The last few weeks have been hard.
November is always a place, as a teacher, where I realize how tired I have become. Somehow, the workload of the teaching year is especially heavy in October, and by November, some mornings it is all I can do to get out of bed. Then, too, there have been an unusual number of challenges coming my way outside of school: groups where I connect to and love other people who are committed to doing good work in the world have been struggling through conflicts, friends have been living with pain that I cannot do much to ease, and I’ve been subjected to a couple of personal attacks by near-strangers that left me rattled in spite of my sense that they don’t need to be responded to or taken seriously.
The cumulative effect, taken with the steady news of injustice, indifference, and anger out in the world has been heavy. It has been hard to pray. It has been hard to feel close to the Spirit of Love and Truth, or to any spiritual presence at all. I am tired.
But this morning, I was able to attend my Quaker meeting, after several weeks away. I’m always surprised by how deeply I am touched just be the presence of other Friends–as if each face is a message, whether they speak to me or not. On the way in to meeting, Geoff handed me a sheaf of articles on recent events in Ferguson, which he knows I am following. During meeting, I sat next to Carol, and while we did not speak, our eyes met with warmth and recognition.
At rise of meeting, Abby came in and sat down next to me, and laid her head on my shoulder, and I felt it like a benediction. How could I, how could anyone, ever earn the trust and affection of such a young person? But earned or unearned, I have it, and that knowledge lies over my shoulders like a warm shawl… I traded hugs with Annie; I shook hands with Peter; I spoke with Mary Ellen, and once again she told me how good she thinks I would be at the AVP prison work she loves. (I think she might be right, and my only fear is that she will have had to lay the work down before my life has an opening to take the training and join her.)
I love my meeting. It occurred to me, this morning in worship, that I used to love my Quaker meeting because I thought that Quakers were better, kinder people than I find outside of meeting… but now I know that isn’t true. Now I know that, what is special about a Quaker meeting is our mutual commitment to try again when we fail one another–to forgive, and forgive, and forgive. We’re a bit like an old married couple, that has lived past romantic illusions, but has grown strong in the discipline of making love work by coming back to it over and over again, the way a martial artist returns to a balanced stance between each move of a kata. We just keep trying.
Then, when I got home, I picked up a book I’d borrowed from my meeting, Catherine Whitmire’s Practicing Peace, and I read this:
Listening within changes our perspective on the world because when we open ourselves to a prayerful relationship with God, we are invited to view the world from God’s perspective. And through God’s eyes we see that poverty, violence, and war are not God’s choices for the world, but are willful, human decisions.
Reading those words, I found myself on the edge of tears with what it implies, that the brokenness and heaviness of the world is not inevitable. There will always be death, yes, and aging and loss and disease. But I am Pagan enough to see those natural aches and bruises as part of the ordinary cycles of life. I may not enjoy them, from my vantage point as an individual human being concerned with my individual moments of happiness and sorrow, but I recognize and even celebrate these things as the origin of the things I do enjoy, just as each year’s fallen leaves help form the rich humus that nurtures the soaring joy of trees.
But there is no joy that is nurtured by racism. There is no strength that is fed by greed, or warfare, or the raging egotism that leads us to tear one another down and to tear one another apart rather than face our own fears and shadows. There is no natural beauty in lies or violence, or indifference to human suffering. And right this moment… those are the things that are weighing on my heart.
But the message of prayer is, It does not have to be this way.
I forget, so often, that prayer–that communing with Spirit and with the concerns that are on my heart–is not a consolation prize, something to do when I don’t know what “real” work to do, or I’m out of the time or strength to do it. I forget that I don’t have to understand how to fix the Universe in order for things to get better. The list of things I don’t understand is long and varied, and runs the gamut from changing my own oil to knitting lace… to bringing about a just society, halting climate change, and ending white supremacism (or even getting more white people to know it exists).
Don’t be afraid to take on the easy job. It’s OK, if the only thing you learn to do is to love people–to love, and to forgive.
We don’t have to be broken. I don’t have to know how to fix us. I can do the easy work–I must not be afraid to do the easy work, the rewarding work, the joyful work which has been put into my hands.
I’m just going to sit over here for a while, holding people in love. I’m just going to rest my head on Her shoulder for a little while, until She tells me what else to do.