Thursday, October 24, 2013

Why I love Yearly Meetings

Since coming to California in 1989, I have attended over twenty sessions of Pacific Yearly Meeting. As editor of Friends Bulletin, I attended Intermountain and North Pacific Yearly Meeting for 11 years. That adds up to over 40 Yearly Meeting sessions! In addition, I've been to almost every Quarterly and regional gathering. Finally, I've taken part in over a dozen gatherings of Friends General Conference, where I have usually led workshops.

So I love going to Quaker gatherings. Not that I see them as perfect. In my previous blog entry, I shared research showing that Pacific Yearly Meeting has not lived the Peace Testimony as deeply as it has in the 1960s, or even as deeply as other Yearly Meetings in our region have done in the past decade. But I still love Pacific Yearly Meeting. In fact, it's because I love PYM that I am willing to be honest and critical.

One of the earmarks of a true prophet is that they criticize their own religious community out of love. They do so because God calls them to hold their religious community accountable, and God does so out of love. Love is, or should be, the primary motive of the prophet as well as of the peacemaker.

When I did my research for my blog entry "How is the Peace Testimony faring in Pacific Yearly Meeting," I read many back issues of Friends Bulletin and was struck by how much I loved my job as editor and how much I loved going to Yearly Meeting. The following editorial was written for the July-August, 2003, issue of FB.

"It’s like heaven with angels and everything. Friendship is divine andthere’s a lot of it here."

When I asked Jorge Martinez Garza, a first-time Yearly Meeting attender from Mexico
City, what he thought of IMYM, he replied enthusiastically, "It’s like heaven with angels." I had to smile. I know the feeling. I have felt the same way myself, especially when I first went to the annual gathering of Friends General Conference in 1984. What an incredible experience to be among so many fascinating and caring Friends, with such a diversity of talents and concerns, and such a willingness to listen and to share at a deep level! The thought crossed my mind: Is this heaven or what?

I still feel like purring whenever I come to a Yearly Meeting and see a Friend whom I have come to know and love, or meet someone new who turns out to be a kindred spirit. The more often I attend, the deeper these friendships become. We laugh, we cry, and we pray together, and it’s like a good marriage: it gets better with each passing year (and yes, with every crisis overcome through the power of understanding, love and sheer grace).

When a large group of people get together, problems and conflicts naturally arise that need to be worked through, issues ranging from accountability to money (always a bugaboo among frugal Friends). But these are the kinds of issues that have to be worked through in any family or any living situation. In such encounters, with Divine Assistance, we learn how to be honest with each other, and speak truth with the power of love.
"Speaking Truth with Power" was the topic addressed by Bruce Birchard, this year’s keynote speaker at IMYM. After doing peace and justice work at the American Friends Service Committee for many years, he now serves as General Secretary of Friends General Conference. Bruce is someone I have known personally ever since I started attending Central Philadelphia Monthly Meeting in 1985. He is in every sense a true Friend. What I admire most about Bruce is his genuineness and his spirituality. Before giving his message at IMYM, he asked a group of us to sit and pray with him. As he spoke to the gathering, we held him (and everyone else present) in the Light. And it made a profound difference. That’s why our cover shot shows Bruce not alone, but surrounded with a group of smiling Friends.

Lest all this talk of friendship and love seem maudlin, let me say that the love I experience at Yearly Meeting is not just warm fuzzies, but empowering. Friendship and love are what enable me to look unflinchingly at the grim realities that afflict our world. When the Durlands shared with us the horrific facts about the Palestinian situation, or when Mary Reisley talked about her trip to Iraq just prior to the outbreak of war, the room was packed with Friends willing to listen and to care. We are willing to care because we know we are cared for.

What enables us to look at the "Ocean of Darkness" is the knowledge that beyond the darkness is an Ocean of Light, and a Presence Who is the Source of that Light. This Source is the life preserver that keeps us afloat during tough times, and for which I am eternally grateful.

I hope to see each of you at Yearly Meeting. That would be heavenly.



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