Tuesday, May 28, 2013

On being a Weighty Friend

It finally happened. Just last week, in fact. In an elders meeting, someone referred to me as a weighty Friend, and everyone there solemnly agreed. No one even snickered.
So I guess I’ve arrived. But the question is—where?
“Weighty Friend” is one of those delightful Quaker terms that’s fun to say, but whose meaning slips and slides around a bit. Is this remnant from early Quakerism still meaningful? Helpful? And what does it mean in reference to me?
My first reaction was shock (unexpressed in typical quakerly fashion). My second reaction was laughter (silent, of course). I thought of “Fat Quaker” as a likely synonym, but my need to diet is not extreme. If the pudgy-cheeked man on the oatmeal box were only frowning, he would be the perfect model.
My third reaction has been a week of pondering and, now, journaling.
I love the old terms, even the archaic ones. Some of them carry an ambience of holiness, order, and, yes, Quaker culture. Some of them still manage to be useful, even after all these years. Maybe “weighty Friend” is one of these.
As I understand the term, it refers to long-time Quakers whose words and lives have made them worth listening to. These people have earned a reputation for wisdom. In my own setting in the Northwest, people like Arthur Roberts, Ralph Beebe, Paul Anderson, and Howard Macy (who will chuckle if he reads this) come to mind. (Actually, Howard might just be too funny to be a weighty Friend, at least in the solemn sense of the term.)
How am I to hold this term in reference to myself? To be honest, I don’t feel ready to adopt this as part of my identity. Perhaps this is part of my admitted resistance to growing older. Do I also have to grow more solemn, stern, and stereotypically Quaker? I certainly don’t always feel wise.
The following words come to mind: “By the grace given me, I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you” (Romans 12:3). And, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves” (Philippians 2:3). (If the Apostle Paul had had the foresight to have become a Quaker, he would have indeed been a weighty one.)
This gives me perspective. I think “weighty Friend” is a helpful concept, as long as I apply it to other people. But I will not wonder whether I am or am not. It’s not for me to say. And if anyone ever calls me that again, I’ll chuckle out loud or keep it silent, depending on the sensibilities of the person addressing me.
Having worked that through, I feel so much lighter.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Catching the dream song: discerning God’s voice in unusual ways

While Western spirituality doesn’t give much credence to dreams, voices and visions (unless you’re a Pentecostal), Christians in other cultures take these phenomena seriously. I’ve also learned to accept that dreams are one of the ways God speaks to me. Perhaps my relationships with Friends in Bolivia and Rwanda have made me more open to this experience.
Not all dreams weigh the same, of course. Most mornings I wake up to floating images that I desperately want to hang onto because of their tantalizing hints and colors, but the harder I try, the quicker they dissolve. Most mornings. But from time to time, I awaken to a story or an image that is clear, if not totally coherent. I’ve learned to receive these dreams as a gift, and to write them down as soon as possible as a way of listening to them.
Sometimes, the dream gives me an insight into a difficult relationship or into some aspect of my own inner turmoil. Other times it’s clearly a word from God. It’s one of the ways God shows me the way forward. It gives light on the path.
One morning last week I woke up with a new song. Snatches of the tune and a few lines of the chorus were swimming through my brain: “Newborn, let me slow down and walk with you.” I was singing the song to a baby. The music was hauntingly beautiful. But like catching a strong and stubborn fish, I’ve hooked the song, but I can’t reel it in. Only the images remain. I shared it with Hal and we both agreed that God was speaking to me.
In the dream I was an older woman, about 10-20 years beyond where I am now. I was walking around London by myself, obviously a tourist. (On our recent trip in “real life,” Hal and I had a 15 hour layover in London, and we spent it doing just that.) I had the scraggly mussed look of someone in the middle of a long journey.
I wandered into a lovely old stone church that managed to be smaller on the inside than it was on the outside. A handful of people of various ages were standing around the altar, and as I approached I saw that a young couple was christening their baby.
I joined them, and at a lull in the service, I asked a young man if I could borrow his guitar and sing to the baby. In the dream this seemed entirely appropriate. I sang a lullaby I had written, a blessing addressed directly to the baby. It was gentle, simple, profound and beautiful. People were obviously touched. The baby went to sleep.
Before the song even came to an end, I woke up.
I think God is addressing some of my fears about growing old. This is God’s loving, affirming response to my questions: Will I still be me? Will I still be creative? Will I still have something of value to give other people?
Some insights after reflection on the dream: 1) Old age happens mid-journey. It is not the goal, certainly not the end of the trip.
2) My beauty and ministry will be rooted in my creativity.
3) God’s gifts grow better with time.
4) As I follow the Spirit, God will make my giving appropriate, profound and beautiful.
My prayer partner had an additional interpretation of the dream. She suggests that I am all the people in the dream, that I need to (and can) minister creatively to all the ages inside me, including the baby. It’s interesting that all age groups were clustered around the altar.
So much to ponder. I sense anew God’s love and blessing. And I’m grateful for all the ways God speaks to us.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Grace sightings #4, 2013

Home again—that in itself is grace. After 7 weeks that included an extended stay with family in Kigali, a brief tourist spin about London, and an incredible week in Istanbul and ancient Ephesus, home is a very good place to be. Grace abounds. Ever the God-spy, I sighted grace everywhere we wandered, and seated now in my favorite chair, with a cup of coffee, I savor the memories.
--Hospitality: We knew that 6 weeks was pushing the limit even for family (maybe especially for family), but various factors dictated our schedule. In retrospect, we do not regret it. We were able to enter the routines of everyday life in Kigali and take our part. In Istanbul, my former college roommate, Barbara Baker, took time off from her job as a journalist to host us and show us the sights of that amazing place. Hospitality, a grace-gift, welcomes people in, makes them feel like their visit is also a gift.
--Intercultural relationships: I loved being with our son David in Kigali, listening to him converse so freely in Ikinyarwanda, watching him relate to local Friends believers, appreciating how much he and Debby have entered this context and made it home. That was also one of my favorite parts of our time in Turkey—enjoying Barb’s linguistic and cultural expertise, and especially her relationships with her Muslim neighbors. I’m seeing again how that when God calls a person to service in another culture, God gives the gifts that enable that person to learn and relate—and love the experience. Grace, all grace.
--The antiquity and continuity of the church: Much of our time in Turkey had to do with antiquity. Ruins, history and a sense of the passing of time. We wandered the domed halls and dark stone passageways of the Hagia Sophia. Built during the time of Constantine, serving as a Christian cathedral for over 900 years, as a mosque for almost 500 years, now a museum, images of the different religious traditions seemed to compete for ascendency. We walked the ruins of Ephesus, one of the four largest cities in the Roman Empire during the time when Paul planted a congregation there. Long since destroyed by earthquake and wars, tumbled stones and columns supporting no roof can only hint at forgotten splendors. The forms of the church pass away, yet its substance remains and grows and reaches into every corner of the earth with more grace than we can imagine. Antiquity and continuity.
--Spring flowers tucked into the ruins at St. John’s Church near Ephesus.
--The Turkish carpet seller (one of Barb’s friends) who served us Turkish coffee and talked us into buying a small rug for a large price that we somehow didn’t mind paying.
--Home again in the Oregon spring.
Thanks be to God.

          Ottoman castle on the Bosporus, ferry ride to the Black Sea

Cheribim mosaic in the Hagia Sophia
            Mosaic icon of Jesus in the Hagia Sophia, my favorite

    St. John's Cathedral near Ephesus
    In the Istanbul bazaar
Buying a rug from Barb's friend Kalender