04 December 2010


We have a long tradition in our meeting, of holding each month's query in the Light, discussing it among our family, perhaps at meals, or at family prayer or worship time, and then, as it was raised at Meeting for Worship for Business, Friends who felt moved might rise and give a message that had been powerfully called out by Spirit moving among them in their time of consideration of the query, that it might be entered in the permanent record of the Monthly Meeting. By recording their voices, we understood what our ancestors believed, and how we passed down to each generation the continuing revelation of our beliefs as they evolved.

For members of the Religious Society of Friends, belief is not a static thing, to preserved forever in a block of stone, immovable and unchangeable. We believe that in the same way that God spoke to Moses and to Jesus, he still lives in us and speaks to us.Revelation is ongoing and it is the business of our lives to be listening at every moment, in every decision of our lives.

It is the responsibility of every member and attender of the Monthly Meeting to be at the Meeting for Worship for Business. Business is conducted in the manner of worship to allow all present to listen corporately for the voice of God as it is present. The more of the body of the Meeting who are present, the more likely we are to hear the voice of God as it is meant to be heard by our particular Meeting, in how we are meant to act. As Clerk of our Meeting, I don't take this lightly! We cannot function without YOUR HELP!

Please help us be a whole community by participating in your small portion as a member of that body, thereby contributing to the whole of the discernment of the Meeting. We cannot do it without you.!

09 August 2010

Are You Ready?

At the end of the week at Annual Sessions, what I could honestly admit was that I had not been ready when I arrived.  I'd skipped the retreat for financial reasons, and so I entered the first day of business in the large auditorium of the performing arts center, a new venue for us, less than spiritually grounded.  Almost every other year since I've started attending the full week of Annual Sessions, I've made the retreat a part of my routine and I can now say that is a necessity for me.  It sets the pace and spiritually sets one into the setting God expects for a worshipful attitude. Without it, I felt I was not on course with the rest of the sailors.

The other thing I did differently was to get a single room.  My reasoning was that I wanted the privacy to write and blog more during the course of the week.  This was my intent, however, I should have planned ahead of time in this case to connect with others that I wanted to converse with.  Since I was not coming to sessions with a traveling companion as in years before, I found that in times I had alone, I missed the time taken to process with my companion, and I lacked a person to do so with.  My friends from Hopewell Centre who were in attendance at BYM were very involved with their own committee work, and I ended up with a lot of alone time on my hands and instead of writing, I ended up reading or sleeping.  One could make a case that I needed that time too, but being the extrovert I am, I realized that process time before writing time is a must for me. 

By the end of the week, I connected up with the folks in the Intervisitation Committee Lounge, and that is when I finally felt grounded.  As much as I'm trying to cultivate the introvert side of my personality, it was in the conversations with this group, listening as much as conversing, that I finally began to make sense of all the input from my week.  I needed the hearty back and forth with people to begin making sense of how all the pieces of the week fit together.  And yes, fitting the pieces together is an important thing to me.  Some are content to let the pieces be the pieces. but to me, there must always be a reason to the rhyme, and aha! there came to be so. I also realized that intervisitation ought to be on my list fo first things to do when I move on eventually from being Clerk of my monthly meeting, as there's so much to be gained from the interchange with others from outside our own area.

Are you ready?  Was the question asked by the narrator, writer and founder of the Theatre for Transformation, Dr. Amanda Kemp, as she took us on the slave journey based on the correspondence of black poet Phyllis Wheatley and slave Obour Tanner In Sister, Friend an incredible theatrical performance which young and old alike experienced on Wednesday afternoon.  We of BYM had taken up that call as our own by the end of the week, asking each other, "Are you ready,": as we embarked on each new piece of business, whether it be settling the books, doing business with young Friends, writing a minute to the US president, or having fun at the coffeehouse.

So much to say...about what we learned about our own limitations in confrontating our racism and classism, about the Young Friends and how they continue to teach us; about the growth between liberal and conservative Friends and how we are learning to love and respect each other, about my own experience with being eldered and learning to season my words before I speak, about balancing budgets and moral vs financial imperatives.  I could and will go on and on... but not here and now.   The theme of Baltimore Yearly Meeting's Annual Sessions was the Lessons Learned from History.  On the surface,  it looked like we were talking about racism, but the lessons went so much deeper than that.  Oh my!  I have so much to tell you!

So as I bring that all out, "Obedient to the Light" will be an active blog again, and I will welcome your feedback and conversation too!  A blog is not a blog without dialogue.  It was certainly a pleasure to see so many of you at annual sessions and it will be a pleasure to keep up the conversation here and on your blogs and on facebook as well. (And incidentally, on the blogs which our friend Jim Rose has set up for each and every BYM meeting at the bym website!)

Blessings to you all.

17 June 2010

A religious SOCIETY of friends

Friends, my cause in writing today is brief.  It is to ask you to respond to a few queries that have come to mind in the past few days as I read blogs by others.  Some know that I am doing research on Quakers and community and reading journals of early Friends and the communities they established as they pushed out into the wilderness that was early America, including the area I now call my home in the Shenandoah Valley.  This is not easy going, because early Friends did not have to think about living in community, it was simply who and what they were and how they functioned.  So, keeping that in mind, please consider responding to a few simple queries:

What was the meaning of forming the "Religious Society" of Friends?

What is the meaning of belonging to a Religious Society of Friends for us today?

Is there a difference between living in community and being a part of a religious society of Friends?

Is there a difference between being a Quaker and being a part of the Religious Society of Friends, for you personally?

What is the significance of community to you in your experience of being a Friend?  How much does it shape your experience of being a Friend?

Please respond to these queries in light of being a convinced or birthright Friend, or an attender or seeker, if you feel so moved, and from the perspective of the "branch" of Friends you are a part of if that feels part of your experience as well.
You may respond to me here on my blog, or privately at linda.j.wilk@gmail.com, whichever feels more right to you.

You will be helping me to address my own inner questions, and you will be helping me to direct the queries I am asking myself as I seek both back and history and forward in our future direction for who we are as a faith community.

Thank you for your assistance, Friends.

24 May 2010

Living my Calling means Living IN Community (sigh)

It's been quite a long time since I've written here.  The reason is a depression that had been dogging my every step for months, that finally sapped my strength and took me down.  It took me away from meeting, my friends, my work, nature, and most things I enjoyed, before I realized I wasn't just going to "buck up," that  I needed a little extra help in the form of doctors and medication, and that spiritually I'd been doing just about the opposite of the things I'd been needing to do to get the help I needed.  As I get a little more fluent in the metaphor of the Bible and other religious language, I realize that the devil really did have me, and demons were separating me from the One that could heal me.  I also was making matters worse by believing the voices in my head that were telling me that I would only make everyone and everything worse by inflicting myself on my my worship community.  I was better off home in bed.

This is significant and bears talking about.  This morning, as I read Philip Gulley's Monday morning refreshment, Passages (http://philipgulley.org/Secure%20Sermon/Passages%201.pdf) he was talking about driving the state highways instead of the interstates, and finding the milemarkers that remind us of the historic events that happened there.  Drawing parallels to the historic markers of our own lives, he drew me back to a time I got off the interstate in Wheeling WV and decided to take the scenic state highway to discover the more interesting state roads in my new home of West-by-god-Virginia.  I was totally unprepared for the heights and depths of unguard-railed roads to which this detour would take me.  Eight and one half hours later, on an otherwise 2.5 hour interstate worth of drive, we drove down into a holler. 

Greeted by a state policeman, who told use he was checking cars for drunk drivers and licenseless locals, I remember my first thought was fear, as in memories of Deliverance.  Our green-gilled children peeled themselves off the floor and peered over the headrests to whine, "Where arrrrre we?"   The sheriff, in his flat-top haircut, holding his hard-brim cowboy hat, said, "Whyyy, Welcome to Possum Holler, Yung-uns!"  We'd long since missed my missed my uncle's funeral on the eastern shore of Maryland, and we stil had 3 or 4 hours more to the eastern panhandle, and without this fine officer's help, we would never have navigated the terrain to the nearest straight road, or eaten solid food again.

That's a lot like my journey this winter.  I had a lot of plans for the hibernating months, for redecorating, crafting, writing, cleaning and visiting.  As my spirits plummeted, I checked them off the list, and in my denial, I told myself they weren't that important.  I cancelled committee meetings, and as I grew more aggravated with what felt now like demands, not requests, I rationalized that the committees of our meeting out to snap to it, and do the works they were supposed to and not leave it all to the clerk.  Instead of seeking refuge in the meeting, I hid out.

When I was pursuing my pastoral counseling degree, I learned a great phrase, "regression in the service of the ego."  It means that when we get stressed, we go back to our earlier ways of coping, to take care of our selves.  In my case, as I got more and more depressed, I went back to the ways I coped at younger and younger ages.  Finally I reached my youngest memories, as an early reader.  When my parents would fight, I would take the family flashlight, hide under the covers, and read.

Well, let me tell you, at the end of this depression I was up to five five-hundred page mysteries per week, plus a non-fiction book or two thrown in so I could say I was doing real work.  It was great.  I read Sharyn McCrumb's Appalachian mysteries and caught myself up on some of the great tales of which the great Appalachian ballads are made.  I read all the NY bestsellers and most of their previous bestsellers.  I read the obscure writers that people write obscure reviews about.  I re-read my favorite, Irene Allen's Quaker series set at Cambridge Mass MM.  I read every, yes every Jonathan Kellerman Alex Delaware Forensic Psychologist (my hero) mystery.

Finally, I ran out of mysteries and money.  So I had to start re-reading non fiction favorites.  Among them was Thomas Kelley and Parker Palmer.  This is the kind of thing that brings you to remember that the God our our Understanding (Thank you God!) is still working even when our bodies are not.  I was re-reading A Hidden Wholeness when I discovered the words:

A strong community helps people develop a sense of true self, for only in community can the self exercise and fulfill its nature:  giving and taking, listening and speaking, being and doing.  But when community unravels and we lose touch with one another, the self atrophies and we lose touch with ourselves as well.  Lacking opportunities to be ourselves in a web of relationships, our sense of self disappears, leading to behaviors that further fragment our relationships and spread the epidemic of inner emptiness. (p. 39)


I felt a little green, like my kids looked when we drove out of those mountains.  Not only had I made a wrong turn somewhere, but in thinking I'd taken a better way, I had misjudged and thrown myself sooooo far off course, that it was difficult to see the way back.

I needed help.  That much was clear.

I went to a few different places.  First was a doctor for the obvious medical advice and attention.
Second, I sent out a note to my clearness committee.  I said, "I've been suffering from depression, and I really need some support.  I'm seeking medical help, but I need help to get back on track with my ministry, my place in meeting, and I need to be accountable to you all."
They responded promptly and graciously and my anxiety came down about 100 points as soon as that meeting was scheduled.  Clearly we should not be on this voyage called life alone.

Among the many other things I read in A Hidden Wholeness was a story about a man who attended Parker's Circle of Trust Retreat for many season's and was silent for them.  In keeping with the parameters of the Circle of Trust, he was not pushed to speak or respond or participate beyond what felt safe for him.  This helped me to see that what I needed was to attend meeting, to be a part of the Light that I always feel when I am in corporate worship, and that I needed to completely remove any inner or external pressure I might feel, from myself, in order to allow myself to bask in healing Light, so that healing might occur as could, beyond what my intellect could imagine.  In other words, I needed to return to meeting for worship.

As many of you may know, when one has broken the habit of going to weekly worship, returning to it is easier said than done.  This may be the strongest case for going every week.  Spiritual discipline carries with it the simplest measure, that if we are in the habit, when we need it we will go because it is simply what we do.  Now, it was NOT what I did, so I had to apply some measure of strength against the demons and voices to get myself to move in the direction of firstday worship.  I had to quiet my anger against individuals who had annoyed or agitated me, quiet my demons who had pained my joints, vexed my body, slowed my musles, and simply move slowly in the direction of the meeting.  I told myself, I do not have to speak, I do not have to be sociable, I do not have to be Nice, I simply have to sit and listen.  And I went.

I arrived early, I sat and I closed my eyes, so that I would not have to explain or say hello, or do anything I was not prepared to do.  And God was there waiting!  I fell instantly into deep prayerful worship, and felt a deep sense of relief as I heard the footfalls of those entering after me.  I felt the spirits of those gone before entering too.  I knew when certain elders entered, I could feel their particular sense fill the meeting.  It felt like home.  I felt loved and held, and I began to weep.
Thoughts began to flow, and scripture, and I tried to release each thought and let it flow.  The feeling the returned again and again was gratitude.

I am so very, very blessed.  I have a place to come home to.  In a harsh land, full of harsh realities, of death and poverty and war and darkness, I have a community that spans the globe, that seeks to be peaceful and simple and to live with integrity.  And though I may be overcome with life at times, all that I need to be restored is to worship as one among you, that I may know the God of our understanding and dwell in the Peace that passeth all understanding.

12 April 2010

Life takes over (as it should)

When I started reading The Last Week by Borg and Crossan, I had no idea (as we never do) of what was waiting in the wings of my life.  My friend Bob had gracefully passed onto the next phase of his life, things were sprouting in the greenhouse, and it seemed to be the perfect time for a week long furlough into intellectual/spiritual musing.  Ah, but the best laid plans...

It has been my first time as Clerk of Hopewell Centre of being involved with the life, dying, death and memorial planning for a Friend.  Also my first time of doing something like this since I declared out loud that God has called me to ministry.  Sometimes just the naming of a process gives it a whole new feel, and this was one of those times.

Where before I might have said, "This is just too much for me to be involved in," and pulled back, I now felt I had a responsibility to be Present.  Not just a responsibility; I wanted to be present.
Where once I might have glossed over things, performing the perfunctory tasks, I now found myself anticipating the needs of others, and desiring to go the extra mile, to seek where I might be of help, to encourage others to do the same.

It was a blessing of the greatest gifts to me as much to others.  I received the opportunity to "officiate" at the graveside, to deliver a prayer, some scripture and some words of comfort.  My first reaction to being asked was fear, but that was quickly replaced by a calm fortitude, as it was not me that had this work to do, but the inner Light, ministering through me.

Lest you think I have been spirited off to some other-worldly plane, I must tell you quickly that the acceptance of the gift of ministry has by no means wiped my slate clean of human frailty.  Along with the acceptance of responsibility, came my the surfacing of my most common human traits:  control, anxiety, misspoken words of correction, loss of patience, and an overwhelming sense of being more "right" than others.

So being a minister does not free one of one's humanness?  Alas, as even Jesus knew, this is not the case.  But my friend Bob, even in his human absence, ministered to me in this case.  His wife said,
"Where is that scripture Bob liked, Whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord's?  You can read that graveside, right?"

And so I went to Romans 14:

Romans 14

The Weak and the Strong
 1Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters. 2One man's faith allows him to eat everything, but another man, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. 3The man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not, and the man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him. 4Who are you to judge someone else's servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.  5One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. 6He who regards one day as special, does so to the Lord. He who eats meat, eats to the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who abstains, does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God. 7For none of us lives to himself alone and none of us dies to himself alone. 8If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.
 9For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living. 10You, then, why do you judge your brother? Or why do you look down on your brother? For we will all stand before God's judgment seat. 11It is written:
   " 'As surely as I live,' says the Lord,
   'every knee will bow before me;
      every tongue will confess to God.' "[a] 12So then, each of us will give an account of himself to God.

 13Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother's way. 14As one who is in the Lord Jesus, I am fully convinced that no food[b] is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for him it is unclean. 15If your brother is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy your brother for whom Christ died. 16Do not allow what you consider good to be spoken of as evil. 17For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, 18because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and approved by men.
 19Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification. 20Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All food is clean, but it is wrong for a man to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble. 21It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother to fall.
 22So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the man who does not condemn himself by what he approves. 23But the man who has doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin.

And I read, and I read again, and I sat and I thought.  And I laughed a little and gazed upward at the point where I imagined my white bearded Friend and his invisible, inperceivable, beyond that which is knowable Friend were laughing with each other, as they gazed down at me.

And I asked the forgiveness of myself, my God, and my friends for my erratic behavior, and once again tried to return to the humble place the Light had carved out to me, where I could be of some better service than my humanness had planned.

I can only be the best me that I can be.  "And we are all being the best me's we can be," my friend Bob whispers in my ear, "and that is why we should do all the good we can, and do the least judging we can, and the most loving."

Yesterday I sat with my women friends after meeting for worship, and "debriefed" my experience of the memorial:  all the things I felt could have been done differently, all the things we thought went well, and most of all, all the ways I wished I had behaved more graciously.  We all were of one mind:  that Bob's memorial was beautiful, that everything went just as he had planned it, and that we were all grateful to be present.

In the end we all came to the same conclusion:  There is no way to anticipate every need, address every person in their individual personalities, define and list every process, meet every individual at their own very unique place.  It is impossible.  There is only one way to be "good enough." 

One must live to the Lord.  As in the example of Jesus, the Buddha, Mohammed, the many wonderful early saints, George Fox, Isaac and Mary Penington, Thomas Kelly, and so many of the Friends we encounter every day, the only way to be truly present is to live in the manner we belong to God. 

If I cultivate a loving spirit that is in kinship with that of Jesus as he walked the earth, it does not mean that I will not make mistakes, that I will not lose my temper or say the wrong thing.  But there is certainly a greater chance that those I encounter will encounter the Light through me. If in my daily practice, I endeavor to not judge others, to bring a spirit of Love, and to live to the Lord, then there is certainly a greater opportunity for me to meet God in them.  This is the making of peace.

My friends, on the day of Bob's memorial and wake, I saw more faces of God than I might ever have seen before.  And it was good.

31 March 2010

What was Jesus' intent?

Friends, I must confess that this trip through Jerusalem, exploring The Last Week:  What the Gospels Really Teach About Jesus's Final Days in Jerusalem, has not been so immediately enlightening as I hoped.  It is not that the book has failed, it is that all my years of wimping out on Greek and Hebrew study because I was a "pastoral counselling" student has come back to haunt me.

Now I find that I'm faced with a relatively scholarly book that is written for the popular market, and each place I read a translation of Scripture, I am picking up my NRSV translation and finding it wanting.  The book is based on a more up-to-date reading based on both archaeology and reading of original language text, and focuses more on the book of Mark, as the earliest accounting of the story.  Even Mark was writing 70 years after the events, and writing knowing of the destruction of the Temple that occurred in his own era.  So the story is a delicate teasing out of history, to discern the "true" history of the time.

I like what I find, I'm just not sure whether to trust it.  It's hard to give up one's lifelong held version of Jesus' life, even if it is in favor of a version that more suits my life today.  I want to believe what I am reading:  that Jesus was an activist, and that many of his movements, even in this last week, were planned fulfillment of the prophecies, meant to call attention to important lessons for the people, about following their true leader, rather than the Romans.

I've just spent an amazing amount of my life being in dialogue with the 'suffering servant' interpretation of Jesus, and it has not always been pretty.  The salvific model of Jesus life, leading up to his death and resurrection on the cross, has not really had much meaning for me.  I must admit, however, that since it is the Cross that was the focus of my Christian upbringing, this book calls me to see how much time I have spent rebelling from the beliefs of my childhood, a fact that perhaps deserves a little more attention.

So Borg and Crossan have caught my eye, in a way I didn't expect.  They have put the part of me that believes in the work of Jesus' life, in direct conversation with the part of me that was raised to believe (and rejected) his death.  I'm know this is not by accident.  I'm tired of pretending to stand for something, to be polite in certain circles, and I'm ready to have this dialogue.

In my reading of this Last Week, I am at Tuesday night, and so far, my first surface reading has uncovered the powerful messages of Jesus as a countercultural leader, on his Pam Sunday entry into Jerusalem as the peaceful presence counter to Herod's military domination. On Monday, I view his work as a challenger of the status quo, as the Temple has been degraded to a pitiful amalgamation of Roman and Jewish allegiances that serve no one but the rich.  Here he fulfills the prophecy that the Temple shall become as a "den of robbers."  On Tuesday he continues to grapple with both the Priests and the Romans in the temple, calling attention to their own inconsistencies, and deliberately putting himself into more confrontations that fulfill the Jewish prophecies.  Borg and Crossan tell us however, that Mark struggles here to inject meaning that has more relevance for the later destruction of the Temple, so I am left to tease out that which is appropriate to Jesus' life that week.

It is a much more difficult task than I expected.  I can only tell you today that I am halfway through this week, and I do not know how Jesus' life, seen from this perspective, will end.  It is a much more exciting and active week than I have previously thought.  Without viewing the week through the Cross, I am free to see more of the message Jesus may have intended his peope to see, the spiritual message of listening to the Light, to the Divine, rather than falling prey to the fierce, fearsome violence surrounding the Jerusalem that was under domination of the Romans.

I'll continue to read and write, but I can tell you already that this new perspective, while familiar to my innate understanding, will take more than just this week to digest.

28 March 2010


This morning, thanks to my Ffriend Michael Newheart, I had a chance to read a blog about the book by Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan, called The Last Week:  A Day-by-Day Account of Jesus' Final Week in Jerusalem.  It gave me a new look at Palm Sunday, one that is much more closely related to my journey as a Friend.

Michael Westmoreland-White's blog (http://pilgrimpathways.wordpress.com/2010/03/27/palm-sunday-anti-imperialist-street-theatre/) tells us that this book reveals:
"When we celebrate Palm Sunday, we don’t just remember the fickle crowds (so soon to desert Jesus, along with the 12) and their brief recognition/celebration of Jesus’ triumphal entry. We also remember that Jesus presents us with a deliberate choice:  Following His Way of meekness, humility, and peace or the Way of Empire and military might.  There is no Way to follow Jesus that does NOT break from the military option."

Wow!  I'm going to have to read this book.  I struggle so much with the meaning of the resurrection and the cross to my own life, compared to the obvious meaning I find in  the example of Jesus' life.  This simple couple sentences has opened a door wide, to see more of the radical change of Jesus presence in people's lives, even on the way to the cross.

I don't have much more to say right now, except, stay tuned.  I'm going to purchase and read this book this week, my humble tribute to the Lenten season.  When I feel a leading this strong, the best I can do is listen and obey.  I'm looking forward to what develops.

This morning, in worship with my community, I will be contemplating "the contrast between Jesus’ entry into the East Gate of Jerusalem with Pilate’s military/imperialist entry into the West Gate of Jerusalem on the same day."  I love having the opportunity to open my heart even more deeply to the experience of the peace that passes all understanding.

I invite you to do the same, and please, share your journey with me.

13 March 2010

Palestine and Jerusalem...Pray for them all. Pray for US all.

Recently a couple have joined our meeting, who are long term service workers, in the Quaker tradition, but for many different organizations.  The man is a native Palestinian, who  fled his country during the British Mandate for Palestine, which began the establishment of Israel.  Forgive my ignorance of the historical events related to this post, for I am a youngster compared to this man and the events of his young life that included his forced flight to Lebanon, his subsequent conversion to Quakerism, and his life of deepy dedicated service to humanity and peace.

One statement has been ringing out, in my thoughts and dreams, since our meeting with this couple in their home.  My friend told me of the shots of guns eradicating women, children and men of Deir Yassin (http://www.deiryassin.org/), a small village adjacent to Jerusalem, and how the loudspeakers announced to them that they must leave their homes or suffer the same consequences as their neighbors.

This was 1948.  WW II was barely over.  Millions of Jews and other non-arians had been executed, experimented on, tortured, abused and violated at the hands of their enemies.
Then, as the world prepared to help Jewish people return to their historical and religious roots in their ancient homeland, still more people were executed to carry out the plan.

This has shocked and stunned me.  First, I could not believe how ignorant of history I was, and how long I chose to stay ignorant.  In the back of my mind, I must have known that somehow they had to move people to make room for the Jews to return to the land of their ancestors.  But I chose to stay ignorant, because what lay under the surface was unthinkable.

Second, here sat a man before me, a man of peace.  A man who had helped so many others who were poor and starving and had suffered at the hands of their own enemies, and had helped selflessly for much of his life.   What motivates someone who has had it all taken away, who has been lucky to escape with his life, to go on, and more to reach his hand out to others.  He had every reason to be bitter and angry, but he acted in kindness.

Third, how do people slaughter others in the name of peace?  This has always been a question I ask.  I have a friend who is a veteran of war in the middle east.  In order to serve, to do one's duty, I realized in a conversation one day, that soldiers are systematically programmed to dehumanize the enemy, so in this person's eyes, an Arab, who looks like my friend is filthy, smells bad, is unintelligent, ignorant, and deserves to die.  In my mind, I put these two people side by side. Meeting on this soil, in these times, they would most likely be friends.  If they met in the middle east, one might have slaughtered the other without thinking.

I remember the first time I saw the old movie, All Quiet on the Western Front.  It was a hallmark moment for me, when I realized through a touching scene in this movie that if we know each other as human beings, if we see each other through the eyes of family, community, friends, we cannot so easily kill each other.  Long before I was convinced as a Friend, I saw that this ought to be one of my goals:  to know and treat each person I encounter as my neighbor, no matter how brief the meeting.

Don't raise me to sainthood yet.  This has proven to be far more difficult to live than I ever imagined in my idealistic youth. Carrying it with me has, however, has informed my thinking and my decisions.  It has made me aware of the times I make a harsh judgement out of fear.  It has shown me how the individualism of our culture affects my aim for peace.  It has caused pain in my heart, when out of zeal or haste or selfishness, I brush another aside as unimportant, only to feel the consequences if I happen to catch their eye as I rush by.

Now, as a result of the little story my friend told me, of getting into his car with his relatives, with only the clothes on his back, and leaving his homeland, where he would never return for many, many years, I understand why there is so much enmity between the Israel and Palestine.  Now I understand why the fighting seems it will never stop.

There are still things I don't understand, but I am still learning:  Why the United Nations voted for the British Mandate, knowing so many people would have to be "displaced."  How the Jewish people, who had just barely survived the holocaust, could close their eyes to the treatment of the Palestinians being forced to make way for them.  How can anyone believe that God means for others to die for the edification of others?

We, the Quakers, are a people of peace.  We believe that God (Jesus) is love, and that we should seek for that of God (love) in every person.  Ideals, yes, but ones we strive for.  My elder friend told me that Nasser met with the Quakers in Gaza, and tried to find ways to work out a peaceful resolution, but he died before his plans could become reality.

I have been touched deeply by hearing this story.  I have been saddened, grieving for our world, where so much is black and white, wrong or right, all in absolutes.  We need prayer.  We need deep continuous soul-crying prayer.  Pray for those who have, without conscience cast the first stone.  Pray for those who are quick to judge, for those who rewrite history, for those who choose to remain ignorant.

I read a little parable this week, about a man who was asked why he did not judge a neighbor who had harmed him.  "How can I judge him," he asked, "When I have never bowed my head to pray for him."

05 March 2010

Jesus saved my Life

This morning, reading Friend Johan's latest blog, Meeting Jesus Halfway, (http://johanpdx.blogspot.com/2010/03/meeting-jesus-halfway.html), I had one of the glorious revelatory "duh" moments. I thought I might share it with you here.

I have been railing and fighting the fundamentalists for much of my life. At one time I allowed them to force me from my church home. I went flying out into the desert, willing to face life alone rather than live with these "fools" who tried to tell me that in order to live in the spirit of Jesus the Christ, I too had to face the cross, to sacrifice myself and be reborn. I who had known a personal relationship with the God/Jesus of my understanding for my whole life, was told by Christian scholars that my theology was too simplistic, that it would not stand the tests of ministry, but not to worry, my seminary experience, while devilishly torturous, would raise my understanding to a scholarly level. The result: I left the pursuit of denominational ordination in another religion.

Years passed and I wandered in the desert. I still heard the voice of God saying, "You are a minister." But now when I heard it, all I wanted to say was, "Go away, leave me alone, Shut Up." Better to be alone than to worship the false idols of Christians, a God who could kill, albeit massacre people, in the name of salvation. A God whose leaders judged whether one's faith was suitable based on the letter of the law their own prophet had eschewed, rather than the proof of a life lived. I had no need for it.

There was only one problem: The still small voice would not go away. I busied my life doing good deeds, proving that I was a far better person than "those hypocrites." It doesn't take salvation to make a good person, I declared. I studied buddhist meditation, teachings of Judaism, read the Koran, explored native american rituals, always seeking. On the few occasions I became quiet, the voice would return, counseling quiet peace.

In that process of seeking, I came to a Quaker meeting. There on a rainy Sunday, I heard others rise and speak what they were hearing when they became quiet, and their accountings were remarkably similar to my own. In this very liberal part of the Quaker world, there were even people like me, who had felt abused in the name of Jesus, and didn't even care to say his name. My new Friends said to us, "Are you seeking a relationship with the God of your understanding?" "Yes..." "Then you are welcome to join us."

Gradually, I had the courage to listen again. There it was! The source of my guidance all the years before had not left me. Once again, I heard the clear yet simple direction of that inner leading, and I came to be convinced I was a Friend, that the voice was my Friend. It was one of the most peaceful and yet celebratory experiences of my life.

Sadly, it would take me many years to understand that this was the Jesus of which Johan speaks. I was too injured by the "Christians" who had tried to teach me the "right" way. Yet curiously, as the Light nurtured me and grew within me, I began to have less vehemence against those people, and more understanding that they like me were also seeking, yet were so fearful, that they could not stray from the Letter of the Law. What a sad existence, I thought.

The fallout of the abusive relationship I had with Christians has affected my relationship with the inner Christ all my life. I often do not trust him. I am afraid that if I follow he will lead me someplace where I might be abused or massacred. Because I do not trust him always, I do not trust you. So, just when I am at the edge of the most amazing spiritual revelation, I have been known to turn and run, not to be heard from for years.

It is only because of the love and nurturing of Quaker spiritual community that I have slowly come to understand that the voice of God, the inner Light, the living Christ, the unspeakable, call it what you will, is alive and accessible to me. I could not do it alone. Then I walked in the desert.

I could not do it following the Law. Then I feared certain death and destruction if I fell from the path.

Only in the quiet communion of like Friends, was I able to find the nurture to recover from the abuse of the Law.

I do not have to be a Christian to know Christ. I do not have to be a Buddhist, to know the Buddha. I do not have to be a Muslim to know Allah. I need to be me, and I need to listen.

If you think you are surely on the Path, and the Path calls you to tell another that they are Wrong, that they will surely perish if they go this way or that, that you have the Answer for them and you fear for their soul if they do not follow it, then you have surely lost your way. Stop and listen to that still small voice.

Jesus saved my life.

14 February 2010

This Moment's Work

My dear friend Bob is battling cancer. He's been living with cancer for over 20 years, and now it appears that he is turning the corner toward another stage in this battle, and though it certainly does not seem it will be in the too near future, we are all starting to face what Bob says is "inevitable for all of us."

He and his wife Judia and their daughter Hilary have been my friends for at least 12 years, and it is a difficult time for them, for me, and for our entire meeting. Bob has been an elder among us for as long as I can remember. When I first began attending Hopewell Centre, he was the Clerk. I hope that I will be able to share some stories about his life and service at Hopewell Centre with you, as time goes on.

Right now, in this moment, the blessing in my life is that Bob has asked me to help him with his memoirs. I have never had such an experience in my life. I've written about others, and about myself, but I have never written with another. The qualitative difference is this: that he being he and me being me, we cannot conspire to write together without affecting each other's spiritual paths in this exact moment and place. It is an extraordinary gift.

I had no idea it would be so. One morning I came to work with Bob, and he had just read one of my blog posts detailing my own separation and return to our monthly meeting. He had tears in his eyes, as he told me how redemptive my blog had been to him, and how it had helped him to realize his own part. He told me he had recommitted himself to our meeting, to do what he could in the time he had left.

I was amazed. I had not realized that he felt as he did, nor did I ever imagine that my writing or testimony could have such an effect on another.

Similarly, his writing and testimony has affected me, and will continue to affect me. In this moment, I daily have the experience of a sentence or a sharing touching me so deeply in my heart that I know God has put it there for my edification as well as Bob's. Sometimes Bob is sharing what is relatively innocuous for him, such as a story leading up to the point he is wanting to make, but I have tears come forth, because that "little ditty" as he calls it has touched a vulnerable part in me. I know in the depth of me that these little seeds will continue to sink in the soil, sprout and grow and bear fruit.

I've been aware for a long while now that we are losing the elders that I began at this meeting with, and with their dying, comes a loss of their presence and eldering, that can never be gotten back again. Yesterday, Bob said, "I sometimes wonder, if this event had happened even five years earlier, when Finney was in her prime, how it would have come out differently." This in reference to one of our dear recently departed elders who was a quiet, loving and stalwart presence to all of us.

We have lost the tradition of writing letters to our families and friends detailing the significant spiritual experiences and leadings that happen within our meetings. Our meeting for worship for business is rarely to have found within its minutes a testimony of a spiritual nature; more it is an accounting of the events and business only. Less and less are we witnessing to each other about our deep spiritual leadings and yearnings. Less and less are we likely to speak up saying that a particular practice or message does not fit the Spirit of our Meeting.

What does this have to do with a Friend battling with cancer? Simply this: Bob is yet another elder member who will leave our midst in an unknown, but short period of time. He has the Presence to anticipate this and is working on Memoirs that are more likely teachings that arise from his experience in and around the Meeting. They are an accounting of his spiritual life. In earlier times, it was a common practice for the children of a member to take the Friend's journal or writings and publish them in their honor. In this way, the leadings of that particular Elder were preserved for posterity.

Friend Finney's son, Jim Riley is a member of our meeting. Since her death in the past year, he has had occasion to go through the many papers and letters she left behind. He has found copies of old newsletters she edited, copies of meeting minutes from when she clerked, as well as very old copies of Faith and Practice from Baltimore Yearly Meeting, her own personal journal, and the journals of others before her. What an invaluable way to experience the world as Finney knew it.

Several other elders in our meeting have passed on in the last few years, and their families were not active in our meeting. As a result we do not have these records and stories to share with those who come after us. It is a great loss.

I think that in the absence of our previous habits of letter writing, recording of ministers and other documentation of traditions and leadings within our populous, we need to consider new ways to preserve our history. Several years ago at a Homecoming, we had a Friend who was versatile with a video recorder, who recorded messages and well wishes from Friends in attendance. Sadly, I don't know what has become of that treasured volume.

I'm wondering if we have become to careless in our throwing aside of traditions and records? Yes, we send our required minutes to the archives, but do we treasure and preserve our Elders teachings? How can we be open to ongoing revelation, yet not learn and respect our traditions? Are we in danger of losing our roots to our revelations?

I pray that, as I am learning from my friend Bob, we may all learn to be aware of each moment and the measure of Truth in it, and find a way to savor and remember that Truth. I pray we may preserve the lessons we learn so that we find effective ways to pass these lessons on to those who follow us. I pray that I may be an effective witness in documenting the teachings that are offered to me.

10 February 2010

When do you Worship?

"Blessed are they who have not seen and yet believe." Jesus says this to Thomas, after he has allowed him to touch his wounds. Doubting Thomas does not possess this essential element of faith. Do you?

In Helen Hole's 1962 Pendle Hill Pamphlet, "Prayer: The Cornerstone", Hole posits the position that a flourishing spiritual community depends on prayer as its foundation and nurture, the meeting's life blood.

Contrary to modern approaches, which often cite action (Faith without Works is dead), Ms Hole purports that prayer is the singular most important element of a faith community.

Early Christians did not exist in isolation. Always they were together as a loving worshipping community. Never was that community together that they were not in prayer. Through corporate prayer their faith grew vibrant and powerful, a source of creativity and strength. These people knew each other to the depth of their souls. Sharing the experience of knowing Jesus drew them to a level of love and trust that was clearly visible to those around them.

I have had the experience of knowing some Friends who had that level of knowing the inner Christ in such a way. I have known born-again Christians among all denominations who, in my estimation, have experienced that same knowing. There is a quality to their faith life that I do not always see among Friends. (I am not speaking of blind followers, eyes glazed over in total surrender.) I'm speaking of the people we meet who are clearly living life as Jesus would. Many of these people are the elders in our communities. They are most certainly the people who are happy where they are, at any moment, living life fully.

I'm conscious of the absence of prayer from many meetings for worship I attend, and of the strained, brief silences before committee and business meetings, that barely allow time for one to center, much less seek the will of God. I'm refreshed at Yearly sessions, when I enter the meeting room which is already prayerfully silent, and am encouraged to sink into that deep seeking from which my inner direction flows.

I love knowledge, and I seek it actively. I'm an avid reader, listener of NPR and PBS, and I seek out fellow life-long learners. I'm never at a loss to find these people in my Quaker community. I'm surprised however, how many of these people I observe to be uncomfortable with silence. I have watched as people sit uncomfortably with the silence before our Meeting for Worship for Business, impatient that we get on with it. I've watched committee meetings wind out of direction when not started in the silence of centered worship. I've listened to countless discussions about Quaker Process, all attending to the human part of the process, some without even acknowledging the Presence that guides us in all things.

I've had my own journey with this over the years. I've had to struggle to develop a life of daily spiritual reflection, and still I lose it at times when stress is high or illness looms. I lean back on my intellectual self, bolstered by ego-confidence into believing it has all the answers. At such times, it is only in desperation that I return to the silence.

And what does the Lord require of you? To do justice, love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.
Micah 6:8

Lately I've been thinking of early American Friends, and of the time before phones and email and blogs. Much of what we know of our Quaker ancestors comes from the letters found in attics, that Friends wrote to each other and to their families, apprising them of life in what was often a newly discovered wilderness. Through these reports, we came to understand how inextricably tied were their community, worship and prayer.

Seeking was not a separate task, separate from the activities of one's life, another task on the daunting list.

Friends worshipped when they came together for meals, with prayer and silence; they formed whole communities around the meetinghouse, as they settled in new areas; they worshipped as they worked together to build each other's homes, harvest fields, fell trees and celebrate life and death together. Their experience of worship was daily and ongoing. It is something many of us seek today, and many of us set aside in lieu of the 'business' of daily life. When do you worship?

When I read the blogs of others, I find that many are seeking this fullness of a life lived in worship and prayer. The mysticism that is inherent in Friends' religious experience is not one that requires cloistering or monasticism; instead our mysticism is found in the life lived in prayer and daily devotion, and in the sharing of that life in community with others.

Slowly I come to see that faith is not sought, it is lived. It is a paradox. One must believe to see the fruits of one's faith, yet one must act faithfully in order to come to belief.

Early Christians had the amazing experience of living in the time of Jesus' message and life. Even if they did not meet Jesus directly, they undoubtedly came in contact with people whose lives had been directly touched, and then they, seeing this, were touched themselves. Evangelism was not a sales pitch, it was a direct result of living one's faith and helping others see God through one's life.

Early Friends had the experience of seeing George Fox' and others' experience of knowing intimately the inner Christ, the Light, and they were touched by this significant yet simple outpouring of faith to seek that personal relationship themselves. Friends knew that only through living their faith could they show others the value of coming into direct relationship with God.

Nowadays, we civilized and educated Quakers have sometimes even been scornful towards those who are of too simple a faith, those who believe too readily and fall back on the Bible too easily. We sometimes feel foolish thinking of standing to pray in front of others. We are squeamish of telling others we have a leading, or taking an unpopular stand in Meeting, even when that inner voice is whispering fervently to us to do so.

Here is the gift of faith: that each of us is doing the very best that we can do to be the very best we can be. There is no wrong way, if one takes one's leadings to their faith community. In the loving community, we are praying and seeking and guiding and always turning to listen, seeking in the silence the ever-present Teacher.

Much of my life, I, living in the shadows of the judging God I was taught about, haver shrunk from my leadings, fearing doing the "wrong" thing. Here is the gift of faith: that in living in community, with an ear always turned to God, we may be supported, loved, uplifted, guided, eldered and nurtured.

This is the meaning in Isaac Penington's quote: "Our life is love, and peace, and tenderness; and bearing one with another, and forgiving one another, and not laying accusations one against another; but praying one for another, and helping one another up with a tender hand."

This gift is freely given, yet we must be willing to receive. When do you worship?

15 January 2010

Come with me and I will make you...

"The early Friends were experiencing something so totally new, that it rocked them. It was so big and life-changing that they were willing to die for it, to be tortured, to be put in prison, to have the right to listen expectantly for the voice of Christ and worship together waiting for direction."

Something on this order was said in a committee meeting I attended last week, and it has been with me ever since, dogging me, ripping open my own status quo. The speaker said he doubted he would have the courage those early Friends had, that he was not sure if he would go the distance or quietly leave and go worship in the church the state dictated, were we to be told we had to give up our religion today.

We were talking about how 'milk-toast' Quakers have become compared to our forebears. We were talking about the notion of people who felt so called to ministry that they felt they had no choice but to travel in ministry to others, like the early apostles.

'Come with me and I will make you fishers of men.' They laid down their nets and followed, so powerful was the felt response. Is there anything that speaks so powerfully today?

Then my fellow committee member asked, "What is there that could call us to that kind of strength and devotion today?"

My mind has not been quiet since.

I can say that over the years, I have tried to deny my calling to ministry. Whole years, maybe even a decade have gone by where I was successful, feeling safer and more productive following the cultural norm of career, family, husband, children, house, dogs, car. Once a pastor even said to me, "Maybe your calling is to be a wife and mother," and I sighed relief, left seminary, and put the voice away for a year or more.

But always the inner voice returns, 'You are a minister.'

I confess, I don't even really know what that means. We are all ministers. I want a little more info here, God...just what do you mean by that?

So I have a calling. I'm coming to see that many of us do. The question is whether we listen, and even bigger, what do we do?

And now I'm asking, 'If our government outlawed ministry without a license, would I have the courage to minister?'

What is it that could deliver to me the power to stand up so strongly for what I believe?

Would the destruction of the planet be enough for me to consider taking myself off the grid and living a life that demonstrates simplicity?

Would the war efforts ever become so immoral to me that I would consider facing prison by denying payment of my taxes to a government that has become unethical and power-hungry?

Would ministering to the poor ever become so omnipresent that I would leave my home, give away my possessions and put my life in danger to be of assistance?

I know there are Friends and others who do these things. I know there are people who stand up to power and put their lives in danger. I believe this is something of what the convergent Friends movement is about. I even knew one person who lost his life to his beliefs.

But it is rare in our world. Mostly we are middle-class or more, comfortable, housed, (dare I say it) white, and middle of the road. I am one of you.
Even though I hear that voice calling me to ministry, most of the time I am content to sit in meeting, to do internal things that feed my spiritual need but do not take me out of my comfort zone.

So it was a good thing to have this passing remark rock me.
Now instead of just hearing the voice that says, 'you are a minister,'
I hear: "You are a minister, what are you going to do about it?"

What is it that is powerful enough that it could call you to move beyond your comfort zone and make a life-altering difference in your world?

14 January 2010

Community and Responsibility

In true community, we will not choose our companions, for our choices are often limited by self-serving motives. Instead our companions will be given to us by grace. Often they will be persons who will upset our settled view of self and world. In fact, we might define true community as the place where that person we least want to live with always lives! (Parker Palmer, in A Place called Community, PH Pamphlet 212)

A number of years ago I experienced what would become a pivotal event in my spiritual life. It was directly a part of my experience of living in community with my monthly meeting and experiencing all of our limitations to do so. It brought my idealistic view of what living in community meant directly into conflict with the reality of the limitations of our community. I could not reconcile it in my mind, and the result was a journey that still continues, a journey of resolution, dissolutionment, acceptance and commitment.

Growing up in an insular small town farm community, in a severely dysfunctional family of origin and extended family, I suppose I came by my desires for a different kind of community honestly. It would not be unfair to say that I was seeking what I lacked in my life, and that I was deeply attracted to the notion of intentional community as a corrective for the felt losses of my early life. It is also true that I found the commune efforts I sought out in the 70s to be lacking in spiritual center. This then was the covenant I brought to Friends when I became convinced: I will give you my all, and I will help you to build community, in return, I expect you to accept the underdog (like me) and to help right the injustice of the world. In fairness, I must say that it is only in retrospect that I can see this.

Still, it makes me wonder: What are the covenants we each carry with us when we join a spiritual community? I am fairly certain none of us entertains the thought as we start out that Parker Palmer posits: that true community is the place where the person we least want to live with will be found. Rather, the opposite is more often true, that we are seeking a community of like minded individuals where we can feel supported, loved and nurtured.

In fact, I didn't know that I desired anything different until a convicted sexual offender, who had served his time, gone through three psychological rehabilitation programs, and been released from prison, began to attend our meeting. At first none of us knew his history, and we experienced him as a rather eccentric but very intelligent man, with a gift for music and story, and a vast knowledge of Quaker history which was a gift to our second hours of worship. He had elected not to tell us at first, as he'd been summarily rejected from other communities and was trying a different way. I wondered when we asked him to share his music with the youth program and he declined. His history would only come into the public light gradually as he took the risk to share with some individuals, and eventually publicly when he was recognized by some members of a distant meeting he'd been written out of, at an annual session gathering. There, alarm was the resounding feeling, and he was asked to leave the session.

The accounts that follow would differ from person to person in our meeting, and I can really only tell mine, as it has evolved over the years. My purpose here is not to find fault or right or wrong in this matter, or to open wounds, but to expound on my personal journey and what it has brought me to in my understanding of true community.

I fell into prayer when I heard the news of my friend being put out of annual session. In this time of silent expectation, I heard that I should be a voice for the person, as our meeting had asked him to not attend while we sorted out the path we should take. I did not seek clearness on this with others, my first misstep in my community. Instead, in our emergency meeting I announced that I felt the man should have a voice, and that God had called me to be this voice.

I was unprepared for the outrage and indignation that followed. In taking the voice of the person, I had unwittingly become the target for all the feelings our community was experiencing: victimization, betrayal, fear, anger, and a host of other feelings. Not all of the community felt this negative response, and as a result we became polarized. Moreover, one friend felt so threatened that she felt obliged to warn me off that night, and I responded with a human, not god-led reaction of righteous indignation and anger.

I believe now that in that moment I lost my ability to be the voice of Spirit. I began responding out of my own fear and feelings of injustice, not from the place God was calling me. However, it would take years for me to see this clearly. I was feeling so defensive, that I was not open to eldering or leading from other members who tried to offer me help. Now I had begun to be a part of the problem, not a part of the solution as I believe God intended me to.

I am grateful that I did not abandon the meeting during this time, as continuing revelation and leading from the Light has brought me to a much deeper understanding as the years following have evolved. If it is true, as Parker shows us, that true community is God's attempt to help us grow and evolve, this was truly a potential growth experience for our entire meeting. Would that I had committed to a clearness committee then as I have now, and this journey might have been much clearer on my part. Some who fled the meeting in fear for themselves of their children, have, in my observation, not nearly reached the peace that God has graced me with.

It was a sad, sad time for our meeting. Our visiting Friend fared not much better, except that the salvation of this event was a core group who continued to meet with him, off the meeting property, to help him to find a place to worship, and to clarify his responsibility in the series of events. I believe we were able to help him gain some insight in to his responsibilities in community: to care for his own mental health, to be honest and forthright in entering a new community, to uphold the tenants of his parole, and to work to seek God's truth for himself. Eventually we did find a worship group which had no children as a part of it, where he was welcomed in.

I grieved that we could not find a way to incorporate him into our own meeting. It is not that I did not share the fears for our children, and for others who felt unsafe with him in our midst. It is that I strongly felt that we do not choose our neighbors or community members, and that God had delivered this man to our midst for the purpose of our own spiritual growth. I could not reconcile my idealistic view of this with the realities of the spiritual life and community in our meeting and its individuals.

The first gift that came out of this event for me was the realization that in accepting that I had always been a Friend in my soul, I was also part of a much larger community, and that community was able to meet some of my deepest needs while my own home community could not. I went to the following annual sessions, bleeding from the woundedness I felt, seeking a vision or a message, or some hope that I could remain a Friend. I certainly did not feel worthy. Friends I did not know well seemed to sense my need, and I was brought to conversations and tasks that began to help me see that God was still leading me.

One friend sat with me over lunch one day and helped me to frame the event in the larger picture of our meeting and Friends in general. He was a person that I had previously found to be challenging and in this instance I found his kindness, gentleness and nurture to be somewhat of a paradox, albeit a welcome one.

Some friends who were members of our meeting that I had not been so close with before sat with me numerous evenings, helping me sort out my pain. Friends from neighboring monthly meetings experiencing similar dilemmas shared their experiences which were far different than ours. We brainstormed how issues could be addressed differently and how healing could be sought.

I was asked to serve in a number of tasks that brought to the Light my gifts rather than just my woundedness. In this, I began to feel the Light moving within me.

I left that annual session knowing that the god of my understanding was still present and ministering through the greater whole. It was a revelation that began my calling to understand what true community is.

I resolved to return to worship. I intuitively knew that if I did not resume my role as a part of the mystery that is Hopewell Centre, I could not contribute or receive healing. I went when I was able, but I did not yet understand that the healing for my anger, grief and woundedness could be found in sitting with the discomfort in corporate worship.

This is not the end of my story. It is only the beginning. After that first year, I came to worship whenever I could. I also sought other spiritual teachers outside of meeting. I had to come to terms with the idea that although I dearly needed clearness, something inside of me did not feel worthy of a clearness committee, or thought that the meeting had other more pressing needs than to minister to me. From the position of my woundedness, I could not feel anything but weakness and fear in seeking the help of others.

One or two members of the meeting emerged as my caregivers and mentors. Their gentleness allowed me to hear them, and as I healed, I began to hear the messages that had tormented me in a different light. I began to have compassion for those who had disagreed with me, and to cease competing for the “right” way.

Intuitively, I had always known that as we continued to worship, God would create something new in us. This is one of the most powerful elements of my faith: that there is much that is a mystery to us and can only be revealed through grace and our willingness to be shown something new.

Years before I became a Friend, I understood the power of community. It is simultaneously the glue that holds us together and the water that washes us and pulls us apart and shapes us into something new. As Friends perhaps the most unique gift we possess is our ability to sit in corporate silence, waiting for God to reveal to us what we must know to survive and evolve.

Now, through this desert experience, and the incredible prodigal return, I have begun to understand how integral this is to our survival of the planet and all of its inhabitants. I do not mean this in a grandiose way, but in the most simplest of ways. Community will call us to learn new ways to live together, if we let it.

What I desired was a community where we could welcome anyone brought to our doorstep as God's gift, possessing yet another kernel of light necessary to our wholeness. What I found was the reality that neither I nor most of our community had arrived at a point of acceptance of that gift.

I am a little closer now.

Thankfully, God has not stopped speaking to me and directing me. The call to understand true community has become stronger and stronger. It has begun to feel like a gift that we should offer ourselves and the world around us: to understand how standing in conflict and in love, seeking Truth, can reveal new ways. God is still creating, and community is the canvas.

I am continuing to listen, research, learn and seek guidance as to how God wants me to minister to others about community. Once again, from out of the darkness has come a pinprick of light, which has spread to cover the darkness for me. The god of my understanding is constantly creating, growing, and revealing and for that I am grateful.

06 January 2010

Live what you believe

Happy New Year, Friends!
I'm sure that many of you would join me in saying it has been a tough year!  Many of us will be glad to see the new year come in, hoping it will carry with it a change for the better, a trend towards a better economy, good health, creative new endeavors.  Maybe even an overhaul of health care!

Have you made that list of resolutions in the past?  I used to start every year with a list of things I would like to manifest in the coming year.  I would write it in the front of my new calendar each year, and I would try to read over it once a week.  I was often amazed at the end of that year that even if I'd forgotten to "work" on those things, some of them came to be, simply by my putting them in my line of view.  The mind is amazing that way.

Then I had another period in my life (we all have them, don't we?) where everything that could go wrong did.  No amount of manifesting or positive thinking seemed to bring about a change to the pattern.  Was I doing something wrong?  Was this bad karma?  It was a major upset to my belief system that nothing I could seem to do had a visible effect on the events surrounding me.  I felt periods of doom and gloom.  When that new year rolled around, I simply didn't have the energy to muster up a list of resolutions or manifestations.  Since my monumental efforts had produced no change, I felt a bit...well...hopeless.

As a result, on that New Year's Eve, I found myself ponderous.  I had no desire to participate in a First Night, watch fireworks or the ball dropping, or even commune with friends.  I was at home, quiet, not even realizing I had fallen into worship. (Worship can be that kind of thing...the Light can sneak up on you when you're not even paying attention and draw you inward, have you noticed?)  In my inner sanctum a voice began to call, quietly repeating it self:  "Live what you believe."

What?  "Live what you believe."  It was almost too simple.  Yet with it came a peace and a strength, a feeling of something dawning. 

"Live what you believe."  This would become my mantra.  In times of darkness, it would come back to me.  In times of light, it would celebrate with me.

"Live what you believe."  Simple yes, but easy, not quite.  This was over 20 years ago.  I am still aiming at this simple goal in my life.  It's simple, powerful call has awakened Spirit in me, and called me to look at every aspect of my life.

DO I live what I believe?  Sometimes.  More now than before.  As the Light has called me to reveal my beliefs to myself and others, it has called me to be more genuine.  It has also called me to look deeper, to reveal what lies in the shadows.  I often had glimpses of those shadows in the past, and I ran from them.  Now I know that God is calling me to love and nurture myself to the place where I can live what I believe, and that means illuminating those shadows.

Do you live what you believe?  I know that I could not have moved to live so directly in the Light were it not for my spiritual community here at Hopewell Centre.  When my light is weak, you hold the beacon.  When I am weak you carry me, and hopefully you allow me to do the same for you.  God's Light calls us into community with each other, so that we can lead each other in the dark times, and celebrate with each other in the Light.  You ask me the difficult questions.  Send me a meal for nourishment.  Offer words of encouragement.  Through you, God calls to the rest of the community.  You are an integral part of this puzzle of community that nurtures us all.