Saturday, September 15, 2007

Possibly Irreconcileable Differences (?)

There is a split, rather a large gulf, separating some Friends in our Meeting from others. One would think that this split would revolve around some aspect of belief or belief content, but it does not.

As far as I can tell, this split between Friends originates from differences in the personal experience of internal 'voices,' for want of a better word.

My sense is that there is a big difference between Friends who seek deep interpersonal values and Friends who seek to discover the truth of their everyday existence.

Those second Friends might be described as perplexed about the contradictions of conscious life - being aware of one's self implies two entities, yet both are one - so that they wish to understand the facts of their existence. Or they may be walking a path to God, seeking Unity with the Divine. In any event, their search involves subtlety, personal humility, submission to forces larger than their consciousness, among other things.

The former Friends seem to be in the position that there can be little or no understanding of these things, so one should seek human contact and human goodness to the best of one's ability and leave off the rest. They may also be of the present condition that they do not have the luxury of earnest spiritual seeking at this time, and thus wish soley for comfort, solace, society. These Friends may be involved with morality, integrity on a social level, and communal sharing, among other things.

Almost everyone has had the experience of internal promptings which seem to push one in some direction or another, and, most certainly, almost everyone has had the experience of conscience.

There are some Friends who would describe this internal guidance as coming from something other than their consciously perceived self. These Friends sit with expectation, almost as if waiting for a lover, during Meeting For Worship, waiting for very subtle forces.

Other Friends state that they believe that the inner promptings and wisdom that they experience is either self-generated (or at least explanable that way) or given by God. There is thus no need for a more complicated explanation than the workings, possibly as yet not understood, of the material world, or the workings, unable to be understood, of God. These Friends sit in Meeting to become quiet, to lose the jangling complications of everyday life, to find peace for a bit of time.

[Of course, there are many other motivations and ideas about what people are doing during Worship. But I am trying here to articulate a problem that has been present in the Meeting for some time now. Please try to fit your ideas to my line of reasoning for a moment (only).]

This is all exceedingly ironic. The two ideas about what constitutes worship involves not whether God helps us (or is there), but instead is totally a difference in expectation. Friends who sit expectantly in Meeting may be looking for subconscious promptings to give them wisdom, may be attempting to take an evolutionary step forward in terms of extending human consciousness, may be waiting for the gift of God's messages to speak to their condition.

Those who seek peace, quiet, and human contact in Meeting For Worship want vocal ministry that is uplifting, enheartening, and possibly a bit entertaining, may wish to have their children present with them, may engage in inspirational reading or prayer or other forms of centering behavior. They may invoke God or not.

These two groups of Friends, while so similar in intention, are opposite poles from each other in practice, having divergent expectations of Meeting For Worship.

I am now quite sure that there will not be a way to overcome this kind of difference in expectation. For each, the entire point of Worship is invalidated by the other's point of view and behavior.

And yet, neither point of view is invalid. They are simply incompatible.

It may be damaging to all to try to force communal values in this case. I do not know. I only know that we have no vocabulary at present to use in attempting to understand each other, being separated by the common language of Quakerism, which rides serenely over the gulf of widely divergent expectation.

1 comment:

Robin said...

A lucid description of what I am trying to express here: