Community and the Practice of Love

Community and the Practice of Love February 28, 2016

I spent most of today’s Quaker meeting in tears.

This is a thing that happens to me sometimes. I’m working on not being too self-conscious about it when that happens, or at least not fighting it.  I used to say that I wished I wouldn’t cry when I feel spiritually full–or at least, that I could cry more attractively.  (I’m the sort who gets a blotchy face and a runny nose when I cry.)  These days, I’m trying to be tougher, and more faithful:

If Spirit wants me to cry, dammit, I’ll cry.  If Spirit wants me to get a runny nose, I’ll bring a hanky.  (I specialize in big ones.)

I’m telling you this because I don’t want you to think I’m a gushing sentimentalist… but maybe I need to toughen up about that, too.

If Spirit wants you to see me as a sappy, ridiculous woman, I’ll be seen as a sappy ridiculous woman. So be it.

Today was a day my waterworks were turned on.

At our meeting, ten minutes into worship is when the little kids leave.  I watched one of our newest members, August toddle out on those round feet kids seem to have when they first learn to walk, and it made me smile.  Seeing the careful way his mother held his hand made me feel hugely tender.  And then, looking up, seeing smiles that must have matched my own on the faces of many of the adults who remained, I was struck by a thought:

If I could see the members of my meeting as they look in the eyes of Spirit, they would all look as beautiful as that child.

And the next thing I knew, I was flooded with light, because looking around the room, I could see just a glimpse of how utterly, dazzlingly beautiful every single person there is, in the heart of their spirit, in the deepest truth of their soul.

Now, I don’t want you to think that the members of my monthly meeting are a bunch of saints.  Many of them are pretty wonderful, and almost all of them are trying hard to do right in a world that often seems willing only to reward doing wrong.  But, at the same time, we have members who are self-important, officious, or judgmental.  We have members who are models of compassionate action in the world… but also members who throw themselves into peace and justice work as a way of distracting themselves from their own brokenness, whose tongues are sharp, or whose kindness never comes without a self-approving note.

Often, I am one of those members myself.  In other words, though my experience of Quakers is that we are The People who Try, we are, at the end of the day, just people: flawed.  Sometimes selfish.  Often wrong.

I think the point of belonging to a spiritual community is to practice compassion and love surrounded by those you come to know too well to believe are bodhisattvas. After all, how many bodhisattvas are we going to have call to interact with in the world?  What would we learn from a spiritual practice that only taught us how to cope in a community of saints?

So.  There are no saints in my community.  But there are people undergoing a host of challenges and demands–illness, grief, recovery from trauma, parenting, adolescence, divorce.  While I don’t know every burden members of my meeting are carrying, I know many of them.  And I see them struggling to serve even as they are struggling to cope with whatever their life is dealing them.  These same people who can seem pigheaded or stubborn or foolish to me as we conduct the business of our meeting together are the people I see doing the honest best they can, one day at a time.

Of course they’re beautiful.  Of course they make me cry.

But what about outside my meeting?  If those I worship with seem to me to be filled with light, does that mean those outside my meeting are, too?

Well… yes.  Yes it does.  Each and every one of us.

Ilya Haykinson, 2010
Ilya Haykinson, 2010

Even the ones who are hurting one another?  Those who poison water supplies to save a few pennies, or who rouse crowds to a frenzy of racism and self-righteousness, out of their narcissism or cynicism?  Surely they are not beautiful in the eyes of Spirit.  Surely they have nothing in common with the beautiful toddler, taking his first steps out into the world?

They do, though.

If you think that toddlers are nothing but a big ball of cuteness, you’ve never had the care of one for very long.  To be a parent is not just to love your child when they’re peacefully holding your hand; to love a toddler is to love them even as they have a  meltdown in the middle of the grocery store or take a toy truck and smash another toddler over the head with it.

I’m sure there are those Spirit sees as a toddler with a weaponized toy in his hand.  (Can’t you just see Donald Trump bashing the other kiddies with a toy truck, if we let him?)

But all of us are loved.  All of us have the potential to become whole–more like our best selves and less like our worst.  And to see that part of each of us, reflected in one another’s eyes…

Maybe it’s natural for my eyes to water, when I look at a Light so bright.

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