November Newsletter - A Sampling

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The In-breaking of the Light 

by Carol Ciscel

Quakers try to make decisions not simply by consensus but by something more mysterious and even mystical: discernment of the divine.

At a meeting for learning in October, Kelly Askins posed two queries for us. Do you recognize divinely inspired insight? Can you distinguish between divinely inspired leadings and your own needs and desires?

At first, no one had a response to either query, so Kelly asked us something easier: to think of one word or phrase that comes to mind when we think about discernment. Friends thought of openness, decision-making, leadings, guidance, insight, awareness, conflict resolution, gathering information, laboring together, listening, service, and self-examination.

Friends also had a lot to say about the process of community discernment: envisioning outcomes, preparing to be surprised, accepting uncertainty, knowing I might be wrong, absolute equality, mutual respect, not being so hasty, remembering to speak and release, being led, standing aside. Every one of which is helpful for finding unity. It is true, however, that when we sit down together to find unity, the first thing we usually find is disunity. We have all found that we’ve made assumptions about each other that weren’t quite accurate.

Getting the courage to speak what we honestly feel and listening without judgement to what we hear from othersis not always easy, but it is crucial. That’s why the process can take time – often a lot of time. Our minute on racism took about 18 months and that was not even a record breaker.

For many, however, the queries prompted thoughts not of community decision-making but of individual decision-making and then the answers to both queries were straight forward for several Friends: “no, I’m not aware of divine inspiration.”

Those Friends spoke my mind, but I do rely on intuition. Whether or not that is divine, I can’t say. However, gathering information and then letting my subconscious work on it, often seems to produce a satisfactory solution. In fact, when a solution presents itself out of my subconscious, it can feel like an in-breaking of the light. However, the in-breaking of the light is perhaps more likely to feel spiritual when it happens in community. When views are articulated that seem irreconcilable, it can often be an unanticipated seemingly out of left field remark that turns the group toward unity. When that moment arrives it is like experiencing a gathered meeting for worship. The relief and surprise are palpable. Preparing for that moment requires loving acceptance of difference; patient waiting; and recognizing what just happened when the light breaks in.