My Quaker meeting on Lopez Island (WA) has just embarked on a study of To Be Broken and Tender by Margery Abbott. With leadership from our Spiritual Life Committee, over the next few months we’ll discuss the book’s content. This month we explored the first four chapters and shared in response to these queries:
· What in the reading resonated with your experience?
· What did you find difficult to accept?
· What does your reading mean for you within our Quaker community?
Many people who attended expressed that the book is deepening their understanding of Quakerism as well as stimulating exploration of their own beliefs. That’s true for me as well. I find the book especially powerful in its combination of Quaker history, theology, and Marge’s personal narrative of her spiritual journey. Much in the book’s first four chapters echoes in my soul.
Like Marge, it took me many years of what she calls waiting and attending to have an awareness of being loved. Sure, I had felt loved by my parents, my husband, my children, and many friends. But there is a bigger, more steadfast love that I believe only Spirit is capable of that I didn’t fully embrace until mid-life. That awareness of being loved, always and unconditionally, changed me by silencing (or at least muffling) my fears of not being good enough, capable enough, or caring enough.
These fears are old and imbedded in some of the deepest and most hidden parts of my being. I’ve come to understand that they go back to toddlerhood losses—of my alcoholic father and grandfather—and of my childlike attempts to make sense of the dramatic changes these deaths brought to my mother and me. With the understandings of a two-year-old, I likely imagined I somehow caused my father’s death and tried to protect my mom from more grief. Years of striving to make her happy and not upset her or cause her to worry sharpened my sensitivity to any signs of her disapproval or disappointment. Over time, my desire to please her governed many of my actions; eventually, avoiding dissatisfaction of teachers, co-workers, employers and friends shaped my decisions as well.
Fortunately, those I was trying to please were responsible, caring people whose values I shared and aspired to. It took many years, many miles on my spiritual journey, to recognize that I wasn’t called to live their lives, hadn’t been given their gifts. Quaker practices of discernment and silent worship taught me to listen deeply for Spirit and to trust the wisdom within me when I open myself to God’s guidance. A spiritual friend and mentor shepherded me in examining my understandings of God’s love, and eventually I came to fully accept the knowledge that I am loved, came to know that unconditional love that is available to me, to everyone. This realization has freed me of much of the fear that dominated my decisions about the work I am meant to do.
Marge writes of her own feelings of despair about her calling concurrent with her father’s death. During this vulnerable time, she attended a Quaker Meeting far from home and describes her reaction to vocal ministry as, “…my life-long sense of worthlessness was consumed in all-encompassing love.”
I resonate with Marge’s story as I’ve had my own experiences of all-encompassing love. One was in the wilderness where I had retreated with my family out of despair over a loss of clarity about the work I felt called to. For two years we lived in a remote mountain community where I separated myself from those voices I had sought to satisfy and listened for what it is I’m meant to do. One morning during a walk deep into the quiet and solitude of the mountains, I felt God’s presence and unconditional love as I never had before. I felt known and loved just as I was, free of fear of losing that love.
Like Marge, I was surprised to be called to a ministry of words. She describes her experience as, “Slowly I came to see what it means to say that when words or actions arise out of the Spirit, they echo in other souls. That such words and actions open the heart and reduce fear. That words can have the power to heal and to encourage growth.”
I’m still learning to trust the healing power of my own words. Remembering I’m loved takes regular reminders. How often I slip back into worries about whether I’m doing enough, preoccupied with concern I’ll be judged or criticized or compared to others. I’m grateful Marge has heeded her call to ministering with words and for sharing her own story of “being broken open by God’s love.” Through her writing, I have a companion on my own journey, and my Meeting has a guide as we risk being broken and tender.
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Recently I learned that Friends in the Midwest are reading and studying To Be Broken and Tender and will be visited by its author in Feb. More information about this upcoming workshop is at Liz Oppenheimer’s blog: www.thegoodraisedup.blogspot.com. Check Liz’s January 7 post.
To Be Broken and Tender is available at: www.westernfriend.org; click on Books.