Archive for January, 2008

In all your honesty

January 24, 2008

Thomas looked at me, his warm smile showing quiet confidence and nervous anticipation at the same time. We stood on a slightly raised concrete platform, a foot above the grass of the clearing, beneath a mighty totara, decorated with a wooden cross. The wedding guests slowly filled up the clearing, seating themselves on the forms and chairs arrayed in rows like a church.

I welcomed them and asked them to sit in silence while we waited for Rhea to be escorted in by her father. The musician played, the birds sang in the trees high above, and the wind wafted forcefully around us. Thomas and I stood, smiling at each other and the group. As the seconds drew out, and the tension grew I said silently in my mind to Thomas, “relax my friend, she’ll come”.

With a collective breath out of relief, heads turning, and admiring smiles the guests watched as Rhea walked in slowly, well supported by the steady right arm of her father. He carefully led her up onto the platform, Thomas took her hands, his eyes shining, and they stood facing each other.

I addressed the assembled group and explained how the ceremony would unfold. It felt good to be there, confident and sure, speaking strongly so my voice would carry over the wind and the noise of the swaying trees. The words I spoke were both Thomas’ and mine, his poetry held within my structure. I described the silent worship part of the ceremony:

“After the exchange of vows, as in a Quaker Meeting, we will wait in silence until we may feel compelled to speak. If you are moved to speak, please leave some silence between yourself and the previous speaker. Everyone is welcome to share, however this is not speech-making time, there will be plenty of time for that later on. Rather this is a special and sacred space for a deep and soulful pondering on the nature of love and commitment, and on Rhea and Thomas as a couple. We ask that if you do feel called to speak, or sing, or pray, or recite, that you do so from the heart, and in all your honesty.”

I concluded my introduction, sat down in the front row, and silence fell. Rhea and Thomas looked at each other, and I could see the emotions pass over his face. Excitement, trepidation, and a rising calm as he let go and he waited for the spirit to move him. Dappled sunlight fell upon them, the wind stilled, and the wings of a kereru beat the air above. Thomas spoke his vows to Rhea, love welling up on his face as he passionately committed his life to hers. The honesty with which he spoke, the integrity of his love, and the sureness of his voice moved me deeply. Rhea spoke next, more quietly.

Rings followed, silence, and ministry from Thomas’ sister, Rhea’s father, and two friends. That they felt confident to share, each moved according to their own fashion, and conveying the full emotion of their feelings, made me very glad. In the absence of a priest Thomas gave himself permission to kiss Rhea. I declared them married, and the musicians sang a beautiful song as the couple walked off the platform and down the aisle.

Rhea and Thomas, you blessed me greatly in asking me to facilitate your marriage ceremony. It is an experience I will never forget. Seeing the strength of your love for each other, and the unfettered honesty with which you voiced it is an example to us all. May your life be filled with joy.

Living Dangerously

January 13, 2008

During the holiday period between Christmas and mid January I generally lose track of what day of the week it is, and rely on dates. At Summer Gathering I lose track of dates, and just go by which day of the gathering it is, or how many days there are still to go.

So, the day after SG ended, I was very pleased to realise it was a Sunday, and we were staying in Mt Eden, just minutes from the Meeting House. When I walked in to Meeting that morning, I saw people I had hugged goodbye the day before, not expecting to see for weeks or months.

At Summer Gathering I ran a session entitled ‘Dangerous Quakers’. This was inspired by a blog post by Peggy Senger Parsons, a Friend from the US. The session was about the way Quakers are often dangerous in the sense they are disruptive to the forces of oppression and inequality. They are dangerous to those who promote war and injustice as solutions to the world’s problems. This often involves Friends placing themselves in danger, in terms of their income, their liberty, their safety or even their lives. This willingness to sacrifice (aspects of) oneself for a greater truth has a power that Ghandi described as satyagraha, or ‘truth force’. I was very interested in how people tell whether they are being dangerous in this sense, or just reckless. How they tell whether what they are feeling is a calling from the Spirit, or just a ‘bee in their bonnet’.

During the session the importance of the people and Meetings that support those called came up several times. This is both in helping individual Friends listen to and discern their leadings, and in supporting their resulting actions. Coming into Meeting for Worship in Mt Eden made me realise yet again that it is the everpresent community of Friends that enables some of our number to head the call of the Spirit and do things that are dangerous.