Seeking Transformation in Community

Department: 

Excerpts from a presentation to North Pacific Yearly Meeting; July 24, 2014; Pacific University, Forest Grove, Oregon

Katherine Jacobsen: It’s with joy that Ken and I join you for the annual session 2014. A yearly meeting in the manner of Friends is a sacred opportunity. Coming together, in this beautiful part of the world, from oh so many distances, coming together in the spirit of love, seeking transformation, is a gift to God and from God – a two-way gift.

The express purpose of the yearly meeting is appropriate discerning with Friends. What does God require of us? The biblical prophet Micah asked this a long time ago. The answer, you will remember – Do justice. Love mercy. Walk humbly with God. Friends believe and they experience, I think, that God helps with doing justice and loving mercy. But somehow, when it comes to walking humbly with God, it seems we’re on our own. How do you encourage humility? How do you teach it?

Life disappointments go a long way to keeping us humble, if we accept them truthfully. This is something I have learned. Face them truthfully, and trust that help will come.

I have Parkinson’s Disease, as my father did before me.  My physical conditions today are different than they were twenty-four months ago, when the invitation to attend this session arrived. I cannot predict or control these conditions.  Sometimes I can verbally communicate; sometimes I cannot.  Some times I can stand upright for more than five minutes but often I have to ask for a chair, an arm, or a hand.  I can’t multi-task. Swallowing requires careful focus to avoid choking, and it is often better not to eat when I want to listen at meal times.  Most discouraging, my stiff facial expression hides the care I feel for others and what they are expressing.

In short, Parkinson’s makes it hard not to have negative expectations. Fears abound. Body, speech, mind, and even soul seem to shrink within. It began to seem wrong to me to burden North Pacific Yearly Meeting with all this. Wouldn’t it be more truthful, less prideful, simply to retreat?

One Sunday morning in May, in the silence of worship at Beloit meeting, I had a thought which almost shimmered:  Maybe I actually am being called to NPYM because of my condition, because of my vulnerability, my dependency.

I wrestled with this thought.  Anxiety took over.  A week or so later, as I was sitting at the word processer thinking about these annual sessions, a message came, which seemed to be meant for you: The Power, which you seek, seeks you as well. Trust the two-way motion of Love..Reciprocal and co-creative, Love generates Life.

Ken Jacobsen: Why do we worship? Why do we gather? We come all this way because we remember that there’s something missing in this world around us, something deeply missing. We re-member that we’re members of something more. We re-member.

We remember You, Living Source, Loving I of the universe. We long for who we already are, not fragments, but members of Your life community. We remember that we belong to you. In the world that’s doing everything it can to forget, we can’t forget. We remember.

Katherine and I love these “re” words. Because they take us home again. And I’m going to say a little bit about the four “re” words that seem to us to describe what the dance of Quaker worship is.

The first rhythm – is release. What must we release in order to worship? Aristotle said we are double knowers – Knowing life not only with our senses, like the other creatures, but also with our stories. We’re creatures of language, of words, of mind, and we continually tell stories about everything. Stories make us conscious and self-conscious beings. Amazing. But our minds, our stories, can grow thick over time, layer upon layer, become habitual, put us to sleep, dull our consciousness, so that we begin to forget what is real, begin to lose our connection to life and God.

When I tell my friends beyond Quaker circles that worship begins in silence and giving up words, it’s hard to imagine. Offering over this most precious gift of words, inward and outward words, the words with which we build our world and our identity, our role and our status, our disappointments and our everything, it’s hard to imagine.

Release is often missed. It’s often forgotten. It’s the lost one of the dance. But if we don’t release, we’re not here. We’re off on this track, that track, this story, that story, wondering what so-and-so is thinking, wondering, “Oh, my goodness, are they looking older. I wonder if I’m looking older?”

Return is our second rhythm, our homecoming to the mystery by which we live. In the deepening silence and our human openness and emptiness, we begin to turn and re-turn. We see, oh, we’ve done this before. We came from here. This is home. In the silence of worship, we can enter and rest and wait in the expectancy of a sacred encounter.

I want to say a word about how strange and radical this “something” is that we Friends do. I teach sacred anthropology, and I study with my students: What makes for religious ritual? What heals and what transforms? Well, in ritual process, the holy of holies is a place you visit periodically; you go through elaborate rituals of release and turning away from the world, going to a mountain top or a sacred grove. And for a moment, maybe an hour, you visit the divine. And then you come back to your world transformed, and you transform the world.

But what Friends do, is we say: Wait a minute. This is not visiting. This is our home. And when we’re out in our work in the world, we’re remembering home, and longing for it, and longing to bring others home, too.

To receive is our third rhythm. Quietly, we begin to feel a quickening, to know the Living Presence. We sense that the One we seek is also already seeking us, always seeking us, longing to commune with us, to communicate care for us. We hear new messages from the sacred source. And we begin to feel them as an invitation to us, to dance with the divine, to participate in creation. We have been joined. And there is joy in it from somewhere.

And then, to respond, the fourth rhythm. Responding is no easy thing. Because you know these messages are not just up in our heads. You know messages are powerful. They have work to do, and they’re asking us to do the work. This is no half-way religion, folks. Half-way Quakerism is about nothing. Half-way Quakerism isn’t. The divine communications we receive in worship, are not passive – they are the motion of  Love. They are moral force, the energy of the ever-new creation. They are leadings. As so, as co-creative participants in the new creation, in the motion of love, they are asking for our moral response.

This response is what we discern together from the messages we receive. This is Quaker process. Through the faithful practice of Quaker process, prayerful collective discernment, we discover little by little – or all at once – what we are to do, individually and collectively – within the meeting, within our lives, and within the world. Quaker process translates messages from the loving source into Quaker witness. Our faithful action is testimony of divine love in the world. ~~~

Ken and Katharine Jacobsen have provided many years of valuable leadership to the Religious Society of Friends, including terms as President and Director of Fund-Raising for Olney Friends School and as Interim Co-Directors of Pendle Hill.

A complete transcript of the presentation above can be found at: https://westernfriend.org/media/seeking-transformation-community.