RantWoman's body is back from the Pacific Northwest Quaker Women's Theology conference, fished out of the unheated but nearly swimmable pool with a view. RantWoman's soul still seems to be alternately staring off to the east towards the folds and shadows up the Columbia Gorge or soaring off to the west over the expanses at the mouth of the Columbia. RantWoman's life still evokes the Elizabeth Fry quote about "too much tossed... do all thing heartily unto the Lord." RantWoman means here to reflect on her experiences, what another attender called "spiritual hospitality," what RantWoman has also heard described as "diversity in prayer." Okay, not THAT diverse: RantWoman never once was led to drag out her sudoku book. Maybe it was the tendering hues of all the quilts hung around the meeting room, but RantWoman was struck by a generous ease in being together.
At the Women's Theology Conference, the daily small-group meetings for spiritual intimacy are called home groups. In past years, home groups have been offered fairly rigid descriptions of worship sharing and worship discussion formats. Worship Sharing means Friends in start with queries and wait in silence with the expectation that a message on the queries will be given to each woman in turn without any need to clarify or riff on what resonates from what others share. When this is done well it is powerful; RantWoman herself has uneven experience about this. RantWoman was touched by a NWYM Friend's story of having to sit with the idea again after speaking to a member of the planning committee and finally feeling centered in the practice. Worship discussion permits much more crosstalk, chatter, and reactivity.
In past years, women were urged to choose one format or the other in advance, on the theory that women have definite preferences. This year the women creating home groups left both agreement bout form for worshipping together and discernment about queries for each session to....God and each group individually. RantWoman's group spent a few moments on the first day coming to unity that each woman should feel invited to say whether or not she welcomes additional discussions about her messages. In several cases women welcomed more discussion but little was forthcoming. RantWoman and one group member identified common interest in talking outside the group about blindness issues; then we passed up the first opportunity, a chance encounter on our morning walks and caught up again later. RantWoman LOVES Quaker gatherings for exactly this sense of space.
RantWoman for numerous reasons she has not fully analyzed seldom gets to know people very quickly. RantWoman found it a blessing to be in a group with several Friends she knows but not well, and better in important ways because of being in home group together. RantWoman's life is rich in difficult topics, the sort of experiences which make people gasp when she reports the good news. RantWoman felt blessed to be delivered of short pithy comments on only one of these themes AND felt well--held by Friends' responses.
RantWoman's group leaders seeded each day's sharing with some kind of query and the format of subsequent sharing wandered a couple different directions. One day other members of the group besides RantWoman simply settled into silent worship and only articulated the realization that it was on point when someone said "let's get started;" the whole group laughed when someone said she thought we already were.
Another point where RantWoman heard specific and intentional openness to leadings of Spirit rather than rigidity about specific practices was threads of discussion about whether women are comfortable or not with spoken verbal prayer. Friends from RantWoman's Yearly Meeting tend not to be terribly comfortable with verbal prayer, out loud in front of God and everybody. Friends from Northwest Yearly Meeting tend to pray loudly and enthusiastically for all kinds of situations. RantWoman has a lot of Presbyterians in her orbit who like to pray out loud so RantWoman is pretty heterodox on the question. RantWoman was tender, though, to hear women from both programmed and unprogrammed traditions talking about experiences with prayer aloud: women seemed to manage it better than one would predict from their initial reaction. Or maybe this was just the "spiritual stretching" mentioned in the epistle.
Some years, references to Goddess or the feminine divine became points of difficulty. RantWoman has a sense from reading women's papers that definitely not everyone starts out automatically speaking of Jesus or even in terms of God at all. And RantWoman overheard snippets of conversation indicating deep listening and rich sharing regardless of words used for movements of spirit.
One final note about RantWoman personal points of heterodoxxy: RantWoman is a choir director's kid. This means RantWoman besides enthusiasm for music in general is utterly unQuakerly in her enthusiasm for ...practicing / rehearsing. Even worse for a women's conference: RantWoman did not rabidly dislike the conference music but did sometimes think male voices would help the chords. This does NOT mean RantWoman has any leading to invite men to this event but it definitely is one reason Ran tWoman is clear to appreciate both single-gender and mixed gender events.
music chant meditation