Minutes of Excercise

Minute of Exercise on Brokenness (2009)

Thursday Evening, 6th Month 11

Our answer to the query: How does brokenness affect my experience of the Light of Christ?

Brokenness is useful in bringing us to God. Sometimes it takes physical pain to bring a person to the physician’s office to seek help. Likewise spiritual affliction can be the trigger than brings us to the feet of Christ. Brokenness shakes me out of complacency and comfort. Brokenness humbles me so that God can teach me to trust. We are all vessels of God. When we are broken, God’s light shines through the cracks, and we can be filled with God’s Light. When I am feeling joyful, it is likely that I will thank God. But when I am in pain and sorrow, I am likely to ask for help and thus find the strength and power of God.

God works through our brokenness. If the vessel a potter is making is not quite right, the potter may need to throw the clay back on the wheel to be completely reformed into the vessel that the potter wants. (see Jeremiah 18: 1-6) Through my brokenness, God has shown me His mercy, His love, and His tenderness. God gives us the rest we need when brokenness gets too hard. God gives us people who love us, care for us, and help us when we are helpless in brokenness. When I am broken in small ways, I can go to God, pray, talk with other people, and be comforted.

Brokenness can be so dark that God cannot be found. In deep darkness, it seems impossible to go to God, and there is no comfort. Human words of comfort do not help, and we cannot feel understood by anyone, not even God. There is only darkness and confusion. But God is really still there, and still leading. Even in our anger and struggle, we remain connected to God. I cannot know that fear and discomfort will never engulf me again. I have to have faith that God will always be there even when He seems not to be, and that I will never truly be lost from God. My brokenness blocks the Light. It blocks my ability to trust, for I fear that I will know worse brokenness, with no way of return. My pride, my self-centeredness, my will rise up and block the Light, and I cannot let go. But I have to let go, and trust that the history of my relationship with God is proof that God will see me through again now.

God can make hope real. Brokenness can only be fixed at a depth that is beyond human conception. “God is love….Perfect love casteth out fear.” (1 John 4:16, 18) When I look back, I can see that when I have been the most afraid and broken, miracles have abounded. Now I can remember those miracles when I am in the midst of fear, and I can trust that God’s presence and help are with me. “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God….” (Romans 8:28)

Brokenness is a special challenge for men in our culture. “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” who know their need of God. But men are raised to be in charge, to be tough, and to be independent with respect to the world. It is hard to switch from that independence to being needy before God. But if you maintain a hardened heart under stress, your heart breaks instead of bending. Will we always have to hide our tears? It is hard to show our brokenness. Can we as a faith community give our men permission to admit to brokenness? That is the first step in letting the Light of Christ into the deep dark places within us.

Brokenness prepares us to serve. “O Lord,…thou desires not sacrifice, else would I give it. Thou delightest not in burnt offerings. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.” (Psalm 51: 16-17) Times of sorrow and pain teach me to reach out to others when they are in pain, that I may share Christ’s Light with them.

A nightly prayer of surrender, consent, and confession. I start my prayer acknowledging that the Lord is in charge, and without Him, I’m not much. It is easier to say “I surrender” than to surrender. I ask God’s help to surrender.

I tell God that I consent for His Holy Spirit to work in me to point out those things in me that I need to change, those things that prevent God from dwelling in me, from teaching me, from teaching me, from using me for God’s purposes.

I confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, the Son of God, and that I am a sinner. There are times when I do not put the Lord, my God, first in my life. There are times when I do not love my neighbor in the way we are told. There are times that I have thoughts that I know are not pleasing to the Lord, and I ask to be freed of those thoughts. When I pray on my knees, change takes place within me. I confess that I love the Lord, I trust Him, I thank Him, I praise Him.

—Recorded by Susan Smith

Minute of Exercise on Community (2009)

Saturday, June 13

Query: What is God calling us to do in our home and meeting communities?

For a longtime this past year I’ve felt wrong. I believe as Madeleine L’Engle wrote that: “Love is action”. I am looking at meeting, community, habit or inclination, but have not yet found ways to put love into action. I fear that I am the tree not bearing fruit and will get blasted for it. I make plans to take part in some action – couldn’t tell what became of it.

Action comes after deep consideration, deep listening, and waiting for the motion to come from the Spirit. Not action first then worship. It’s been helpful sharing Quakerism with 3 folk dancing friends doing tour of Olney. I tried leading folk dancing for the first time. I feel identically about all three: folk dancing, Stillwater Meeting, and Quaker Camp. I feel the same about the people I work with at the library. I’ve resisted efforts to go to local meeting because I’m in meeting with friendship in my heart and mind. Perhaps if I bring this knowledge of love out in these circles, be more of a Quaker in these circles, something might happen between us. I suspect that this will not be enough and I’m facing learning to be outspoken and feel bolder about speaking and visitation to other people of faith. I don’ t know when to take action and how. I feel strengthened by all of you to begin to pay attention. Perhaps one can be contemplative, another engaged in acting and [we can?] compliment each other.

I am struck by how wonderful the example is of the worship group in Cincinnati, many of whom came here. It speaks to connectedness to each other that they would engage in this journey together. I enjoy my meeting, hike play , worship together. If worship doesn’t satisfy me, the quiet time held at our meeting in the meeting room after worship ends does. I’m thinking back to times when I did have a group like the Cincinnati group, where we shared deeply. I think we are being “invited” to take the step of asking some people to meet with us regularly – to pray together, share, read Bible. We need that and the larger meeting too. I definitely need to pray together with others more. I deserve that more than once a year or every month or two. I need to set up daily disciplines of spiritual practice, maybe through finding a spiritual partner and talk on the phone with her/him to remind each other to pray and take time.

I know what two nominating committees have called me to do. I think God does use thoughtful, prayerful nominating committees, but I feel I’m being called to the healing of relationships among Friends as well. I suspect it is something beyond the knitting of prayer shawls while praying for those in need of healing. I’m not sure what yet.

Several years I’ve been in deep ongoing: physical, spiritual, emotional healing. It has served to interrupt a lifelong pattern of being meaningfully busy. As I am forced to step back and slow down, I saw that I was doing all this busyness to feel better about myself rather than from a deeper place. I am in a new relationship with my meeting where I am in the odd position of being one of the newer members but with more experience of Quakerism. It has been a joy to be part of worship and ministry. I see there that some of my seasoning has been of use. I did feel called to that responsibility. My primary call is to do what I need to stay present in each moment, to hold others in my community along with myself in the Light of God’s Love and trust whatever needs to come will come from that. Meeting is a large growing active group. Some have deep sense of calling and ability to wait faithfully. There is a wide range of perspective. We have taken on a task of building a new meetinghouse. There is an ongoing deep conflict. between those wanting a new grounded facility and those feeling that this building is a violation of our meeting life. Here I must pray to continue to stay present and hold to understanding. It doesn’t matter if an individual is for the building or not – how can we be faithful to God’s love and continue growing [together] into a beloved community even though we have deep differences of understanding among us. I have been able to touch someone who was “want to build” or “not want to ” and help them remember who is in charge. I pray I will be able to offer what I’m able as God helps me to do so. It strikes me how simple having an open loving reminder seems a surprise to someone caught up in a conflict. The soft voice from the side can be of astounding assistance.

I need to pray as I learned to in Kenya and the presence of these Friends from Kenya helps release me from my inhibitions:

“O dear God, loving presence, thank you for the blessings of life, health, strength. For being all powerful, ever present, living breath. You taught the Jews to tell the story of salvation at Passover. Our brother Jesus carried forward in a new way. Each of us caries a story of salvation and your redemptive healing power. We can recall points when you touched us. Things happened when I was a child that hurt and broke me. You sustained me through all. You are a mighty God! I remember when I learned about Jesus and his faithfulness. How that inspired me. I am keen to listen to young people to know how God leads them. Thank you for the generous gift of husband and children. Make me faithful in those relationships with them and with you. One of the constants in our lives has been midweek worship for 20 years and you used them to move in our lives.”

Give me the courage to keep listening. Show us how reaching out across boundaries. between people, meetings, denominations. So we can serve you better. In extending a welcome we experience your grace. What joy has come from helping the three meetings in Cincinnati to talk to each other in new ways and to open new doors with a kind of happiness.

The internet, with facebook and blogs and websites, is a new way to reach out. Contemplation and action go together, not one before the other. Worship and witness, sanctuary and service. We want to be branches on the vine. Hold us, prune us , so we are more fruitful. Thank you, I ask you remove every obstacle that gets in the way. Through Jesus Christ teach me thy will and let my will conform to thy will. In the name of thy son Jesus Christ.

I have felt Jesus Christ here among us. Worship is like a hollow mask when it is without the substance within Jesus Christ and his plans for us. [Without these] we are nothing, like a sounding brass and tinkling cymbals.

“We are one in the spirit…” [sung]

Thank you Lord for the abundance of thy Living Waters in our worship, evenings of prayer and sharing, bible reading and study. Keep with us on our lips the joy of the good time we experienced and tell that to everyone that this living water is available to them anytime, anywhere!

“Have thine own way…” [sung]

—Recorded by Ann Armstrong

Minute of Exercise on Faithfulness (2009)

Wednesday Evening, 6th Month 10 2009

We Quakers have in our hands two jewels: a unique way of listening to God and a unique way of reaching decisions. Can we open our treasure chest and spread those jewels abroad for everyone to know and gain spiritual enrichment? Query: What would happen if we were truly faithful? What happens when we are truly faithful?

“Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1) “Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.” (Romans 10:17) Being faithful is walking with God, heart open to Christ, and listening through our hearts where Christ does dwell. “Be still and know that I am God.”(Psalm 46:10) Within that stillness faithfulness arises, and all private agendas – all strife and greed and selfishness – are emptied, so that we are able to go, as Abraham and Sarah went, in complete trust to a land that we are shown.

“In all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct thy paths.” (Proverbs 3:6) The road may not be easy. We may be led to shake the dust off our feet, or we may be criticized for being too careful in discernment – for being too faithful. Sometimes being faithful leads to feeling out of touch with God. Later we realize that we lost only our own image of God, but not God Himself. We are called to follow God’s leading and to leave the outcome in God’s hands. If we can keep within the certainty that Christ can direct our thoughts, no matter what we are doing, we do not have to know why or where we are going. We leave any fears or doubts at the feet of Christ and step into the place of unknowing. “I have chosen thee and not cast thee away. Fear thou not, for I am with thee. Be not dismayed, for I am thy God.” (Isaiah 41:9)

When we are faithful, something may pop up or pop out that surprises us. The working of one’s own will can be blown apart by obedience. We find we can love the unloveable, and forgive the unforgiveable. We experience a power working through us that is greater than our own abilities; being faithful often leads to unexpected change that ripples far across time or space. We see those ripples in the history of social reform begun by faithful individuals; we see those ripples in our own experience.

Being faithful can lead us to be a fool for Christ. God’s wisdom is foolishness in the eyes of the world. When we struggle against letting go of our dignity, our faithfulness is diminished and our joy suffers. But when we let go of our dignity for God’s sake, we feel a release of joy pouring over us. We are then grounded in a deep peace, even in the midst of chaos. We can lay down the childish things of the past and of self, and our prayer becomes “Oh Lord, I would gladly know thy desires and be taken into whatever form of wholeness thou desirest for me and be obedient to walk thy path with thee.”

We are told to “ask and it will be given you. ” (Luke 11:9) Asking means to beg, as a beggar, out of poverty of spirit with no shred of result in mind. That begging is only possible through the active presence of Christ. The gift to be obedient is waiting for us and will direct us. It is for us to pick up and accept that gift. “They who wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength. They shall mount up with wings as eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.” (Isaiah 40:31)

—Recorded by Susan Smith

Minute of Exercise on Healing Rifts Within the Faith Community (2011)

Meeting for Discernment – Sunday Evening, June 19, 2011
Minute of Exercise

The Query: All our meeting communities suffer from rifts. How do we allow and stand with the tears, and mend the tears, moving with God toward forgiveness?

The rift. As members of a meeting, we are co-members of Christ’s body, but sometimes a rift develops within the body. When we are in conflict with each other, Christ says to us: “I am not the leader of a faction! I don’t want you to act in my name to set yourself against others in my body.”

Around issues like bricks & mortar, people easily get caught up in the urgency of the moment. Our wars are often a result of how caught up we are in the world – which will not be healed just by listening to each other. It takes more than forgiveness. It takes a willingness to be taught about that which we do not understand.

Preventing rifts. We can try to avoid labeling each other and to really hear each other as the unique children of God that we are. We need to let go of our personal agendas and projects if we are to be in unity.

A meeting was divided on a major decision with a large majority wanting to take one action and a small minority disagreeing. A member of the majority spoke very critically in Meeting for Business of a member of the minority group in a hurtful way. Seasoned Friends in the meeting who shared the majority viewpoint stood with the member who was attacked to say that we value our diverse viewpoints and need to make sure the meeting is a safe place to express our different understandings of truth freely. They worked to create and maintain a culture of safety to ensure that personal views don’t come before our common love and commitment to each other and our sense of that of God in each other.

Parker Palmer has spoken of a monastic vow of “stability” – a commitment to remain in community with each other even when things got tough and not to move into the monastery down the road. Friends often run to another meeting when conflict develops or simply stop going to meeting.

The baptism of translation. We have many refugees amongst us who have held onto the pain of the languages that hurt them before. Some of us have been given the gift of being able to walk with different languages that describe our journey with God – and hear the Spirit speaking through them all. We need to receive Gilead’s balm to put on the ears of the injured. We can’t be afraid to speak the language that we have been given. Perhaps the kind of Pentecost that is being offered to us in the 21st century is a spiritual baptism that enables us to understand each others’ languages of the heart.

Standing in our truth. Sometimes it feels as if we are silenced and will lose our truth if we stay where we are. It is far easier to recover from being yelled at than to recover from avoiding key questions out of the fear of getting angry at each other. To start healing we must stand fearlessly in the truth of what we are, even if that is very hard and painful. Can we stand in our truth and stand with each other in love with God’s help?

Sometimes it is right to leave a meeting community, but that doesn’t mean our work with that meeting is over.

Healing rifts through listening. Those who need talking to are those who need to be listened to. Ministry and Counsel can meet with the most vociferous Friends on both sides of a rift and just listen.

We need to ask more questions and make fewer statements, to be more curious than threatened, to look at situations as lessons rather than crises. We can turn from fear to trust. I can look at my past as an opening to what was stuck and open up the gate.

Often all we can do is just love the different warring parties.

Too often when we ask someone “how are you?” we want the short version. We want the quick and easy way. Grace and forgiveness aren’t cheap or quick. I want others to say to me: “I really want to listen: how are you today?” Are we willing to take the time to talk about the areas where we’re broken?

One Friend expressed a longing to continue talking with each other in this session in the darkened room until the sun came up.

Recognizing our brokenness. Christ’s commandment to love others as ourselves is rooted in our ability to love ourselves and to recognize God’s true voice within us. It requires embracing the lost and rejected parts of ourselves – asking for God’s grace to love all aspects of ourselves.

It is in our nature as humans to need to be forgiven. We experience God’s forgiveness as we practice yieldedness. As we enter God’s kingdom, we are asked to yield to others, to forgive others and to accept their forgiveness. This is a contradiction to our culture which maintains that each man is his own island. Sondra Cronk taught us that the strength of community is in the power of powerlessness.

Jesus’ experience with abandonment. When Jesus was in anguish and fear and uncertainty, he asked his friends to just stay awake with him. As a human, Jesus experienced human outrage and despair and the sense of betrayal of being abandoned by one’s spiritual community. His ability to live with that sense of betrayal can inspire us to ask for the same grace. Can we bear the unbearable together?

One Friend suggested that Jesus must have loved Judas so much that he tried to follow him out of the Upper Room to reach out to him and be reconciled with him. When we feel abandoned or betrayed or separated from each other, we can love each other and run after each other in the same way.

The rift is over. What underlies peace in the meeting community is trust in God. With that trust there is no need to defend our walls and positions because there is nothing there but God’s power and love. It starts with recognizing our need of God and God’s trustworthiness. If we live in that trust, it spreads out and fills the gaps between us.

A Friend once gave ministry in meeting about the wrongness of walls erected within the faith community and the need to tear them down. A stranger came up to her after meeting and said, “You are wrong about that. The victory is already won.” We don’t have to solve or fix the walls as Christ has already walked through them.

—Clerk: Janet Hough
—Elders: Leslie Manning and Susan Smith
—Recording Clerk: Peter Blood-Patterson

Minute of Exercise on Love (2009)

Friday, June 12, 2009

Our answer to the query: How do I feel love acting in my life?

…God first loved us. (1John 4:19) I loved you even before I formed you. I have put you here on earth to love. I will take out your hearts of stone and give you hearts of love.

God was and is the originator, the author, of love. The power of God’s love for us pulls us back together when we are broken, overcomes anger, opens forgiveness, and lets in the sunshine. God’s love is felt sustaining us in difficult times, such as rough spots in marriage and caring for a spouse with Alzheimer’s Disease. We are moved from selfishness to selflessness. God’s love opens the way to love others, even when they do not seem to be loving us as they used to.

Little children show their love openly and let themselves be loved. Do we let ourselves be loved, or do we run away from love into tasks? We cannot run away from God’s love, but we can and sometimes do bolt the door when God knocks. There is no fear in love, for perfect love casts out fear. (1John 4:18) If we acknowledge to God our fear and our inability to love, God blesses us with love. Sometimes even when we will not receive love and cannot recognize it within us, God’s unrecognized love moves us to acts of love. We may not see until later that we have been and are loving.

God’s love for us has a different quality from the love that we as human beings feel for each other – a power and strength and purity that we cannot create. Occasionally God allows us to experience loving as God loves, pouring divine love through one of us to another.

The opposite of human love is indifference. Passion may hinder love, for love goes beyond passion.

We say God is Love, and God gives us love, and things happen because of God’s love. I’m struck sometimes by the experience of God’s love for other individuals. I now wonder what it is about that Love that’s different from what I suppose is human love.

I love individuals with human love: grandchild, daughter, mother, husband. But these seem like my doing. They’re fine like I Cor 13. But the love I feel when God brings it to me directly has more life and power and is not of my doing. Has nothing to do with the qualities of the person it just sort of comes.

I imagine that that’s how God loves us with power and strength and patience that as human beings we cannot do as ourselves.

—Recorded by Ann Armstrong

Minute of Exercise on Simplicity (2011)

Meeting for Discernment – Saturday Evening, 6/18/2011

Query: We live in a fast paced, cluttered, complex 20th century world. What would your life be like if we were to consider what God is asking of us in each moment?

Our life in this place in the 21st Century gives us many privileges, which we generally enjoy. Despite those privileges, in many ways we are captives of this world. We see new shiny things and we want them, encouraged by many forces in our western society. We sense we need to step back personally, but God may be asking us for more than personal decisions, personal morality, personal faithfulness. How do we as a people live faithfully in captivity, in Babylon, in the belly of the whale?

We think about what it would have been like here 200 years ago, and see that life as being much simpler: no radio, no TV, walking all day behind a horse in the field, and talking quietly as we go to bed by candlelight. Sometimes we have tasted that kind of early life, as when a blizzard cuts us off for a few days from the rest of our world. We notice that then we feel closer to the Living Spirit. Is living a “simpler” life the way to reach hour-by-hour faithfulness?

We suppose it was easier for Friends of the past to find time and space for God, but although the kinds of things people had to do then were different, they were no less pressing than our commitments today. John Woolman intentionally made frequent time in his life to listen to God. So did Rufus Jones’s parents. To be open to God and able to hear God’s voice, we have to have a certain amount of discipline. The choice is no different now than ever it was. It’s up to us to make it.

St. Benedict said, “The challenge is to respond immediately to whatever it is time for.” Thus there are two parts to learning to be faithful: learning to listen and learning to respond. We need to allow ourselves to be made into and used as the instruments of God’s love. I love to hear God’s call, but I love even more the joy that comes when I am faithful. I believe that the love and joy I feel is a reflection of God’s love and joy when I am faithful.

Other voices among us give us similar encouragement to faithful hearing and responding:

I have spent a lot of energy trying without success to solve some problem, only later to find that it was a spirit other than Christ’s leading me on. When I have listened carefully to God, I have found myself freed up to do what is important, what God really wants me to do, and I have plenty of energy for the task.

At once time of family difficulty, I was asking God every moment what I should do. I thought if I did that, life would be simple and sweet. But it wasn’t. I was still brought to tough places and hard challenges, but in addressing those challenges I was forced to grow spiritually, and I then felt very blessed.

I’ve lived a fast-paced life as a teacher in communities that endorse Friends’ principles. I have experienced the joys of fast-paced simplicity, spending all day doing the many things that God asked of me, with abundant energy to the end of each day. I’ve been given strength to go about each activity with love.

How much better my life goes when I take the time each morning to ask God for guidance and strength for that day.

If my plans are clearly made, I find it much easier to change them when God presents an unexpected opportunity.

It was the practice among Quakers in the 18th Century to record a Friend’s final words. One Friend said on his deathbed: “Let self be of no attribution, but trust in the Lord and He will carry you through.” Trust is not an easy matter, individually or corporately. It is hard to be content to pray “Give us this day our daily bread.” Nevertheless, as it is recorded in Lamentations, “God’s steadfast love will provide. Each morning the mercies of the Lord will be provided.”

This query challenges us to discern which of our many activities and commitments should be set aside. “Friends are advised not to be encumbered, so that we are available to God to be used as God wills.” That is hard to do. The query also implies that we need to be open to knowing to what new things God is calling us to devote our time and energy. We need each other’s prayers, love, encouragement, and support. We need to do this together. We need to hear your voice, O God, saying “Comfort ye, my people.” Please heal us and take care of us, even when we are not paying attention. Please guide us in the way of your Truth.

—Clerk: Susan Zeichner, Recording Clerk: Susan Smith