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Readings for Reflection: February 2008
from the Committee on Ministry and Counsel

This month’s Reading is our Meeting’s response to the annual query from the Lake Erie Yearly Meeting Committee on Ministry & Nurture. The query is reprinted below. The quotations mentioned in our response, by Thomas Kelly and Mary Oliver, follow the response.

· Do we keep our lives uncluttered by things and activities?
· What conditions of our lives overwhelm us?
· How may our habits and addictions be caused by things such as media, social expectations, or personal shortcomings?
· Do we accept commitments beyond our strength and light?
· How can we center our lives each day in awareness of the Light so that all things take their rightful place?

Ann Arbor Monthly Meeting Response to LEYM Query on Simplicity

On the evening of December 7, 23 Friends from Ann Arbor Meeting gathered for a simple supper, fellowship, and worship sharing on the LEYM Query on Simplicity. We quickly fell behind schedule, and after an hour or so of worship sharing the time was late and we had no will to remain and formulate a minute [which LEYM M&N had suggested]. This report was compiled later by a recorder, and the draft shared with several fellow members of our Committee on Ministry and Counsel before reaching its current form.

Most Friends offered personal perspectives, which the query seemed to invite. Many of us have more difficulty limiting our activities – our busyness – than our possessions. Although keeping busy wards off anxiety for some, we are pressured by society and by ourselves to commit to good causes “beyond our strength and light.” Time is limited, thus precious, and must be used judiciously. Time is also relative: our perceptions of it change, and our own choices prolong or contract it. Commitments strain time and emotion, while calmness and mindfulness expand time. Thinking of “giving” time to tasks or responsibilities feels better than perceiving tasks as “taking” time. Time slows down when we view each moment as a dawning day, ripe with opportunity and joy.

Ministry on material things revealed that we can promote simplicity by discerning the purpose of each of our possessions, keeping only those that serve a useful purpose. One Friend, however, asked what is lost to history when we let go of our possessions, and another observed that things of no significance to some recall precious memories for others. The calming, liberating effect of uncluttered physical space suggests by analogy that uncluttered (unprogrammed) time opens us to the Light.

Friends appreciated the accompanying quotations, relating especially to those by Mary Oliver and Thomas Kelly (in the latter our distraction by “a thousand and one good things” and the statement “The concern-oriented life is ordered and organized from within”).

For both material things and activities, self-examination to discern what is important – a threshing process – encourages simplicity. We need both external and internal clearing of clutter. As one Friend concluded, “To feel more [spiritually] full, we need to empty out.”

Quotations mentioned in the above response:

I wish I might emphasize how a life becomes simplified when dominated by faithfulness to a few concerns. ... We get distracted by ... a thousand and one good things, and before we know it we are pulled and hauled breathlessly along by an over-burdened program of good committees and good undertakings. I am persuaded that this fevered life ... is not wholesome. Undertakings get plastered on from the outside because we can’t turn down a friend. Acceptance of service on a weighty committee should really depend upon an answering imperative within us, not merely upon a rational calculation of the factors involved. The concern-oriented life is ordered and organized from within.
- Thomas R. Kelly, 1941

I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
Into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
How to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
Which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
With your one wild and precious life?
Mary Oliver, 1990

All Readings for Reflection

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