ESR Professor of Peace and Justice Studies Lonnie Valentine brings us this report from the 67th Annual Session of Pacific Yearly Meeting, held from July 29th through August 3rd 2013 at Mount Madonna Center in Watsonville, CA :
(Photo of Conference Center, from Mount Madonna Website)
One of the regular attenders at Pacific Yearly Meeting is wheel chair bound and is best able to speak with a voice-assist mechanism. During a time for voicing joys and concerns, he spoke--through others who could better understand him—of his frustration at having lost his machine voice. He felt cut off from engaging others, sad they could not understand him, and anger that he could not communicate in the way he wanted. He loved being at the YM so he could be with others he could not visit easily. The YM served as a larger group that knew him and would enjoy engaging with him when so many in the larger society would not make the effort.
However, he went on to say that over the days of the YM, people would hang in there with him, doing their best to understand him and seemed to appreciate his efforts to reach out in spite of the limitations. For him, there was a change over the days from frustration to serenity. Because of the effort by others to communicate and understand him, he felt he had grown closer to some at the YM than he otherwise might have. The frustration turned to delight. So, he concluded that this was “another hard lesson from God.”
It seemed to me as a visitor that this perspective was lived out in other aspects of the work of Pacific Yearly Meeting. More, perhaps there is a lesson for all of us when we feel the frustration and disappointment of failed hopes. There might be something redemptive in the “hard lessons” of not getting what we want. Better things may be found when we are able to go beneath the frustration than what we had originally hoped would happen.
An example from this session of PYM was the conclusion of the years-long discussion of whether or not to build a facility to host their annual sessions and make possible a permanent place to hold other gatherings of regional Friends and others sharing Friends' concerns. There had been years of seasoning in the YM before approval came to pursue this goal, then more years in planning. Finally, a place was decided upon after some Friends donated land for this use. It seemed all was set, but the county denied a building permit. However, this did not halt the project, and several other locations were explored. However, those too did not work out. So, these years of discernment, planning, and fund-raising seemed to have utterly failed. Frustration, sadness, weariness.
However, at this point, a new opening arose. The party who had donated a large sum for this project then released the money to be used in other ways by the YM. I had been impressed over the years of attending at the vitality of the young Friends involved in Pacific Yearly Meeting. And suddenly, the way opened. With the release of the money for other uses and the letting go of disappointment over the many years of toil, the YM came to clarity that the money and effort of the YM would go to expand their work with young Friends. Another hard lesson from God.
I reflected about my own efforts to discern ways forward and making the push to realize what I took to be a leading. When things did not seem to go the way I thought, I could say I was just not discerning aright. However, perhaps at other times I was being led into frustration in order to go deeper, leading beyond what I had been able to discern. Another hard lesson from God.