I love the Quaker use of the word “opportunity.” I first heard it some twenty years ago when Allen Oliver, a traveling minister, suggested that I approach a person with whom I was in conflict by requesting a “personal opportunity.” He said this person would know what it meant. I didn’t, but I learned that there was a tradition among Friends for one to seek silent worship with another in their home, and that the tradition is mostly upheld by Conservative Friends today. In our Meeting, when there is conflict between Friends we typically use terms like “listening session,” by which we mean that the two parties, often with a third person who serves as a prayerful presence, meet together in worship to listen to each other and to Spirit.

Being a word lover, I looked up the origin of the word “opportunity.” Its Latinate roots are ob, to + portus, harbor: “blowing toward the harbor.” An opportunity, then, is a suitable occasion or time. That seems innocuous enough. However, I suspect that, like the term “elder” among Quakers, the term “opportunity” may have taken on a tone of judgment, so if someone requested an opportunity with another, that other would say, “Uh, Oh. What have I done now?”

So how do we create, both in our interpersonal relationships and in our meetings, the space within which deep, non-judgmental listening and authentic speaking can happen? Can we invite the winds of Spirit to blow us safely to the harbor?


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