31 August 2009


Just the word summons one to mindfulness. Pictures of people returning to an old homestead, carrying food, waving and shouting words of welcome. Quietly taking in the surroundings, pondering what has changed. Such was the opening of Hopewell Centre's homecoming celebration.

Myself, I had been whirring and stirring inside for several days, to the point a friend had to remind me, "Be STILL and know that I am God, Be still and KNOW that I am God, Be still and know that I AM God..." I was filled with expectant longing and fear of the unknown...would we have enough food, would there be enough chairs, would enough people show up, would they be entertained, all the stuff that is none of mine to worry about. God had it all under control.

We were so pleased that the Winchester Star gave us a front page coverage on Saturday. A lovely piece that detailed homecoming, but also gave wonderful recountings of why some of us became friends. Pictures of the peaceful interior and the waiting exterior (that's how I always see our meeting as I approach it: waiting for our entry, holding the space for us). The article's author was a kind and thorough person, with curiosities of her own.

Saturday night, when the chicken salad was made, and my truck was full of the chairs from Centre, I finally fell off to a sound sleep, and I dreamed of Finney, that wondrous welcoming personage of her as I had entered the building before, too many times to count. Though Finney's body would not be with us, I felt her hands holding mine and felt her warm smile on me in my dream, telling me she would be there in Spirit.

Entering early, I knew they were all there. All the souls of all the members who'd sat here for so many homecomings, and even the ones from the times before, when every Firstday return to meeting was a homecoming. I was anxious to sit and enter worship. I wanted to commune with them, those who are always there and available, but to whom I often pay no mind. I'd had visions driving down the road (almost the same road they traveled), of the wagons and carriages, packed high with belongings, children restless on the bench, quieted by the mothers, fathers driving on, almost brooding, in their expectant pondering of what lay beyond.

How they must have felt when they arrived. The vast wilderness of the Shenandoah Valley stretched out before them. On this hill they saw the tips of the Blue Ridge beckoning them, and it was a fertile land of fields and forests. Surely this was home!

What of the first time they entered their log cabin meeting house? As they sat silently in the rough hewn benches, did they, as I, ponder the amazing work of God to draw them here to a community in the woods? Did they marvel that God had provided for them all the things necessary to make this home? Were they thankful for the logs and the lumber, the food they set out for each other, the fruits of their labors made possible by the beneficence of their Creator?

Yes, I heard silently, all that and more. They believed beyond belief that this was the place God had planted them, and that it was for a reason. Their history unfolded just as it should, and generations and generations proceeded with the business at hand, leading up until today.

250 years ago, they sat for the first time in the stone expanse that is our building now. Friends had grown so dense in the valley, that this was one of many meeting houses, and it would be home to the greater gatherings of the region of Friends, the place they came to gather together. Hosts of small communities linked to the original group, worshiping close to their homes, gathering for business and worship here at periods deemed appropriate.

I envisioned the carriages approaching, the expectant chatter and laughter of the children, about to see long time friends. A respite from the work of the farm, this day of rest, when farmers compared notes and wives compared recipes, and children released from their chores were free to play.

I imagined the wall returned to the center of the meeting, when Orthodox and Hicksite Friends worshipped separately. I thought, at least one from each side held the other in the Light. Finally, when the older side of the building was falling in disrepair, Friends released their differences to God and worshipped together in one side, while repairing the other. Sometimes the practicalities of life bring us together more than our emotions ever would.

All this came to me in worship yesterday. Then, as a Friend rose to speak of the children, and the need to have them to carry on the message, my own sweet journey flooded in on me. I was only 14 when I attended my first worship with a friend whose family were Friends. I had no idea what that meant except that in the 1960s it sounded like a "nice" way to worship. I had no clue my own journey would draw me through to where I landed at Buckingham Friends in Bucks County, sure that I had always been a Friend in my heart.

This rich community, the Society of Friends, the friends of Jesus mentioned in the Bible, has called me to be more of myself than I ever realized existed. So, I am sure, felt many others yesterday. Friends shared their journeys to that place, that moment in time. Some were new to worship, drawn by others, or by the news. Some were old Friends, who traveled the road home many times, and now once more returned. Some had not been Meeting for a long time, but somehow felt summoned to celebrate.

In the vibrancy of celebration, it was clear that Friends have a message for the traveler. Come home! Here is where you can find rest on your journey. Come home! Here is where your heart will be refreshed and your soul nourished. Come home! Here is where you will find the answers to your deepest questions, and more questions to beckon you further.

Yesterday, Friends came home to Hopewell Centre, and they were not disappointed. Home, and all the souls before them, were waiting expectantly for their arrival.

29 August 2009

Healing and Homecoming

Yesterday Hopewell Centre held a Meeting for Worship for Healing, in support of those struggling with serious illness. Tomorrow we will hold Worship and Homecoming, celebrating the longevity of our presence with and among each other. These events are the milemarkers in the daily ordinary life that is community at Hopewell Centre.

I've discovered this year how much community is built block by block, day after day, but is most often noticed at milestones. Births and deaths, illness and recovery, each serves to help us sit and take notice of what has been quietly evolving while we weren't even looking.

I'm not sure whether Meeting for Healing is something familiar to other meetings. It developed in our meeting about 8 or ten years ago when several friends were struggling with cancer. It was uplifting to all of us to meet and specifically focus on prayer and healing light. Then Iraq happened, and people were looking for healing for the world, so we came together for that purpose. A nice warmth developed between the small group of worshipers, and we all felt a little closer as a result.

We've also had a Seeker's group, comprised of newcomers and oldtimers looking for a chance to talk to each other about their spiritual journey. We've had Bible Study and a support group. Each little piece puts a block in the house called community.

Memorials are the place where I really notice the house God has built around us: Feeling the joined Spirit in the room, listening to Friends tell how their lives were touched by the member, listening to friends tell of the influence that person had on their lives. A memorial never fails to bring a new attender into our midst; most likely affected by the felt Presence in the room, they are drawn to come back.

I spent a long time in my life seeking community, and not finding it, even in places that called themselves communities. I discovered a while back why: I was always looking for what that place could give to me, rather than what I had to offer it. I thought somehow I would find the place where I fit, waiting, already prepared for me. It was always there, though I didn't know that I was the piece that place might need to become whole. I was unaware of the importance of each brick to the building's stability, so I failed to notice the niche that was waiting for me.

These days I reverence every brick, piece of mortar, pane of glass that contributes to the whole. I mean both the physical structure and the spiritual body. I am so grateful that I have something to offer. When I sit in worship, the physical building reminds me of the souls who have called Hopewell home; it supports me in feeling their presence among the living. When I look in worship at the other souls sharing that space with me, I celebrate each individual and their unique contribution to the solidness of community. The lives and spirits of the living support me in feeling the wholeness of the community. They call me to feel a part of and then help me define what my part is. This living breathing timeless wonder is the substantiation of the Love of God.

27 August 2009

Of Dream Catchers and Drum Groups

This entry comes from a conversation I had with my 21 year old daughter this morning, about the wonderful facebook group, Quaker Hippie Children. If you haven't seen it, it's worth signing on to facebook just to read it. If you're in your 50s or 60s and raised children you will be rolling on the floor with laughter.

My kids didn't have the experience of Quaker Camp. I wish they had, and I'm thankful for the experience of Young Friends and Junior Young Friends, which gave my children the sense they were part of a larger community (and that they were not the only one with weird hippie parents!).

Our conversation this morning was about the sensibility that we take into the world as a result of our being Friends. Such a simple word, with such simple implications. We treat others as friends. We greet strangers as friends. We even treat rude people who are obviously having a bad day, as friends. If there is something like Light or that of God in everyone, even if they don't know it, we strive in our family to treat them like Friends. Sometimes it is a real stretch, but it is the benchmark we strive to reach.

I'm very proud to have raised a child with this awareness at such a young adult age. She teaches children how to ride horses, and she is ever aware that no one ever learned to enjoy riding a horse by being yelled at. Some people may think they have, but she tells me that the horse taught them, not the screaming teacher. She is a gentle soul. She is teaching me, that even in the crotchetyness of old age, I do not have the right to let God or myself down by treating another in a manner less than as a friend.

Children are so clear on these things. Once, when our Meeting was having a major conflict that threatened to split the meeting, the children wrote us a note from their business meeting that said something like, "We wish the adults would stop making such a big deal out of things they think are affecting us. We're the ones involved, and we feel perfectly safe." Wow. Clear enough? I'm beginning to think that as adults we need to seek clarity because our initial direct channel with God has been covered with layers and layers of acculturation.

So when I happened on this little facebook group, "Quaker Hippie Children" http://www.facebook.com/home.php?ref=home#/group.php?gid=2423821013&ref=ts
I couldn't help but smile, then laugh, then shed a tear. All the things that I thought were so important to impart to my child were there. You know you're a Quaker Hippie kid if (among other things):
*your threshold for weirdness, quirkiness, and everything avant-garde seems to be much, much higher than that of anyone around you

*you have a hippie bumper sticker present anywhere in your life

*you attend Quaker meeting (although not required; there are many of us who are QHCs at heart, but aren't actually Quaker...)

*you have ever been asked to use an "I" statement to describe your feelings

*you avoided bringing home your more mainstream friends for fear of subjecting them to your parents

*you have never been allowed to play with anything resembling a weapon

*you use eco-friendly products in your home

*you compost

*you remember attending protests from a very young age

*at least half the people you know are vegetarian (or vegan!)

*you know at least one person who doesn't eat eggs, dairy, wheat, refined sugars, or anything grown further than 50 miles from home

And my daughter's personal favorite :
*as a young girl, you read New Moon magazine and dreamed about becoming a woman (womyn?)

There are many more, along with references to the many songs, like Baby Beluga and This Land is Your Land, that we sang on car rides, and the essential Quaker games like Wink! Then our own quirky family things, like making dream catchers, drumming in the woods, putting on our "restaurant manners" like an invisible t-shirt, and stringing together as many idioms in a sentence as we could.

So what does this all have to do with me? It is a lightbulb, a snap on the side of the head, a reminder, of the awareness I carried with me when my adult children were wee babes; the gift their presence gave to me of wanting to keep their awareness tuned to the Light, in whatever forms I thought would "stick." Singing songs, making up crazy rhymes, praying silly prayers, eating whole wheat, talking to animals, going to demonstrations and being peaceful -- these are just a few of the ways Spirit spoke to us all. And every day was a gift of something new seen through a child's eyes.

I'm thankful that I can so easily call this state of being up, with a simple conversation. I'm even more grateful that my daughter so readily remembers. She's in a time where she doesn't really think she believes in God or praying or worship. But she definitely knows she's a Quaker, and she is happy to be one. She credits being raised Quaker with her own awareness of others, her peacefulness, and her joy of animals. When she was a mid-teen, and I was trying to impress on her the need to attend meeting for worship, she stopped me in my tracks one morning, when I went to get her from the barn, where she was tending her beloved horses: "There's more God right here in this barn, right this moment," she said, "than there is for me in that Meeting." I have to admit I couldn't think of an argument. I felt the truth she spoke.

For me, in those days, I was very busy contemplating, drumming, visualizing, and seeking contact with the Light in whatever way I could. I had the sense that I had to be tuned in as acutely as I could be, due to the responsibility of raising these children in the manner God would want me to. I hope the children benefited, but I know I did. I didn't worry about how theologically correct these things were in my own young adulthood, I simply followed my heart.

Over the years, as others, I have become busier and busier in my life. I find I have to set aside time for quiet contemplation, and often, no sooner is it done, than I am off to the rest of my life, the quiet calm swept away with the tide of the day. I'm not happy about this, and I don't really know how I evolved here. I've recently recommitted my life to the ministry God leads to me, and I can see already how this is the crux of some of my difficulties and unclearness.

I had a week at Baltimore Yearly Meeting's Annual Sessions, where each day I felt more and more refreshed and renewed in the Spirit. The first couple days home, I was basking in the halo of the Light I'd bathed in daily there. Gradually that halo grew dull, and by the end of a week, I was pretty much back to the daily rush. With the exception that I now carry with me this awareness. This morning I woke up and rushed off without even pausing for that quiet time. Thank goodness for children...I got on facebook and there was my daughter to remind me of the gifts God gives us in the smallest of moments.

We all have access to that Light. It doesn't take an hour of worship, it takes a moment of turning inward. That is the simplest gift we have to give to the world.

20 August 2009

A Poem on Forgiveness by Whittier


My heart was heavy, for its trust had been
Abused, its kindness answered with foul wrong;
So, turning gloomily from my fellow-men,
One summer Sabbath day I strolled among
The green mounds of the village burial-place;
Where, pondering how all human love and hate
Find one sad level; and how, soon or late,
Wronged and wrongdoer, each with meekened face,
And cold hands folded over a still heart,
Pass the green threshold of our common grave,
Whither all footsteps tend, whence none depart,
Awed for myself, and pitying my race,
Our common sorrow, like a mighty wave,
Swept all my pride away, and trembling I forgave!

John Greenleaf Whittier


I'm struck by all the space the "doings" of one's life take up. Having just declared myself "no longer a landscaper" (a misnomer, really, since I still have contracts to honor) my life begins to take on a new patina...not the harried, sketchy, thinking, thinking, thinking of the landscape designer/installer, but the meditative perspective of the writer, counselor, listener.

Amazing how simple that is; change one's perspective, change one's view of the world. Had I known it was this easy, perhaps I would have done it much sooner. Perhaps not.

Each step of a journey is a necessary one, is the point I am making. It will remain to be seen what all the lessons were of stepping from the visionary path to the practical one for some 20 years. If God is, as Daniel Snyder tells us, the infinite divine lover of my soul, then I cannot doubt that meaning will be made of whatever steps I have taken. Something way beyond the right or wrong of things. This has proven to be true in my life at each point up to this one, so I have no reason to doubt it.

I remember that when I lived in John Greenleaf Whittier's poetry garret (where he wrote when he stayed along the Delaware River), the mere thought of it was enough to inspire me to write my own river journal. Prosaic, and full of my life's meanderings alongside that wandering river, it was as if Whittier's spirit had infused with mine, and creativity flowed unencumbered. Before that moment, which was also one of the loneliest of my life, I had no idea I was a writer. I wrote out of my longing, my desperation, my deep-soul searching for God. It started from a chance meeting with my landlady, where she showed me a first edition of Whittier's works and remarked, as if by chance, that he sat in the window of my tiny apartment and looked out over the river as he wrote.

A couple hundred years of trees later, one couldn't really see the river from that garret, except in the dead of winter, peering closely through the treetops. It didn't really matter though. It was Whittier's spirit that spoke to mine, talking about the spirit and how it moved here and there between home and the river, and how God spoke to him as he wrote. I understood, and I wrote too.

And what about the time spent with a samurai healer, learning the Japanese herbs? That too was a conflagration of spirits, teaching me how the earth and humans communicated for eons before me, the simple truths that opened doors into my heart and body, and healed me from a lifetime of abuses inflicted by self and others. I understood how a samurai could be both protector warrior and spiritual healer to a whole village of people, and how reverent and responsible that role was for the holder. How sacred each role of each life was to all.

How many incarnations have I had in this life? Too many to number. The God of my Understanding has led me, by the Light, to each of a myriad of places that I needed to encounter to bring me to exactly this place that I stand now.

I always knew that God was calling me. Since I was a child, I've known. Then, in the midst of dreams and visions, I saw the things the Bible could only talk about...the burning bushes and the staff into snake into staff. I knew they were there for me as signs that God loved me. I knew they were there in case I doubted, and doubt I did.

My whole life long, unsureness has been the constant. Right alongside of God, the inconstancy.
Perhaps this is what free will is about. Will you choose the familiar, earthbound fearfulness, or choose the unknown, beckoning God? Will you venture out to the edge of the boat, fearful of falling in? An teacher said to me a long time ago, "We find God at the edge of the boat in the midst of the rocking sea." And me, I've carried a fear of drowning all my life: a fear of swallowing too much water, or knocking my chin on a hidden rock in that water, or not being strong enough to swim against the current.

Yet swim I must. The little inner voice has only gotten louder over the years. "You are a Minister," it virtually screams at me now. Okay, I get it. Really. At 57 years old, I finally realize that it is not going to stop, not going to go away, not going to leave me alone. I surrender.

God is the infinite divine lover of my soul.

Therefore, God will never desert me, never give up on me, never leave me alone.
And I? I just need to stop and listen. But listen with new ears. Really hear what is being said, and then stop and listen some more. Deep listening. Deeper listening. Be in relationship with the lover of my soul.

Never has something been more scary in my life. Where will You lead me? What adventures lie ahead? Do I have what it takes? Evidently I do, for You have chosen me.

Yesterday I read, in the 1959 Britain Faith and Practice, that we adults have the responsibility to listen to the call of God, and to act on our leadings, so that we might set the example for the youth to come. If we don't step out in service, how will they know what to do? This little volume even talked about the supernatural leadings of the Light, and our duty to answer them.

For years I have wandered about asking questions in the darkness. Is this real? Who would believe me? Am I crazy? Even now, attempting to "answer the call," I don't really know what that means.

It takes seasoning, the elders say. So I am waiting. But not waiting alone. Finally I have understood the need for clearness, and that it cannot be sought in a vacuum.

16 August 2009

The Oasis of Community

It has been so long since I posted that I almost deleted this blog and started another. But there is something to the process that needs to be preserved. Having just come through a period in my life where I felt barren, like there was a desert inside, and no water to nourish my spirit, I trudged off to Baltimore Yearly Meeting Annual Sessions. I had the sense of a dying person approaching an oasis, hopeful against hope, yet doubting, as if that oasis might be just another mirage. Thankfully, it was the real thing. (BYM has never failed to refresh and renew me in all the years I have attended.) I was grateful I planned on attending the pre-sessions retreat, as it was like being plunged into a spring, and I emerged refreshed, already with a growing sense of clarity.

The Business of our Lives: The Transformation of Faith into Practice, was the focus of Annual Sessions this year. So the retreat promised us that "we will be exploring how our faith and testimonies can lead us to fulfill our role as representatives of God on earth. We will look at where we are now on our life/faith journey; where we are to go on our journey, and how to get there." I would say that the retreat more taught us the process that we could use to do this work. Most of the focus was on the deep listening that one can offer another in discerning their leading. I found this most helpful, and was also pleasantly surprised when one of my small group members stepped outside this format to say, "Well do you have a care/clearness committee?" and offered other tidbits about her own process that shed light on my own path.

I don't know if it's the fact I missed last years Sessions, or if it was that the agenda was truly so varied , or if my ears were just opened, but the week that followed offered me more nourishment and opportunity to learn than I can remember. I experienced it as though my spirit had entered paradise! What some might call the "work" of people's lives, I came to see as that which also fed them. The fulfillment of those involved in work in Africa, in the African Great Lakes Initiative, Friends Theological Institute, and Hlekweni Friends Rural Service was infectious. Workshops as diverse as Sabbath Economics, as basic as the Practice of Living Simply, helped me renew my faith in the Quaker process. Singing, worship, dining -- fellowship with Friends -- was the real food that my soul craved!

Our clerk, Howard Fullerton, is becoming simultaneously more amusing and adroit as each season passes. Business sessions were refreshing and succinct. Was it my imagination, or was every presenter cognizant of the listeners, striving to be not just informative but engaging? Even the memorial for our older Friends who have passed from this place this year, was like plunging into a refreshing pool. My thirst was quenched.

Out of this came crystal clear clarity. I cannot continue to live a life divided between my Quaker Life and my "other" life. Much like the parable of George Fox and William Penn, where Fox challenges Penn to wear his sword as long as he can, I feel that I can no longer wear the outside world's values and lifestyle. When I fall back into that lifestyle, it is only a matter of time before I feel empty, depressed and like life has no meaning.

This may sound extreme to some, but it is the way I experience it. It has become heavier to carry the burden of not listening to one's calling than it is to follow it. Somewhere inside I always have known it would come to this. The God of my understanding is loving, persistent, and never gives up on a soul. At the workshop on prayer by Daniel Snyder, I heard God called "the infinite, divine lover of your soul." In this week of spiritual retreat and renewal, I came to truly understand this. I can only hope to model an approximation of this love, and to someday pay forward the gift I was given this week. I am blessed to be a member of such an oasis of community in this difficult world.