We are seen by God’s loving eyes. The greatest spiritual battle begins – and never ends – with the reclaiming of our chosenness.
Long before any human being saw us, we are seen by God’s loving eyes.
Long before anyone heard us cry or laugh, we are heard by our God who is all ears for us.
Long before any person spoke to us in this world, we are spoken to by the voice of eternal love.
– Henri Nouwen (1993)
The quotation above arrived in my email inbox this summer, one of the daily meditations that I receive from the Henri Nouwen Society. The words are Nouwen’s riff on Psalm 139, a song in the Hebrew Bible by the poet-king David – words that I find beautiful, even though they come from a perspective not previously my own.
God’s love for everyone, it seems, is the basis of nonviolent action.
When I first read those words from Nouwen, I felt them move deeply into my heart, chest, and abdomen, then spread through my arms and legs. I heard the message apply to every human being who is living and has lived. I felt lifted out of the complex problems we face within our Religious Society of Friends and our larger society, lifted into connection with all humans and all creation. I felt an essence that I could and would want to bathe in every day, multiple times each day. I had the sense that everyone, all human beings, are lifted up in God’s love for all of us to see. For me, this realization and acknowledgement belongs in every moment of worship, every moment of pausing to breathe and give thanks, every moment before I turn to lift up questions, sufferings, and whatever else is before me.
I was introduced to Quaker worship and practice through my soon-to-be life partner, Don, when I was thirty-two years old. I call that phase of my life the time when I wanted to “be among” Friends. I was welcomed, befriended, and encouraged by Friends along my path toward understanding Quakerism and the community of the Ann Arbor Friends Meeting. Years later, I wanted to “be” a Friend, and I asked for membership and received mentoring and a clearness committee.
I saw many examples of Friends in Ann Arbor Meeting supporting one another and reaching out to the larger community. I experienced “care of community” in that meeting. During the mid-1980s, we labored together for several months until we became clear that we would offer asylum to a family who had fled their native land of El Salvador. From week to week, different Friends experienced illness or recovery or death – and all sorts of daily tribulations – and these we attended to as a loving community. In the days following 9/11, many Friends donated blood at a nearby mosque in Ann Arbor. A new relationship formed between leaders of the mosque and our meeting, which resulted in many conversations between members of the two communities and offers of mutual support.
When Don and I moved to northern California in 2002, we were happy to find ourselves living within walking distance of a Quaker meeting. That had been a dream of ours. We stepped into active involvement in the care of the Grass Valley Friends Meeting and the wider Quaker community. I have found my faith informed, challenged, and growing among Friends here.
I do see and hear that not all Friends feel a sense of welcoming friendship within Quaker meetings. When I heard that critique again this summer, I thought of those words from Nouwen, above. We Friends must reclaim our ability to hear God’s voice of eternal love.
For me, Quaker meeting is a place where I come to listen for God’s messages. Sometimes the messages are meant for me, sometimes for someone else, and sometimes for all of us together in community. It’s essential for everyone to be included in a Quaker meeting; otherwise, nothing else makes sense. I speak as a white, cisgender, middle-class woman of Western European descent, and I believe that all Quakers need to be relationship-centered. We all can look to many examples of our Quaker ancestors living in that way. Many of our contemporaries, too – some quietly and some famously – have stepped out of their own comfort zones, opened themselves up to surprising new relationships, and more than survived! What is there to lose? Not God’s love!
The world is calling out for nonviolent responses to war, strife, and planetary destruction. We see the extractive and domination modes operating in the world around us. We Quakers know how to work from a mutual-benefit position. We need to pause and hear what Spirit has been saying to us all along.
I believe within our Quaker meetings we are being called to discern together the justness of our collective behavior. Which structures, practices, and traditions keep Friends from being relationship-centered – with God and one another? Which lead us to do harm to one another? What are we called to end, and what are we called to begin?
Mutual care of community is the way we can engage our faith in action. God’s love directs me to support the faithfulness of others and to ask for help in being faithful myself. I choose to live my life continually acknowledging God’s eternal love for me, just as Nouwen describes it. This is the basis of my understanding of what it means to be a Quaker, and it strengthens my commitment to our faith and practice. I hope it rings true for you.
Sandy Kewman recently completed a term as presiding clerk of Pacific Yearly Meeting and is now happily serving as a grandmother. She is a member of Sacramento Friends Meeting (PacYM).