Quaker Lessons for a Catholic Girl

Sister Sarah Hennessy is a person I met in the early 2010s, while working with her religious order. As you will see from her blog post, she was raised a Quaker, yet became a Franciscan Sister of Perpetual Adoration. I loved her line, “…traded hush puppies for cheese curds.” Sarah writes periodically in Messy Jesus Business — isn’t that the most honest titling ever. Below is an excerpt from a recent post — she had me at “speak only if the words improve the silence.” Check her full post.

And consider the relationship of silence to wise being together in groups. I know it is on my mind, and in my heart always, changing how I facilitate groups.

Speak only if the words improve upon the silence

The Quaker (officially the Society of Friends) meeting I grew up in was unprogrammed, meaning that our worship service was an hour of silence. During that silence if you felt a “leading” you could speak. Maybe you would share an insight you had that week, a thought on a piece of Scripture, or even sing a song. In any case, there should be a deep prompting that the words you are going to say are worth breaking the holy silence we are all gathered in.

This seems to me a good habit for every day, but especially for Advent. Have I gotten lost already in the Christmas season or am I silently preparing in expectant waiting? Am I speaking from my heart, from a deeper sense of life-giving hope?

Trust in the Mystery

It seems it is about every six months or so that I have an, “I want to write about something I’m learning from Julia Walsh” moment. Sister Julia, FSPA, continues to write her blog, Messy Jesus Business. She doesn’t necessarily know that I’m having those moments. There are many times that I peek in to her blog and get a deep, satisfied grin, ear to ear. She is a truth teller. Deeply human. One of those unique people that deliberately respects and honors tradition, yet also knows to evolve the edges. That’s good, right.

Recently Sister Julia wrote about transition in her life, moving from a four year focus on teaching to becoming a retreat presenter. All within the FSPA tradition. But it’s still a move. It’s a different place to live. It’s goodbyes. It’s gratitudes. It’s sadness. It’s anticipation. Her point in all of it is that the practice of trusting in the mystery is essential.

Ah, there it is — trusting in the mystery. Again. Mystery is one of my favorite questions that I’ve been asking in my facilitation and leadership work over the last year. I usually ask it in the format of The Circle Way so that people can lean in to it deeply — “Do you relate to mystery in your work, or the unknowns? What is that like for you?” It takes people to an honest place, a matured inquiry about themselves and others, and a freed place — witnessing the mystery together.

It is my experience and observation that all of us face a level of mystery. The unknowns. In our work. In our families. In our communities. Some mysteries are the ones we carry with us for a lifetime — who am I, really? Who are we together, really? Some mysteries are for the week — I wonder why that dog is hanging out near our yard, and does he have a home? Some of us (all of us at times) try to suppress our relationship to mystery. We overlay it with grasps at certainty, thinking that a simple patch will make it go away and return us to the convenience of our certainty illusions, just like we might hope when overlaying a hole in a floor board with a small area rug.

Whether God or ancestors or guardian angels or other beings, I often imagine a group of them smiling at us as we evolve our own relationship to mystery. “Watch this, he’s getting closer to leaning in to mystery — nope! Oh, that was so close.” I imagine them then smiling and agreeing to check in on us again later, like coming back to watch a football game together another weekend.

Neither mystery, nor our need to be in deliberate relationship with mystery, nor the hole in the floor covered by the area rug, goes away. We just save the inevitable for another day. Or we simply go to sleep (figuratively and literally).

Thanks Sister Julia — your presence and playfulness in the mystery, continue to inspire.