from the Committee on Ministry and Counsel
In December, Ann Arbor Friends gathered for worship sharing on the 2009 query from the Ministry & Nurture Committee of Lake Erie Yearly Meeting. A minute reflecting our leadings was approved, and appeared as the Reading for Reflection in our January Newsletter. The minute was also sent to the LEYM Ministry & Nurture Committee, which read responses from 11 monthly meetings and wrote the following “Consolidated Response.”
Consolidated 2009 LEYM Query Response
What experiences have you had of wonder and awe?
What experiences have you had of the Light or the Divine?
What helps you open yourself to these experiences and what gets in the way?
What practices do you have to deepen these experiences?
How do we support each other in this awareness?
How do we support our children in their spiritual journeys?
In discussing this query, we realized how little we know of life. Daily life is full of awe- inspiring things and mystery: these are in science, in the wondrous way the world works, in the seen and the unseen, in the birth of a baby, in the miracle of life. Look at the wonder in snowflakes, the awakening of the earth in the spring and the return of the birds, the beauty in the settling into fall, followed by the snows of winter. God is with us in the woods and over the waves and by the waterfall.
Many forms of the arts also enrich our sense of awe, like participating in and appreciating music, dance, and poetry, as well as reading inspirational and scriptural writings or creating our own poetry. Journaling one’s reflections and insights can give guidance for “living” into that insight and assist in appreciation of how one is growing in Spirit. Acts of com-passion and sensitivity in others and in oneself make for unexpected miracles, situations, or relationships, and give one such a “faith” spiritual experience.
Busyness, hurrying, distractions, laziness, anger, grief, fear, anxieties, longing, and our egos impede our experience of the Divine. In addition, negative self-thinking, focusing on what we want, and too much attention to performance and how well we are doing at a certain job allow our ego to get in the way of both experiencing and responding to the Divine.
We have found various ways to overcome these obstacles. For some, the physical limitations that come with getting older allow for more solitude. Many others of us find being outside, connecting with nature, helps open us to the Divine. This includes a wide range of ways to be outside: in the garden working with the earth, walking in nature, riding a bicycle, living in the country surrounded by the countryside, or just sitting still with a stone, a tree, or a leaf. Many of us engage in spiritual disciplines of yoga, meditation, quiet time in the morning, journaling, or reading meaningful passages and books.
Some find coming to Meeting and meditating has moved them to feel a deeper sense of awe and wonder. From the silence of the meeting and trying to center down, they come to notice the blessings given to them: the beauty of the day, of a sunset, kind words from others, etc. They hold the quiet: they listen and wait expectantly to know what is required of them and to test what is revealed. They engage with the deepness of a gathered meeting. They learn to appreciate things easily taken for granted.
For some, suffering increases awareness, while routine increases complacency. Anger, grief, or longing can sometimes bring us close to God, for in truly feeling those emotions, we can realize that God is there with open arms to receive us. Others have found that even the humdrum may offer a door to the mystery. Some need movement and routine in order to feel centered in the Spirit.
In order to deepen experiences of wonder, it’s important to let go, to understand that you can’t and don’t need to control everything. You don’t have to be “right,” you don’t have to be in control. Remember to take pauses from the everyday bustle of life. Live in the moment. Prayer, confession, trying to keep in touch with the Divine throughout the day all help. Sometimes our own agenda gets in the way, hindering us from listening to “what God wants.” Praying for guidance, wisdom, and courage can lead to a long-term change that is hard to discern in the moment, but becomes apparent looking back over time. Living simply, journaling, reading Scriptures, and acknowledging interdependence deepen our experience. Being open helps us to follow leadings during the search to discern God's will and our efforts to align our will with it. Being involved in the Spiritual Formation program has supported and sustained a number of us.
Community nurtures and supports our spiritual journeys. We can remind each other with small gestures, such as smiling at each other or making eye contact with them. And our children often help us experience the Divine. Community encourages both openness and service, and in that openness we find the joy of kindred spirit. Real community is shared experience, mutual affirmation, and unconditional acceptance. When we are able to be open with others about our own spiritual journey and receive the messages and sharing of others in that same openness, the trust level deepens. Just being quiet together takes us to a level beyond ourselves. When we grow in getting past the “judgment” of one another and lose our fear of rejection, we discover we are loved for who we are. We support each other on an unclear path, which perhaps is intended to be a mysterious adventure.
Other people are essential to us as we face pain and the need for transformation. We want to live out our values and we need the help of others to see ourselves clearly and to inspire us to accept the transforming love available to us.
We cannot tell children how to walk on their spiritual path, but we can be examples and be emotionally present to them. Give them the opportunity to experience the joy of helping others, the beauty of nature, the wonder of learning. Children need to be comforted when hurt, loved when disappointed, and accepted when presenting themselves as individuals.
. Our capacity for appreciation of mystical experiences seems to be constantly evolving into some new realization that at a deep level there is a sense of connectedness to a source of reverence and of an inner ongoing sense of letting go and receiving. There seems to be a state of mind and heart as an awareness that opens us to the Spirit within and makes us sensitive to that Spirit. One can develop a trust that the Spirit’s presence within us is independent of our efforts; the presence is that place in us where the Spirit seeks to live.
The conclusion is that everyone has their own way. The issue is not how you do it, but that you do it regularly. Each individual must pay attention to what refocuses them, and then follow through with that.