Trauma in Meeting

How can we accommodate deep hurt in Meeting? My Friend’s question on a facebook thread cuts to the heart of who we are and what we do, as Quakers, in our worship and in our communities.

The heart of who we are is our worship together. We sit together, opened up to God and turned towards the Light. “When two or three are gathered together I am with them.” Someone may be moved to speak, which we hope is the leading of the Spirit, but recognise may be partly from ego. It may immediately strike a chord with another worshipper, or they may need to work with it to find that of God in it. Vibrant conversation may go on after Meeting, teasing out the meaning of ministry and reconciling differing views.

We recognise that we are all growing in God. We are called, justified, glorified. We talk of spiritual growth, or spiritual journeys, though the lessons we learn on them are in a different order for each person. Some people drawn to us will be newly conscious of the journey, and some in our Meetings have a life-long experience of growing in God, living out the Love of God in their actions and relationships. We all have blind spots, hurts, scars, and moments of tiredness when we do what we might regret. We are all made in the image of God, loving, creative, powerful and beautiful.

We appoint elders to take care of the Worship, to foster helpful vocal ministry and sometimes restrain unsuitable ministry, and to uphold the Meeting, though all present are responsible for the meeting.

And we get it wrong. Accepting what is involves sloughing off a great deal of expectation. I find myself going back to my old habits of expectation continually. Words fail: there is only the situation, and me in the situation, and when with words I seek to classify possibilities I only approximate them; and it seems they are two sides of the same coin, to be irritated by what is and to see a way of improving it, or at least something worth trying. Serenity, courage, wisdom is always a difficult balance. Love and forgiveness are continually necessary.

Seek to know one another in the things which are eternal, bear the burden of each other’s failings and pray for one another.

Here we find sorrow and joy, difficulty and overcoming, creativity and achievement. If the encounter with God affects us, our petty ego self, self-concept, pretence, gets stripped away, and there is the full human being, God within shining through, Glorified.

I don’t know about you, but I have good days and bad days. We each need the love, support and help of the whole Meeting.

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So what happens with trauma? We are all hurt, but someone comes with deep hurt to the Meeting, which we find hard to-

Everyone needs support from the meeting, and generally once we work out what support is needed we are happy to give it. A baby screaming is something else, but a baby chuntering and gurgling is beautiful in a meeting. We do not expect the child to be quiet and are delighted to support the parents and have them among us- if we have flowers on our table, how much lovelier are babies! We build ramps, and install hearing loops.

Sometimes it is more difficult. A Friend found it helped to centre down to knit. The movement of the hands quiets the mind. And others thought this was inappropriate for Meeting. And then there is a discomfort, which needs to be handled. If the Friend who objects to the knitting tolerates it, but is still irritated, they might, out of a belief in their own Spiritual Maturity, suppress the irritation and imagine they were in Acceptance; or they might live with their distress, not wanting to express it and show their own vulnerability and need; then they can hold it no longer, and burst out in anger. Or someone knits, and others whisper together about it.

I have had to leave the Meeting occasionally. I have needed a glass of water to calm a coughing fit. Or I have felt great distress and needed to pace it out in the garden. We are one context where quaking is seen as a sign of healthy humanity, rather than mental illness, but there are limits. My neighbour offered me her hand, and I clutched at it, then regained calm. We are dealing with deep matters. It is all blessing, but sometimes it does not immediately feel that way. There is unknowing, when something is taking time to work out rather than being quickly resolved.

Someone cries quietly in the Meeting. This can be disturbing. The human instinct is to give some consolation, but to expect that will stop the crying.

These are matters of Inclusion and diversity. We all have our strengths and weaknesses. Our weaknesses need support so our strengths can flourish and serve.

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With trauma, a little consolation will not assuage it. The hurt is too deep. Someone might bring pain and anger to Meeting, week after week. What can a Friend do?

Don’t try to bear another’s burdens on your own. It’s not possible unless you are a bodhisattva. Anger must be acceptable in Meeting, or the whole human being is not acceptable. We become trapped in our petty selves, trying to appear acceptable. I feel we need a space for anger and pain to be expressed and heard, not necessarily during worship.

Recognise and state your own needs. Speak them before they become unbearable. Ask the help of the traumatised person. This is a radical statement of Equality, of each person having responsibility for the meeting. There is a problem. How may we deal with it, together? Vulnerability is difficult- the petty-self cannot bear it.

Some may feel a need for rules, and boundaries. I don’t like them. I don’t believe in freeloaders. I became aware that I was on a spiritual path, and one of my first lessons in that awesome month was that all people are doing our best, in difficult circumstances. (If you disagree, talking about it would be our way of showing respect to each other’s insight, trust in the process, and belief we might come to a better understanding together.) Rules are a shortcut when we cannot do any better, a quick way of assigning blame. But we are human beings, in infinitely varied situations, which do not fit words, or rules, closely enough.

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