Even as I was completing the final part of my “Am I a nontheist…?” series, I knew that the editorial constraints I had imposed to keep those posts focused might create a false impression.
They could be read as describing a hermit, or at least someone who relies solely upon what Liz Opp has called “spiritual individualism” (“The slippery nature of corporate faith“), rather than someone for whom worship and daily life with others are essential.
Granted, I am a very private person, and what I describe in those three essays are my private faith struggles and affirmations. The crux of my assertion in Part III is this:
[O]n the level of my private shuddering,…[w]hether I am in the midst of turmoil and despair or settled into the stillness and poise of the moment, I am not alone.
That certainty gets me through innumerable moments of pain and joy.
The composition of that passage was held up for several weeks, until a dear Friend gave vocal ministry in meeting for worship. I don’t even remember what she said, yet the words which responded clearly within me were: “I am not alone.”
Everything I had written up to that point was an apologist’s attempt to “explicate reasonably” how he comes up to the moment of leaping off the cliff of reason. I had been struggling for a way to explicate the next moment for my readers—even though I do not need an explanation myself.
Then, in that quiet circle, one Friend who does not hesitate to expose her tenderness said…something. All my trial sentences fell away, to leave four words.
What a delight!
I’ve not been listening very well to the silence recently, in solitude or in Meeting. My awareness fills, either with anxieties about family and work or with cleverly composed sentences for potential blog entries or “vocal ministry.” I tend to distract myself with “trying to meditate.”
As Liz wrote in the post cited earlier:
Sometimes among Friends, we fall unawares into a shared spiritual individualism: We each practice our own spiritual discipline on First Day during worship and appreciate how we can come to meeting and worship together, despite our differences of belief and even practice….
I acknowledge this about myself.
Yet when a Friend speaks, or when the silence gets deep enough, I am called to attention. The questions with which I had thought I was wrestling fall away.
Not into answers, but into a poised moment of simply being with these other people, being with everything. Being with the nurturing Heart of everything.
There are similar moments of transcendence as I struggle in pre-dawn solitude with anxiety about the “horizon of equally urgent, insurmountable obligations.” I wrestle with panic, I rehearse future actions and conversations, make fruitless attempts to prioritize.
Then something shifts. I remind myself by a prayer or a devotional reading that simply being with Mother-Father God is enough for the moment…and silence settles in.
Or I return to the bedroom. My spouse Jim—blessing that he is—can bring me back into being with simply by saying “I love you” and cuddling.
Or I walk from my parking lot to work, begin to say “good morning” to strangers, engage in a morning chat with my work partner Christa or other colleagues.
Being with other people changes the dynamic. It centers me down into the moment. Just do this now. Now this. Now this.
The empty path is not about “right belief” or “right action.” It’s not about “getting right with God.” These are all propositional things. They pretend to be measurable against some observable standard.
The empty path is simply about being with God. Noticing, allowing, living into the relationship itself.
That is why Jesus told his followers to call God “Papa” (Abba), and why he called his followers friends.
It’s just about being with each other in each moment.
And so it is.