Growing Together in the Light

A place for Friends and others to explore Quakerism. A place where, in the Light that comes from God, we may all grow and where we may hope to find a unity that underlies our diversity of language.

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Location: Arlington, Massachusetts, United States

Raised a Friend, I am currently a member of Fresh Pond Meeting in Cambridge, Mass. I am also active in Salem Quarterly Meeting and in New England Yearly Meeting.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Laying down and taking up burdens. NEYM Pt 1

I want to start out my discussion of this years sessions of New England Yearly Meeting with an observation from our opening session. On Saturday evening we had an exercise in which we were divided into smaller groups and from those into triads to answer some queries. The second of the queries was along the lines of “What burden do you bring to Yearly Meeting Sessions that you would like to lay down with God's help.” As I sat with that I realized that the burdens that I brought to Yearly Meeting were ones that God had asked me to take up, so there was no laying them down. The burdens I was carrying were my concern for unity among Friends, my concern for healing and reconciliation within FUM and my concern for the relationship between NEYM and FUM.

As I sat with this some more, it appeared to me that the question arose from a truncated view of the spiritual life. As we begin our spiritual journey we carry many burdens that come from the pain and injuries that we have received in the course of our lives. The first part of our journey is to find the healing that allows us to lay those burdens down. The progressive laying down of burdens of pain and sin is a lifetime process. But at some point there is a change. We have healed and grown enough that we start getting burdens offered to us. These are the burdens of the concerns that we come under that shape our spiritual life's work. They are the ways in which we turn our healing and our growth into gifts for the larger community. There is a sense of rightness about undertaking these things that makes the work bearable. They provides a focus that allows us to let go of things that we are not called to. They are the way in which we find our place in the body of Christ. Sometimes we are carried and held in the work in a way that it seems effortless. Other times it is still hard work. The yoke may be easy – meaning that it fits comfortably and doesn't chafe or hurt – but sometimes the load is heavy. You do not need a yoke to carry something light. You need a yoke to carry something heavy and bulky. Of course a yoke implies that you are not working alone. Oxen are yoked in tandem, so part of taking on the yoke is knowing that you will have help. But there is still work to do.

It seems to me that many Friends seem to think that the spiritual life consists exclusively of the first part, of the laying down of our personal burdens. We do not talk so much about the second part of the journey where we take up the burdens of the work that God would have us do. Do we like to stay at the level of Quakerism 101? Are we reluctant to move on the higher level courses? Where is Quakerism 322 or 453? Where are the graduate courses? In our meetings do we even acknowledge the advanced curricula in the school of Christ? Are we content to welcome newcomers and provide them with a basic introduction to Quakerism and let them find their way after that or do we demonstrate and teach the challenges and joys of living a life of faithfulness? Do we demonstrate that we are finders or do we wish to remain seekers forever?


Will T


Blogger Gil S said...

Hi Will

Thank you so much for saying this. You have put into words something I've been thinking about British Friends for some time but haven't managed to formulate.

Personally too I have been struggling with laying down and taking up burdens in different areas of my life and this helps me there as well.

You've really got me looking at several things again which I may even get round to writing about myself!

All the best

August 12, 2008 6:02 AM  
Blogger Peter Bishop said...

Hi Will,
I've been waiting with baited breath for you to start posting about NEYM Sessions. I've had a lot to say about my own experiences there, but I haven't been able to step back and give much of an objective description of what went on there.
Blog on!

August 12, 2008 9:06 AM  
Blogger Jeffrey Hipp said...

A Friend in my group and I had a similar reaction.

"Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for your selves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light." —MATTHEW 11:15-17

Many modern Western Friends react negatively to this image—the invitation to compare ourselves to beasts of burden offends sensibilities rooted in a culture of privilege, sustained by the labor and exploitation of a people hidden from our view.

Yet I've learned that, even from my place of privilege in the world, I live my WHOLE life wearing one yoke or another. Rather than wearing the yoke of consumerism, ego, fear, etc., I'd prefer to put on the yoke of the Spirit's labor.

Saturday night's opening session was a good opportunity to remind myself of that. I found myself asking the question, "What selfish burden am I holding that prevents me from instead carrying God's work?"

August 12, 2008 12:21 PM  
Blogger Robin M. said...

Not to take one whit away from your point about moving on in our spiritual lives, I think there are also points further on in our spiritual maturity where we have to lay down things that were right for us to take up at one time but are no longer our rightful burden to carry.

One example for the first day of yearly meeting sessions would be to consider laying down a committee that is no longer serving God's purposes in the world. Or more personally, not agreeing to another term of service on a committee that felt like a calling three or four or twenty years ago but is no longer, even if one is worried that the committee will fall apart if one is not on it...

Don't tell me that kind of thing doesn't happen in your yearly meeting too.

August 12, 2008 5:25 PM  
Blogger MartinK said...

Putting up and putting down burdens is the same work, though, isn't it? It's staying responsive to the commands of that Inward Christ. We're the oxen, not the navigator. Thanks for sharing the metaphor.

August 12, 2008 6:13 PM  
Blogger Cat Chapin-Bishop said...

The laying down of burdens was a significant question for me to examine, happily, though I do see your point. As in the Pagan community, there are enough newcomers to most liberal Friends' meetings that I suppose an awful lot of us are in early stages of spiritual maturation. The idea that there's something beyond the entry level matters is probably not obvious to a lot of us.

And perhaps that's why I found it helpful. I think I am still very much a novice at a number of Friends' disciplines. I found myself reflecting on the relationship I wrote at length about in my Spiritual Journey series--the friendship that went so sour. And, while I have been working toward real, meaningful forgiveness in that relationship for some time, having written about it this summer gave me a little bit of new elbow room to do more than wrestle with it. I found myself not so much laying it down, perhaps, as offering it up to God, prayerfully, that whatever places within me are still hard and fearful, She could help me to soften. I really want to be done being angry and afraid with my friend.

That felt like very good work.

Having done it, I may have more energy free to do whatever work I am meant to: to take up my yoke.

I do have a sense that the taking up of the burdens Spirit asks of me is joyful, however tiring and wearing it may sometimes feel in the moment. I hope to be able to commit more and more to doing that right work, most of all because of the delight that comes when I live trusting in and leaning upon that Light.

(I know you know what I mean, Will! And then some, most likely...)

But I need more work with the laying down, too. I know it. So much of what eats my time and my energy are burdens I picked up because I thought I ought to, not because I was led to. So much of what I do fills my life with business, and leaves me less open to the leadings of Spirit. And I have a very hard time discerning what to lay down--there are so many important people and causes in the world, and it's so easy to say yes without thinking, and not to reexamine commitments that begin to feel not light in any sense.

It's just so hard to do, this discerning and laying down. Do I need to have fully mastered it before I can go on to the Quakerism 322 you mentioned?

August 12, 2008 7:57 PM  
Blogger Will T said...

Thank you all for your comments.

Robin, our meeting last year lay down all of our committees because the nominating committee could not find people to serve on them. We reorganized the meeting so we now have three large committees, Administration, Ministry and Worship, and Quaker Education. Each one forms working groups as needed for specific tasks. We are still in the evaluation stage but so far we don't seem to be doing any worse than we did before.

Yes Martin, laying down and taking up is the same work. They are the two sides of being faithful.

Learning what to lay down and what to take up is a life's work. My experience has been that once I have taken up those things that I am called to then it is easier to say no to other things. Sometimes it is helpful to curb the desire to fix everything. Sometimes the best thing is to happen is for something to go undone so the task becomes visible - or can be seen as unnecessary. As for the 322 course, let me look in the catalog...Yes, here it is, Quakerism 213 Discernment and Discipline - Practicum in Taking up and Laying Down Burdens. I think that is just the ticket for you. And it looks as though it isn't filled yet. There are two sections, one taught by Hermes and one by Christ so you can take your pick. Would you like to register now? :^)


Will T

August 12, 2008 9:20 PM  
Blogger Cat Chapin-Bishop said...

"Quakerism 213 Discernment and Discipline"? Excellent! Sign me up!

As for which section, well, Herne is offering a great seminar this semester, "Integrity on the Spiritual Journey," and I'm already enrolled in that. I've been meaning to broaden my horizons anyway, and I hear great things about this Christ fellow, anyway--supposedly a very talented teacher. Might as well try his section, don't you think?


(And please tell Lynn that I'm enjoying the book she loaned me. The essays have been really helpful as I continue my march through the Old Testament for my summer course.)

Will you be posting more on NEYM?


August 13, 2008 8:44 AM  
Blogger Liz Opp said...

Hi, Will and others--

A great post and wonderful comments. Like Will, I have been wondering what a "beyond Quakerism 101" curriculum looks like.

That said, these questions related to spiritual development are important one to ask and to answer, especially in a community setting.

This line from your comment, Will, in particular resonates for me, and it's a sentiment I often lifted up when I clerked the meeting's Nominating Committee:

Sometimes the best thing to happen is for something to go undone so the task becomes visible - or can be seen as unnecessary.

By not filling committee positions when there is no clear leading as to who to invite to serve, individuals in the meeting community can become (re)invested in the life of the meeting as a whole as a result.

Liz Opp, The Good Raised Up

August 14, 2008 11:52 AM  
Blogger Jeanne said...


Thank you very much for this post. It speaks to my current condition and reminds me to stay focused on God's will rather than my own.

As I read your piece, however, I made up a comment in my mind about the second part (graduate courses, Quakerism 435, using the word curricula, etc) because it reveals an assumption among Friends that everyone is educated.

Then I read jeffrey hipp's comment.

Many modern Western Friends react negatively to this image—the invitation to compare ourselves to beasts of burden offends sensibilities rooted in a culture of privilege, sustained by the labor and exploitation of a people hidden from our view.

You get an amen from the back pew, brother.

And further evidence that our class biases get in between us and God, us and Spirit's will for us.


August 14, 2008 9:34 PM  
Blogger Will T said...

Thank you for sharing the BAM moment when my analogy raised a question for you. (Follow the link at the end of the post to see here further comments.) I have other misgivings about the Quakerism 101 metaphor which have to do with implying that Quakerism is an intellectual exercise, which it isn't.

Will T

August 16, 2008 3:12 PM  
Blogger Jeanne said...

Will, I'm sorry, but I don't see the link to which you refer. You can delete this post, but can you clarify your comment for me? What am I to read?

August 17, 2008 12:06 AM  
Blogger Will T said...

The link to which I refer is the one you left at the bottom of the comments to your own blog where you talked about this more.

At least the link shows up if you look at the archive listing of my blog which shows the original entry and all the comments. For those likewise challenged here is the URL:
And now I will live dangerously and try to make it a

Will T

August 18, 2008 8:36 PM  

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