Journal Entry on Eldering
at Vassalboro Quarterly Meeting Fall Gathering Retreat
September 7-9, 2007 China, Maine
by Susan Davies
This is Tuesday, the same day of the week and the same earth-shattering, unhinged and awed feeling as after that Fall Gathering the weekend before September 11, 2001. This time the awe and incapacitating gratitude is focused on JH. When we were at NEYM in August she asked me to serve as her elder, for her work at Fall Gathering. We spent some time in preparation on Thursday before the retreat. She is so clear, so full of deep quiet power. She never discounts or minimizes herself. She is completely attuned. Her 'Yea' is Yea and her 'Nay' is Nay. Such a well-led gift. Friday and Saturday, exercised in the formation of a deep, powerful bond of prayer and support, all of my energy was intensely focused on serving her. Her ability to receive such service humbly, and in a sense 'impersonally', is amazing to me and a true gift. It was sheer joy to serve her in unquestioning, absolute attentiveness to whatever would help to center her and draw out her message. She has such a depth of experience with such relationships, she is completely unselfconscious, and so it all was perfectly natural. But it was Life from a different plane.
When it was time for the "keynote" I carried a chair over my head through the sea of people and chairs so I could sit up front, but off to one side. She stood near the fireplace and spoke on her feet, with just a chair near her containing a few pages of notes. A centering silence to begin, and then the words began to flow out of her, at first a well-organized and well-delivered flow of ideas to flood the expectant openness with a first calm lake of shared understanding. But the calm, quiet stream began to build in depth and power to a message of elegant, one-pointed coherence and wisdom and saving power, full of Life. There was not one false or hesitant note. I did not look at her, I was deeply submerged in prayer--she was the only person in the room for me. I could feel her drawing energy from my prayer. I could feel her making her way into deeper and deeper waters, surely, clearly, with complete trust. The words and quotes came to her exactly when they were needed. I could feel something hugely important coming; it was just out of sight. I felt her gather herself. I "woke-up", intensely alert in my prayer, and found this prayer form in me: "Please Jesus, stand near her; hold her and whisper in her ear the words You would have her say." And just then she paused for the briefest moment and turned her message in a new and far deeper direction saying "But these are just words, a lot of words, when what is really asked of us is communion, instead of communication--a communion that is beyond all words."
And I said "Why thank you Jesus for saying so clearly that you are here and this is what you want us to know." This was maybe 2/3 of the way through the 40 minute talk. I was so drawn in by hearing Jesus that my brain stopped working. I couldn't imagine there was anything more to say. But there was, and she went gracefully back to edifying us about the need for, and importance of the disciplines; about how it is open hearts and listening ears that draw out the Divine messages. Towards the end I asked myself if there was anything more she had wanted to talk about and I realized she had not really explained 'elders'. So shortly after that she fully and beautifully expressed the elder's gift, the loneliness and missed opportunity of unrecognized, uncalled-out elders in a meeting; Friends who come with their natural gifts of eldering exercised every week but who are ignored and unrecognized in their meetings.
When she finished and sat down next to me I was moved to reach over and place my hand on her knee, firmly and squeeze. She instantly clasped my hand and held it tightly for a long, deep moment until she just as decisively let go. We settled into a deep held silence until it was time to close the meeting.