“I love to feel where the words come from.” (From John Woolman’s Journal. See full quote following story.)
The clearest time I felt an urge from the Light, an urgency to speak, is one I’ve written about in an earlier chapter, when I heard a Voice that would not be denied; but I haven’t heard that Voice in 16 years. Now I am learning to distinguish subtle nudges, such as learning the difference between speaking factually versus truthfully. Our Quaker testimonies of integrity and truth-telling require being factual at a minimum; lies do not become us. Speaking truthfully happens at a different, more profound level.
Last summer at the 2015 Northwest Yearly Meeting annual sessions, I could feel this difference; it was possible to discern the times I was simply speaking (which comes easily to me) and the times I was more intentional, working to “answer that of God” in my hearer. It felt like tuning a guitar, when you turn the peg to tighten a string to bring up the pitch to that just- right point. When I was speaking with one ear tuned, as it were, to what God might be prompting me to say, my words changed. I slowed down. I paused rather than blurting anything out. I weighed what I was about to say, and either found it appropriate or found it wanting.
Here’s an example. In my role as Clerk of the Nominating Committee, I had to inform a Board that there were concerns about their nominee. Trying to help Friends see that their Board needed to be more welcoming of diversity, I felt prompted to use music as an example, suggesting that while the current Committee members might really enjoy the music of George Beverly Shea, as I do, if they wanted to welcome younger Friends to the Board, or have programs appealing to younger Friends, they may have to put up with hip-hop or rap. It turns out the Clerk of that Board had, as a lad, enjoyed visits by George Beverly Shea to his parents’ home. The tension in the room lessened noticeably as we chatted a bit about our favorite hymns.
The experience of last summer has stayed with me, and I am trying to remember to listen within before speaking. Very recently I read these words from Brian Drayton's book, On Living with a Concern for Gospel Ministry, "As ever, the first motion is to wait until you can feel the cool, quiet strong flow of light and love." As I read those words I thought, "THAT'S it. That describes what I felt and want to continue to feel."
If you’d like to hear a sample of George Beverly Shea, check out YouTube. Here’s a classic:
Quote from John Woolman's Journal referenced above:
(July 18, 1763, Wyalusing, Pennsylvania, with members of the Delaware tribe and interpreters)
On the evening of the 18th I was at their meeting, where pure gospel love was felt, to the tendering of some of our hearts. The interpreters endeavored to acquaint the people with what I said, in short sentences, but found some difficulty, as none of them were quite perfect in the English and Delaware tongues, so they helped one another, and we labored along, Divine love attending.
Afterwards, feeling my mind covered with the spirit of prayer, I told the interpreters that I found it in my heart to pray to God, and believed, if I prayed aright, he would hear me; and I expressed my willingness for them to omit interpreting; so our meeting ended with a degree of Divine love. Before the people went out, I observed Papunehang … speaking to one of the interpreters, and I was afterwards told that he said in substance as follows: “I love to feel where words come from.”
Journal of John Woolman. Houghton Mifflin, 1871, Chapter 8, p. 201