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A Call to Radical Vulnerability and Love (abridged), One

Elena Anderson-Williams
On Children (September 2018)
Annual Sessions
Excerpts from a keynote presentation to Pacific Yearly Meeting; July 14, 2018; Walker Creek Ranch, Petaluma, California

As a child of this meeting, I grew up with a myth about the faithful life. It wasn’t a myth in the sense of a falsehood, but it was a story I told myself about the noble call and the noble answer. And I desperately wanted this story for myself. And part of what I wanted was certainty.

I knew that there were more than a few minor character flaws that needed adjustment for me to live this story. I was looking forward to the quick fix. I wanted to leave human frailty behind as a relic of my adolescence. And I didn’t wake up one day fixed. I didn’t wake up one day noble. I prayed, and I didn’t wake up that way the next day either. Or the next.

And in the beauty that so often comes, I was answered. I was shown that to be faithful was not about being happy. It wasn’t about being right. It wasn’t even about doing good work in service. What was required of me by faith was to be broken open, to be a fool for God. And to be a fool for God meant to love, to be fierce, and to follow the dictates of love, even when it would be outrageous to do so.

When I was about twenty-three, two teens came to live with me, aged fifteen and sixteen. The fifteen-year-old was a young man in my family who was one of the people I love most in this world, and the sixteen-year-old was his pregnant girlfriend. And to describe them as volatile would probably be insufficient. They had separate and intertwining histories of substance abuse, mental health concerns, self medication.

Many well-intentioned and supportive people told me that it was too much for me to take them in, that I was being foolish, that it wasn’t my responsibility. And I want to be clear about something, we made very effort to gather the social-service resources available. I want to be clear about that because there is a real and important difference between being a fool for God and being reckless with the safety of others.

So I strove to be a channel for God’s love. Not because I thought that I was suddenly going to fix everything, but because I knew what the reality was for these two young people outside of my door. I knew that my involvement could alleviate some suffering.

One evening – it wasn’t that anything particularly spectacular happened – it was just that I hit my limit. I stood on the precipice in recognition that I simply didn’t have it in me. I couldn’t be the instrument that I so desperately wanted to be. And in that moment of breaking apart, words from Isaac Penington coursed through me, lit me: “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 the heart . . . “

So I gave it all over to God – my notions, my griefs, my fears, and my hopes. And instead of breaking apart, I broke open to God. Without those attempts to control, love became the baro-meter. I discovered there is no person or situation that cannot be answered in love.

What I bring is a love of life and a will to live that is consumed in God. And I can look in awe at the beauty of what you bring, each of you, if you will share it. And I can yearn and strive for the beauty and power of what we can bring together, so that as we come to know each other, we can sink down to that seed.   ~~~

The text above has been excerpted from a complete transcript of this talk, posted at: https://westernfriend.org/media/call-radical-vulnerability-and-love-unabridged

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