story with me yesterday and throughout the day the line kept coming back like a refrain as I encountered life’s little challenges and opportunities.

“Wake up!” I’d say to myself. “We aren’t at the end of the story!”

Good advice. I will use it today and until I exhaust my tomorrows.

“Wake up! We aren’t at the end of the story....”

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Monday, July 11, 2011

Practical Spirituality

At the heart of Quaker life — and potentially everyone's life —is connecting with our spiritual leadings and putting them into practice.

With this in mind, the imminent annual session of Northwest Friends (the North Pacific Yearly Meeting) is focusing on the topic “Being Practically Spiritual: The Integration of Inward Life and Outward Action”

As part of the four-day proceeding in Tacoma beginning Wednesday, Friends will meet in worship groups devoted to various aspects of the topic. Quakers call this “worship sharing.” The small groups of roughly ten always begin their sessions in silent worship. Out of the depths of silence, the participants are invited to speak to the topic. Between each speaker’s words, we return to contemplate what has been said in the silence before another person speaks.

The shared words are inspired by pre-selected quotations and focused through questions, or “queries.”

Much thought goes into the selection of the quotations and the framing of the accompanying queries.

Those for this year's topic cry out to be shared with readers of The Red Electric, whether you are a Quaker or not.

The quotations and the queries for the four sessions may lead you to ask how you integrate your inward spiritual life with “outward action.”

There is much to ponder here. Consider, reading one and responding to it first before moving on. Indeed, the reading of these might well be done in four “sessions” with yourself and perhaps others.

Session 1, Thursday

Being practically spiritual in relation to myself.

The time of business does not with me differ from the time of prayer; and in the noise and clatter of my kitchen, while several persons are at the same time calling for different things, I possess God in as great tranquility as if I were upon my knees at the blessed sacrament.
--Brother Lawrence, The Practice of the Presence of God

For God can be found…There is a Divine Center into which your life can slip, a new and absolute orientation in God, a center where you live with him and out of which you see all life through new and radiant vision, tinged with new sorrows and pangs, new joys unspeakable and full of glory.
--Thomas Kelly, A Testament of Devotion

Queries to consider:

What does living within the Divine Center mean for me in ‘the noise and clatter’ of my everyday life?

Which practices help me become--and which hinder me from becoming--more mindful of, more attuned to the workings of the Spirit in my daily life?

Do I center my life in the awareness of the presence of God so that all things take their rightful place? (Adapted from Faith and Practice, North Pacific Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends)

Session 2, Friday

Being practically spiritual in relation to those I touch in daily life.

(I was) convinced in my mind that true religion consisted in an inward life, wherein the heart doth love and reverence God the Creator and learn to exercise true justice and goodness, not only toward all men but also toward the brute creatures.
--John Woolman

What do I mean by growing into wholeness? It is working at being all we were meant to be. (Most of us only live partial lives.) It is seeking integrity, striving to be what William Penn called George Fox, “an original and no one’s copy.” It is not wearing a mask. It is acknowledging our strengths and gifts without false modesty, and accepting our weaknesses and limitations as part of us. It is springtime and winter. It is light, and it is also darkness. It is being present where we are, seeing the personhood of others, saying “thou” to them. It is being at home in our bodies, aware of their needs, and it is being in touch with that of God in us.
--Elizabeth Watson

Queries to consider:

When have I experienced the integration of the inward life and outward action in my own life and the lives of those I relate to most intimately (including the ‘creatures’ I may share my life with)?

What nurtures my growth into wholeness? How do I nurture that growth in others?

How do I make my home and Meeting places of friendliness, peace and renewal, where God is real for those who live there and those who visit? (Adapted from Faith and Practice)

Session 3, Saturday

Being practically spiritual in relation to my community.

Jesus said… ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And the second one is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.
--Matthew 22.37:39

There is a principle which is pure, placed in the human Mind, which in different Places and Ages hath had different Names; it is, however, pure, and proceeds from God. It is deep, and inward, confined to no Forms of Religion, nor excluded from any, where the Heart stands in perfect Sincerity. In whomsoever this takes Root and grows, of what Nation soever, they become Brethren.
--John Woolman

Queries to consider:

What am I doing to build “the beloved community?”

Who do I envision as embodying the pure principle that John Woolman testifies to? What have their lives meant to me? What are the fruits of such embodiment?

Do I practice the art of listening to my neighbor, even beyond words? (Adapted from Faith and Practice)

Session 4, Sunday

Being practically spiritual in relation to our world.

When we confront injustice, when we engage in Spirit-led service, when we speak prophetically to the world we live in and witness to the world we know is possible (and already here among us), when we are instruments of the Spirit for reconciliation, healing, and mutual understanding, we are testifying to the Truth through our experience of that Life and Love and Power that takes away the occasion of all war. That is remaking the world in far more effective ways than we can through our anger, grief, passion, and social action—no matter how well-intentioned.
--Noah Baker Merrill

I know more firmly than ever that the way of Jesus—of Gandhi and Woolman and Fox and Penn—is the only way worth traveling. But I also have some inkling of the discipline required if we are truly to enter into God’s way. The needle’s eye is closed to those of us who hold wealth to ourselves, to the self-interested, or the self-indulgent. Our lives can be of good use in this world only if we dwell in the Spirit that was in Christ Jesus, stay in the Light, and walk firmly in the way he showed us: the way of love, truth, identification with the poor and oppressed, poverty, non-possession, purity and humility.
--Carol Reilly Urner, from The Needle’s Eye: A Philippine Experience

Queries to consider:

When has the “Life and Love and Power that takes away the occasion of all war” broken into my life?

What does dwelling in the Spirit look like in my daily life?

Do I search diligently for ways of assuring the right of every individual to live in dignity? (Adapted from Faith and Practice)

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