Friday, October 22, 2010

Calls Not Answered

Feet shuffling. Whispered “Good mornings.” Bodies shifting in chairs. These are the sounds of gathering for worship in friends’ living rooms on Sunday mornings. Recently it was at Gene and Judy’s house where I closed my eyes and breathed in and out slowly and deeply to let those sounds float around me as I grounded myself in the presence of the Spirit.

Then a mechanical voice spoke, “Calls will not be answered.” I peeked through half-opened eyes to see Judy walking away from the telephone; my answering machine gives the same message, in the same voice, when I turn it off before meeting.

Calls will not be answered. How often I’ve thought that when I’ve felt pulled in directions I don’t want to go. I picture myself like a little girl stamping her foot, arms folded tight over her chest, her face in a pout. Calls will not be answered.  God, don’t even ask. Sometimes I’m more polite. PLEASE God, don’t even ask.

Apparently this resistance is part of my Quaker heritage. Marge Abbott writes in her book, To Be Broken and Tender, that 19th Century Quaker Rachel Hicks reportedly first responded to a call to travel in the ministry with the words, “This is a service I cannot perform.”

So often I sit in meeting for worship or in my daily time of silence listening for wisdom to guide me in my actions. Concerns ranging from global climate change and war, to my vocation, family concerns or crises in friends’ lives weave through my meditation.  I’m aware of so many needs, so many issues requiring loving attention and care.  Often on my way to settling and centering, judgment that whatever I’m doing isn’t enough burbles up. Although I know I can’t respond to everything, that not every issue or concern or danger is mine to act on, I put great pressure on myself to hear, and then answer, the “right” call.   I’ve made progress; I used to believe that I really could do it all. Now I understand that God expects me to use my free will and to discern which calls are for me and which I’m to leave unanswered.

The answering machine’s voice seems to be speaking directly to me as I continue to test my leading to strengthen my ministry of writing by enrolling in an MFA program.   The demands of this course of study will require time and energy that I currently use in other ways.  I’m struggling with the awareness that answering this call would mean, for awhile at least, letting others go unanswered.  Too often I’ve forgotten that saying “yes” to something requires that I say “no” to others.  I’ve requested a clearness committee to help me identify what I need to say “no” to if I’m going to be faithful to the call to return to school.

Gregg Levoy uses a slightly different telephone analogy in Callings—Finding and Following an Authentic Life. “We need time when we’re not engaged in what the Taoists refer to as ‘the ten thousand things.’ When we give off nothing but busy signals, calls simply don’t go through. There’s no room for them. Make some room. Get off the line once in a while.”  I hope to come to a sense of peace about focusing on just a few things instead of trying to do thousands.

Updates - Several weeks ago I wrote about my friend, Greg, who was diagnosed with brain cancer.  He’s tolerating treatment well and is living with gusto. I know I’m not alone in my heightened awareness of the many lessons illness teaches about living and dying.

Blogging continues to be a good spiritual and writing discipline for me.  Although I haven’t maintained my commitment to post weekly, this public forum provides just enough of a deadline to nudge me to write regularly, and that’s good for my spirit and the craft.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Two Places at Once

Despite my belief in the wisdom of being fully present to each moment, I often yearn to be in at least two, if not three, places at the same time. I started drafting this blog post waiting to board a plane in Washington, DC, headed to Seattle.  I had made a quick trip there to visit my son in combination with exhibiting at the New England Independent Booksellers Association trade show in Providence, Rhode Island.  Too hard to be that close to my son, newly moved to Arlington, VA, without seeing him. Tempting to make a quick trip, too, to see his twin sister, who runs a café in Brooklyn, but I resisted.

As the 737 sliced through a thick mat of gray clouds, I wanted to be both at my son’s cozy apartment just outside the nation’s capital and back home in my quiet, island community. And, while fantasizing the impossible, I also longed to be sipping a cappuccino at my daughter’s café.

The kids haven’t lived at home for over ten years, and I’m clear that they’re both just where they should be at this stage of their lives. I’m equally certain that I’m in the place just right for me. But those sureties don’t keep me from desiring to share more of the landscape and rhythm of our daily lives.

Now, several days later and fully engaged in my life of writing, book promotion, school nursing, Quaker responsibilities, and household care, my heart still aches that I don’t share more of that life with my children and they with me. I expected that they wouldn’t remain close to their childhood home, as much as they love it. But I didn’t expect to miss them as I do so many years after their departure from this home. Yet, here it is, a great longing that wells up, often when I least expect it, and always when I see other friends whose adult children live nearby.

This seems to be another one of those opportunities life and Spirit give me to let go of my illusions of control.  You’d think I’d have gotten it by now. Didn’t it sink in when I learned that I was pregnant with twins instead of the one baby my husband and I had expected? Or when they grew big enough and strong enough that I could no longer physically remove them from a dangerous or undesirable situation.  And then again, when they chose friends, clothes, and activities without my input.

Those earlier parenting lessons seem minor now and not fully preparatory for my role at this time. Now that they’re grown, I long to see my children happily partnered, fulfilled with their work, spiritually nourished (and if it’s not too much to ask, if not a short commute away, at least in the same time zone as me).  I know those are desires I can’t command.

So, I ground myself in this place where I’m called to be and savor the times we have together, relish the e-mails and phone conversations we share, and give thanks for our strong connections over many miles. I pray for patience, and acceptance, and faith that their journeys and mine will be Spirit-filled and Spirit-led.