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.


  1. Thank you for posting this. I also have been grieving the loss of elders who had a depth, clarity and commitment that I sorely miss; I haven't thought well about how to preserve what we can of them. Your collaborative memoir work sounds like such a gift, for both of you and for the readers.

  2. Friend Linda:

    I had a similar experience of seeing a generation of elders in my(our) meeting depart.

    Mine felt somewhat differently, in this way:

    One morning I came in to meeting and had the distinct and unnerving sense of a bump, as one feels on arriving at the top of an escalator: the moving treads suddenly disappear from under you and -- bump -- there you are.

    Where was "there"?

    It was "at" the status of now being one of the elders of the meeting myself.

    Who me? I asked.

    But, But -- I'm not looking to be an elder. Anyway I'm not ready. I miss these other elders. I'm not finished listening to them, learning from them, leaning on them . . . .

    And besides, I'm not THAT old.

    But know what? The escalator didn't care. Like the clock, it just kept turning, moving those "in front" of me onward and upward, and me (and others of my peers) into their places.

    Ready or not, it was my turn. Our turn.

    I expect it's your turn too.

  3. Dear Friends,
    If the post you originally read seemed different than the one you read now, it is because the loving words of an elder caused me to rethink some of my choice of words; that I might have made the reality of my friends' situation seem more harsh than it actually is. If I have caused any discomfort or grief to any of my or their associates, I am heartily sorry. I would never wish that for any of us. I pray you will forgive me.

    The heart of the message is even more the same, that we need to become every more attuned to the words and actions of the wise among us and to conduct ourselves in a manner befitting the Spirit of Friends.

    God Bless!

  4. your care and concern for the words you share is deeply touching. i read this post 18 feb so it is the revision i suppose that melted my heart

    thanks to ye Friend

  5. 從人生中拿走友誼,猶如從生活中移走陽光........................................