Annually at William Penn House, we host our National Consultation Committee. Most of this committee's members are reps to the Friends Committee on National Legislation as well which starts the evening after we wrap up our gathering. Because of the FCNL connection, many of the people on our NCC are active and involved in social justice issues with an awareness of the role that advocacy and service play in our faith community.
This year, as the WPH staff and interns were presenting the continuously evolving programs and mission of William Penn House, it was evident that we have become much better at articulating what had been intuitive processes (such as "Radical Hospitality"). Because of this, conversations that ensue become a part of the evolving articulation which can then bring greater consciousness to the work as it relates to our core truths and our faith practice. It is a cyclical process that really highlights the power of conversations when we engage from a deep place of faith and respect.
On this particular day an observations made by the NCC members, as he listened to the story of how "Radical Hospitality" came to be and our on-going commitment and challenges to move towards being able to live this every day, is that he sees three main camps of Friends: birthright Friends for whom being Quaker has always been a part of their lives; people who are drawn to Quakerism because of it's "quietude" - the practice of silent worship that, for many, is so different than the chatter of their previous experiences; and those who are drawn to Quakerism because of the "Peace Testimony" and the struggle for peace. To over-generalize each of these, "identity", "faith-practice", and "values-aspirations".
Each one of these, in and of themselves, come with challenges and, when held up against each other, can become sources of further tension. The Quaker identity, for example, can become a source of division when it is held up against other faith identities. Our faith practice (sitting in waiting silence for the spirit to lead) can lead to some wonderful revelations and actions, but can be a paralyzing process when it mires us in mundane decisions, and can actually bring unnecessary tension to a faith committed to peace. The "value-aspiration/struggle for peace" work can also be a source of conflict internally as people with passion for action can get frustrated with inaction, and in the larger world, can be a source of division when we judge others who hold a different worldview, or proclaim that our course of action is the right one. To be sources of division as we struggle for peace can sometimes mean the we add unnecessarily to the struggle.
It seems that we, as Friends, have an inherent challenge and responsibility to nurture a flow among all of this - a flow that takes us out into the world, and back deep within ourselves, using the silent presence of spirit to ground and quiet us to go back out. But each time we go out or in, if we are doing this well, we become changed, perhaps even transformed. Going to the quiet space is not just a personal "time-out" to calm down, but to again sit with the spirit that was with us as we were out in the world. As a nun told me once, the real spiritual ministry work is when we cycle through going out and in, like a pendulum, throughout the course of our days, and not just as we go from one interaction and task to another, but even while in the doing of one task or interaction. We listen externally, and we come back to listening internally. I have found that in the rare times that I can consciously do this - struggle within my daily practice - greater peace can actually come.