While I was at Pendle Hill a couple weeks back I mentioned there was a lot of talk about meeting houses closing, there was a lot of talk about death, some literal death, some the death of our meetings and with it a (big) piece of our own stories. But there was more a sense that so much is changing in our world and within our meetings that it feels like the world as we know it is dieing. At one point one of our sessions, actually the session I was most looking forward to took a turn towards grief. We were talking about signs of life within the Friends church, exciting new communities, house churches, intentional communities doing justice oriented work, etc., and then all of a sudden people started sharing their greatest difficulties, the things they were worried about, their fears within their meeting. And we realized that there was some deep sadness over something being lost for many folks.
During one of our periods of open worship God reminded me of the role of a mid-wife. We all know what a mid-wife does and that maybe this is the language, and the image, that we in the church need to start considering. Because here we are in the middle of troubling times. I think we have a lot of rubble that is being created all around us, more rubble continues to form. We are in the middle of huge changes and transitions. Things really are changing. I dont think in 10 years the church is going to exist in the way it does now if we dont start to really consider some of this.
We cannot coast, we are facing crisis, we need more sustainable ways to exist as a community.
But we can press forward. Mid-wives do not, they cannot give up, or retreat when their laboring patient is in the middle of transition. They have the tools necessary, they have seen this thing before, and even though they dont know exactly how it will all end, they accompany, guide, and nurture the new mother. Just like Lady Wisdom, they accompany the creative work of our heavenly creator.
Tony Lowe, who participated in our workshop reflected on this subject as well:
The same is true of the process that we must go through as well. New life means change which will be exciting to some, but threatening to others. I am convinced that some of the negative responses/attitudes even actions to the idea of convergence are coming from a place of feeling threatened or fearful of where it might lead. And the threat is not just a perceived one. There is by necessity an element of death in new life. Jesus told his disciples that a kernel of wheat had to fall to the ground and die in order to produce new life. And the same is true of Friends. As hard as it may be for some of us to accept, there will be death as a part of this new life, death of some institutions, places, and things we have cherished. There will be Friends Meetings and Friends churches that will be unwilling or unable to make the transition.
Then I began to think about the role of the midwife, not just as it relates to birth and new life, but also as comforter, caregiver, even as a companion at death. Like them, we are called to rejoice with the those who are bringing forth new life, but to offer comfort and care to those in the process , and to weep with those who life is ebbing away.
And so whether we are at Pendle Hill discussing whether we can see signs of life, or just the signs of death, whether we are worshipping with Quakers outside our own groups who have many differences but share a common language of the Spirit, or whether we are here in Camas imaging what kind of community we can build and sustain, not just for those of us here in this room today but for our young daughters and sons we need to consider the language we use, the tools we have for navigating these times. And thats why I like this language of Lady Wisdom and the Mid-Wife. Both accompany, both nurture, bother are caregivers for new life, and are present during times of death. Like the ancient wisdom who calls, we have tools to make this through. We are not called to do this work on our own.
(See part one of this post)