Friends, I would like to ask that we sit for a minute with the thought that our discernment is marred by anger and mistrust, and that the pain of it is a demonstration of its unworthiness.
Of course our emotions of the moment interfere with the holy oneness we seek in Friends’ worshipful practice of business. But perhaps we should consider that some of the pain of this matter inheres in the situation itself: We are in a pickle, a conundrum in which different entities truly have conflicting interests. There is no possible resolution without everyone giving something up, and this will cause pain. It is perhaps more painful that it is not our personal possessions that we give up, but something attached to our higher aspirations and to the well-being of other bodies and people for whom we feel great tenderness. What’s at issue is not simply a matter of materialism, as we sometimes hear, but of a word that so often arises among us: stewardship. Giving up something over which feel the pull of conscientious stewardship will, no doubt, be hard and confusing for us. Not because we are bad people, but because it is a difficult situation.
And if we are mistrustful and angry with one another, it is in part because we have been in a situation in which it is inevitable that we do one another harm, because of the conflicts built into the facts around us. We have all done each other damage, individually and through our institutions, and we smart from those wounds.
I would like to ask that as we face the next stage in this journey we try to be compassionate with one another and with ourselves. If we all share in the understanding that we together inhabit a situation that puts us at odds, if we look on one another’s struggles with compassion, it will help us to endure what will be a hard time, and it will also help us hear one another more fully and come to a better resolution. I would like to speak particularly to my own community of Friends; we are in a place where we need one another’s love and forgiveness. Without it we cannot come to unity and find the oneness which our clerks reminded us of so beautifully in last night’s readings. Our suffering will be magnified by the enmity of people we love so much.
In my work on this I keep being reminded of childbirth. While I was having a baby, it seemed like the worst thing possible; I could barely believe I wasn’t being destroyed. My body, my physical self, where my spirit met the world, seemed to be betraying me. But in fact it was the source of transformation. The body that I inhabit seemed to afflict me only to shelter a brighter future; its pain was an inevitable passage to new life.
My old friend Joseph used to quote Auden:
Believe your pain; praise the scorching rocks…
Thank the bitter treatment of the tide
For its dissolution of your pride,
That the whirlwind may arrange your will
And the deluge release it to find
The spring in the desert, the fruitful
Island in the sea, where flesh and mind
Are delivered from mistrust.
We are not bad people because we suffer in a difficult situation. Even when we behave badly and depart from our best aspirations for ourselves—perhaps especially then—we are deserving of one another’s compassion. It is not our fault; it is not God’s wrath. God asks us to do a difficult thing with purity of heart. This has fallen to us for a reason. Let us be brave and do it, with love for one another and clear eyes about what lies before us.