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Most years, on Indigenous People’s Day (“Columbus Day”) weekend, I go to the Sandwich (NH) Fair. A good old-fashioned fair, this includes gymkhana events; 4-H kids showing off their pigs, sheep and oxen; and lots of fried food. I always migrate to the horse pull, where pairs of draft horses pull a sled with successively heavier weights. At the beginning, usually all horse pairs pull the sled the required 12 feet, most barely breaking a sweat.
As the event goes on, and the sled gets heavier, the horses have to work harder, and gradually teams drop out as they fail to pull the minimum distance. I have on occasion wondered, “What draws me to this event?”
I think it’s that I find some joy in seeing the horses reveal an essential part of their nature. They were bred to pull heavy things and in this event, as they dig in and pull, we are witnesses to their strength, and the satisfaction in using that strength. The best teams are horses that are well-matched in size and style, and that have obviously worked together a lot.
The setup which allows the horses to do this work is a complicated arrangement of straps and padding, at the heart of which is the yoke, a padded ring that goes around the base of the horse’s neck. This is the piece the horse leans into, pulling enormous weights without hurting itself. One could argue that the yoke helps the horse to realize what God intended for him.
As someone who often thinks in visual images, I’ve always liked the metaphor of leaning into the yoke when I have some challenging piece of work to do, whether it’s actually physical labor or not. Some heavy “sled” that I have to pull for a required distance.
Jesus used the image,“My yoke is easy and the burden is light,” to describe following his path. I’ve been told that in this context “easy” doesn’t mean”not difficult,” but more like well-fit or “comfortable.” Which makes more sense, as following Jesus’ path is not what I would call easy, but during periods when I am more diligent in my retirement and open to the encouragement of the Lord, I recognize that I will not be given anything I can’t handle, no sled I cannot pull.
I expect most of you reading this have some experience of being yoked to some work, whether this is committee work at your local meeting, caring for an ailing family member, working in prisons or for immigrant rights. Sometimes the call comes in the familiar voice of a Friend on nominating committee, sometimes by the unsettling but powerful voice of the Divine. Sometimes we end up taking on roles out of a sense of duty, only to find some joy and satisfaction in the work. I also like the expression “well-used.”
When there is a sense that my gifts have fit well with a need, and that it was indeed my work to do, even if the work is hard, there is some satisfaction in serving the Lord. I think the horses must feel something like that, after engaging with their full selves in a bit of physical labor. Some of this work can be scary, but if the Divine has called you to it, there’s usually a sense of being carried, of being supported through the work. As you lean into it, you find that, against expectations, the yoke actually fits!
This reflection on yoked service is a lead-in to publicly expressing my own appreciation, and the Yearly Meeting’s appreciation, for two individuals who have just taken the yoke off, after a long pull of 4 years. Fritz Weiss (Hanover, NH, Friends Meeting) has just stepped down as our presiding clerk, serving his expected term of 3 years plus an extra year. In addition to the very public role of clerking business at Sessions, the presiding clerk is charged with clerking Coordinating and Advisory Committee and staying on top of myriad issues facing the Yearly Meeting, Yearly Meeting committees, the quarterly meetings, sometimes issues at monthly meetings, and occasionally interpersonal kerfuffles. Fritz took on this work with deep spiritual grounding, commitment to NEYM and the Quaker way, a warm and friendly manner, and a sense of humor. And a nice fedora.
Through this same four-year period, Sarah Gant (Beacon Hill, MA, Friends Meeting) served as clerk of Permanent Board. This, too, is a big job, shepherding a variety of concerns and projects through the year, with six meetings every year. The Permanent Board clerk must stay on top of all the big issues that affect the Yearly Meeting, participates in Coordinating and Advisory, and must be diligent and patient, coordinating the various subcommittees and ad-hoc committees that report to Permanent Board. Sarah engaged in this work with great competence, an obvious love of NEYM, and an infectious joy.
We owe both these Friends a debt of gratitude for serving us and the Divine with such love and open heartedness. I suggest that each of you thank them for their service when next you see them.
Leslie Manning (Durham, ME, Friends Meeting) and I will be donning the yokes that Sarah and Fritz have doffed, and I expect it will take a little while for the fit to work quite as well as it did with these Friends. Please forgive us our minor transgressions, and accept our apologies if and when we fail spectacularly! Know that we, too, love our Yearly Meeting and have an abiding faith in the potential of the Quaker path to transform our lives. We welcome your prayers.
Fresh Pond Friends Meeting (Cambridge, MA)
Presiding Clerk, New England Yearly Meeting of Friends