At 6:45 Tuesday evening our 340th Annual Sessions launched with a Spiritual Formation Retreat guided by Marcelle Martin.
There were 76 participants of all ages. Marcelle grounded the retreat by connecting the lived experience of early Friends and their longing for God with our spiritual feelings and practices today.
Marcelle reminded our community of minding that which is eternal. She said that on a deep level love flows, truth lives, and we can find that peace in our hearts. This brings us into unity, but it also requires openness, tenderness, and vulnerability. She noted that the ways of the world are very harsh – we learn to cover up to protect ourselves. To be receptive to Spirit, we have to be open and vulnerable.
Comprised of a mix of ages/meetings/identities, participants were broken up into pairs to practice a sharing. Marcelle modeled this for the group by asking ‘what is your heart longing for?’ Speakers responded and were thanked for their sharings in a meditative, reflective and interactive process. There were spaces for a pause and a deep breath. And there was both repetition and role switching by the partners that deepened the experience.
People also wrote what their hearts were longing for into a shared chat which Marcelle then read. As the words rang out, they were joyful, thoughtful, simple, affirming, hopeful, compassionate and concerned. We listened. With a sense of community we felt the truths shared from many hearts.
Marcelle noted that early Friends were hungry for God, but also needed the courage to try Quakerism out, it was risky – there was persecution, simpler ways of dressing and being, and a commitment to be faithful to what God might want.
She asked us to pay attention to spirit, and to feel “how is God leading you now?”
It was a deeply satisfying evening, with a body prayer exercise, and a sense of spiritual connectivity. Joy was present, too.
As part of the exercises a Friend connected with the moment her grandchild was born. She said;
The questions made me synthesize the word “Joy” and I could feel it in my body: I could remember it and feel it. I knew what that word was, but it was lovely to feel it and live it in the moment again.
Another Friend shared these messages in the group chat:
There is nothing on earth I love better than talking about God, so I loved (the exercises). I also never listen in the Light without receiving a gift from the other person.
The Spiritual Formation Collaborative offered the retreat with support from George Schaefer, PYM’s Care and Aging Coordinator, and Olivia Brangan, Community Engagement Coordinator and the Community Engagement team. PYM elders, and pastoral care Friends were present as well.
George reflected on the evening:
I appreciated hearing Marcelle’s deeper understanding of familiar Quaker words and terms. Those insights can transform our experience of worship and community.
For instance, the word ‘listening’ for Friends is a metaphor for a certain kind or quality of meditative attention, one which allows for a deeper communion and creates greater spiritual intimacy. It is how we get to know each other in “that which is eternal.
In their writings, early Friends often enjoin us to be “tender” with each other. As Marcelle pointed out, for them being tender meant being attentive and receptive to the movement of the Spirit. It included being vulnerable and letting our guard down in relationships and expressing our heart’s desire, what we are longing for, as a path to joy. These practices empowered Friends to be a ‘great people gathered.
We closed with these thoughts: Take time to hold in the Light what’s in your heart. Pay attention to your dreams. Journal!
Marcelle Martin, a member of Swarthmore Meeting, has led workshops across the United States. She was the resident Quaker Studies teacher at Pendle Hill for four years and is a core teacher for the 9-month program, Nurturing Faithfulness. On her blog, A Whole Heart, she shares inspiration to help us be all that God has created us to be. She is the author of Our Life is Love: The Quaker Spiritual Journey and A Guide to Faithfulness Groups.