Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The Strength to Go Into the Wilderness

“I have been asked many times
to take leaps I did not feel ready to do.
But when I’ve done that I’ve been held
And I have been an agent for God
In ways I never could have been
If I didn’t trust and take that leap.”
- Jean-Marie P. Barch 1998.

Who abide in the shadow of the Almighty, will say to God “My refuge and my fortress; my God in whom I trust.” For God will deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the deadly pestilences; God will cover you with pinions and under God’s wings you will find refuge. – Psalm 91:1-4.

About a week ago I attended FGC’s FLGBTQC Mid-Winter Gathering. While there we were asked to consider several queries every day in our small group worship sharing. One of these queries was something along the lines of, “How do we tell the difference between acts of love and acts of fear?” In my worship sharing I felt moved to speak about this query and then again during worship. As the Spirit usually does I started out focusing on the query and then was led to speak to deeper questions. When considering the difference between acts of love and acts of fear I am led to believe that Friends generally have a hard time distinguishing between the two. Maybe not on a personal level, but as a group we tend to see praise as coming from a place of love and criticize more need for change as coming from a place of fear. In my own experience among Friends I have not found this to be the case. Instead, I have often found that we want to hear praise and only praise about our meetings and the Religious Society of Friends because we are afraid of what might happen if we begin to take criticism seriously and move to change the way things are. Often I have found praise alone comes from a place of fear of change, a fear that we will make things worse or break things beyond repair. Whereas often I have found those who offer criticism and ask for change are doing so out of love, love for their faith and a need that that faith should live up to what they know it is capable of being.
I have been moved to think that there is another image and another question behind this concept of acts of love and acts of fear. I am then called to the image of the wilderness as expressed many times in the Bible and the concept of Blessed Community. I believe that if we are truly a Blessed Community under God, guided by the Spirit, then we should have enough trust and love for each other that will allow us to know what cannot break what was not meant to be broken. I believe that when we act with love and faith in God and in each other we can never make things worse, only better. If some things break, or change, we must have faith that this is what God has meant to happen and all things will be made right and whole in the end. We as a community must not be afraid to go out into the wilderness. We must trust in one another, in ourselves that we might wander, and suffer, and it might be hard and our faith might be tested but in the end we will come out a community, whole and faithful. This ability to go out into the wilderness is not just an act of faith in one another but an act of faith in God. We must believe that God loves us enough that we can go into the dark, into the wilderness, to do things that we are afraid of doing, and God will bring us home. I believe that we are never truly lost, and that God will always bring us home, but we as a religious community must also believe this.
I gave this message in Meeting for Worship on Sunday. After Meeting I attended a Bible study session. The Friend who was leading the session told us the story of how she came to choose the passage we were going to read. She said she had written everything out after being told she was going to lead Bible study at the conference, but then one Firstday she had been sitting in Meeting and had gotten a leading for us to read Genesis 16 in Bible study. She said she had no idea why the Spirit was leading her to this passage but she trusted in the Spirit and changed her plans for the Bible study. Genesis 16 is the story of Hagar, who is a slave to Sarai, and conceives a child by Abram. She then looks with contempt on her mistress who cannot conceive, so Sarai deals harshly with her and Hagar runs away into the wilderness. There she sees an Angel of the Lord who tells her she will have a son and what to name him. Hagar then realizes she is talking to the Lord and names him El-roi or literally “God who sees.” She is the only Old Testament figure that I know of to directly name God. The fact that we were called to read a passage about a slave girl gone into the wilderness who sees and names God, after the messages I was called to give, I do not see as a coincidence. Neither do I see the fact that both of these messages were given at Mid-Winter Gathering as a coincidence. To me the Lord is clearly trying to tell the LGBTQ Friends community something, and I now struggle to discern for myself what it is. What wilderness we are being called to travel into? Are we as a community being called to see and be seen by God, name and be named? As of now I do not have answers that satisfy me, but I trust that in time God will lead us to the Truth.