Excerpts from the keynote presentation to Intermountain Yearly Meeting; June 11, 2015; Ghost Ranch, Abiquiú, New Mexico
One thing I’ve learned over the years is that the Spirit has a much bigger plan – and a more exquisite way for bringing it about – than what my narrow view, my limited planning abilities, and my lack of power could ever create. This Spirit has a powerful way of leading us. When I’m in the power of the Spirit, the way opens, and I start to see the bigger picture.
How much do we trust that Higher Power to lead us and to give us the strength and strategies to be effective in supporting the unfolding of a larger vision on Earth? It’s somewhat of a mystery. Discernment is about mystery. Discernment is not about knowing. It’s about not knowing. Leadings are grounded in humility, in the humility of not knowing, while being open to learning and being guided.
Quakerism is a visceral religion; discernment is felt in our bodies. The highest density of neurons we have is in our head. The second highest is in our belly, our abdomen. And the third highest density of neurons we have is around our heart. The sense that I’ve had throughout my life is that Quakerism is about the intelligence in our gut and our heart. Somehow, Quakers have discovered practices to filter that intelligence and use it to lead us.
Our name, “Quakers,” was about quaking. Our tradition uses visceral language – “a sense of the meeting,” for example. “Being moved to speak.” “Holding you in the Light.” “Walking in the Light.” “Holding a concern.”
My experiences of Quakerism as a child were visceral experiences. The night before members of Claremont Meeting planned to attend a protest against the Vietnam War, it was not clear if there would be rioting the next day or if anyone would get hurt. There was a meeting at someone’s home that evening, and my father brought me along. I remember lying down on the floor behind the couch. I did not know what was taking place, but I could feel the depth of it, the weight, the gravity of the situation. And there were other times as a child that I felt that weight and stillness.
Growing up in my yearly meeting’s youth programs, I was able to develop an inner barometer for connection to the Spirit and with each other. This barometer is important to knowing when I’m experiencing true community with other people or something else. A lot of the times, the standard of connection at Young Friends’ gatherings is so high that it’s hard for Young Friends to participate in our monthly meetings because our meetings do not hold the same level of connection and authenticity, and the young people can feel it’s lack.
Discernment requires taking a step back from the dominant culture, waking up from the trance of what the dominant culture expects of us, and lifting the veil from our eyes. In our tradition, we put ourselves at odds with the taken-for-granted assumptions of the dominant culture, as early Friends did. And at times, our own assumptions become our toughest challenges. Early Friends spent a lot of time working on waking up. It was the trance that they were concerned about, and they developed processes for helping to lift that veil.
In discernment, fallow times are important. We generally think that discernment and leadings are about doing things. A lot of times, they’re about slowing down. For me, insights and openings occur when I’m resting, when I’m eating, taking a shower – these are the times when the Spirit creeps behind the veil and helps me to see and prioritize my life.
Can you let go? It requires trust. This process of change, of seeking a deeper understanding of Quaker life, is an education of the heart. Following the inner voice requires being vulnerable and calling out to God to take over your life. But here’s the conundrum: If you’re comfortable, if your needs are being met in life and you’re satisfied, do you feel any need for God to take over your life?
Many early Friends opened themselves up to discomfort. They couldn’t avoid it. What early Friends found was that in discomfort, they more readily turned to God. In discomfort, we more readily turn to God.
The discernment process can be difficult, but there’s a gift at the end – the unity we experience. So how do we live at the growing edge of the Spirit? I would suggest that our meetings begin to take responsibility for discerning the leadings of our members as a central part of what we do.
There are tools that meetings can use for this. My home meeting, Santa Cruz, has created a role in our meeting that we call our “leadings social witness mentor.” The role of that person is to keep an ear out for who has an inkling of a leading. The mentor will talk to the person, and if it feels right, the mentor will help the person seek clearness by setting up a clearness committee.
Anchor committees are another tool that meetings can use to support leadings. My anchor committee meets with me about every six weeks. They help me discern if I’m getting ahead of the Spirit, or if I’m falling behind. They keep me accountable to the minute of service that I have from my meeting in support of my ministry.
Another tool is to provide elders for Friends traveling in the ministry. When we have an individual who is visiting other meetings or going to conferences, we can yoke them with an elder. We can take responsibility for the leadings that individuals have. This can enliven our meetings.
Other approaches include Rex Ambler’s “experiments with the Light” and Parker Palmer’s “circles of trust.” You can also utilize different methods to develop your visceral IQ, like the Feldenkrais Method or Alexander Technique or Eugene Gendlin’s Focusing approach. I think it’s important for us as Friends to develop that capacity, because it is embedded in our faith and our approach.
I’d like to end this time together with a quote from Isaac Penington:
Give over thine own willing. Give over thine own running. Give over thine own desiring to know or be anything. And sink down to the Seed, which God sows in thy heart. And let that be in thee, and grow in thee, and breathe in thee, and act in thee. And thou shalt know by sweet experience that the Lord knows that, and loves and owns that, and will lead it. ~~~
Diego James Navarro grew up in Claremont Friends Meeting and is currently a member of Santa Cruz Friends Meeting (PYM). He teaches at Cabrillo College and for twelve years has been following a leading to develop a transformative program for community college students, which is being replicated nationwide. Diego is the Presiding Clerk of Pacific Yearly Meeting.
For a complete transcript of this presentation, see: westernfriend.org/media/veil-shadow-and-abundant-life