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A Spiritual Home

Susan Calhoun
On Place (May 2022)
Inward Light

I have noticed that more young adults have been coming to our meetings for worship since we reopened our meetinghouse after COVID. Perhaps the pandemic gave them time to reflect. Young adulthood is naturally a time of choosing the values one will live by. I think the young people who visit our meeting are looking for ways to practice their values with other people.

That is what young adults may be looking for in spiritual community with older adults. What does it mean for older adults to get involved in the lives of younger adults?

Over the past four years (I am 52 now), I have been going through a change in the way I view my own life. As I look towards the future, my focus has been shifting from “preparing myself” for upcoming challenges to thinking about the time I have left. I realize that a time will come when I will be gone. What is going to be left of my life when I am no longer here? When I am gone, the things that I have given to others will be the only things that will last. I may not be everything I’ve ever wanted to be, but I have to go with what I’ve got.

I am interested in young adults because I had an excellent young adulthood. I was depressed during high school, but near the end of my senior year, I realized I could do things differently in college, and I was on fire. I went to a college that encouraged me to develop my own voice. By the time I left college, I had a much different outlook on life and started going on adventures, big and small, exploring the world around me and experiencing myself as a happy person in it.

I even began to have religious experiences in nature, experiences in which the natural boundary between myself and other things seemed to pass away, and I experienced life immediately. I experienced myself as connected to everything, and this has continued to sustain me. I am part of something much larger, and it feels great to be that part.

So, I see young adults as co-seekers. They began their seeking at a different point in history than I did. They are choosing their values at a time when the culture is up to different things. They understand this culture much better than I do because I came into my own authority thirty years ago, when things were much different. Young adults can explain how life is for them now, and I can learn from them.

But, at the most basic level, we can share with each other about our lives. Our meeting can provide a space for young adults to continue their searches among people of many different ages – a spiritual home. At our best, we help people recognize that the values to which they are committing themselves are being practiced by other people, and they don’t have to walk alone.

I spoke the other day with a young visitor to our meeting who was curious about our Quaker practices. I talked to him about some of our forms: meeting for worship, meeting for business, threshing sessions. Within these forms, I have learned to speak from my gut. I talked about some of the specific ways these forms have helped me. For one, no one is allowed to interrupt anyone else; a Friend might rise to speak and then take a while to collect their thoughts, and nobody rushes them. Also, people don’t respond directly to each other’s messages – a pause is held between one message and the next. Often, a clerk will call on people – so that the words of each person can be fully heard. These practices create a space to feel, to hear oneself and then act on those feelings. They create a space where one can trust, if they have really been listening, that they will know when it is right for them to speak, maybe even necessary.

I sought the word to describe the attitude that these practices encourage. “Am I talking about being spontaneous?” I wondered. I kept searching for the right word, and then I found it. “Vulnerable. It creates a space where it is safe to be vulnerable.” The young man’s face lit up with a smile. This was something he already knew from his own experience. He seemed pleased to be talking with someone else who shared an experience similar to his – which makes me happy.  ~~~

Susan Calhoun works with elementary students with special needs. She is interested in growth across the lifespan. She is a member of Pima Friends Meeting in Tucson, AZ (IMYM).

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