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Alloways Creek Meetinghouse. © Martin Kelley.

Grounded in God

Alloways Creek Meetinghouse. © Martin Kelley.

 

What does it mean to be spiritually grounded? To me, being grounded is feeling, knowing, and living through the guidance of the Living Stream. It is seeing with the contemplative mind. When I’m grounded, I am less concerned with me. I am alive in a fuller way because I see beyond judgment. Instead of right and wrong, I see right and right. I see God’s love underneath all activity.

When I am grounded, I am part of the body of seekers and finders. My vision is expanded and illuminated by the experience and vision of others. There is sometimes an ecstatic part of seeing from the grounded place: Every blade of grass is holy; every molecule everywhere reverberates with God’s Presence. Miracles happen. People are changed. Love finds its way.

Humility and wisdom rule the day in the grounded place. Humility is not to be confused with docility. Speaking Truth sometimes requires bold action. Such actions, however, must flow from a place of love.

As Quakers, we are given the opportunity to weave our groundedness from the interplay of our corporate and individual spiritual practices and experiences. In fact, we likely can’t be grounded without the checks and balances inherent in our spiritual communities.

 

Robert Barclay, the early Quaker writer who is known for his lengthy defense of Quaker faith and practice (a Quaker classic referred to simply as Barclay’s Apology), is also well‐known for his writings about meeting for worship. One such passage—which you probably have heard—is the following:

And as many candles lighted, and put in one place, do greatly augment the light, and make it more to shine forth, so when many are gathered together into the same life, there is more of the glory of God, and his power appears, to the refreshment of each individual; for that he partakes not only of the light and life raised in himself, but in all the rest.

It has been instructive to me to know the sentence that precedes this feel‐good quote about meeting for worship. It reads:

so that as iron sharpeneth iron, the seeing of the faces one of another, when both are inwardly gathered unto the life, giveth occasion for the life secretly to arise, and pass from vessel to vessel.

I’ve often thought about iron sharpening iron. It does not seem to be a gentle act. Scraping away fragments of metal feels raw and even painful. I often feel that God’s work in meeting for worship is not always gentle. I have much to be scraped away, and having the presence of my fellow seekers, who also submit to such scraping, indeed allows for each of us to be clearer vessels.


I know that there is earthshaking potential in our Quaker spiritual practice. If we live from a place of spiritual grounding, lives will be changed. The world will become a better place.


Patience is a large part of being grounded. To be grounded, I must wait and know that it is the Living Stream that’s in charge and not my own will. The skill of letting go is a fundamental practice that we are taught early regarding meeting for worship. Many of my early Quaker teachers advised me to just let the thoughts go. The goal is to find the deeper place, where the veil falls away and I see differently. This is a contemplative practice: one at which we become better skilled the longer and more frequently we practice it.

Did anyone say it was easy? And yet it seems like the easiest thing in the world. We invite everyone into the meeting room; we sit silently without requirements for specific mantras or physical postures, and we wait—listening, trusting, and practicing letting go. Why are our minds so active and so desirous to be in control? What does it take truly to learn how to let go?

For me, it has always been tasting the fruits of spiritual surrender that invite me to make sure that I am not leading the way. In my experience, God is much better at showing the way. Every experience I’ve had of the Presence has offered some degree of profound wisdom, amazing guidance, and infinite love.

Sometimes the spiritual fruit is the tiniest seed. Sometimes it is clouded in mystery and can only be unraveled with time. Sometimes it is like a rushing river following the winter thaw. Having even the smallest experience of the palpable Living Stream encourages us to develop the patience to allow the Living Presence to lead our worship and our lives. Without this patience and without the experience of “iron sharpening iron,” I don’t think we could ever be in the grounded place.

 

Expectancy ‘79. Interior view of Alloways Creek Meetinghouse in Hancock’s Bridge, N.J. © Mary Waddington.

Over these past several years, I’ve been wrestling with a leading to strengthen Quakers’ reliance on the guidance of the Living Presence—and rely less on ourselves. My experience among Friends in the past 25 years has caused me to worry that we are losing this fundamental posture of deep listening, trusting, waiting, and faithfulness. We are filling our spiritual space with too much of our own thinking, analyzing, and need to control. Maybe I’m wrong; maybe I’m right. In either case, strengthening our commitment and acknowledging our capacity to dwell in that Life‐giving Power would certainly be an asset in our meetings. I feel called to make this plea. The world needs our spiritually grounded souls.

What will it require? I see our spiritual practices as something quite simple. We come into our meetingrooms and our private spaces at home. We sit quietly. We listen, wait, and trust that there is something deep within that can and will lift us, heal us, restore, and guide us to make the world a better place, to be a better person. God comes, it seems, apart from thoughts: somewhere between feelings and a piercing that is deeper than transformation.

The Living Spirit touches us frequently, and yet we stop short of allowing it to carry us more completely into the spiritual realm. Why, when it feeds us so well, are we reluctant to let go and to trust more fully? For me, I know there is fear and worry about my adequacy. I’m afraid of what the Living Presence will ask me to give up. I question the strength of my commitment and my ability to keep my ego out of the way. Even with all the incredible experiences that I have had of the Living Spirit’s profound wisdom, guidance, and love, I hold back. I pause. I move very slowly toward giving more to God.

 

I need your help. I long for a stronger corporate spiritual practice among us. I long for deep meetings for worship that “shake the countryside for miles round,“ as has been said of the fire of early Friends. I need a spiritually deep and widespread Quaker community. I need it to help me to be more faithful. I need it to fulfill my calling to help steward our spiritual practices into the next century. It’s not because I simply want to preserve and protect Quakerism but because I know that there is earthshaking potential in our Quaker spiritual practice. If we live from a place of spiritual grounding, lives will be changed. The world will become a better place.

Richard Rohr, a Franciscan teacher, writer, and monk who publishes free daily meditations on his website and by email, recently wrote:

Your life is not about you; you are about Life. You are an instance of a universal, eternal pattern. The One Life that many call “God” is living itself in you, through you, and as you!

If that is true, what am I preventing from being manifested in the world by not living fully into the life that God is trying to live through me?

Please God, help me to participate fully in your life.

Michael Wajda has traveled widely among Friends. In 2018, his monthly meeting recognized his call “to strengthen our time-tested foundational posture of reliance on God’s Living Presence.” Michael is a member of Goshen (Pa.) Meeting, but he and his wife recently moved to Bennington, Vt. Contact: [email protected]

Posted in: Features, Friends Face a Pandemic/Thin Spaces

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4 thoughts on “Grounded in God

  1. Larry Muller says:

    City & State
    Vienna, WV
    This article resonates with me. Thank you Michael for articulating so well what many of us feel deep down, but perhaps cannot find the words to express. Listening and waiting on God can be difficult at times; being patient is necessary. I pray your message is read by many and given deep consideration.

  2. George Powell says:

    City & State
    Carmel Valley CA
    Thank you, Michael, for this beautiful inspiration! You are part of the leavening.

  3. Glenn B says:

    City & State
    Atlanta, GA
    Michael, I also believe there is enormous potential in Quaker spiritual practice.

    You said you need our help for stronger corporate spiritual practice.

    What can we do to help achieve that?

  4. Hank Breitenkam says:

    City & State
    Port St. Lucie, Fl
    Thank you Michael for your thoughts on worship and life.

    There are a cornucopia of traits that make for success in these matters: being in awe of creation, disciplined persistence in sitting, knowing my unity with all creation, selflessness, contentedness of the moment (even if it’s not perfect), and a smile on my face and in my heart for no particular reason.

    And how do I know this?

    Because when I find myself just marking the time, waiting for it to be over, I’m missing some or all of these traits.

    For sure, I need to rid myself of the time grabbing “drive‐thru/microwave” mentality. The words of the song come back to me: “Slow down, ya move too fast…”

    Be well…

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