Sunday, February 21, 2016

Being Together

This was shared as a First Word at West Hills Friends church in Portland OR. A First Word is a time for members of the community to share how god is moving in their life. One of the core tenants of our Quaker faith and tradition is that god speaks to each person individually and it is our job to listen, quietly and collectively, so that we can hear. Sometimes we find that it takes a lot of work to hear and other times - and this was one of them - the message comes screaming in like a meteor. I wrote the core of this piece as a text one night, and it has not changed except in expanding it a little to provide context. Wisdom just blams into your mind sometimes and I am ever so grateful that it does  :)

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 I love modern communication technology. As an introvert who likes people, having a way to keep in touch with my friends while still laying in my bed is like manna from heaven. Texting is really my go-to communication method, it’s not that intrusive, it can be asynchronous but the device is with me everywhere. But as amazing as email, facebook and texting are for increasing communication and connectivity of ideas, those methods of engaging with others lack some important things. It turns out, sometimes being with people really is best.

I’ve missed church a bunch this last month because I was off doing things with friends new and old. Even when I’m not here I get the weekly update that lists all the things people shared during joys and concerns. On weeks when I am here that list of names and brief summaries of what they shared feels like a pleasant Monday reminder of what I heard. It reminds me to think of them, as Mike reminds us to do every week. But when I haven’t been in attendance it feels like a litany of pain... So and so is ill, somebody's niece or mom fell, someone is having a hard time at work or with their kids or someone else is remembering the death of a loved one or parents dying soon. It feels overwhelming when I haven’t been in the presence of the people sharing the pain.

I have been thinking a lot about this, the importance of actually being present with hard stuff. I think about it in terms of hard conversations or deep sharing with my friends. It’s so hard for me to comfort a friend going through a nasty break up in Alaska, but talking with another friend here in Portland about loss and fear in his life is easier because I can look at his face and touch his hand as he tells the story. Hard conversations with my sister go better when we aren’t trying to do it over text.  Even in my own mind, the practice of mindfulness meditation is allowing me to be more fully present in my body and more able to feel all the hard stuff and the good stuff without shutting down. The intimacy of being in the same room with people makes the overwhelming hurt of being human so much more bearable.

Ultimately, all of that is why we do community, right? Because we are stuck in these bodies that fail and these lives that crack apart, but we also get each other.  We do family and community because we can’t stop the crap from happening, but knowing people will listen to your story, think kindly of you, touch your hand or give you a hug and maybe bring you some food or send a card makes it bearable in the end. And we really just can’t do that through a device. I believe in the internet, I really do. I think it is changing the world for the better and will solve many problems, but it can’t replace intimate, physical community. Thank you for being my community and making it all a little more bearable. 

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For more writing I have shared with my Quaker community or about my Quaker spirituality, check out my Quaker tag!

The pictures I chose for this post are from Keith Haring. Check out his biography and work here.