Saturday, June 20, 2015

What Is Mine To Do?

Reflections on our Yearly Meeting, 2015

There is a principle which is pure, placed in the human mind, which in different places  and ages hath had different names. It is, however, pure and proceeds from God. It is deep and inward confined to no forms of religion nor excluded from any, where the heart stands in perfect sincerity. In whomsoever this takes root and grows, of what nation so ever, they become brethren. – John Woolman
The crossroads of Yearly Meeting at Warren Wilson College
Friends are organized into Yearly Meetings, like a District for Methodists, or a Diocese for Roman Catholics. The Liberal branch of Quakerism has several Yearly Meetings covering the eastern United StatesIn the mid-Atlantic region, we have Philadelphia, Baltimore, North Carolina, Southeast, Lake Erie, Ohio Valley, and ours, Southern Appalachian Yearly Meeting and Association. And every year, Yearly Meetings have a yearly meeting
This was our 4th year to attend the SAYMA Yearly Meeting, and the theme was based on the writings of John Woolman: What is mine to do? As usual, we were uplifted spiritually and exhausted physically. Each day is filled with opportunities to meet new people, learn about Quakerism, and become informed about the many ways our faith has led people into service.
The campus of Warren Wilson College is the perfect venue, nestled in the Smoky Mountains with fantastic scenery and serene surroundings. This year, we had a trek from the dorm to the building where the activities were held, and enjoyed a nice walk several times a day.

The plenary speaker on Thursday was Michael Birkel, a professor of religion at Earlham, and a recognized scholar of John Woolman. Michael emphasized how carefully Woolman wrote. He took three sentences from Woolman's journal to demonstrate how the rather archaic words and phrases illuminated Woolman's whole philosophy:

From an inward purifying, and steadfast abiding under it, springs a lively operative desire for the good of others. All faithful people are not called to the public ministry, but whoever are, are called to minister of that which they have tasted and handled spiritually The outward modes of worship are various,but wherever men are true ministers of Jesus Christ it is from the operation of his spirit upon their hearts, first purifying them and thus giving a just sense of the conditions of others. (Chapter 1, 7 paragraphs from the end)

For example, Woolman used purity or pure in the sense of clear, the opposite of being confused – pure wisdom, for example. He uses the words right and just in such phrases as right order to refer to the priority one gives to the leadings, behavior, etc. in one's life.

Birkels's presentation went much deeper than just the connotations of words, however. He pointed to Woolman's selections of scripture that inspired him, particularly the Epistle of James and the Prophets. We now realize the need to partake of Woolman multiple times, to deepen our understanding of his insight. Michael offered two workshops as well.

In what is so typical of our experience of Yearly Meeting, Michael happened to get in line behind Karen for Friday breakfast, with Roger following just behind. We asked a question about his talk, and in the ensuing chatter, mentioned Susan, a former student. That led to sharing a table at three meals with him. His deep understanding, gentle spirit, and humility were a pleasure to experience.

The many displays showing the good work of Quakers around the world again made an impact on us. The projects stem from someone who saw suffering and responded to a personal leading to do something. It is truly amazing how one person's leading can mushroom into a project helping many.

We encourage all Friends to attend Yearly Meeting to experience the richness and camaraderie of being with other Quakers