Staying awake to God

I am relatively new to the Bible, so it is easy to catch my attention with a good bit of scripture that I've never heard before. You can almost see my ears perk up and my tail start wagging. "Ooh, something smells good over there..."

So it was with the first article in the newest Friends Journal that arrived today at my house. The author spoke about his first experiences of Quaker worship, coming to Friends, and the questions he had. Then he recounted the story of Jesus on the eve of his crucifiction, going into the Garden of Gethsemane on the Mount of Olives and taking leave of his disciples as he goes off to pray alone.

Each of the Gospels that includes this story, and different translations of the Gospels, use slightly different words to describe the instructions he gave to them before he went off by himself to pray. In the King James Version, Matthew and Mark use the phrase, "tarry ye here and watch." In Luke the phrase is "wait here and pray." Other versions use the phrase "remain here and stay awake." (Gallery, FJ June '06)

At that point, I started giggling.

10 AM is not my favorite time of day, especially not when First Day (the nerve of it!), immediately follows Seventh Day evening. On occasion, my eyelids have been known to droop-- entirely of their own accord, I tell you!-- in meeting for worship. I know from personal experience that sometimes, "stay awake" is an entirely accurate translation of, "wait here and pray."

I started thinking of all the times in my life when Jesus might well have commanded me to "stay awake." Watching a movie, riding a bus, taking notes in class- how often do I forget that God is there? How often do I fail to keep my eyes and heart open for God, letting my spirituality doze off as if the secular world was a bottle of Nyquil?

It has been a long, hard, emotionally draining week. I've been dragging myself along, losing context, losing focus, and drifting away from my center. I have fallen asleep. There is Christ in the garden, there he kneels, asking only my vigilance, my conciousness, and like Peter, I doze.

It is a human thing, to err, to fall asleep. But we have Christ within us, and are therefore not merely human; we have the capacity to be, also, divine.

When we honor that, we can stay awake to God.

We can see every moment as we walk through the world the beauty that has been created for us.

We can keep tender mercies always ready for anyone in need.

We can keep God always at the center of our hearts and minds, awake and aware, ready to hear the still small voice when it whispers.


Suspenders, stomachaches, and the articulation of leadings

About a month ago, I started giving away clothing by the bag-load. A few days ago, I cut the collars off of three solid-color, long sleeve shirts. Whenever I find a ride to my local Goodwill, I'm buying suspenders and switching from jeans to black pants.

It feels so rightly-ordered for me to be going plain. But when someone asks me to explain this leading, I have terrible difficulty describing it to them.

I have been able to articulate some of the reasons why I feel led to plain dress. I want to have a constant reminder of the fact that God is the most important thing in my life. I want to explore how my behavior changes (or doesn't change) when I am wearing clothes that are a visible expression of my faith. I want to be more faithfully simple. I want to use the Earth's resources well, open up conversations about faith, Quakerism, and consumer culture, and keep my vanity in check.

Sometimes when people ask me about my clothes, I am able to articulate those things well, and sometimes I am not, but it always feels vaguely incomplete, and I falter in answering the harder questions people pose to me: Why traditional plain dress, instead of jeans and a t-shirt? Shouldn't the awareness of God come from inside, not outside? What specific testimony(ies) of Quakerism are you witnessing to? Why banded collars? Why suspenders?

I feel like the most honest answer I could possibly give is this: It feels right. My old clothes feel inauthentic. When I tried to put on a striped, collared shirt this morning, I got a stomacheache and began to tremble, and when I took it off and put on a plain shirt with the collar removed, it went away.

In essence, people (I myself being one) are asking the question, "Why are you led to plain dress?" when the question that most needs asking is simply, "Are you led to plain dress?"

I really believe I am.

The word articulation has two distinct meanings: effectively communicating ideas through speech, and the state of two parts being joined together in such a way as to allow for motion by each (as in a joint in the body). Perhaps, then, to "articulate" a leading in the truest sense of the word is to become joined together, God and the person being led, the person being led and the person to whom they are describing the leading. God moves within us, prompting us to further movement in faithfulness to whatever leadings we experience. We move in others by faithfully recounting our experience, and hope that it prompts some movement in their own heart and soul. This connection, this articulation, only facilitates movement when it is relaxed, flexible, and strong. So in moving out into the world with a new (for me) witness, perhaps what I most need to remember is how to be a good joint.

I don't necessarily need to be able to describe the Quaker history of plain dress, or the theological implications of the banded collar- though if I find myself speaking to those things, that's fine. What it is most important for me to be able to say, I think, is, "I am plain because I feel that this is what God wants of me right now."

Many times, a leading takes shape as an outward expression of an inward belief or testimony. At other times, however, the truest worth of a leading is in pure faithfulness. If God asks me to stand on my head, I may not be able to explain it to myself or others, but- I can only hope- there I will be, upside-down. If suspenders are what God requires of me right now, my best hope and greatest ambition can only be to be a faithful wearer of suspenders, and rejoice every morning when I shoulder (pun tragically intended) what I am given as mine.

There is no calling greater than faithfulness, even, perhaps especially, when we do not understand why.


Transience and monthly meeting community

Next week will be my last meeting for worship of the year at Sarasota meeting, where I've been attending since starting college in the fall. That struck me this morning at worship; my last time for quite a few weeks. Between now and the end of August, I'll be worshiping at home in Miami and, I hope, many other places as I travel around the country. But not here, and part of me is grateful for it. The year has been full of the kind of ups and downs that I'm ready to distance myself from for a bit.

I wandered in this morning just as most Friends were entering the worship room. I noticed how many people greeted me with a smile, knew my name, shook my hand. I didn't think I knew people there very well. I didn't think people there really knew me.

I've spent a lot of time this past year talking with other high school and young adult Friends about how they feel alienated from their monthly meetings. College students and other young Friends who regard themselves as transient seem to experience this particularly acutely; in many cases, they are displaced from the meetings where they grew up, and in almost all cases, they say that the meetings they attend don't embrace them, don't involve them because they are "only passing through." Many of the most active and involved Young Friends I know don't attend meeting while they're away at college, a loss to both them and the communities that might have been enriched by their presence.

But I realized today that, at least in my case, maybe some of the feeling of isolation is self-created. It is hard to walk into a room of white-haired folks and feel like an equal member of a community, and far too easy to excuse myself from the labor of building community with things like, "I have to write a paper," or, "I wish I could stick around for fellowship, but I have to get back before the dining hall closes." Why do I make these excuses, instead of reaching out for a place and people to belong to? I think it's because I convinced myself coming in that I would never quite belong here; I would come along, ruffle some feathers (one of my gifts), and be gone before anyone really had time to know me.

But despite myself, I have made some connections. I can harp all I want about the difficulty of fitting into a new community (it can be difficult, I don't want to underplay that) and about the scarcity of young adults in my meeting (Sarasota is primarily a retirement town), but when it comes down to it, people know my name, if not my pronouns, they ask about school, though they sometimes forget to inquire about anything else, and they value my presence. One of the meeting elders made a point of going up to my mother at yearly meeting sessions and telling her what a wonderful addition I make to Sarasota meeting, and it really meant a lot to me.

Next week, the other college student and I are going to teach Quaker songs in First Day School. My mother will be here to pick me up for the summer, I'll bring my guitar in, and we'll all share the kinds of silly, semi-historical songs that every Quaker kid should know: George Fox, Lucretia Mott, "Wear It As Long As You Can". Somehow that plan seems to encapsulate the kind of community I need while at school. I want to be part of the meeting community through service to it. I want to share my gifts in whatever ways I can, and been seen for that. And I want to recognize for myself and share with others that creating a new set of connections doesn't sever old ones; we are all part of one vibrant, slightly disfunctional Quaker family, and when I worship someplace new, I am just connecting with new members of it.

I have much to be grateful for.