What if there is no going back?
As the United States shifts again, seeking the right fit and comfort in addressing a yearlong pandemic, hugged by politics and grief, we find ourselves being asked to tap our own inner guidance on what comes next. We are not a collective voice, let alone united, but responding to this wild year has centered on how we tap into our inner guidance, and for me with Quaker roots, it has begged my imagination to dream up something new.
Can I imagine my spiritual home, that of Quakers and meetinghouses, being more vast and inclusive than ever?
What if all the centering, listening for the Divine, and consensus-building practices found in the Quaker faith were the kind of mutual and deeply sought actions our fellow neighbors and country people hunger for? I’ve begun to sense a deep knowing that there is no “return to normal”—we’ve been drug under the white-hot light of awareness, and we have been exposed.
I know as we begin to return to our meetinghouses and worship spaces, the logistics of connection and accessibility will begin to dominate our conversations. We often focus on what we know well: the logistics of what is and the maintenance of our own status quo (though we may never venture to name it so).
The possibilities of what can be are often laid to the back burner, to a sometimes already tired committee tasked with making sense of our drastically shifting community. I am hoping we can collectively imagine so much more.
Without transformation in how we gather and connect, it won’t just be people like me—miles from any meetinghouse—who are dropping through the cracks of an old system. Our communities are fractured, tenuous, and sewn together through a complex series of coax cables and phone lines.
If this season has felt like a bleak one, then I want to congratulate you on arriving at this very moment. Our friends and families may feel fragile, but I promise, you’ve been preparing. Transformative community change is a heavy and healthy lift, one that is fast moving on our horizon.
In Emergent Strategy, adrienne maree brown wrote, “Building community is to the collective as spiritual practice is to the individual. . . . Being a part of movements is complex work, it requires a faith.”
So before we all welcome folks into our spaces and invite them to settle down on rows of creaky benches, smell the long-awaited scents of a room closed off, and fire up the doldrums of committee work, let me offer a set of active reflections for the Quaker communities brave enough to recognize there is no going back and also for those preparing for the transformation ahead.
There is personal work for each of us to take on, even before we arrive back to our Quaker communities. It is the small habits, when practiced intentionally, that have the greatest ability to scale. In this process I wonder: when am I able to share my whole self? What do I need from my Quaker communities and space to do that? This past year brought forth the opportunity to sense what is on the horizon of our growth.
As we rejoin to worship in physical space, I am reminded that moving at the speed of trust, one of the principles of emergence cited by brown, encourages us to focus on critical connections more than critical mass, that our resiliency as a community is bound in our relationships. I wonder, how have meetings practiced community care in the last year? And how will we steward this care into its next iteration, not on the backs of a few but woven together, flexing and sharing the weight of change?
Through the pandemic I have encountered generous hosts, keenly aware of our need for safety, care, hospice, and mental health. What would it mean for our neighbors if the meetinghouse were also a place with generous hosts, known for our energetic warmth, self-awareness, and intentional care for the local community? In what circumstances might the meeting be called to action by our neighbors? As a community, what would these actions look like? It may be easy to drop into a routine, however when we are poised for community transformation, our charge is to constantly assess and address ourselves in a changing environment.
My dearest hope is that we move outside of our habits and routines, reevaluate our practices, and begin to envision our Quaker communities as transformative spaces for all.