heart-opening Quaker meeting

(January 10, 2016) It is First Day, Sunday, Quaker meeting. Today is his first visit to my holy place, my sacred ground. Only a couple of people are in the meeting room when we arrive and there is something so vulnerable and intimate about that. I’ve learned by now that when I bring friends here I can take no responsibility for the quality of their worship. There is no way I can relieve their boredom if they are bored – though it turns out they are generally not bored and enjoy the silent experience. So today, I trust him to settle in, and I take note of who is present, gaze out the window. Then I turn my eye inward, shut my eyelids, open my hands to God.

This past semester, every meeting was a challenge, my inner demons attacking me after my first ten minutes of silence. I couldn’t sit still – well, I did sit still, but inside, I was a mess, a thousand monkeys ricocheting in my  monkey brain.

Lately, though, I have been full of peace and joy. I am this way today, sinking into something deep, wondering if anyone else is experiencing today’s meeting how I am, wondering what it feels like to be in what they call a “gathered meeting” and how I might find out. Is this one gathered? I am gathered, at any rate. My heart is open to the world, open to other people. I remember when I was not this way. It was most of my life. I used to be so closed off, so guarded, so walled. So afraid. Who am I now? How am I this different from the girl I once was? Today, my open heart overflows with love, and I want everyone else here to experience this as well.

The children file in at the end and my wish for them is that they may remain open-hearted, that the world will not close them off and that they will stay light and free. I hope they still are: when I was their age, I was not.

Heart-opening exercises in yoga have got nothing on this Quaker meeting, for me. Sit, breathe, expand, love.  

NMCF outside

(Picture taken from my meeting’s [North Meadow Circle of Friends] Facebook page… thanks, guys!)

are you there, God? What do I call you?

Who is God? Or the better question may be, who do you imagine God to be?

I have a new favorite book, and luckily for me, it is required for my class, so I will most likely finish reading it. It is called Primary Speech: A Psychology of Prayer, by Ann and Barry Ulanov. It’s possibly the most personally impacting book I’ll read all semester. One idea I’ve been chewing on is that we all have “god-images” based on our early experiences. I know, I know: many people could rattle off a list of adjectives for what God is “supposed” to be like, or what they have been taught in church that God is like. God is merciful, God is just, God is omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient. God is good. God is loving. But what is your gut reaction, your first instinct, when you think about God? When you start to become aware of that, you can start to look your God (or perhaps I should be saying god) -image in the face and see if that’s really a true image of God.

So I started thinking. What do I really think about God?

Granted, I’m still trying to figure that out, and being in seminary sort of compounds the problem (though I was already good at compounding it before). I am theistic. I believe in a personal God who is still connected with people in their day-to-day lives. I believe God answers prayers. I don’t know why he doesn’t answer all prayers. I would like to know why, but I believe that there is an answer somewhere even if I am never given access to it, and even if the answer does not play itself out in this lifetime. These are things I must believe to try and hold the idea of suffering in this world together with the concept of a loving God who can interact with humans.

So with these nice mental ideas about God packaged up, I should be all set. But then why do my emotions betray me?

I don’t think I was spanked much as a child, but I have a clear memory of being afraid that I would get an unexpected spanking once when my dad walked by my backside. I still experience that feeling of wincing and dread sometimes when I think about God.

For instance, if things are going well for me, I rejoice but I also dread the moment that the other shoe is going to drop and my happiness will come crashing down. As if God was sitting up there plotting new ways to take away my joy.

When I pray for something, I still think I need to do something to deserve it. And I experience the feeling of “why would God want to give something to you?” Especially when I consider all the suffering in the world, where I wonder why God – whoever God is- is not giving relief and happiness to those people.

Apparently, buried beneath my beliefs that God is all good and loving, lies a belief- or a feeling- that secretly, God would really like to trip me up and see what happens. And that God either doesn’t like to or can’t remove suffering from others. The idea of that God scares me.

What do I do with these ideas about God? Does believing them in my gut really make them true?

My reading has been stirring and shaking my thoughts, with some productive ideas resulting. I would like to share:

“In prayer we must begin where we are, with the images of the divine that we project and find ourselves projecting onto the unknown… One of the first tasks in prayer is to face the process openly, to notice what images we have of God and to welcome them into our awareness.” (p. 29)

STOP PRETENDING. I really do not have it all together with my images of God. But God, whoever God is, already knows that, and God knows that my human limitations make me unable to really know God. And that somehow, that which makes me so human and limited also makes me so lovely in God’s eyes.

The beautiful thing about recognizing our projections– the images and faces that we put on God– is that in doing so, we are discovering more of our own core. There is less that separates us and the divine, because we start to see past the false images and walls between us. “Those images and names that entrap us will be loosened… [we will] bring our primary selves right up to God’s presence” (p. 33).

Wow. What an amazing idea. That by simply owning up to part of who I am, I can become closer to God.

Can I trust that if I face my questions openly and without fear, an answer may begin to emerge that I couldn’t even imagine before?

Care to join me in this? What are some of the ways that you think of God, if fear, shame, or denial did not keep you from expressing your real thoughts?