At the risk of sounding like I have this all figured out, and at the additional risk that following God will sound like something magical, I would like to share some observations from my years of pursuing this spiritual journey that may help someone with theirs.
More times than I can count, I have sat in silence, Quaker silence or otherwise, listening to hear from God. Sometimes I have listened for specific guidance on a particular issue in my life; sometimes it has been through participation in a Sunday morning service or another group worship activity. But I can count on one hand the number of times I have felt like God has actually spoken to me in that silence. This used to be a source of some consternation to me – I have thought that if I was listening “correctly,” with enough concentration, or faith, or pureness of heart, I would hear that still, small voice. But I believe I have discovered that the still, small voice can come in a variety of dialects, and the one that I hear most clearly is what I will call “finding God in the doorways.”
My first lasting introduction to God came with an abrupt slamming of doors. Within four years, my father-in-law, my mother, my father and another person who had been meaningful to me, passed away when I was in my mid-30s. Those events, and questions from my young son about grandma and grandpa and heaven and hell, led me to begin searching for a community in which I could find answers to my son’s questions and mine. The way in which I found that community could be described as “magical.” I feel as though I was being led – to meet this person, to hear another person talking about their church, to choose as my first visit a church specifically designed to appeal to unchurched people such as myself. It seemed that every door I pushed on opened in those days.
Twenty years later, that “seeker sensitive” church was not filling my needs anymore, and I was finding myself at odds with the values of many of the congregants. I am nothing if not loyal, and I may have attended that church for many more years, had the spiritual doors not slammed shut when the church finally closed its physical doors.
I told myself that I was not shopping for a new church, but only exploring different ways of doing Christianity when I visited several different church communities over the next few weeks. At the same time, I was feeling that my next church community would be one that is more progressive in its values than the last one had been. I visited an Episcopal church with a woman pastor and a Swedenborgian church that welcomes people of all sexual orientations. I went to a “seeker-sensitive” church that could have been a carbon copy of the one I left, and instantly knew that was not going to be in my future.
On my fourth weekend of exploration, I visited Cincinnati Friends Meeting, and on the following weekend, I had no place in mind, and thought I would stay home on Sunday morning. But this was one of those few times when I did hear that still voice, and it was telling me to go back to the Quaker meeting, which I did. When I read the testimonies and the list of topics this community was engaging in nurture groups, I knew I had found my new community.
I came to Cincinnati Friends happily employed, but with a change in leadership, doors that had been open to me at my place of employment began to close. Although I wasn’t quite ready to retire, I found it necessary to do so a year before I had planned. I was open to part-time employment or volunteer work, but I didn’t worry about developing a plan, mostly curious to wait and see what doors would open before me. I began to have the sense that whatever I did, it might be related to science and environment.
After several weeks of restful waiting, I began actively searching for local volunteer opportunities related to “citizen science” or environmental issues. But in the course of that search, I ran across a job opportunity. A small nature sanctuary north of Cincinnati was seeking a part-time naturalist. The job description promised no more than 80 hours of work per month and a flexible schedule that could accommodate other responsibilities (such as enjoying retirement!).
A bit of backstory will illustrate my frame of mind when I saw this job posting. My career goal after undergraduate school had been to become a naturalist and work in a park, conducting programs for the public and educating people about the natural world and environmental issues. A few practical realities at the time led me down a different path, and that dream was put aside. Did this job opportunity represent an open door to realize the dream of a 22-year old, now in her mid-60s? It was a compelling and “magical” thought.
The interview process took weeks, and though I started with some doubts about the position, as the weeks went by I began to get excited about the possibilities, researching resources and ideas on the Internet.
In the end, the door was closed when the sanctuary chose another candidate, but a dream had been revived. Through a series of “coincidences,” I had a conversation with a naturalist at the Cincinnati Nature Center in which he told me they had the best volunteer program in the city, and possibly in the country. I was impressed with what I saw on their website, and I signed up to volunteer.
With my new 20/20 hindsight, I can report that I’m glad the door to the job at the nature sanctuary had closed. I would have been the sole employee of that non-profit, responsible for programs for the public, a preschool program, organization of volunteers, control of invasive species, management of native species, grant writing, social media, programs for local scouting groups… the list goes on.
At the Cincinnati Nature Center I am part of a community of interesting and vibrant lovers of nature, with many opportunities for learning and serving. In the spring I will participate in a program there that will certify me as an Ohio Certified Volunteer Naturalist, which could open doors that are at this point unknown to me.
I’m grateful for the job opportunity that set me on a path to my future, and for this vision of the world that has allowed me to pursue what appeared to be open doors and to see closed ones as a necessary part of the guidance I feel from God. It’s a relief to put down the need for control and to trust that the path ahead of me will be revealed in the doorways.