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.