I think that I have been avoiding posting about my gathering experiences because I don't even know where to begin! However, reflecting upon this, it seems to me that the post immediately previous to this one is indeed a good beginning. In it I described an opening that I experienced at the beginning of my first gathering of the three I attended, which affected every single experience I had afterwards. Another part of my avoidance has been because my experiences at each of the gatherings - YFNA reunion/Quaker camp in Barnesville, OH, FGC Gathering in River Falls, WI, and NCYM(C) annual sessions in Wilmington, NC - were each intensely personal. I will try, though, to express some sense of my experiences here.
Barnesville was amazing, intense, light-hearted, challenging, and transformative. A few sentences from my journal describing the first full day:
"I love the smell of grass and dirt on my hands. I love lying in the grass and baking in the sun. I love campfires with the low murmur of voices around the crackling in the middle, and dimly lit faces. I love laughing uncontrollably at things that may not actually be funny, and smiling so much that my face hurts. All of this happened today."
Grass, sun, and laughter persisted throughout the week. An intense focus on God joined those joys the next morning [see my previous post]. Beginning on First Day, there was Bible study followed by a full hour of Worship each morning. Oh that all my days would begin with an hour of corporate Worship! I felt the deep, spiritual sense of ancestors in the Stillwater meeting house. There seemed to be a layer of grounded-ness pervading the entire property, soothing, supporting, and challenging all. In the afternoons, in addition to Frisbee or some other activity, I usually took space for myself to process my new experience of God and its implications in my life, both past and present. Even when not in Meeting for Worship, I felt very much in a centered space. I tried not to stress about how this new experience and this incredible centeredness would translate when I arrived at FGC Gathering as a counselor for the High School Program, an experience that never fails to bring chaos, intensity, and exhaustion along with all the joys of participating.
Being on FGC Gathering HS Program staff this year was chaotic, intense, painful, very challenging, and in more ways than I am able to see, fruitful. We had a very challenging year as a staff this year. I felt clearly called to be a grounded presence for the community, and took this on with all my heart. During some of our challenging worshipful times together as a staff, I found myself feeling very intensely. Several times I got to the point where my heart would start pounding and I would even begin to shake a little, but at the same time was not called to speak any message. I was called to be present in that space, and that itself was my message. I had never experienced anything like that before.
I practiced thanking God for the pain in my life, and for empty feeling I experienced when I felt so stuck, unable to discern Way Forward. These things too are experiences of God. It is through pain that we have the opportunity to grow. It is through pain that we appreciate just how precious joy and comfort are. It is through pain that we begin to discover our own great strengths, and the kind of good work we can do in this world. I continue to thank God for my pain, past and present. It is a gift.
Throughout both my time in Barnesville and my time at FGC Gathering, I was so grateful for fellowship with dear f/Friends of mine, new and old. I thanked God for the nurturing and support I found among Friends, and tried not to dread too much the day when we would part ways again. Such community lifts up my life and holds it so dearly and safely.
I will end this post here and save my experience of NCYM(C) annual sessions for another post.
much Love and Light,