Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Coming to Terms With the Queries

This is the first of a series of posts on the General Queries in the Western Yearly Meeting Faith and Practice.

Coming to terms with the Queries

The season of Lent is a time of self-examination. Friends have not emphasized Lent, but self-examination in the form of Queries has long been a part of our history.

Friends' statements of faith often include queries, and the Western Yearly Meeting Faith and Practice includes two sets, one for everyone and another for elders. The introduction to the General Queries describes them as "guides to personal and corporate discernment." Individuals and meetings are encouraged to read them frequently.

A lot of people dislike the queries. They understand the purpose behind them, and will agree that they can be useful, but they avoid them whenever possible.

Why we don't like the Queries:

-The Queries sound like nagging parents. When we look at the queries, we hear faint echoes of, "When will you remember to pick up your clothes?" or "When will you stop wiping your nose on your sleeve?" The heart of the problem is that we don't like to be reminded of things that we know we should or shouldn't do.

Query #4 asks "Do you make your home a place of hospitality, friendliness, peace and Christian fellowship?" and all we can think of is last night's argument, the mess in the living room, or the anxiety over keeping or finding a job. We know we don't measure up and the Queries are good at reminding us of that fact.

-The Queries make us feel like Sisyphus, stuck in a life of rolling a huge boulder up a steep hill, and before we reach the top, watching it roll back down, so that we have to start over. Always striving, never arriving.

Query #1 asks, “Do you strive for the constant realization of God's presence in your life?” We have moments in which we experience the presence of God. And then those moments are gone and we start over again. Always striving, occasionally arriving.

Part of the problem is that constant string of “Do you? . . . Do you? . . Do you?” The presentation of the queries puts us off. I have come up with a couple of ways of thinking about them that would be more embracing and welcoming. Perhaps you have some suggestions as well.

How we might grow to like the Queries:

Here are two positive ways to think about the Queries--

-The Queries as a string tied around our finger. There are things we need to remember to do, and one traditional memory device is tying a string around a finger. We need help to remember to drop the clothes off at Goodwill, pick up some bread and bananas, and get to the meeting at the library. We sometimes forget those things because we are in the middle of doing everything else.

The Queries, like a string tied around a finger, are reminders that there are things we need to be doing while we are busy doing everything else. We get busy and forget to "strive for the constant realization of God." We need help remembering.

Maybe Query #1 could start off “Please remember to strive for the constant realization of God's presence in your life. Try to find some ways to be sensitive and obedient to the leading of the Holy Spirit.” There must be some ways to word these things so that we don't hear a nagging parent in the background.

-The Queries as a traveler's checklist. When we go on a long trip, we make a list. We know from experience that if we don't have a checklist, we will forget something important. It's very hard to take those great travel pictures if the camera is still hanging on the hook back home. If you don't pack your comfortable pillow, you will be stuck with those lumps of foam at the motel. The checklist makes the journey go better.

The Queries are preparation for a journey. They remind us of some important things that we need to pack, but they are not the journey itself. The Queries can help us make sure that the stuff we need is in the suitcase.

In this case, Query #1 might go like this: “In what ways am I experiencing God's presence in my life at this place that I am at right now? Where am I getting my directions from?”

How do Queries work for you? Any thoughts?

1 comment:

Paula said...

Thank you for capturing why some Friends do not like queries. I have often wondered about that.

For Friends who do not like queries for the reasons you mention, I suppose your suggestions for choosing "positive thinking" about the queries might be helpful. Since I have a deep love of queries, I cannot really speak to this.

The reason I am responding is that I want to illustrate how queries help on a spiritual journey. They are not memory jogs or "checklists." They help us explore our understanding of the world, and our place in it, as children of God. In our meeting, we recently wrote a response to our annual query that may capture this:

"Members of our meeting use queries as an aid to contemplation. They are used to help with centering at Meeting for Worship and elsewhere. Individual Friends also use them to seek a closer experience of the Spirit and in contemplating right order in their lives."

Two queries from Baltimore Yearly Meeting get at the heart of my spiritual journey, and help remind me what I need to do. I could never reduce them to "checklists." They are:

What in my present life most distracts me from God?

What am I ready to release so that I can give my attention to what matters most?

"Always striving, never arriving" is not bad. It's the nature of spiritual practice.

I appreciate the comment on the "constant string of 'Do you? ...Do you?'" An excellent point to consider among our committees writing queries. Thank you.