Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Blogging from the Gathering: Kody Hersh & Joanna Hoyt

Monday night,

I attended the Bible half-hour led by my friend Christopher Sammond. He’s using the book of Esther – the only book in the Bible in which the name of God is not mentioned – and tying it into the theme of the Gathering, “. . . . but who is my neighbor?” He’s taking a big risk, in my opinion, by having it be interactive where he asks questions & gets answers from the attenders, but it worked fine; I think he got his points across. It will be interesting to see how he develops the theme during the week.

Our Singing from the Sacred Harp workshop went very well this morning. Carol taught the first hour, warming up our voices and bodies by stretching, worked a bit with intervals and the scales, and then taught Old Hundred. I led the second hour, and then she led a very productive worship sharing. Of the many wonderful things that were said, the one that sticks with me now at the end of the day (I’m writing this at 10:30 pm from my tent) was the woman who said she had learned to let go of her need to understand it all before singing and to let those from the past who are singing over her shoulder to help her learn. I’ve had that same experience myself. Carol then did a very good thing by reviewing and leading again each of the songs we learned that day.

Our impression of the class is that it is exceptionally good. The altos need to sing more confidently and strongly – which shouldn’t be hard because they seem to be getting the notes right. Carol will have the “alto talk” with them tomorrow, I think.

I didn’t have to attend the Gathering Oversight Committee meeting this afternoon since my fellow co-clerk was going, but I had left my water bottle there and went to the room to retrieve it. As soon as I came in the door, someone opened the circle and added a chair for me, so how could I leave? It was remarkable that the rest of the hour was filled with the most mundane, almost trivial matters; things are going so smoothly and happily that there wasn’t much to do.

Besides my water bottle, I had misplaced a file with the lyrics of the hymns I’m leading on Thursday night, and of a “statement” written by the Nightengales about how they want people to sing on Friday. I was in a near panic; I’d looked everywhere in the tent, the car, my pack, and my book bag, and nothing. I was certain I’d brought it, but I was now doubting. I called Lovely Wife and asked her to look on the dining room table, the only other place it might be, and no luck. I was almost resigned to the tedious job of retyping it all after lunch (during the time of the Oversight Committee meeting) when I looked for a place to put my backpack before entering the lunchroom. To my annoyance, every cubby already had pack in it, as did the top of each cabinet. So I had to look for a cubby that wasn’t completely filled, and found one with a very small purse/pack like thing in it. I moved it to one side so I could put my pack in it, and there was my file, stuck in the back, right where I’d left it at an earlier meal. Whenever this happens, I’m reminded of the parables of the lost coin and lost sheep and the joy and relief at finding that which has been lost.

I got to spend just a few minutes at the Lemonade Art Gallery opening and saw a number of paintings and other pieces that I liked a lot. I was especially taken with some self-portraits by one friend who essentially sketched herself while looking in a mirror – and not on the paper – and then did oil paintings based on the sketches. Each one had a bizarre distortion of her otherwise recognizable face – elongated lips in one, a funny looking nose in another, and so on. Liz Opp also displayed a very fine ink drawing of a northern woods scene she did for her partner a few years ago.

The afternoon Sacred Harp singing was amazing. I counted fifty singers at one point, and we averaged about 30 – 35 consistently all afternoon (well, 3:15 – 4:45). Leaders started with good warm up songs and we built up to more complicated ones. Especially later in the afternoon, we had an awesome bass section of ten that was very, very strong. We’re singing outside again, and one of my delights is to watch the reactions of others as they pass by. Some smile and keep going; others seem to be stopped dead in their tracks, and then they smile. Several people joined the group just out of curiosity. The 14 loaner books I brought were not enough. I’m going to encourage more people to buy their own at the bookstore.

After the singing, I had a wonderful conversation with Christopher M of Tables, Chairs, and Oaken Chests, about a lot of things, actually. I appreciated his reaching out and asking about the state of my meeting and of the conversation that followed. (I just noticed that he, too, is blogging from here, and he has put together a good list of other Quaker bloggers present on campus. Hi, Chris!)

But after all of the wonderful things of the day, the highlight was the evening plenary address by two young Friends, Joanna Hoyt and Kody Hersh. They had asked for, and we had helped prepare, that the entire program be considered worship, with people entering silently and refraining from conversation before the speakers began. The volunteer ushers who showed up did a wonderful job of conveying that message to Friends as they entered the room, and except for perhaps some conversation in the lobby that bothered some it was a very quiet, reverent atmosphere.

Zachary Moon, a member of our evening program committee who had agreed to invite and help support young Friends to address the Gathering, introduced them. Although I wished at times during the past year that he would have been a more communicative with the rest of the committee who had to take it on faith that he was doing what we had asked him to do, he lived up to his reputation as a man with a ministry and did everything we wanted and more.

The two young people were . . . . I can’t think of adequate adjectives: amazing; articulate; intelligent; funny; grounded; prophetic; observant; humble; earnest. Perhaps the word “faithful to the Truth” is the most all-encompassing. As one Friend testified in the worship that followed the talks, parents try to raise their children the right way, to show them the way to live, and then one day, their children call to them and show them the way to live.

I did take some notes during their talks, but won’t try to summarize what they said in detail – the program was recorded and should be available from FGC soon, and I urge everyone reading this to listen. I suspect, and hope, that some form of their address will also be published in Friends Journal. It felt at the moment like it might be a watershed moment of some sort; time will tell about that.

I will say only that they spoke to the need for radical authenticity, for letting go of all of the things we accrue to protect us from authentic living and relationship, and not just material things, but the more precious social and psychological defenses and protection we use to insulate us from Truth.

Joanna spoke of needing to reunite the false dichotomy between the love of righteousness (the love of God) and the love of fellowship (the love of our neighbor). She pointed out how too many Friends – and others – seem to practice the latter with too little attention to the former.

Kody, began by singing beautifully the first verse of Sidney Carter’s “Were you there?” (“When I needed a neighbor, were you? And the creed and the color and the name doesn’t matter, were you there?”).He observed that what the parable of the Good Samaritan does is transform the question from, “What am I obliged to do” to a more fundamental question, “Who is in need?”

The vocal ministry that followed was uncommonly rich and pertinent, and the fellowship time afterwards, where the speakers had a conversation with a smaller group of Friends was also affirming. Those who were there will never forget it. Whether any of us live up to the challenges they posed is another question.

I called Lovely Wife tonight after the program and told her how well it is all going. She reminded me that I was not at all sure how strong the evening plenary sessions would be this year; I know that the process by which we came up with it was spirit led and that we did not take certain easy ways out of some problems we had, but as we approached I was not sure that I – or others – would see the fruit of that labor turn out as well as we’d hoped. But so far, so good.

L.W. leaves for a professional conference in Brussels tomorrow morning, and then is participating in a Quaker study program on European government immediately afterwards. I will miss her as I always do when she’s gone, but this is a long trip in both distance and time, and I suppose it will be a little harder than other shorter trips. For now, though, I’m happy and ready for a good night’s sleep, which can begin as soon as Youngest Daughter and her friends come back from the dance, which should be in a few minutes.

1 comment:

Joanna Hoyt said...

This is Joanna Hoyt from the Gathering. I just came across your lovely post while looking for transcripts on the FGC website. This reminded me that I had meant to get back in touch with you about some concerns that were raised after the Monday evening plenary, but wasn't sure how to email you and couldn't get contact info from Zac Moon. Would you email me at towardtruth[at]yahoo[dot]com?

Thank you, and thank you for the opportunity to worship with and speak to Friends this summer.