Monday, February 9, 2009

Intellectualizing

Meeting last week was so good. As people delivered their messages about prayer and light, I found myself deeply and restoratively in a prayerful state. And I found it. I found that place within me that I could hear that still, small voice. I don't know what I was expecting, but it surprised me--it was so clear. It actually sounded like a little child, and it addressed me by name: "Stephen, come to me."

When I have a message that needs to be delivered, my body reacts strongly. The message presses into me from within, my heart starts pounding, I shudder and grow cold, and my head grows light and floaty and swirly. Last week, that happened when I had something to say about the light of God. But the child's voice I'd heard wasn't in it. My body trembled and my head grew faint, but the voice wasn't there. I remained seated.

Tonight, I have another meeting of the newly-formed Young Adult Friends group for Providence. Last Monday night was our first real meeting, and there were five of us, gathered over tea, tortilla chips, flatbread, and homemade hummous and pico de gallo. We decided to do a little bible study, so we opened up to a psalm and read it aloud. I mentioned that I sometimes had trouble reconciling the language of "enemies" in the psalms with Jesus' exhortation to love our enemies. I wondered what everyone thought. People shared their thoughts, and they mostly made some sense to me. Then, suddenly, I came upon a revelation: it all seemed so clear. But as I opened my mouth to speak, Hannah's cell phone rang. It was her father, so she answered it, briefly. After she hung up, I didn't say anything. But Elizabeth had noticed my "revelation face," and invited me to say what I was going to say. I couldn't.

I believe that seemingly random things happen for a reason. During the phone call, I realized that I had done to the scriptures what I usually do as a grad student: I had intellectualized them into obedience to my will. My "revelation" was an intellectual epiphany. The spirit wasn't in it. So I shut my mouth and let the silence of waiting enfold us all again. I've done bible studies many, many times in my life, especially during my high school days in a Presbyterian youth group. But this was the first time I realized how much God can and should be present in them. In the past, they've all been intellectual exercises, in which we talked about God. I realized that we can actually experience God directly when we communally wait upon the scriptures just like we wait upon him.

We didn't come to any glorious revelations about the psalm that night, but that was okay. We just sat with it, and we found ourselves in a prayerful state that was sweeter than anything we could have done to wrangle that thing into making sense.

2 comments:

Tom Smith said...

I am new to your blog and have read a few of your previous posts. I particularly identify with your "intellectual" approach. As a science educator I have been fascinated with the connection between science and Friends. The number of scientists that have been active in Friends far exceeds any that would be expected by the total number of Friends in society.

I believe that one of the strengths of Friends testimony is the recognition of the value and importance of body, mind, and spirit. The combination of calming the body and the mind by turning to the Light allows a more openness to the Spirit. I liked your comments about "monkey brain," and on a few occasions have found that my "monkey brain" has grasped a branch that leads to a connection with the living tree and the Root of faith. I do think that beginning worship with a recognition of that root does allow a much more direct connection.

One of my concerns with many "modern" Friends is calling what happens in Meeting for Worship as meditation. I too strongly believe in the benefits of meditation as an individual in quieting the "monkey brain" and examining one's own thoughts and self. However, I feel that this needs to be done on one's "own time" as a preparation for Meeting.

I commend your writings and intend to read more.

Stephen Higa said...

Thank you for your comment! Your take on meditation is spot on, I think. What seems to differentiate Friends from some other contemplative groups like Zen Buddhists is that we don't need perfect stillness to grasp the branch of the living tree you so wonderfully speak of. I was just at a Young Adult Friends meeting in which we supposed (only half-jokingly) that God works on us in mysterious ways, even through video games.

Your point about undertaking meditative practices *before* meeting is also well-taken. Lately, I've begun a sort of Sabbath for myself, in which I forgo all things that disquiet me from Saturday evening until Sunday morning. This includes all technological distractions and boisterous parties. I also make sure to get up early enough to have a leisurely and quiet morning. But I've begun walking with a friend to meeting, and we usually end up chatting happily along the way. I'll have to see if she'll want to experiment with a silent walk.