So I just got home from a long day at Woolman Hill, a Quaker retreat center in Deerfield, Massachusetts. I attended one day of a weekend gathering of Friends who hold a concern for climate change and environmental issues. I made the compromise with my partner to go only for one day, and managed to do it. I drove 2 1/2 hours each way, and spent a full day in worship and discussion sessions with 30+ Quakers from around the New England Yearly Meeting-- the regional association that connects individual meetings to each other.
That's an 18 hour day. But I'm wired now, or maybe filled with the Spirit of the day. Sometimes it's hard to tell.
The gathering was well ordered-- which is Friendspeak for well organized and responsive to the needs of those gathered. For me it was an introduction to New England Quakers. Though I was raised in Rhode Island, and have spent most of my life in New England, I have never been a Quaker in New England until now. There is a whole new layer of this region that is opening up to me. I am intrigued, and interested in learning more over time, at gatherings like this one, at the annual gathering of Quakers in the summer that happens somewhere in New England. This year it is in Vermont. I am feeling lucky about that.
Discussion was lively, and I'm glad I stuck around for the evening session, even with the resulting return to my living room by 12:30 (now 1:30, with the leap forward). A moment struck me so sweetly, so powerfully, from this last session that I would have hated to miss.
One of the participants stood, as we were discussing paying attention to where our hearts lead us in responding to the needs of the world, wondering about if we can get a 'leading'-- again, Friendspeak for the pull of ministry in our lives-- from another person. She shared that a loved one was struggling with a life threatening illness, and she felt led to be with her and help her. She was asking if this leading was possible, and if it was enough. As she asked this last part, she began to express emotion, and the rawness of her concern for her loved one.
The drop in the room was palpable. In another post I have written about leveling down, where a member of a group surfaces a conflict, issue, struggle, truth that brings the group to a deeper level of understanding about what is happening. This was a level down that I could feel with my body.
The response of other participants, and one of the facilitators, brought us deeper and through. The immediate attention to her, the outpouring of compassion, and the naming of what was going on with her in the context of our work together, was genius, was very well ordered indeed.
I think it is pretty clear that on a rational level, a human level, the care for those we love is so crucial to our wellness, our wholeness in the world. But the guilt and powerlessness of feeling like this care is not enough, is somehow not noble enough in the face of the largeness of something like climate change, can be paralyzing. This Friend who shared her concern and story was surfacing something for all of us-- a fear that no matter what we do, no matter how natural and right that doing is, it will not be enough. And this fear blocks our knowing-ness of the authentic leadings that are calling to us.
In this gathered group, contradiction to this paralysis, as well as loving understanding, brought us all to a place of compassion for ourselves in our lives, and made the connections we needed to hear in order to feel like we would not have to abandon ourselves to this work. In fact, we are a part of this work, and our loved ones, our home meetings, our families, are a part of this great turning work we are building in our own ways.
Something else that was shared over and over again during the day was that we need to build love, we need to say yes to it, and by loving more completely, we will see a way through. I have a lot of resistance to this, because it sounds pat to me. Demon cynicism raises his head.
But in the context of this leveling down, I am seeing love differently. If I love more completely, see loved ones all around me, both human and non-human loved ones, what then will my leading be? To respond with love to the illness of loved ones is natural, right, and true. And if that loved one is a pasture? And if that loved one is an ancestor wronged, seeking reconciliation? Or a stream, blocked by ill use?
The call of an authentic love, leading us to care and bold response, is powerful, and there for us, when we listen and open to its working in the world. I am grateful for the teachers who showed me this today, and this discipline is one I hope to live into, as this phase of life takes root on this land and in the community.