Monday, June 24, 2013

Practicing Community

Mother's Moon

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This piece was written and presented as a "First Word" at my Quaker meeting. A First Word is a time to share with the community how god moves in your life so that we may more fully understand god's workings in the world. 
This is a topic I have been mulling over since at least last October (this post is what came out of those initial mullings) but between the time I agreed to give a First Word and the time I actually did get a chance to speak my life got turned pretty much on it's head. I contracted a serious bacterial infection in my ankle that landed me in the hospital for seven days, not walking for another week and still managing the physical and emotional recovery a month later. As I came through that trauma I realized I hadn't written out my thoughts and wondered if this was really what I wanted to speak about. I worried for a bit as I tried mightily to get thoughts to paper but then remembered - hey, I'm a Quaker. Words will come as words are meant to come. I got something down and trusted that the message that actually got shared would be the right message for the moment. 

What I present here is mostly "what I got down." I edited it lightly post ipso facto, but those of you who were in Meeting that morning will have to remember the sparkle as you saw it. 

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As much as we instant gratification, 21st century technology natives hate to admit it, it turns out, you gotta practice to get good at something. I was on a kickball team last spring and we lost every game we played. We had fun, but no one got any better at kicking or catching because we never practiced. I failed calculus three times in college before I figured out that doing the homework was the way to go. It helped that that last teacher was easy on the eyes, but the real key to success was practicing the work every day. Anything we want to get better at requires practice, from Stephen King writing every morning to things like friendship and relationships. I watch kids practice relationship with every awkward embrace in a high school hallway and every timid “can I play?” at day camp. 
Edward Hick's Peaceable Kingdom
Here at West Hills we do a lot of practicing, too; practicing how to be a community. Living in community with other people is hard, way harder than kickball and so the practice is that much more intense. We practice living in community with each birthday song and potluck, every dinner group and play date. I see us practicing the harder work of being vulnerable with each sharing of genuine joy or deep scary concern and I see us practicing caring for each other with every word of support or note of condolence. As a Quaker community we have a whole special set of skills to practice, from listening inwardly and outwardly in Meetings for Worship to learning to see that of god in every person. We practice discernment together and practice waiting for ways to open to lead us to win-win-win solutions. These are important skills that, through developing and practicing here, we have the opportunity to share with other communities we belong to. 
All this practice has paid off in my life. In recent hard times I have felt both the comforting refuge of a caring community and applied skills practiced here to other communities I am a part of. When I was in those dark days of finishing a master’s in teaching program I felt the support coming from this community and wondered why my group of girlfriends wasn’t doing the same for me. When I realized that this community includes explicit times to share concerns and encourages each other explicitly to meet each other’s expressed needs I was able to help my friends know what I needed. They stepped up and we grew closer as a community.
Recent events have tested my ability to give and receive support from my community again. Being in the hospital was overwhelmingly difficult in many ways. I have gotten tangible, physical support from members of this community as well as a flood of prayers, well wishes and more cat videos than I can shake a stick at. More importantly, though, this community has been a place for me to practiced asking for and receiving and giving support of all kinds so that when I really needed it, I could figure out what to ask for and how to ask it.
West Hills Friends is a community of peacemakers
A trusting, genuine, loving community is a basic human need that is hard to come by in our time and place in history. Here at West Hills Friends we have a special jewel worth nurturing and learning from. We have done the practice, put in the work to develop a community that, through our trusting relationships with each other and with the Spirit, allows people to be vulnerable, ask for help, receive help and celebrate joys. We have fun with each other, we do hard work together and we take care of each other. It is a safe and caring refuge for each of us in a world that can be scary, painful or cold. But it is also a training field for us to learn and practice skills we can bring to our other communities, our families, our work places, our other groups of friends. Learning to listen, to wait, to explicitly ask for help and cheerfully give what help we can, to subvert the power hierarchies of the culture by valuing people and relationships. These skills that we practice here at West Hills can be applied in all aspects of our lives. 
We have a lot to offer the world here, and the only way to get good enough to get noticed is to keep practicing. 
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Note: The topic of this post does not have much to do with the Mother's Moon. It's really much more a Journey Moon or a Father's Moon topic. But the fact of the matter is it got written and spoken during the Mother's Moon so that's where it falls in the blog. Things are getting a bit wacky around here. To understand the Mother's Moon energies, check out past posts, please.

Mother's Moon 2012: Nothing but Good Can Come of This 

Mother's Moon 2011: Freedom, July and Krishna and the Gopis

Mother's Moon 2009: Gifts from the Mother