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To Witness as God Wants

There must be always remaining in every life, some place for the singing of angels, some place for that which in itself is breathless and beautiful. -- Howard Thurman

Photo: Belinda Fewings-Unsplash
Being "in the world but not of it" is a path Friends have sought to walk for generations, and I’m not quite sure how we are doing with it of late. I used to consider this a way to keep my world a bit slower, and quieter, and to use that space to fill with real God focused time, whether reading, writing, connecting—whatever. For me, it was an intentional approach and boundary to keep a lot of the screaming parts of the world outside of my brain and home, and instead invite more of the possibility of a deeper connection with God, and all else that would follow from that.

While I understand that God is everywhere, I am also aware that some activities, people, institutions, choices, and even beliefs can pull me toward or away from a more vibrant sense of Spirit working through hearts. Discerning that “which cannot hold or channel the life-giving water” (Roger Wilson) is essential to living faithfully—I cannot find or fund a witness drawing from a dry well. To that end, it helps to consider that a relationship with God puts me in a place of “living both in time and in eternity, in timelessness”, (Eva Pinthus) and that God has the long view of any situation. My work remains in the listening and response while being careful to hold the discernment in tenderness and patience. It’s so important to acknowledge how heavy my heart feels at the brokenness and suffering in the world, and though I am given to feel it, it may not be mine to fix—right now, later, ever. So, I can move instead toward that work, as God wants, letting its manifestation form through a divine touch rather than personal or worldly manipulation in the direction of my will. Submitting my time and ideas to God’s purpose is harder to do running on empty or driven by fear or anger in reaction to the overwhelming stories of pain and brutality in the world.

Lately I’ve struggled with stepping back enough to give my sense of sorrow over to God when I see the how deeply structured and calculated the way our society is being unraveled—every bit of decency and compassion sacrificed to rage, violence, and privilege. To watch people reach such a point of being morally and spiritually bereft is as much heartbreaking as clarifying because these events are organized, planned, and functional; it does not come from a place of love or God. Despite my struggles with holding the pain, and being Held, I do not believe this descent into chaos is inexorable. I believe God is the way through, and I believe we have the obligation and opportunity to carry some part of this as witness. Even though the way feels burdened at times, it is important work to take up, and Friends have carried this kind of weight since the beginning of our religious society. We are given what we need, always, to follow the road God asks, and in our seeking to be faithful, grace finds a way to sustain us for the journey. In all ministry, finding the gifts along the way is part of answering the call.

Jan Dahm