“Leaning Into Invitations and Blessings,” by Lisa Steele-Maley

Notes from Message for Durham Meeting, July 5, 2020


It is a serious thing,

Just to be alive

on this fresh morning

In this broken world.

These words from Mary Oliver’s poem Invitation help me to embrace the immensity of this moment. They invite me to step into the responsibility to stretch widely enough to embrace both the despair and the hope in this moment — mine, yours, and everyone else’s. When I found this poem in early April, the invitation provided ballast for navigating the push and pull of the everchanging, uncertain landscape. I gave myself to the responsibility of showing up, naming “paying attention” as my primary commitment and trusting that the next right thing to do will emerge.

Invitation

Mary’s invitation gave me courage, energy, and strength to show up and I gave myself to it fully and wholeheartedly, until I was exhausted. In my exhaustion, I become impatient, eager to return to some action, some form of doing. Fortunately, John O’Donohue’s poem meets me there, with gentle reassurance that “empty time” is where I need to be. He encourages me to let go of “doing” and give into “being”.

For One Who is Exhausted, A Blessing

The ballast provided by giving into the exhaustion balances that of showing up. Settling in more deeply to embrace both the exhale and the inhale, the rest and the exertion, I recognize Spirit at work in me. Recognizing the accompaniment of spirit, I more easily trust that the ebb and flow of my energy and attention is natural and necessary. It is how I remain faithful. Parker Palmer wrote, “the struggle for love, truth and justice is forever. Those of us who care about it are not asked to win a final victory in our lifetimes. We are asked to remain faithful to the task…”

At this time, let us lean into the invitations and the blessings that help us to remain faithful to the task. And let us remember that “it is a serious thing just to be alive on this fresh morning in this broken world” and “we must be excessively gentle with ourselves.”

“What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?” by Frederick Douglass

Note: This morning (July 5, 2020), Joyce Gibson opened worship by reading excerpts from this speech by Frederick Douglass. Here is the whole speech.

Frederick Douglass, July 5, 1852, Corinthian Hall, Rochester, N.Y., on invitation of the Ladies Anti-Slavery Society of Rochester, N.Y.

Mr. President, Friends and Fellow Citizens:

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He who could address this audience without a quailing sensation, has stronger nerves than I have. I do not remember ever to have appeared as a speaker before any assembly more shrinkingly, nor with greater distrust of my ability, than I do this day. A feeling has crept over me, quite unfavorable to the exercise of my limited powers of speech. The task before me is one which requires much previous thought and study for its proper performance. I know that apologies of this sort are generally considered flat and unmeaning. I trust, however, that mine will not be so considered. Should I seem at ease, my appearance would much misrepresent me. The little experience I have had in addressing public meetings, in country schoolhouses, avails me nothing on the present occasion.

The papers and placards say, that I am to deliver a 4th [of] July oration. This certainly sounds large, and out of the common way, for it is true that I have often had the privilege to speak in this beautiful Hall, and to address many who now honor me with their presence. But neither their familiar faces, nor the perfect gage I think I have of Corinthian Hall, seems to free me from embarrassment.

The fact is, ladies and gentlemen, the distance between this platform and the slave plantation, from which I escaped, is considerable — and the difficulties to be overcome in getting from the latter to the former, are by no means slight. That I am here to-day is, to me, a matter of astonishment as well as of gratitude. You will not, therefore, be surprised, if in what I have to say I evince no elaborate preparation, nor grace my speech with any high sounding exordium. With little experience and with less learning, I have been able to throw my thoughts hastily and imperfectly together; and trusting to your patient and generous indulgence, I will proceed to lay them before you.

This, for the purpose of this celebration, is the 4th of July. It is the birthday of your National Independence, and of your political freedom. This, to you, is what the Passover was to the emancipated people of God. It carries your minds back to the day, and to the act of your great deliverance; and to the signs, and to the wonders, associated with that act, and that day. This celebration also marks the beginning of another year of your national life; and reminds you that the Republic of America is now 76 years old. I am glad, fellow-citizens, that your nation is so young. Seventy-six years, though a good old age for a man, is but a mere speck in the life of a nation. Three score years and ten is the allotted time for individual men; but nations number their years by thousands. According to this fact, you are, even now, only in the beginning of your national career, still lingering in the period of childhood. I repeat, I am glad this is so. There is hope in the thought, and hope is much needed, under the dark clouds which lower above the horizon. The eye of the reformer is met with angry flashes, portending disastrous times; but his heart may well beat lighter at the thought that America is young, and that she is still in the impressible stage of her existence. May he not hope that high lessons of wisdom, of justice and of truth, will yet give direction to her destiny? Were the nation older, the patriot’s heart might be sadder, and the reformer’s brow heavier. Its future might be shrouded in gloom, and the hope of its prophets go out in sorrow. There is consolation in the thought that America is young. Great streams are not easily turned from channels, worn deep in the course of ages. They may sometimes rise in quiet and stately majesty, and inundate the land, refreshing and fertilizing the earth with their mysterious properties. They may also rise in wrath and fury, and bear away, on their angry waves, the accumulated wealth of years of toil and hardship. They, however, gradually flow back to the same old channel, and flow on as serenely as ever. But, while the river may not be turned aside, it may dry up, and leave nothing behind but the withered branch, and the unsightly rock, to howl in the abyss-sweeping wind, the sad tale of departed glory. As with rivers so with nations.

Fellow-citizens, I shall not presume to dwell at length on the associations that cluster about this day. The simple story of it is that, 76 years ago, the people of this country were British subjects. The style and title of your “sovereign people” (in which you now glory) was not then born. You were under the British Crown. Your fathers esteemed the English Government as the home government; and England as the fatherland. This home government, you know, although a considerable distance from your home, did, in the exercise of its parental prerogatives, impose upon its colonial children, such restraints, burdens and limitations, as, in its mature judgment, it deemed wise, right and proper.

But, your fathers, who had not adopted the fashionable idea of this day, of the infallibility of government, and the absolute character of its acts, presumed to differ from the home government in respect to the wisdom and the justice of some of those burdens and restraints. They went so far in their excitement as to pronounce the measures of government unjust, unreasonable, and oppressive, and altogether such as ought not to be quietly submitted to. I scarcely need say, fellow-citizens, that my opinion of those measures fully accords with that of your fathers. Such a declaration of agreement on my part would not be worth much to anybody. It would, certainly, prove nothing, as to what part I might have taken, had I lived during the great controversy of 1776. To say now that America was right, and England wrong, is exceedingly easy. Everybody can say it; the dastard, not less than the noble brave, can flippantly discant on the tyranny of England towards the American Colonies. It is fashionable to do so; but there was a time when to pronounce against England, and in favor of the cause of the colonies, tried men’s souls. They who did so were accounted in their day, plotters of mischief, agitators and rebels, dangerous men. To side with the right, against the wrong, with the weak against the strong, and with the oppressed against the oppressor! here lies the merit, and the one which, of all others, seems unfashionable in our day. The cause of liberty may be stabbed by the men who glory in the deeds of your fathers. But, to proceed.

Feeling themselves harshly and unjustly treated by the home government, your fathers, like men of honesty, and men of spirit, earnestly sought redress. They petitioned and remonstrated; they did so in a decorous, respectful, and loyal manner. Their conduct was wholly unexceptionable. This, however, did not answer the purpose. They saw themselves treated with sovereign indifference, coldness and scorn. Yet they persevered. They were not the men to look back.

As the sheet anchor takes a firmer hold, when the ship is tossed by the storm, so did the cause of your fathers grow stronger, as it breasted the chilling blasts of kingly displeasure. The greatest and best of British statesmen admitted its justice, and the loftiest eloquence of the British Senate came to its support. But, with that blindness which seems to be the unvarying characteristic of tyrants, since Pharaoh and his hosts were drowned in the Red Sea, the British Government persisted in the exactions complained of.

The madness of this course, we believe, is admitted now, even by England; but we fear the lesson is wholly lost on our present ruler.

Oppression makes a wise man mad. Your fathers were wise men, and if they did not go mad, they became restive under this treatment. They felt themselves the victims of grievous wrongs, wholly incurable in their colonial capacity. With brave men there is always a remedy for oppression. Just here, the idea of a total separation of the colonies from the crown was born! It was a startling idea, much more so, than we, at this distance of time, regard it. The timid and the prudent (as has been intimated) of that day, were, of course, shocked and alarmed by it.

Such people lived then, had lived before, and will, probably, ever have a place on this planet; and their course, in respect to any great change, (no matter how great the good to be attained, or the wrong to be redressed by it), may be calculated with as much precision as can be the course of the stars. They hate all changes, but silver, gold and copper change! Of this sort of change they are always strongly in favor.

These people were called Tories in the days of your fathers; and the appellation, probably, conveyed the same idea that is meant by a more modern, though a somewhat less euphonious term, which we often find in our papers, applied to some of our old politicians.

Their opposition to the then dangerous thought was earnest and powerful; but, amid all their terror and affrighted vociferations against it, the alarming and revolutionary idea moved on, and the country with it.

On the 2d of July, 1776, the old Continental Congress, to the dismay of the lovers of ease, and the worshipers of property, clothed that dreadful idea with all the authority of national sanction. They did so in the form of a resolution; and as we seldom hit upon resolutions, drawn up in our day whose transparency is at all equal to this, it may refresh your minds and help my story if I read it. “Resolved, That these united colonies are, and of right, ought to be free and Independent States; that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown; and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, dissolved.”

Citizens, your fathers made good that resolution. They succeeded; and to-day you reap the fruits of their success. The freedom gained is yours; and you, therefore, may properly celebrate this anniversary. The 4th of July is the first great fact in your nation’s history — the very ring-bolt in the chain of your yet undeveloped destiny.

Pride and patriotism, not less than gratitude, prompt you to celebrate and to hold it in perpetual remembrance. I have said that the Declaration of Independence is the ring-bolt to the chain of your nation’s destiny; so, indeed, I regard it. The principles contained in that instrument are saving principles. Stand by those principles, be true to them on all occasions, in all places, against all foes, and at whatever cost.

From the round top of your ship of state, dark and threatening clouds may be seen. Heavy billows, like mountains in the distance, disclose to the leeward huge forms of flinty rocks! That bolt drawn, that chain broken, and all is lost. Cling to this day — cling to it, and to its principles, with the grasp of a storm-tossed mariner to a spar at midnight.

The coming into being of a nation, in any circumstances, is an interesting event. But, besides general considerations, there were peculiar circumstances which make the advent of this republic an event of special attractiveness.

The whole scene, as I look back to it, was simple, dignified and sublime.

The population of the country, at the time, stood at the insignificant number of three millions. The country was poor in the munitions of war. The population was weak and scattered, and the country a wilderness unsubdued. There were then no means of concert and combination, such as exist now. Neither steam nor lightning had then been reduced to order and discipline. From the Potomac to the Delaware was a journey of many days. Under these, and innumerable other disadvantages, your fathers declared for liberty and independence and triumphed.

Fellow Citizens, I am not wanting in respect for the fathers of this republic. The signers of the Declaration of Independence were brave men. They were great men too — great enough to give fame to a great age. It does not often happen to a nation to raise, at one time, such a number of truly great men. The point from which I am compelled to view them is not, certainly, the most favorable; and yet I cannot contemplate their great deeds with less than admiration. They were statesmen, patriots and heroes, and for the good they did, and the principles they contended for, I will unite with you to honor their memory.

They loved their country better than their own private interests; and, though this is not the highest form of human excellence, all will concede that it is a rare virtue, and that when it is exhibited, it ought to command respect. He who will, intelligently, lay down his life for his country, is a man whom it is not in human nature to despise. Your fathers staked their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor, on the cause of their country. In their admiration of liberty, they lost sight of all other interests.

They were peace men; but they preferred revolution to peaceful submission to bondage. They were quiet men; but they did not shrink from agitating against oppression. They showed forbearance; but that they knew its limits. They believed in order; but not in the order of tyranny. With them, nothing was “settled” that was not right. With them, justice, liberty and humanity were “final;” not slavery and oppression. You may well cherish the memory of such men. They were great in their day and generation. Their solid manhood stands out the more as we contrast it with these degenerate times.

How circumspect, exact and proportionate were all their movements! How unlike the politicians of an hour! Their statesmanship looked beyond the passing moment, and stretched away in strength into the distant future. They seized upon eternal principles, and set a glorious example in their defense. Mark them!

Fully appreciating the hardship to be encountered, firmly believing in the right of their cause, honorably inviting the scrutiny of an on-looking world, reverently appealing to heaven to attest their sincerity, soundly comprehending the solemn responsibility they were about to assume, wisely measuring the terrible odds against them, your fathers, the fathers of this republic, did, most deliberately, under the inspiration of a glorious patriotism, and with a sublime faith in the great principles of justice and freedom, lay deep the corner-stone of the national superstructure, which has risen and still rises in grandeur around you.

Of this fundamental work, this day is the anniversary. Our eyes are met with demonstrations of joyous enthusiasm. Banners and pennants wave exultingly on the breeze. The din of business, too, is hushed. Even Mammon seems to have quitted his grasp on this day. The ear-piercing fife and the stirring drum unite their accents with the ascending peal of a thousand church bells. Prayers are made, hymns are sung, and sermons are preached in honor of this day; while the quick martial tramp of a great and multitudinous nation, echoed back by all the hills, valleys and mountains of a vast continent, bespeak the occasion one of thrilling and universal interest — a nation’s jubilee.

Friends and citizens, I need not enter further into the causes which led to this anniversary. Many of you understand them better than I do. You could instruct me in regard to them. That is a branch of knowledge in which you feel, perhaps, a much deeper interest than your speaker. The causes which led to the separation of the colonies from the British crown have never lacked for a tongue. They have all been taught in your common schools, narrated at your firesides, unfolded from your pulpits, and thundered from your legislative halls, and are as familiar to you as household words. They form the staple of your national poetry and eloquence.

I remember, also, that, as a people, Americans are remarkably familiar with all facts which make in their own favor. This is esteemed by some as a national trait — perhaps a national weakness. It is a fact, that whatever makes for the wealth or for the reputation of Americans, and can be had cheap! will be found by Americans. I shall not be charged with slandering Americans, if I say I think the American side of any question may be safely left in American hands.

I leave, therefore, the great deeds of your fathers to other gentlemen whose claim to have been regularly descended will be less likely to be disputed than mine!

My business, if I have any here to-day, is with the present. The accepted time with God and his cause is the ever-living now.

Trust no future, however pleasant,
Let the dead past bury its dead;
Act, act in the living present,
Heart within, and God overhead.

We have to do with the past only as we can make it useful to the present and to the future. To all inspiring motives, to noble deeds which can be gained from the past, we are welcome. But now is the time, the important time. Your fathers have lived, died, and have done their work, and have done much of it well. You live and must die, and you must do your work. You have no right to enjoy a child’s share in the labor of your fathers, unless your children are to be blest by your labors. You have no right to wear out and waste the hard-earned fame of your fathers to cover your indolence. Sydney Smith tells us that men seldom eulogize the wisdom and virtues of their fathers, but to excuse some folly or wickedness of their own. This truth is not a doubtful one. There are illustrations of it near and remote, ancient and modern. It was fashionable, hundreds of years ago, for the children of Jacob to boast, we have “Abraham to our father,” when they had long lost Abraham’s faith and spirit. That people contented themselves under the shadow of Abraham’s great name, while they repudiated the deeds which made his name great. Need I remind you that a similar thing is being done all over this country to-day? Need I tell you that the Jews are not the only people who built the tombs of the prophets, and garnished the sepulchres of the righteous? Washington could not die till he had broken the chains of his slaves. Yet his monument is built up by the price of human blood, and the traders in the bodies and souls of men shout — “We have Washington to our father.” — Alas! that it should be so; yet so it is.

The evil that men do, lives after them, The good is oft-interred with their bones.

Fellow-citizens, pardon me, allow me to ask, why am I called upon to speak here to-day? What have I, or those I represent, to do with your national independence? Are the great principles of political freedom and of natural justice, embodied in that Declaration of Independence, extended to us? and am I, therefore, called upon to bring our humble offering to the national altar, and to confess the benefits and express devout gratitude for the blessings resulting from your independence to us?

Would to God, both for your sakes and ours, that an affirmative answer could be truthfully returned to these questions! Then would my task be light, and my burden easy and delightful. For who is there so cold, that a nation’s sympathy could not warm him? Who so obdurate and dead to the claims of gratitude, that would not thankfully acknowledge such priceless benefits? Who so stolid and selfish, that would not give his voice to swell the hallelujahs of a nation’s jubilee, when the chains of servitude had been torn from his limbs? I am not that man. In a case like that, the dumb might eloquently speak, and the “lame man leap as an hart.”

But, such is not the state of the case. I say it with a sad sense of the disparity between us. I am not included within the pale of this glorious anniversary! Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The blessings in which you, this day, rejoice, are not enjoyed in common. — The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and independence, bequeathed by your fathers, is shared by you, not by me. The sunlight that brought life and healing to you, has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth [of] July is yours, not mineYou may rejoice, I must mourn. To drag a man in fetters into the grand illuminated temple of liberty, and call upon him to join you in joyous anthems, were inhuman mockery and sacrilegious irony. Do you mean, citizens, to mock me, by asking me to speak to-day? If so, there is a parallel to your conduct. And let me warn you that it is dangerous to copy the example of a nation whose crimes, lowering up to heaven, were thrown down by the breath of the Almighty, burying that nation in irrecoverable ruin! I can to-day take up the plaintive lament of a peeled and woe-smitten people!

“By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down. Yea! we wept when we remembered Zion. We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof. For there, they that carried us away captive, required of us a song; and they who wasted us required of us mirth, saying, Sing us one of the songs of Zion. How can we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land? If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning. If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth.”

Fellow-citizens; above your national, tumultuous joy, I hear the mournful wail of millions! whose chains, heavy and grievous yesterday, are, to-day, rendered more intolerable by the jubilee shouts that reach them. If I do forget, if I do not faithfully remember those bleeding children of sorrow this day, “may my right hand forget her cunning, and may my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth!” To forget them, to pass lightly over their wrongs, and to chime in with the popular theme, would be treason most scandalous and shocking, and would make me a reproach before God and the world. My subject, then fellow-citizens, is AMERICAN SLAVERY. I shall see, this day, and its popular characteristics, from the slave’s point of view. Standing, there, identified with the American bondman, making his wrongs mine, I do not hesitate to declare, with all my soul, that the character and conduct of this nation never looked blacker to me than on this 4th of July! Whether we turn to the declarations of the past, or to the professions of the present, the conduct of the nation seems equally hideous and revolting. America is false to the past, false to the present, and solemnly binds herself to be false to the future. Standing with God and the crushed and bleeding slave on this occasion, I will, in the name of humanity which is outraged, in the name of liberty which is fettered, in the name of the constitution and the Bible, which are disregarded and trampled upon, dare to call in question and to denounce, with all the emphasis I can command, everything that serves to perpetuate slavery — the great sin and shame of America! “I will not equivocate; I will not excuse;” I will use the severest language I can command; and yet not one word shall escape me that any man, whose judgment is not blinded by prejudice, or who is not at heart a slaveholder, shall not confess to be right and just.

But I fancy I hear some one of my audience say, it is just in this circumstance that you and your brother abolitionists fail to make a favorable impression on the public mind. Would you argue more, and denounce less, would you persuade more, and rebuke less, your cause would be much more likely to succeed. But, I submit, where all is plain there is nothing to be argued. What point in the anti-slavery creed would you have me argue? On what branch of the subject do the people of this country need light? Must I undertake to prove that the slave is a man? That point is conceded already. Nobody doubts it. The slaveholders themselves acknowledge it in the enactment of laws for their government. They acknowledge it when they punish disobedience on the part of the slave. There are seventy-two crimes in the State of Virginia, which, if committed by a black man, (no matter how ignorant he be), subject him to the punishment of death; while only two of the same crimes will subject a white man to the like punishment. What is this but the acknowledgement that the slave is a moral, intellectual and responsible being? The manhood of the slave is conceded. It is admitted in the fact that Southern statute books are covered with enactments forbidding, under severe fines and penalties, the teaching of the slave to read or to write. When you can point to any such laws, in reference to the beasts of the field, then I may consent to argue the manhood of the slave. When the dogs in your streets, when the fowls of the air, when the cattle on your hills, when the fish of the sea, and the reptiles that crawl, shall be unable to distinguish the slave from a brute, then will I argue with you that the slave is a man!

For the present, it is enough to affirm the equal manhood of the Negro race. Is it not astonishing that, while we are ploughing, planting and reaping, using all kinds of mechanical tools, erecting houses, constructing bridges, building ships, working in metals of brass, iron, copper, silver and gold; that, while we are reading, writing and cyphering, acting as clerks, merchants and secretaries, having among us lawyers, doctors, ministers, poets, authors, editors, orators and teachers; that, while we are engaged in all manner of enterprises common to other men, digging gold in California, capturing the whale in the Pacific, feeding sheep and cattle on the hill-side, living, moving, acting, thinking, planning, living in families as husbands, wives and children, and, above all, confessing and worshipping the Christian’s God, and looking hopefully for life and immortality beyond the grave, we are called upon to prove that we are men!

Would you have me argue that man is entitled to liberty? that he is the rightful owner of his own body? You have already declared it. Must I argue the wrongfulness of slavery? Is that a question for Republicans? Is it to be settled by the rules of logic and argumentation, as a matter beset with great difficulty, involving a doubtful application of the principle of justice, hard to be understood? How should I look to-day, in the presence of Americans, dividing, and subdividing a discourse, to show that men have a natural right to freedom? speaking of it relatively, and positively, negatively, and affirmatively. To do so, would be to make myself ridiculous, and to offer an insult to your understanding. — There is not a man beneath the canopy of heaven, that does not know that slavery is wrong for him.

What, am I to argue that it is wrong to make men brutes, to rob them of their liberty, to work them without wages, to keep them ignorant of their relations to their fellow men, to beat them with sticks, to flay their flesh with the lash, to load their limbs with irons, to hunt them with dogs, to sell them at auction, to sunder their families, to knock out their teeth, to burn their flesh, to starve them into obedience and submission to their masters? Must I argue that a system thus marked with blood, and stained with pollution, is wrong? No! I will not. I have better employments for my time and strength than such arguments would imply.

What, then, remains to be argued? Is it that slavery is not divine; that God did not establish it; that our doctors of divinity are mistaken? There is blasphemy in the thought. That which is inhuman, cannot be divine! Who can reason on such a proposition? They that can, may; I cannot. The time for such argument is passed.

At a time like this, scorching irony, not convincing argument, is needed. O! had I the ability, and could I reach the nation’s ear, I would, to-day, pour out a fiery stream of biting ridicule, blasting reproach, withering sarcasm, and stern rebuke. For it is not light that is needed, but fire; it is not the gentle shower, but thunder. We need the storm, the whirlwind, and the earthquake. The feeling of the nation must be quickened; the conscience of the nation must be roused; the propriety of the nation must be startled; the hypocrisy of the nation must be exposed; and its crimes against God and man must be proclaimed and denounced.

What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer: a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciations of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade, and solemnity, are, to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy — a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices, more shocking and bloody, than are the people of these United States, at this very hour.

Go where you may, search where you will, roam through all the monarchies and despotisms of the old world, travel through South America, search out every abuse, and when you have found the last, lay your facts by the side of the everyday practices of this nation, and you will say with me, that, for revolting barbarity and shameless hypocrisy, America reigns without a rival.

Take the American slave-trade, which, we are told by the papers, is especially prosperous just now. Ex-Senator Benton tells us that the price of men was never higher than now. He mentions the fact to show that slavery is in no danger. This trade is one of the peculiarities of American institutions. It is carried on in all the large towns and cities in one-half of this confederacy; and millions are pocketed every year, by dealers in this horrid traffic. In several states, this trade is a chief source of wealth. It is called (in contradistinction to the foreign slave-trade) “the internal slave trade.” It is, probably, called so, too, in order to divert from it the horror with which the foreign slave-trade is contemplated. That trade has long since been denounced by this government, as piracy. It has been denounced with burning words, from the high places of the nation, as an execrable traffic. To arrest it, to put an end to it, this nation keeps a squadron, at immense cost, on the coast of Africa. Everywhere, in this country, it is safe to speak of this foreign slave-trade, as a most inhuman traffic, opposed alike to the laws of God and of man. The duty to extirpate and destroy it, is admitted even by our DOCTORS OF DIVINITY. In order to put an end to it, some of these last have consented that their colored brethren (nominally free) should leave this country, and establish themselves on the western coast of Africa! It is, however, a notable fact that, while so much execration is poured out by Americans upon those engaged in the foreign slave-trade, the men engaged in the slave-trade between the states pass without condemnation, and their business is deemed honorable.

Behold the practical operation of this internal slave-trade, the American slave-trade, sustained by American politics and America religion. Here you will see men and women reared like swine for the market. You know what is a swine-drover? I will show you a man-drover. They inhabit all our Southern States. They perambulate the country, and crowd the highways of the nation, with droves of human stock. You will see one of these human flesh-jobbers, armed with pistol, whip and bowie-knife, driving a company of a hundred men, women, and children, from the Potomac to the slave market at New Orleans. These wretched people are to be sold singly, or in lots, to suit purchasers. They are food for the cotton-field, and the deadly sugar-mill. Mark the sad procession, as it moves wearily along, and the inhuman wretch who drives them. Hear his savage yells and his blood-chilling oaths, as he hurries on his affrighted captives! There, see the old man, with locks thinned and gray. Cast one glance, if you please, upon that young mother, whose shoulders are bare to the scorching sun, her briny tears falling on the brow of the babe in her arms. See, too, that girl of thirteen, weeping, yes! weeping, as she thinks of the mother from whom she has been torn! The drove moves tardily. Heat and sorrow have nearly consumed their strength; suddenly you hear a quick snap, like the discharge of a rifle; the fetters clank, and the chain rattles simultaneously; your ears are saluted with a scream, that seems to have torn its way to the center of your soul! The crack you heard, was the sound of the slave-whip; the scream you heard, was from the woman you saw with the babe. Her speed had faltered under the weight of her child and her chains! that gash on her shoulder tells her to move on. Follow the drove to New Orleans. Attend the auction; see men examined like horses; see the forms of women rudely and brutally exposed to the shocking gaze of American slave-buyers. See this drove sold and separated forever; and never forget the deep, sad sobs that arose from that scattered multitude. Tell me citizens, WHERE, under the sun, you can witness a spectacle more fiendish and shocking. Yet this is but a glance at the American slave-trade, as it exists, at this moment, in the ruling part of the United States.

I was born amid such sights and scenes. To me the American slave-trade is a terrible reality. When a child, my soul was often pierced with a sense of its horrors. I lived on Philpot Street, Fell’s Point, Baltimore, and have watched from the wharves, the slave ships in the Basin, anchored from the shore, with their cargoes of human flesh, waiting for favorable winds to waft them down the Chesapeake. There was, at that time, a grand slave mart kept at the head of Pratt Street, by Austin Woldfolk. His agents were sent into every town and county in Maryland, announcing their arrival, through the papers, and on flaming “hand-bills,” headed CASH FOR NEGROES. These men were generally well dressed men, and very captivating in their manners. Ever ready to drink, to treat, and to gamble. The fate of many a slave has depended upon the turn of a single card; and many a child has been snatched from the arms of its mother by bargains arranged in a state of brutal drunkenness.

The flesh-mongers gather up their victims by dozens, and drive them, chained, to the general depot at Baltimore. When a sufficient number have been collected here, a ship is chartered, for the purpose of conveying the forlorn crew to Mobile, or to New Orleans. From the slave prison to the ship, they are usually driven in the darkness of night; for since the antislavery agitation, a certain caution is observed.

In the deep still darkness of midnight, I have been often aroused by the dead heavy footsteps, and the piteous cries of the chained gangs that passed our door. The anguish of my boyish heart was intense; and I was often consoled, when speaking to my mistress in the morning, to hear her say that the custom was very wicked; that she hated to hear the rattle of the chains, and the heart-rending cries. I was glad to find one who sympathized with me in my horror.

Fellow-citizens, this murderous traffic is, to-day, in active operation in this boasted republic. In the solitude of my spirit, I see clouds of dust raised on the highways of the South; I see the bleeding footsteps; I hear the doleful wail of fettered humanity, on the way to the slave-markets, where the victims are to be sold like horsessheep, and swine, knocked off to the highest bidder. There I see the tenderest ties ruthlessly broken, to gratify the lust, caprice and rapacity of the buyers and sellers of men. My soul sickens at the sight.

Is this the land your Fathers loved,
The freedom which they toiled to win?
Is this the earth whereon they moved?
Are these the graves they slumber in?

But a still more inhuman, disgraceful, and scandalous state of things remains to be presented. By an act of the American Congress, not yet two years old, slavery has been nationalized in its most horrible and revolting form. By that act, Mason and Dixon’s line has been obliterated; New York has become as Virginia; and the power to hold, hunt, and sell men, women, and children as slaves remains no longer a mere state institution, but is now an institution of the whole United States. The power is co-extensive with the Star-Spangled Banner and American Christianity. Where these go, may also go the merciless slave-hunter. Where these are, man is not sacred. He is a bird for the sportsman’s gun. By that most foul and fiendish of all human decrees, the liberty and person of every man are put in peril. Your broad republican domain is hunting ground for men. Not for thieves and robbers, enemies of society, merely, but for men guilty of no crime. Your lawmakers have commanded all good citizens to engage in this hellish sport. Your President, your Secretary of State, our lordsnobles, and ecclesiastics, enforce, as a duty you owe to your free and glorious country, and to your God, that you do this accursed thing. Not fewer than forty Americans have, within the past two years, been hunted down and, without a moment’s warning, hurried away in chains, and consigned to slavery and excruciating torture. Some of these have had wives and children, dependent on them for bread; but of this, no account was made. The right of the hunter to his prey stands superior to the right of marriage, and to all rights in this republic, the rights of God included! For black men there are neither law, justice, humanity, not religion. The Fugitive Slave Law makes mercy to them a crime; and bribes the judge who tries them. An American judge gets ten dollars for every victim he consigns to slavery, and five, when he fails to do so. The oath of any two villains is sufficient, under this hell-black enactment, to send the most pious and exemplary black man into the remorseless jaws of slavery! His own testimony is nothing. He can bring no witnesses for himself. The minister of American justice is bound by the law to hear but one side; and that side, is the side of the oppressor. Let this damning fact be perpetually told. Let it be thundered around the world, that, in tyrant-killing, king-hating, people-loving, democratic, Christian America, the seats of justice are filled with judges, who hold their offices under an open and palpable bribe, and are bound, in deciding in the case of a man’s liberty, hear only his accusers!

In glaring violation of justice, in shameless disregard of the forms of administering law, in cunning arrangement to entrap the defenseless, and in diabolical intent, this Fugitive Slave Law stands alone in the annals of tyrannical legislation. I doubt if there be another nation on the globe, having the brass and the baseness to put such a law on the statute-book. If any man in this assembly thinks differently from me in this matter, and feels able to disprove my statements, I will gladly confront him at any suitable time and place he may select.

I take this law to be one of the grossest infringements of Christian Liberty, and, if the churches and ministers of our country were not stupidly blind, or most wickedly indifferent, they, too, would so regard it.

At the very moment that they are thanking God for the enjoyment of civil and religious liberty, and for the right to worship God according to the dictates of their own consciences, they are utterly silent in respect to a law which robs religion of its chief significance, and makes it utterly worthless to a world lying in wickedness. Did this law concern the “mint, anise, and cumin” — abridge the right to sing psalms, to partake of the sacrament, or to engage in any of the ceremonies of religion, it would be smitten by the thunder of a thousand pulpits. A general shout would go up from the church, demanding repeal, repeal, instant repeal! — And it would go hard with that politician who presumed to solicit the votes of the people without inscribing this motto on his banner. Further, if this demand were not complied with, another Scotland would be added to the history of religious liberty, and the stern old Covenanters would be thrown into the shade. A John Knox would be seen at every church door, and heard from every pulpit, and Fillmore would have no more quarter than was shown by Knox, to the beautiful, but treacherous queen Mary of Scotland. The fact that the church of our country, (with fractional exceptions), does not esteem “the Fugitive Slave Law” as a declaration of war against religious liberty, implies that that church regards religion simply as a form of worship, an empty ceremony, and not a vital principle, requiring active benevolence, justice, love and good will towards man. It esteems sacrifice above mercy; psalm-singing above right doing; solemn meetings above practical righteousness. A worship that can be conducted by persons who refuse to give shelter to the houseless, to give bread to the hungry, clothing to the naked, and who enjoin obedience to a law forbidding these acts of mercy, is a curse, not a blessing to mankind. The Bible addresses all such persons as “scribes, Pharisees, hypocrites, who pay tithe of mintanise, and cumin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy and faith.”

But the church of this country is not only indifferent to the wrongs of the slave, it actually takes sides with the oppressors. It has made itself the bulwark of American slavery, and the shield of American slave-hunters. Many of its most eloquent Divines. who stand as the very lights of the church, have shamelessly given the sanction of religion and the Bible to the whole slave system. They have taught that man may, properly, be a slave; that the relation of master and slave is ordained of God; that to send back an escaped bondman to his master is clearly the duty of all the followers of the Lord Jesus Christ; and this horrible blasphemy is palmed off upon the world for Christianity.

For my part, I would say, welcome infidelity! welcome atheism! welcome anything! in preference to the gospel, as preached by those Divines! They convert the very name of religion into an engine of tyranny, and barbarous cruelty, and serve to confirm more infidels, in this age, than all the infidel writings of Thomas Paine, Voltaire, and Bolingbroke, put together, have done! These ministers make religion a cold and flinty-hearted thing, having neither principles of right action, nor bowels of compassion. They strip the love of God of its beauty, and leave the throng of religion a huge, horrible, repulsive form. It is a religion for oppressors, tyrants, man-stealers, and thugs. It is not that “pure and undefiled religion” which is from above, and which is “first pure, then peaceable, easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy.” But a religion which favors the rich against the poor; which exalts the proud above the humble; which divides mankind into two classes, tyrants and slaves; which says to the man in chains, stay there; and to the oppressor, oppress on; it is a religion which may be professed and enjoyed by all the robbers and enslavers of mankind; it makes God a respecter of persons, denies his fatherhood of the race, and tramples in the dust the great truth of the brotherhood of man. All this we affirm to be true of the popular church, and the popular worship of our land and nation — a religion, a church, and a worship which, on the authority of inspired wisdom, we pronounce to be an abomination in the sight of God. In the language of Isaiah, the American church might be well addressed, “Bring no more vain ablations; incense is an abomination unto me: the new moons and Sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, I cannot away with; it is iniquity even the solemn meeting. Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hateth. They are a trouble to me; I am weary to bear them; and when ye spread forth your hands I will hide mine eyes from you. Yea! when ye make many prayers, I will not hear. YOUR HANDS ARE FULL OF BLOOD; cease to do evil, learn to do well; seek judgment; relieve the oppressed; judge for the fatherless; plead for the widow.”

The American church is guilty, when viewed in connection with what it is doing to uphold slavery; but it is superlatively guilty when viewed in connection with its ability to abolish slavery. The sin of which it is guilty is one of omission as well as of commission. Albert Barnes but uttered what the common sense of every man at all observant of the actual state of the case will receive as truth, when he declared that “There is no power out of the church that could sustain slavery an hour, if it were not sustained in it.”

Let the religious press, the pulpit, the Sunday school, the conference meeting, the great ecclesiastical, missionary, Bible and tract associations of the land array their immense powers against slavery and slave-holding; and the whole system of crime and blood would be scattered to the winds; and that they do not do this involves them in the most awful responsibility of which the mind can conceive.

In prosecuting the anti-slavery enterprise, we have been asked to spare the church, to spare the ministry; but how, we ask, could such a thing be done? We are met on the threshold of our efforts for the redemption of the slave, by the church and ministry of the country, in battle arrayed against us; and we are compelled to fight or flee. From what quarter, I beg to know, has proceeded a fire so deadly upon our ranks, during the last two years, as from the Northern pulpit? As the champions of oppressors, the chosen men of American theology have appeared — men, honored for their so-called piety, and their real learning. The Lords of Buffalo, the Springs of New York, the Lathrops of Auburn, the Coxes and Spencers of Brooklyn, the Gannets and Sharps of Boston, the Deweys of Washington, and other great religious lights of the land have, in utter denial of the authority of Him by whom they professed to be called to the ministry, deliberately taught us, against the example or the Hebrews and against the remonstrance of the Apostles, they teach that we ought to obey man’s law before the law of God.

My spirit wearies of such blasphemy; and how such men can be supported, as the “standing types and representatives of Jesus Christ,” is a mystery which I leave others to penetrate. In speaking of the American church, however, let it be distinctly understood that I mean the great mass of the religious organizations of our land. There are exceptions, and I thank God that there are. Noble men may be found, scattered all over these Northern States, of whom Henry Ward Beecher of Brooklyn, Samuel J. May of Syracuse, and my esteemed friend (Rev. R. R. Raymond) on the platform, are shining examples; and let me say further, that upon these men lies the duty to inspire our ranks with high religious faith and zeal, and to cheer us on in the great mission of the slave’s redemption from his chains.

One is struck with the difference between the attitude of the American church towards the anti-slavery movement, and that occupied by the churches in England towards a similar movement in that country. There, the church, true to its mission of ameliorating, elevating, and improving the condition of mankind, came forward promptly, bound up the wounds of the West Indian slave, and restored him to his liberty. There, the question of emancipation was a high religious question. It was demanded, in the name of humanity, and according to the law of the living God. The Sharps, the Clarksons, the Wilberforces, the Buxtons, and Burchells and the Knibbs, were alike famous for their piety, and for their philanthropy. The anti-slavery movement there was not an anti-church movement, for the reason that the church took its full share in prosecuting that movement: and the anti-slavery movement in this country will cease to be an anti-church movement, when the church of this country shall assume a favorable, instead of a hostile position towards that movement. Americans! your republican politics, not less than your republican religion, are flagrantly inconsistent. You boast of your love of liberty, your superior civilization, and your pure Christianity, while the whole political power of the nation (as embodied in the two great political parties), is solemnly pledged to support and perpetuate the enslavement of three millions of your countrymen. You hurl your anathemas at the crowned headed tyrants of Russia and Austria, and pride yourselves on your Democratic institutions, while you yourselves consent to be the mere tools and body-guards of the tyrants of Virginia and Carolina. You invite to your shores fugitives of oppression from abroad, honor them with banquets, greet them with ovations, cheer them, toast them, salute them, protect them, and pour out your money to them like water; but the fugitives from your own land you advertise, hunt, arrest, shoot and kill. You glory in your refinement and your universal education yet you maintain a system as barbarous and dreadful as ever stained the character of a nation — a system begun in avarice, supported in pride, and perpetuated in cruelty. You shed tears over fallen Hungary, and make the sad story of her wrongs the theme of your poets, statesmen and orators, till your gallant sons are ready to fly to arms to vindicate her cause against her oppressors; but, in regard to the ten thousand wrongs of the American slave, you would enforce the strictest silence, and would hail him as an enemy of the nation who dares to make those wrongs the subject of public discourse! You are all on fire at the mention of liberty for France or for Ireland; but are as cold as an iceberg at the thought of liberty for the enslaved of America. You discourse eloquently on the dignity of labor; yet, you sustain a system which, in its very essence, casts a stigma upon labor. You can bare your bosom to the storm of British artillery to throw off a threepenny tax on tea; and yet wring the last hard-earned farthing from the grasp of the black laborers of your country. You profess to believe “that, of one blood, God made all nations of men to dwell on the face of all the earth,” and hath commanded all men, everywhere to love one another; yet you notoriously hate, (and glory in your hatred), all men whose skins are not colored like your own. You declare, before the world, and are understood by the world to declare, that you “hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal; and are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; and that, among these are, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness;” and yet, you hold securely, in a bondage which, according to your own Thomas Jefferson, “is worse than ages of that which your fathers rose in rebellion to oppose,” a seventh part of the inhabitants of your country.

Fellow-citizens! I will not enlarge further on your national inconsistencies. The existence of slavery in this country brands your republicanism as a sham, your humanity as a base pretence, and your Christianity as a lie. It destroys your moral power abroad; it corrupts your politicians at home. It saps the foundation of religion; it makes your name a hissing, and a bye-word to a mocking earth. It is the antagonistic force in your government, the only thing that seriously disturbs and endangers your Union. It fetters your progress; it is the enemy of improvement, the deadly foe of education; it fosters pride; it breeds insolence; it promotes vice; it shelters crime; it is a curse to the earth that supports it; and yet, you cling to it, as if it were the sheet anchor of all your hopes. Oh! be warned! be warned! a horrible reptile is coiled up in your nation’s bosom; the venomous creature is nursing at the tender breast of your youthful republic; for the love of God, tear away, and fling from you the hideous monster, and let the weight of twenty millions crush and destroy it forever!

But it is answered in reply to all this, that precisely what I have now denounced is, in fact, guaranteed and sanctioned by the Constitution of the United States; that the right to hold and to hunt slaves is a part of that Constitution framed by the illustrious Fathers of this Republic.

Then, I dare to affirm, notwithstanding all I have said before, your fathers stooped, basely stooped

To palter with us in a double sense:
And keep the word of promise to the ear,
But break it to the heart.

And instead of being the honest men I have before declared them to be, they were the veriest imposters that ever practiced on mankind. This is the inevitable conclusion, and from it there is no escape. But I differ from those who charge this baseness on the framers of the Constitution of the United States. It is a slander upon their memory, at least, so I believe. There is not time now to argue the constitutional question at length — nor have I the ability to discuss it as it ought to be discussed. The subject has been handled with masterly power by Lysander Spooner, Esq., by William Goodell, by Samuel E. Sewall, Esq., and last, though not least, by Gerritt Smith, Esq. These gentlemen have, as I think, fully and clearly vindicated the Constitution from any design to support slavery for an hour.

Fellow-citizens! there is no matter in respect to which, the people of the North have allowed themselves to be so ruinously imposed upon, as that of the pro-slavery character of the Constitution. In that instrument I hold there is neither warrant, license, nor sanction of the hateful thing; but, interpreted as it ought to be interpreted, the Constitution is a GLORIOUS LIBERTY DOCUMENT. Read its preamble, consider its purposes. Is slavery among them? Is it at the gateway? or is it in the temple? It is neither. While I do not intend to argue this question on the present occasion, let me ask, if it be not somewhat singular that, if the Constitution were intended to be, by its framers and adopters, a slave-holding instrument, why neither slavery, slaveholding, nor slave can anywhere be found in it. What would be thought of an instrument, drawn up, legally drawn up, for the purpose of entitling the city of Rochester to a track of land, in which no mention of land was made? Now, there are certain rules of interpretation, for the proper understanding of all legal instruments. These rules are well established. They are plain, common-sense rules, such as you and I, and all of us, can understand and apply, without having passed years in the study of law. I scout the idea that the question of the constitutionality or unconstitutionality of slavery is not a question for the people. I hold that every American citizen has a right to form an opinion of the constitution, and to propagate that opinion, and to use all honorable means to make his opinion the prevailing one. Without this right, the liberty of an American citizen would be as insecure as that of a Frenchman. Ex-Vice-President Dallas tells us that the Constitution is an object to which no American mind can be too attentive, and no American heart too devoted. He further says, the Constitution, in its words, is plain and intelligible, and is meant for the home-bred, unsophisticated understandings of our fellow-citizens. Senator Berrien tell us that the Constitution is the fundamental law, that which controls all others. The charter of our liberties, which every citizen has a personal interest in understanding thoroughly. The testimony of Senator Breese, Lewis Cass, and many others that might be named, who are everywhere esteemed as sound lawyers, so regard the constitution. I take it, therefore, that it is not presumption in a private citizen to form an opinion of that instrument.

Now, take the Constitution according to its plain reading, and I defy the presentation of a single pro-slavery clause in it. On the other hand it will be found to contain principles and purposes, entirely hostile to the existence of slavery.

I have detained my audience entirely too long already. At some future period I will gladly avail myself of an opportunity to give this subject a full and fair discussion.

Allow me to say, in conclusion, notwithstanding the dark picture I have this day presented of the state of the nation, I do not despair of this country. There are forces in operation, which must inevitably work the downfall of slavery. “The arm of the Lord is not shortened,” and the doom of slavery is certain. I, therefore, leave off where I began, with hope. While drawing encouragement from the Declaration of Independence, the great principles it contains, and the genius of American Institutions, my spirit is also cheered by the obvious tendencies of the age. Nations do not now stand in the same relation to each other that they did ages ago. No nation can now shut itself up from the surrounding world, and trot round in the same old path of its fathers without interference. The time was when such could be done. Long established customs of hurtful character could formerly fence themselves in, and do their evil work with social impunity. Knowledge was then confined and enjoyed by the privileged few, and the multitude walked on in mental darkness. But a change has now come over the affairs of mankind. Walled cities and empires have become unfashionable. The arm of commerce has borne away the gates of the strong city. Intelligence is penetrating the darkest corners of the globe. It makes its pathway over and under the sea, as well as on the earth. Wind, steam, and lightning are its chartered agents. Oceans no longer divide, but link nations together. From Boston to London is now a holiday excursion. Space is comparatively annihilated. Thoughts expressed on one side of the Atlantic, are distinctly heard on the other. The far off and almost fabulous Pacific rolls in grandeur at our feet. The Celestial Empire, the mystery of ages, is being solved. The fiat of the Almighty, “Let there be Light,” has not yet spent its force. No abuse, no outrage whether in taste, sport or avarice, can now hide itself from the all-pervading light. The iron shoe, and crippled foot of China must be seen, in contrast with nature. Africa must rise and put on her yet unwoven garment. “Ethiopia shall stretch out her hand unto God.” In the fervent aspirations of William Lloyd Garrison, I say, and let every heart join in saying it:

God speed the year of jubilee
The wide world o’er
When from their galling chains set free,
Th’ oppress’d shall vilely bend the knee,

And wear the yoke of tyranny
Like brutes no more.
That year will come, and freedom’s reign,
To man his plundered fights again
Restore.

God speed the day when human blood
Shall cease to flow!
In every clime be understood,
The claims of human brotherhood,
And each return for evil, good,
Not blow for blow;
That day will come all feuds to end.
And change into a faithful friend
Each foe.

God speed the hour, the glorious hour,
When none on earth
Shall exercise a lordly power,
Nor in a tyrant’s presence cower;
But all to manhood’s stature tower,
By equal birth!
That hour will come, to each, to all,
And from his prison-house, the thrall
Go forth.

Until that year, day, hour, arrive,
With head, and heart, and hand I’ll strive,
To break the rod, and rend the gyve,
The spoiler of his prey deprive —
So witness Heaven!
And never from my chosen post,
Whate’er the peril or the cost,
Be driven.

Source: Frederick Douglass: Selected Speeches and Writings, ed. Philip S. Foner (Chicago: Lawrence Hill, 1999), 188-206.

Howard Thurman: “The oneness of mankind”

From Joyce Gibson’s invitation to worship, Durham Friends Meeting, June 28, 2020

“Religion has enjoyed an exclusive character for far too long,‘’ he said, “and this has fostered inequality and established the principle of separateness.  Men, instead of feeling at one with each other because of their relationship to God, are set apart from each other because of the division caused by their differing theologies.  Exclusiveness may once have been a luxury, but it can be no longer.  In human affairs, science is in process of annihilating space and time; religion can keep pace only as it annihilates boundaries.  The basis for modern life is the acknowledged oneness of mankind.” 

[Were he speaking today, Thurman would surely have spoken of “people” rather than of “men” or “mankind.”]

Quoted in Elizabeth Yates McGreal, Howard Thurman:  Portrait of a Practical Dreamer (New York: John Day Publishing, 1964), (pp. 142-143).

“Holy Silence and Worldly Silence,” By Doug Bennett

Message given at Durham Friends Meeting, June 14, 2020

People of my generation (and I use that term very loosely to include many of us) may not know much of the Bible.  Unlike my parents I didn’t grow up memorizing Bible verses.  But most of us in my generation know the first eight verses of the third chapter of the 21st book in the Hebrew Testament.  That’s because some guy just took those lines (from the King James Version), set them to music, and recorded it as a song.  That was Pete Seeger; he recorded it in 1962.  When the Byrds released a version of it in 1965 as “Turn, Turn, Turn,” it went to #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.  And the song still has the distinction of being the song that reached #1 with the oldest lyrics.

Here are those first eight verses of the third chapter of the 21st book of the Bible, the book of Ecclesiastes, a book that by legend, was written by King Solomon:

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:

A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;

A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;

A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;

A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;

A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;

A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;

A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.

It’s a song with a strong connection to an era of peace protests and civil rights demonstration, an era of insistence on doing right.  It was a call to peace and justice – and it still is. 

“A time to keep silence and a time to speak;” “a time of war and a time of peace.”  For many of us, the song came to mean that now, right now, was a time for peace and a time for speaking out.  More than a half century later, here we are again. 

How can that be?  Have we learned nothing? Have we achieved nothing?

For Quakers, for worshipping communities like us, silence is at the core of our spiritual practice.  We gather in silence for worship.  Sometimes we stay in silence for the whole of our worship time.  But this doesn’t seem like a time for silence; it seems like a time for speaking.  And more than that, it seems like a time for doing. 

I’ve been thinking that there are two kinds of silence, and they are quite different. 

One kind we might call holy silence.  We quiet ourselves to hear God.  We quiet ourselves to give attention to what God is asking of us. 

The other kind we might call worldly silence.  We’re silent because we’re lost or confused; we don’t know what to say.  We’re silent because we’re biting our tongues.  We know what to say but we aren’t strong enough or brave enough to say it. 

Worldly silence is a stay-on-the-sidelines kind of silence.  Holy silence is a getting-ready kind of silence, a getting ready to speak and a getting ready to act kind of silence. 

What is it we have to say?  It’s not good enough to say we’re against racial inequity; it’s not good enough to say we that Black Lives Matter.  We Quakers (not us, but those who came before us) were early to speak up for the abolition of slavery.  But we were largely unprepared for what would come after slavery.  We didn’t welcome African-Americans into Friends Meetings or into Quaker schools or colleges.  Fit for Freedom But Not for Friendship is the quite telling title of the book that Donna McDaniel and Vanessa Julye wrote about that.  We were silent, tongue-tied maybe, or worse. 

Many Quakers supported the civil rights advocacy of the 1960s that led to the civil rights act of 1964 and the voting rights act of 1965.  But in our lifetimes, we’ve seen those weren’t enough.  And worse, we’ve seen those steps forward rolled back, gutted.  We may not have wanted that roll-back, but we didn’t speak manage to speak out strongly enough to stop that rollback

401 years since the first people were brought to these shores in chains, enslaved; 244 years since we proclaimed all people created equal; 155 years since the end of Civil War and the end of state-authorized slavery.  We still have deep and persisting racial injustice in this country. 

We see police violence.  And nothing done about it.

We see persisting gaps in achievement in our schools.

We see school expulsions and suspensions disproportionately exercised against people of color.

We see the right to vote denied to African Americans.  Polling places closed.  Voter registrations cancelled.  Gerrymandering.  Voting machines sabotaged.

We see prisons disproportionately filled with people of color.

We see neighborhoods segregated by race. 

We see deep and persisting inequalities in employment.  In income.  In wealth.

In every conceivable way we see unjustified – unjustifiable – gaps between the life experience of people simply on the basis of race and color. 

We see worse health care and worse health outcomes for people of color.  COVID 19 is hitting people of color particularly hard.  I read recently that in the last decade 1200 scientific papers were published calling attention to racial disparities in health and medical care.  Noticing isn’t enough.  Talking about it isn’t enough. 

Here in Maine we can stand a little to one side of all this – the whitest state in the union (or is it Vermont?).  But is that anything that excuses our silence, really?

In every realm of life, we see injustice.  If we don’t see it, shame on us. If we don’t speak out about it, shame on us.  If we don’t try to make it right, shame on us.

Today, we are called to see that we make good on the promise of equality.  We are called to speak out – to insist that we truly be a country that accords liberty and justice to all,

There are political currents that are working on this:  movements, organizations, campaigns. Black Lives Matter, the Poor People’s Campaign, the American Civil Liberties Union, many others.  These all need our support and we should give support to them. 

We should also remember where we will find our bearings.  We’re not going to find our deepest bearings in politics alone, in movements or campaigns no matter how passionate or righteous the cause.  It’s not where we should look to find them.  We need to go deeper

To be at our best, our clearest, our most courageous, we find them here in worship. 

We will find them in the holy silence we share.  We will find our bearings in the holy silence in which we listen for God’s leadings.

We will learn again and anew:  that each and every human being is a child of God.  We will learn again and anew:  that each and every human being has the capacity to know God, to hear what God has to tell us, us humans, and to share that with others.  Those others include each and every human being, whatever their race, or religion, whatever their age or their occupation – teacher or student, protestor or policeman. 

We will learn again and anew that violence and domination won’t work.  They only prepare the way for more violence in the future.  We will learn again and anew that in listening carefully to God “we can be changed—even transformed.”  We will learn again and anew that in the holy silence, “We can come to live lives reflecting the Light and Love of God” and that this will give us the clarity and courage to transform the world.  Those words, that “we can be changed—even transformed” and “we can come to live lives reflecting the Light and Love of God” are right up front on the New England Yearly Meeting website about “what we believe.” 

“A time to keep silence and a time to speak;” “a time of war and a time of peace.”  Those are words from Ecclesiastes.  In this troubled time, we need to gather in silence to see where God would direct us, and we need to be prepared to speak and to act when we leave Meeting.  In this time of hate and or war, we must prepare the way for a time of peace and of love.  We need holy silence but not worldly silence. 

Cross-posted on Riverviewfriend.

Quakers Speak Out About Racial Injustice

June 2020, with updates

New England Yearly Meeting, A Time for Repentance and Transformation, June 5, 2020

The Outgoing Epistle of the 2020 Virtual Pre-Gathering of Friends of Color and their Families, June 28, 2020.

What Is Your Right Next Step? Liz Nicholson, Quaker Voluntary Service, June 3, 2020 with updates

Overcoming Obstacles, Message at DFM by Roland Gibson, February 2018

Transformation Towards Racial Justice, Message at DFM by Nancy Marsaller, October 2017

New England Yearly Meeting Minute on Racism, 2003

Friends Committee on National Legislation: Racism and Whiteness

AFSC Condemns Police Killing of George Floyd and Police Violence Against Protesters 

Friends General Conference: Learn Ways to Take Action Against Systematic Racism

Earlham Board of Trustees Statement Against Racism

Guilford President Jane K. Fernandes and the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Office Denouncing Racial Injustice and Violence

Swarthmore College President Valerie Smith on Uniting Against Racial Injustice

Haverford College President Wendy Raymond on Becoming Anti-Racist

Friends Schools Respond to the Events of May, 2020

Such a Time As This: A Response to Hate and Violence (NEYM, July 18, 2017)

Quakers, Racism and the Blessed Community (QuakerSpeak Video, 10/16/2014)

“Vulnerability, the Light, and a Personal Message,” by Sukie Rice

Message given at Durham Friends Meeting, May 3, 2020

Message brought by Sukie Rice on May 3, 2020)

I have recently re-read (for the fourth time) a book called “And There Was Light.”  It is an autobiography by Jacques Lusseyran, a Frenchman born in 1924.  At the age of eight, Lusseyran had an accident that caused him to become totally blind.  Much like Helen Keller, his life was an inspiration to countless numbers of people as he made his blindness become his strongest asset.  Indeed, at age 17 he became the leader of a French resistance group that printed and distributed an underground newspaper, which he and schoolboy friends spread widely.  Within a few years the paper had a distribution of about 50,000, making it one of the most reliable sources of resistance news in the country. There was no book containing the hundreds of names and numbers of members of the group, but instead they were all kept in Lusseyran’s head. But that’s not why I’m telling you about him.

What I want to tell you about is his experience growing up without sight.  He says that from the earliest time after the accident, although he was unable to see the light of the world, much to his amazement, the light was still there.  In all its movement, shades, colors, as strong as it had been when he had had his sight.  When others said he would never see light again, what he discovered is that the Light is not in the in the outer world.  The Light dwells where life also dwells: within ourselves.

His second discovery was that this inner light was dependent on him and his soul condition. When he felt fear, sorrow, anger or envy the light decreased accordingly or became extinguished. It was when he was in a negative soul condition that he was truly blind.  The absence of love was what brought on the loss of the Light.

Needless to say, blindness became the catalyst for him to live a new way.  Each day a school chum would meet him at his door and walk him to school, looking forward to their new day.  Boys vied to give him their shoulder to hold onto as they ran down the roads and through the fields.  He didn’t miss out on play for a moment. He was an excellent student, highly respected for his ability to pay deep attention, his ability to sort out the “truth” from fiction, and his insight into the real intentions and character of others.  He says his blindness was his greatest gift as it gave him access to the real Light.

Now I’m going to shift gears, and talk a little about vulnerability.  Everyone has felt vulnerable at some time or another. People usually don’t like to feel vulnerable.  They often tend to walk away from situations that make them feel vulnerable, sometimes closing themselves off, protecting themselves, finding ways not to feel or show vulnerability.  After all, vulnerability is weakness, isn’t it?

Well, I’m going to say, “no.”  In fact, I believe feeling vulnerable is one of the most valuable things we can allow ourselves to feel.  Allowing ourselves to be vulnerable, to have our hearts be broken, is what can change our lives.  You can’t fall in love without risking getting hurt.  You can’t do most anything worthwhile in life without taking chances and allowing yourself to be vulnerable.

But most of all, I think that it is when we allow ourselves to be vulnerable that we accept our “cracks” through which the Light can enter in. Clearly Jacques Lusseyran embraced his vulnerability and, instead of being angry or sorry for himself, he opened himself and discovered a whole world of Light and a way of seeing from the inner soul.  He treasured this gift he had been given.

Now I’m going to shift gears once again.  And talk about myself and my journey with cancer and of being vulnerable, very vulnerable, as facing one’s mortality makes one become.

Most of you know that I have been dealing with cancer for over 2 ½ years. Stage 3 ovarian cancer has a poor recovery rate, and from the beginning I knew my chances of “beating it” weren’t great.  But I also knew it was a challenge from God and I needed to accept it, to embrace it and to give it my best shot and to take advantage of this disease to change and grow.  I knew God had given it to me as a gift, to crack me open, to be vulnerable and to discover new things.

 It has actually been an incredible journey with so much spiritual seeking, inner growth, and an abundance of love and connection with others.  We ARE connected, deeply connected, although it’s easy for weeks and months to go by without our realizing how powerfully true this is.  Because of my vulnerability I have become intensely conscious of these connections, and because of that, more Love and Light has been coming through the cracks, often with great tenderness.

Now I wish to bring you “up to date” with where I am and what is happening with my cancer.  A month ago I shared with Friends about this during our after-meeting Zoom fellowship and they all said, “Please share this with the rest of the Meeting,” which is why I am doing so today.

Two months ago my CT scan showed the cancer was growing and had metastasized into my lung and pleural cavity.  It was brought there by the lymph, and once the lymph starts carrying cancer cells, it can keep spreading.  The doctor said I could either try one more chemo drug that might hinder the growth of the cancer.  Or I could begin on Hospice.  I chose the chemo.

I have now had two of these chemo treatments and tomorrow I am scheduled to go in for a third.  Unlike the other chemos I have had, this one seems to be especially toxic for my system, and the side effects have been very rugged.  It means I have a great deal of fatigue, nausea, abdominal pain or discomfort, and just plain feel crummy.  I have to sleep sitting up to avoid pain and nausea.  Of course there are pills I take to help reduce the intensity of these side effects, and they are certainly very helpful.  But every meal becomes a challenge.  Having my brain and motivation slow down to a crawl is frustrating. 

I do get some “good days” near the end of the 21-day cycle. This past Wednesday, Friday, yesterday were good days.   I’ve chosen today to bring this message because I knew it would be a good day.  But the number of good or partial good days are far outnumbered by the difficult days and, to be honest, I don’t know how many more of the treatments I can take.

This means, my friends, that I don’t know “what’s in store” for me next.  Except that I continue to be vulnerable and face my mortality.  What has been wonderful in all of this, however, are the conversations I have had with people.  Tender.  Loving.  Deep.  Often with a wave of tears that comes over us.  Always inviting the Light to enter and give us deeper spiritual connection.  People don’t talk about dying very often.  Knowing one is going to die is a very special privilege.  It is so different from the deaths of people from the coronavirus.  To me that is absolutely terrifying.  It isn’t “natural” like heart or lung disease, or cancer or all the other illnesses that take us.  Instead, it comes out of the blue, is fast and furious, and people are separated from loved ones in the most horrific way. Most people think about the numbers and the spread, and the protections and the political differences when they talk about the coronavirus.  I think about the suffering of those people who are dying and their family members. Unlike them, I have had time with my family and friends to slowly get prepared for my passing and to grieve in small ways so that when the time comes, I hope my passing will be a gentle release into the spiritual world rather than a sudden, terrible storm of grief.

Why am I telling you all of this?  Well, mostly because you are my Friends, my spiritual community and we share our spiritual challenges and insights.  I want you to know that I have a very, very deep faith … an absolute conviction of God — the Divine Presence, that is within and all around.  I believe that Christ is a part of that Divine Presence and Light.  I also believe in reincarnation and karma.  I believe that each of us has a Spirit that existed before we were born, lives within each of us as our essential self during our life, which will continue after our death.  It is because of this belief that I can be so accepting of the truth that I am dying.  It is God’s will whenever it happens.  I just want to be surrounded by Love and Prayers to help carry me into my next journey.

And so, I close with this: Let yourself be vulnerable.  Let the cracks happen.  Allow pain and the Light to come in.  Talk about death and dying.  Yes, it is a mystery, but don’t let it be a taboo subject.  Make it personal because some day it will become very personal. 

I express my gratitude to all of you who allow me to share my journey with you, to talk about my final months and days.  I love my husband Lee and my sons so dearly.  And my dear, dear friends.   I believe I will be with them from the other side and will be sharing with them the Light and Joy I experience with my new “eyes.” It will be a new birth.  Let me share it with all of you as well.   (Reference: And There Was Light, by Jacques Lusseyran (New World Library, Novato, CA)

“Faith, Understanding and God’s Availability,” by Brown Lethem

Message given at Durham Friends Meeting, April 19, 2020

Good Morning Friends,      

In Brooklyn Meeting where I attended for many years, we had a young man who quite often fell asleep in meeting for worship. which was one thing, but being stout, he also snored rather heavily.  As you can imagine, Friends felt some consternation.   

Those worshiping near him questioned, should we wake him with a gentle poke in the ribs, or should we incorporate the snores into our worship as we did the more gentle noises of the children, the coughs and the ticking of the clock.    Since his Faith brought him regularly to worship and into his profound experience of silence, perhaps our faith, that God might speak to him in dreams, would happen, as it often did with the prophets of the Old Testament.

Today in the visual world and with the mute button, we are not faced with that dilemma!

As in my previous messages I am most comfortable speaking out of my personal journey. It was George Fox who cautioned, Speak from experience.  I have spoken in meeting when moved, but briefly, I have never preached. My way in life, has been as artist, carpenter, art teacher… so what I have to say, is simply, personal testimony. And, if I ramble, forgive me. I hope it will come together.

These past weeks have been solitary.  After the first week of this enforced retreat, this Query came to me: God and Nature in Her silent knowing, have plunged us into the mystery of life … and death. Can we decipher it?   Is it leading us towards desired goals of ending wars, healing our environment and right sharing of the world’s resources?  And how might I be a part of that consciousness change? Wow! some query.

Faith must come before understanding.  This piece of meditational wisdom has gotten my attention more than once, most recently, I believe in Richard Rohr’s daily meditations.  The quote immediately rang a bell for me since at age 30 I had experienced a revelatory vision that put to rest the question of God’s presence in my life. That brief epiphany, an experience of pure faith, based on grace, and, in time of desperate need, was indelible.  At that moment GOD was the only reality.                       

That awareness stayed within me, as a lodestone but in seed form.  My active life of work and marriage … and kids took precedence.

 Despite my Christian upbringing, my resistance to the miraculous aspects of the New Testament Gospel persisted.  My university education and low-keyed protestant experience prepared me for the Prophet of Love, not the God incarnate. My intellect and understanding kept getting in the way of the extension of my Faith, however it did bring me to Quakers.

When I became a Friend, I embraced the mystery of God’s presence in all persons.  Something I had intuited often… Also, I embraced the truth of ongoing revelation. In both my life and in the world at large.

Larry Floyd was an older Quaker in Brooklyn Monthly Meeting who hired me to do some carpentry work on his house in the mid 80’s.  On a break one day we talked about our faith and my lack of understanding of the mysteries surrounding Christ.   At one point he said casually, you might think about the Christ Within.  Despite my long struggle after that with the misuse of Christ or Christianity in fundamentalist religion, he had planted a slow growing seed.  I have grown to accept that idea. It refused to abandon me. If as I believed as a Quaker, “There was that of God in every person, that could mean that in each of us there is a transubstantiated seed of Christ, That “still small voice,” “The Christ Within,” a beautiful and inspiring metaphor.

The human body and mind, in all its complexity is truly a miracle.  Craig made that point so well last week! The birth of my three children remains a miraculous experience.

AND … Though questions remain, the seed expands, as my own limitations become clear.  New levels of transformation surface.  We are a work in process.  The seed becomes a bridge.  Along that life bridge the seed of Christ’s essential role in my acceptance of God’s will emerges.  I believe God awaits our acceptance and resolution of the material world with the Spiritual world of God.  That process illuminating and incorporating our lives into the body of God must proceed in stages. The first stage available to human understanding is opening to the seed, The Christ Within.                     

Is this not the beautiful message of Jesus in the New Testament?

                        The journey of the seed,

                                    The seed within the Light of On-Going Revelation        

                         journeys to Union with God,

                                    Through The Christ WithIn. 

When I joined Durham Meeting, Sukie gave me a large print copy of the New Testament. I see that as symbolic of a new acceptance of love and opening to community, embodied in this Meeting.

“What Does It Mean to Be Alive?” by Doug Bennett

Excerpt from a message given at Durham Friends Meeting, May 10, 2020

…….It turns out we aren’t so different from the virus.  It can’t exist by itself/on its own.  But neither can we. 

This is one lesson we’ve all been learning as we have been shut up in our homes, distancing ourselves from one another: that we need one another.  But it’s more than that: we need each other in a relationship of love that connects us with God because that is what gives us life.  The Gospel of John expresses this in a powerful metaphor:  Jesus says:

Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. …

But there is another lesson, harder, but at least as important about ‘being alive.’  In this time of virus, in this time of dying, it is easy to fall into thinking that ‘all living things are good.’ What lives is all part of God’s glory, all to be nurtured, all to be celebrated, all to be saved.  It’s easy to think that — especially easy as spring blooms around us. 

As we gather here separated from one another, however, we know this is not so.  There are bits of creation that are not so good, and this virus is one of them.  The cancers that afflict too many of us: they are another.  Murder wasps: we’ve just started hearing about them.  Black flies.  Typhus and typhoid and smallpox.  I mean all these things, but there’s more. 

There are also bits of ourselves that live all too commonly within us, things that are not good:  selfishness, pride, envy, greed, wrath – things like that.  These things become a part of us all too easily, and they are things that should not live within us.  We might think of them as like a virus.  They live within us, become a part of us, even take over our lives.  They infect us. 

They are little bits of us – within us – that should not be living. 

Jesus asks us to let these things die within us so that we can live a new and transformed life.  Some of the hardest parts of the New Testament are about this. 

Says Paul in Colossians:  Therefore put to death the parts of your earthly nature.   In his letters to the Romans, Paul says:  13 For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.

And in Ephesians, Paul reminds us:  22 You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; 23 to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24 and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.

Can we think of these things, our “deceitful desires” that too easily become a part of us, as like a virus, having life only because they latch onto us and work their own purposes?  Can we think of these things as parts of us that must die so we can truly live?  Can we think of them as infections – even infections we carelessly pass from one to another?  If we can, we know the cure:  to love one another in the vine.  

Can we find ourselves a new life by ridding ourselves of these, by loving one another?  This is the transformed life to which we are called.

The entire message can be found on Riverview Friend.

“Gathering,” by Noah Merrill

Message given at Durham Friends Meeting, April 26, 2020

Since I was a child, I’ve heard that there’s no such thing as a solitary Quaker. You could say that we are a people defined by gathering.

When you think about it, gathering feels so essential to who we are that a collection of Quakers—really of any size—is called a “meeting.” Even more than other churches or spiritual communities I know, gathering in various forms shapes our common life. The calendars of Friends across New England are filled with “meetings”—meetings for worship, monthly meetings, quarterly meetings, any number of other meetings. One of our most beloved origin stories speaks about George Fox’s vision, on Pendle Hill in England, of a “great people to be gathered.” Gathering, it seems, is in our DNA as a People.    

And yet, here we are. Click here for the rest of the message.

These are the opening words of the message that Noah Merrill, General Secretary of New England Yearly Meeting, brought to Durham Friends on April 26, 2020 — brought via Zoom. Three dozen or so Friends heard this message in their homes as Noah spoke from his home many miles away. Follow the link to the NEYM website for the rest of his message.

Message from Pastor Yadira of Velasco Friends Meeting, April 12, 2020

[Velasco Friends Meeting is our Sister Meeting in Cuba]

Easter (or Resurrection Sunday) Commemorates the resurrection of Jesus.

Luke 24: 1-7; Matthew 28: 1-10; Mark 16: 1-8; John 20: 1-10). Mark-16: 1-8 He is risen!

One thing is certain: If Jesus had not risen, we would never have heard anything about Him. The attitude of the women was that they had come to offer the last tribute to a dead body. The attitude of the disciples was that everything had ended in tragedy.

By far the best proof of the Resurrection is the existence of the Christian Church. Nothing else could have changed those sad and desperate men and women into people radiant with joy and inflamed with courage. The Resurrection is the central fact of the entire Christian faith. Because we believe in the Resurrection, certain things are followed.

1- Jesus is not the character of a book, but a living Presence. It is not enough to study the history of Jesus as we would study the life of a great historical figure. We may start from that, but we must go to meet Him and this encounter leads to transformation, change, witness to a new life.

2- Jesus is not a memory, but a Presence. The dearest memories fade away. The Greeks had an expression to describe time, which means time that erases everything. Long ago, time would have erased the memory of Jesus if it were not for the fact that He has remained a living Presence with us forever. Jesus is not someone we argue with, but someone we meet.

3- The Christian life is not the life of a person who knows about Jesus, but the life of a person who knows Jesus. There is an insurmountable difference in the world between knowing something about a person, and knowing a person. Almost everyone knows something about the President of Cuba or the President of the United States; but not so many know them. The greatest scholar in the world who knew everything there is to know about the Jesus of History is less than the humblest Christian, who knows Him.

4- The Christian faith has an endless quality. It must never stand still. Because our Lord is a living Lord there are new wonders and new truths waiting all the time for us to discover them. But the most precious thing about the passage (in Mark) is  in two words that do not appear in any other gospel. “Go,” said the messenger, “tell His disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee- there you will see him, as he told you.” How Peter’s heart must have been moved by that message when he received it! He must have been tortured with the memory of his disloyalty, and suddenly a special message arrives for him. It is characteristic of Jesus to think, not of the evil that Peter had done to him, but of the remorse that was besieging him. Jesus was far more interested in comforting the penitent sinner than in punishing his sin. As someone has said: The most precious thing about Jesus is that he confirms his confidence in the same terrain in which we have suffered defeat.

Thanks to Nancy Marstaller for forwarding this.

Domingo de Pascua o de Resurrección: Conmemora la resurrección de Jesús (Lucas 24:1-7; Mateo 28: 1-10; Marcos 16: 1-8; Juan 20:1-10). 

Marcos-16:1-8-! Ha-Resucitado

Una cosa es segura: Si Jesús no hubiera resucitado, nosotros nunca habríamos oído nada acerca de Él. La actitud de las mujeres era que habían ido a ofrecer el último tributo a un cuerpo muerto. La actitud de los discípulos era que todo había acabado en tragedia.

Con mucho la mejor prueba de la Resurrección es la existencia de la Iglesia Cristiana. Ninguna otra cosa podría haber cambiado a aquellos hombres y mujeres tristes y desesperados en personas radiantes de gozo e inflamadas de coraje. La Resurrección es el hecho central de toda la fe cristiana. Porque creemos en la Resurrección se siguen ciertas cosas.

1- Jesús no es el personaje de un libro, sino una Presencia viva. No basta con estudiar la historia de Jesús como estudiaríamos la vida de una gran figura histórica. Puede que empecemos por eso, pero debemos pasar a encontrarnos con El y este encuentro lleva a transformación, cambio, testimonio de una nueva vida

2- Jesús no es un recuerdo, sino una Presencia. Las memorias más queridas se desvanecen. Los griegos tenían una expresión para describir el tiempo, que quiere decir el tiempo que borra todas las cosas. Hace mucho que el tiempo habría borrado el recuerdo de Jesús si no fuera porque Él ha seguido siendo una Presencia viva con nosotros para siempre. Jesús no es alguien de quien discutimos, sino Alguien con Quien nos encontramos.

3– La vida cristiana no es la vida de una persona que sabe de Jesús, sino la vida de una persona que conoce a Jesús. Hay una diferencia insalvable en el mundo entre saber algo acerca de una persona, y conocer a una persona. Casi todo el mundo sabe algo del presidente de Cuba o del Presidente de los Estados Unidos; pero no tantos los conocen. El más grande erudito del mundo que supiera todo lo que se puede saber acerca del Jesús de la Historia es menos que el cristiano más humilde, que Le conoce.

4- La fe cristiana tiene una cualidad interminable. No debe quedarse nunca parada. Porque nuestro Señor es un Señor vivo hay nuevas maravillas y nuevas verdades esperando todo el tiempo a que las descubramos. Pero lo más precioso de este pasaje está en dos palabras que no aparecen en ningún otro evangelio.  Id -dijo el mensajero, decid a Sus discípulos y a Pedro. ¡Cómo tiene que haber emocionado el corazón de Pedro ese mensaje cuando lo recibió! Debe-de haber estado torturado con el recuerdo de su deslealtad, y de pronto llega un mensaje especial para él. Es característico de Jesús el pensar, no en el mal que Pedro Le había hecho, sino en el remordimiento que le estaba asediando. Jesús tenía mucho más interés en confortar al pecador penitente que en castigar su pecado. Como ha dicho alguien: Lo más precioso de Jesús es que nos confirma Su confianza en el mismo terreno en que hemos sufrido una derrota.

“What If the Virus Is Medicine?” by Craig Freshley

Message given at Durham Friends Meeting, March 22, 2020

Go here for an audio version and a song. Read on for a written version.

Well, I had a different message planned. It was gonna be really great, by the way. It has stories and quotes. I was even gonna play a song for you at the end. The message came to me a month ago. I called Martha and said, “I got one for ya!”

That was a month ago. That message was not about coronavirus.

I tried to hang onto that message. I told myself, “Well that’s okay. I’ll start this morning by telling everyone that this message is not about coronavirus. I’m gonna give you all a break and take you to a different place.”

But a new message has come to me. It’s about coronavirus. This is the place where we are.

As I struggled with, you know, what message to give – still hanging onto the old – I realized that the things I have to say about coronavirus are things that might be hard to say or even impossible to say a few weeks from now. The time is now.

As Quakers we’re supposed to be open, and proceed as way opens. I’m trying to do that.

And I am going to tack on a little song at the end. I love singing in this place and I think you might like it. Okay ready? I hope so. Let’s hold on.

What if the virus is medicine? What if the virus helps and heals, rather than hurts and harms.

Imagine a little chat between the Mistress of the Universe and the Master of the Universe. Reading the morning paper back in November 2019.

You know? Earth is in trouble?

I know! Those people are going to burn the place up?

Think we should do something?

I don’t know, maybe?

Like what? What would we do?

I don’t know. Something, something that slows them down for gods sake.

Right, and maybe…maybe it should start small and slow and give them plenty of time to adapt.

Right yeah, but it needs to be something that has real impact. You know, give nature a serious break.

Oh yeah, totally. We should do something.

Hmm. Want to try the old plant a microbe trick? We could start with just one microbe in one person.

That might work.

Well you do it this time.

No you do it.

No you.

Okay, okay maybe I can get to it next week. Right, well this will be interesting.

Pass the toast.

This is a provocative conversation, I know. The idea that God is intervening to save the earth. The idea that God is intentionally curtailing a specific species to save the earth.

I’m simply offering a different point of view. Looking at this from a different perspective. My little “Mr. and Mrs. Universe” conversation; I don’t mean to make light of this crisis. It is going to get bad. This is going to have real implications for real people. People are going to get sick and people are going to die. And when that starts happening it would have been way harder to bring this message. It is easier to talk at a high level before stuff gets real on the ground.

So let’s talk. What if the virus is medicine?

Some good things are happening. I heard that in the Wuhan Province, where the virus started, people are seeing blue skies for the first time. Some people there have never seen blue skies in their whole lifetime. People are hearing songbirds for the first time. For some people, the first time hearing a bird in their whole lifetime.

The great global industrial machine that scoops up natural resources and spits out pollution is being slowed down. Grinding to a halt in some places. Nature is being given a chance to recover, to heal.

When I look out the window of my house, I see  people out walking more than ever before. I bet that we are all seeing that. Carol and I have noticed a fox hunting in the field. We have time to notice. It is kind of fun, the fox tends to show up about 6 o’clock every night. We’ve gotten to calling it Fox News! It’s way better than the other Fox News.

Fishing season usually opens April first, but have you heard that our governor changed the rule? She’s encouraging us to go fishing now. Do what Mainers do and get out on the water.

I saw two photographs on Facebook, side by side, maybe you have seen this too? The parking lot at Wolfe’s Neck State Park in Freeport: full. The parking lot at L.L.Bean in Freeport: empty.

Isn’t this the world that some of us have been hoping for?

I’m simply offering another way to look at it. Another perspective. In my work, and running Make Shift Coffee Houses- you know I have learned that there is always another perspective. Always another valid perspective. You could say that is it just a matter of perspective.

And a matter of values. It’s really a classic dichotomy, one of the great yin yangs of our existence: “me first” or “we first?” Do I want to help me? (Hoard toilet paper) Or do I want to help my community? (Give toilet paper.) Do I want to help my business? Or do I want to help the economy for everyone?

These questions go on. Do I want my race to thrive? Or do I want my species to thrive? How big is the perspective? When we ask that question, “me first” or “we first”, how big is the me? How big is the we? Do I want my species to thrive, or do I want the world ecosystem, mother earth to thrive?

These are not simple choices, and it’s never just one thing or the other. And, I change my answers depending on a situation, depending on what answers I find within. Sometimes, I’m all about “me first”. Sometimes I’m all about my neighborhood first, my people first. Sometimes I’m all about “we first;” I’m all about my community, my earth community.

I’m not bringing you an answer. I’m bringing you a question: What if the virus is medicine? This is our Quaker tradition, to bring questions and encourage you to look within for the answers. Honestly, I was afraid to bring you this question. So many of us are dealing with so many hard questions right now. And here’s another one! My thinking is, that if you and I can get even a smidge of clarity on this question, it might help with some other questions.

As Quakers we try to be always open to other views, always open to questions, and are led to proceed as way opens.

“Should We Leave Politics at the Door of the Meeting Room?” by Doug Bennett

excerpt from a message given at Durham Friends Meeting, March 8, 2020

Should we keep politics out of Meeting?  Is it something we should leave outside, for another day and another place? 

I think we certainly have to acknowledge that Jesus was a political figure.  He was “born a king” in a land that already thought it had a different king.  And he was executed for treason, for claiming to be a king.  (Crucifixion was reserved for punishing treason.)  In between he advocated all manner of things that run against the policies of the current government.  How can I follow Jesus and exclude politics from this room?

So what to do?  I’m still thinking in terms of what do I lay down when I come into this room, and what do I pick up and carry away from it.

When I come into this room, I have to lay down everything, and that includes all my worldly allegiances and commitments.  As Paul says in Galatians (3:28), “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”  Nor is there Red Sox or Yankee.  When I come into this room, I’m not a Democrat.  I’m not for Bernie or Joe or Elizabeth.  I have to lay down my slogans. I have to even lay down my certainties about gun control, climate change and a woman’s right to choose.  They may still be there waiting for me to pick them up when Meeting is over, but for the moment I have to lay them down. 

I’m only with God.  No, that’s not right.  I’m also with all of you.  We’re all sharing in the work of helping each other settle deeply into worship.  We’re making each other welcome.  We’re looking at each other expectantly.  Perhaps you, or you, or you, will be who channels the voice of God today.  I’m not dismissing anyone because of their politics.

We’re making a place for God, and that means we need to be tender with each other. 

On the other hand, what do I take from this room? 

I have to expect that what I hear in this room, what I take in, will make a difference in every aspect of my life.  It will shape my politics.  It is here in worship that my most basic commitments are forged, and sometimes re-forged.  I have to expect that this is possible.

I have to carry the commitments formed in worship out of this room and let them influence everything I do.  My personal relationships.  My finances.  Everything.  Even my politics. 

Quakers sometimes say, “Let your life speak.”  That goes for politics as well as for everything else.  But it’s what we carry out of worship that lets our lives speak, it’s not what we smuggle into worship. 

The entire message can be found at Riverview Friend

“Finding Harmony with the Natural World,” by Ingrid Chalufour

Message given at Durham Friends Meeting, February 26, 2020

I have been reading a book of Greta Thunberg’s speeches. As you probably know, Greta is the Swedish student who is striking for action on the climate “emergency”.  She has had the opportunity to speak to political and business leaders throughout the world using the extensive work of scientists as her message, Greta is attempting to reach the most powerful, those with the ability to address the climate crisis in a way that brings necessary and lasting change. Why are her impressive words not eliciting more action at the top? What is it that motivates us to respond to the climate crisis or not. I think we know what motivates inaction – money and probably fear of having to give up the comforts of an unsustainable lifestyle.

Greta is motivated by the science and the desire for a livable planet for her’s and future generations. This should be enough. The science is clearly telling us a livable future is not possible at our current rate of consumption. It is obvious that our children and grandchildren will face many challenges as a result of our inaction. That is enough for me, although there are other motivators. For many, a spiritual connection to the natural world drives their response. In a December message we were reminded of the Bible’s call for caring for the natural world and offered up Christian moral convictions as a reason to respond to the climate crisis. “We are called to be stewards of God’s creation. When we keep the Earth, then we do God’s will.”

For the indigenous people of this country a belief in the interconnection of all living things is central to their spiritual beliefs, and it guides their daily way of life and an activist agenda. I read a poem attributed to a Taos elder:

Now this is what we believe.

The mother of us all is earth.

The father is the sun.

The grandfather is the Creator

Who bathed us with his mind

And gave life to all things.

The Brother is the beasts and trees.

The Sister is that with wings.

We are the Children of Earth

And do it no harm in any way.

Nor do we offend the sun

By not greeting it at dawn.

We praise our Grandfather for his creation.

We share the same breath together-

The Beasts, the trees, the birds, the man.

Sherri Mitchel, a member of Maine’s Penobscot Tribe, expresses similar thoughts. I quote:

Our “way of life is about living close to the Earth, close to our kin, and remaining ever mindful of our responsibilities to the sacred agreements that we have with every living being. It is about the sustainability of the Earth, our relationships, and our spiritual connections.

“Everything is interconnected and interdependent; the well-being of the whole is determined by the well-being of any individual part…. This belief forms the foundational understanding weaving through all of our other values. It’s the thread that ties them all together.”

I will briefly review three of the values Sherri discusses in her book Sacred Instructions:

  • We all have enough, meaning that everyone should be ensured they have enough to live with dignity and a sense of security and that community has enough to thrive.
  • Harmony is an inner state of equilibrium, in spite of life’s challenges we are asked to understand the dual nature of the universe and recognize the beauty in everything. When we are connected to the source of life we develop greater compassion and patience.
  • Harmony with the natural world teaches taking active steps to live in harmony with the rest of creation. Quoting Sherri, “We cannot even see ourselves as being stewards of the Earth. We are only keepers of a way of life that is in harmony with the Earth…. This understanding is very different than the belief that human beings are chosen above all others.’

These beliefs and values are shared across Native tribes and communicated through ceremonial dances, chants, and folk tales/stories passed down from generation to generation.

I repeat: We all have enough, Harmony is an inner state of equilibrium, and Harmony with the natural world.

This reverence for the natural world was central to the Native way of life long before the colonists came to this country and it did not take long for the colonists to impact the New England environment. In 1855 Thoreau wrote in his journal about the ecological changes to New England that resulted from the colonists way of life. He was comparing his observations with those of William Wood, who recounted his observations in a 1633 book, New England’s Prospect. Some of these changes resulted from clearing forests to send timber to England, others from their farming practices. Colonists had a very different relationship with the natural resources of New England than the original Americans.

Today, motivated by these beliefs, Natives take civil action to protect the environment. Nick Estes, of the Sioux Tribe, writes about the belief that “water is a nonhuman relative who is alive and that nothing can own her (referring specifically to the Missouri River) and she cannot be sold or treated as a piece of property.” It is this belief that motivates the native camps of protesters attempting to block building of the Keystone XL Pipeline. In the February Friends Journal find an article by Shelley Tananebaum, a Quaker Earthcare Witness, who spent time in a camp in Standing Rock.

These are all strong motivators for caring for the natural world. I too believe in the interconnection of all living things and the importance in maintaining the health of the many ecosystems that sustain the natural world. I wish I were as sure about a path forward as I am about why we need one. I don’t know how to motivate those who have not bought into any of the values I have shared here.

I sometimes play a game imaging a world that resulted from the Colonists learning care of the land from the first residents of this country. This is fantasy I know, but maybe it has some value.  At least it puts my mind in a happier place. Imagine for a minute what kind of economic system we might have if its health was not based on how much we are consuming? What kind of trade deals would we have with other countries? Would they be designed to increase production and sales? Or think about the Industrial Revolution. There would have been one, of course, but how might it have been different if there was more concern for preservation of natural resources? Or how would farming be different if we cared about the health of the soil and the ecosystems that large farms disturb? Or think about the value “we all have enough” and how public policies would differ if that was a commonly held value.  

What else might have evolved differently and how might we mine these ideas for use in creating a sustainable future for our children and grandchildren. How can we move backwards to a time of less consumption, more preservation of our natural resources? Isn’t that what reducing our carbon footprint is all about? We are not going to reverse climate change by composting and recycling. But we are working to find a life style that provides a sustainable future for humanity.

I leave you with a quote from the Harvard entomologist, E.O. Wilson,

“Natural philosophy has brought into clear relief the following paradox of human existence. The drive towards perpetual expansion – or personal freedom – is basic to the human spirit. But to sustain it we need the most delicate, knowing stewardship of the living world that can be devised.”

“Driving the Difficult Driveway of Life,” by Gene Boyington

Message given at Durham Friends Meeting, January 19, 2020

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Good Morning, Friends.

There are lots of ideas about guidelines for the speaking part of worship and our oral ministry to ourselves and others. Here is a specific one and a general one:

Specifically, Never give Gene the microphone.

Generally, here is a four-part one with a title like those quartets that were ubiquitous back in 1940s and 1950s popular music:

This is an old Quaker guideline for being heard and appreciated in Meeting. I call it the 4 “S”s, or Three Sues and a Syd😊 (Su, Su, Su, Sd):

  1. Stand up (to be recognized);
  2. Speak up (to be heard);
  3. Shut up (to be appreciated);
  4. Sit down (to be invited to speak again).

**This could be enough of a main message this morning, but try and stop me from telling you my:

  Backing-out-of-the-driveway story.

In this story, there will be no names mentioned to protect the innocent, the guilty, and the pretty good relationship of the two!

My driveway (pause), with which some of you are familiar, slopes slightly upward into the yard. It also bends slightly to the right as one proceeds up the incline. It’s not long enough to drive in, then turn around somewhere, then later drive out. We have to drive in and back out. Or we have to _back_ in to be able to _drive_ out. But that requires forethought and determination.  Harried from our time away, we are in a hurry to get resettled into the comfort and calm of domesticity. So, we drive in.

Later, when a new errand calls, we usually are (again) in a hurry, now to do what must be done in the bigger world, we must back out. It is easy, when backing out, to forget the slope and the bend, then wind up slightly to the north side of the driveway, or to have a midcourse correction and oversteer into a slightly southerly position toward the road end of the driveway. Straying off the northerly side of the driveway is problematic for the rock border of the flower garden – the rocks are taller than the clear space under most moving vehicles☹. [It has happened.] The southerly side usually is not much trouble, as straying off the driveway would take one only into the lilac bush. [It, too, has happened.]

The aforementioned innocent, and guilty, have survived (so far) all the trials of navigation of the driveway. They _are_ still enjoying that pretty good relationship😊.

But recently, there was a snowstorm with a lot of pretty wet snow, after which the newish snowblower broke most of its shear pins, and the replacements would take a week to arrive. So, the innocent (or the guilty, we don’t recall which) shoveled a vehicle width path in the driveway to permit traveling – in the bigger world.

Later in the day, it was time for one of those travels. The innocent (or the guilty, depending on one’s current frame of mind) cranked up the car and began to back out of the driveway in the appropriate fashion. OOPS, quite completely stuck in the un-shoveled portion on the southerly side of the driveway, not quite into the lilac bush. [innocent and guilty worked together (with help of four-wheel drive truck) to extricate the car and get the innocent (or guilty) abroad in the bigger world.

How did this happen? Whichever (guilty or innocent) had this occur under their respective drivership, the other has had hardly ever such an occurrence. How does each of them negotiate backing up – in this driveway, in other driveways, out of (or into) parking spaces? Could there be a difference that is significant?

After much introspection by innocent (or guilty), there was this thoughtful conversation by both:

When you back out of the driveway, where is your right foot?

[Long pause] On the gas.

[Long pause] Problem?

Yup. Brake, poised at the top of the brake pedal’s travel. Let the car back down by itself?

Uh-huh. Then, there is more time to watch where the vehicle is going, being ready to apply the brakes, if needed.

OK, that’s good😊

Remember the slope? If we are backing uphill, we need to apply gas; downhill, be ready to brake. The car’s automatic transmission will power it backward ever so slowly, if we are on a downslope, or it might just roll.

Reflecting on this tale of woe and resolution, one might ask oneself:

“Am I a foot-on-the-gas person?

“Or am I a foot-on-the-brake person?”

“Do I know when to steer … with my foot on the gas, when to steer … with my foot on the brake?”

“Is there more I could know, and can learn, about making conscious choices?” 

Somewhere in the Bible, there is a statement about freedom of choice. Elsewhere in the Bible is commentary and implication about what God gives us along with this life opportunity, how we use what we are given, and the responsibility we have to make good, useful, and effective choices.

Three Ways of Looking at the Christmas Story, by Doug Bennett

Excerpt from a message given at Durham Friends Meeting, December 15, 2019

Here’s one way of looking at it.

Take the four gospels.  Each tells a story of a life.  For the moment, put the Christmas story, the birth, to one side.   And also put to one side the stuff at the end about the end of Jesus’s life: about Jesus coming to Jerusalem where he’s arrested, crucified and resurrected.  Now without that beginning and that end, we have the story of a preacher and healer who wanders the countryside doing and saying attention-getting things.  Fresh things.  World turned upside down things.  Be humble. Be so generous as to give away your only coat.  Love your enemy no matter what.  In that big middle story, Jesus gets crosswise with the religious leaders of his time.  He heals on the sabbath, for example.  But Jesus really doesn’t encounter a soldier or a policeman.  He’s never really in danger.  He never gets a ticket or a fine.  He never spends a day in jail. 

In the middle of the story there’s no mention of the Emperor or the Romans. And they’re in control, we need to remember.  The Romans have conquered Israel and Judah and subjugated them.  Their Empire is the greatest, the mightiest ever known.  At the end of story, when Jesus comes to Jerusalem, Jesus does get in trouble with the authorities.  Crucifixion is a Roman penalty for the most serious crimes – for challenging the authority of the Emperor. 

If we remember how it ends, that puts the Christmas story in a new light.  The Christmas story announces the birth of a king: not just a mighty king, but the mightiest of all.  It announces the birth of a king who will sweep away all worldly kings, even the Roman emperor.  Born in a stable, laid in a manger.  But here is a baby to whom the wisest of kings bow down.  Here is a baby attended by angels.  Here is baby who is hunted by a wicked king, but a baby who escapes and triumphs.  And here triumphant is a new kind of king who triumphs through love not through the sword. 

“This is the Anti-Empire,” we might call this story.  This is the empire out-empired.  The story at the end is the same story told at the beginning.  Christmas and Resurrection are versions of the same story. 

[The full message can be found at River View Friend.]

“Building a Fire,” by Doug Bennett

Excerpt from a message given at Durham Friends Meeting, November 17, 2019

I’ve been thinking that Meeting for worship is a little like building a fire.  It takes at least a few of us gathered together in worship.  One person alone can hardly do it.  Even two or three doesn’t feel like quite enough, though I suppose it can be. 

When I’m here at Meeting and watching people come into the Meeting room, it fills me with gladness to see us gather.  Oh there’s that person and that person; I was hoping they’d be here.  There’s so-and-so: I wish we saw her more often.  Ah, and some folks I haven’t seen before, that’s terrific.  It takes all kinds to build a good fire, one that will catch and burn for a while. 

As we gather and seat ourselves, I can see us building a fire together. We have to leave room for God, or the Spirit.  Perhaps that’s why we ask that there be silence between spoken messages.  That silence is like the oxygen the fire needs.  Together we invite the presence of God. 

There’s magic in the fire, but we make the preparations that invite the magic. 

Britain Yearly Meeting’s Faith and Practice has this Advice: “We can worship alone, but when we join with others in expectant waiting we may discover a deeper sense of God’s presence. We seek a gathered stillness in our meetings for worship so that all may feel the power of God’s love drawing us together and leading us.” 

“A gathered stillness:” that’s what we need.  A gathering in stillness.  If you want to put a fire out, you pull it apart; you scatter it.  Scattering chases away the magic.  Once a fire dies down, it takes effort and time to make it blaze again. For us, scattering is latecomers, the opening and closing of the doors, bustling about, people entering and leaving after we’ve gathered. 

We want to welcome and encourage everyone to come, but we want everyone to remember we are building a fire together. 

A Southeastern Yearly Meeting Advice says “Be prompt and diligent in attendance at meetings.” That discipline is what it takes for us to build a fire together: to be prompt in gathering and then to join together in stillness.” That means:  Come on time to meeting.  Once in the room, settle yourself for the hour or so.  Stay settled; Together, in stillness, we invite the presence of the Divine. 

An old hymn says,

Lord, I have shut the door, Speak now the word Which in the din and throng Could not be heard;

Hushed now my inner heart, Whisper Thy will, While I have come apart, While all is still.

Without that stillness, we may not find our way to God.

In the stillness, the fire can ignite.  God is invited to come near. 

[A copy of the full message can be found on River View Friend.]

“Spiritual Gifts Among Us,” by Nancy Marstaller

Message given at Durham Friends Meeting, November 10, 2019

Ring the bells that still will ring. Forget your perfect offering. There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.

That’s a quote from Leonard Cohen’s song “Anthem.”

            Last month I went to my 45th college reunion. When I was in college, I had many ideas and ideals about the world and my power to change it for the better. Since then, I’ve struggled with the fact that I haven’t lived up to what I hoped, and the condition of the world seems to be getting worse in many ways. Yet, I still have hope. Cohen reminds me I still have bells to ring, I still have “offerings” to give. I trust the Divine is still working through me in spite of my cracks, or maybe because of my cracks, and that the Light of the Divine is entering me and inspiring me. And once the light enters me, I need to share it, as Jesus told us: No one lights a lamp and then hides it or puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where its light can be seen by all who enter the house.

            At one point during the reunion, we were wandering around campus looking at trees. There are some beautiful ones there and they were just moving into fall colors. Nuts and acorns littered the ground. I picked up this walnut shell, which I know you can’t really see, but you can check it out later. Meanwhile, imagine how it looks. The outside is dark brown, beat up, chewed upon, broken, and scratched- nothing to catch your attention or make you pause. But the inside! The walnut is gone, which must have been a perfect offering for some creature, but the shape of it remains, curvy and arresting. Like us as we grow and age, our outsides may not look that fresh, aren’t a perfect offering, but our insides are beautiful, have developed interesting twists and turns, and have offerings to share.

            At this past summer’s yearly meeting session, Lisa Graustein’s message about using our spiritual gifts resonated deeply with me. We Friends often speak of the gift of ministry, or spiritual gifts. When I was young I understood that to be spoken ministry, or the ministry of leading an organization or movement. Later the idea expanded: for example, my mom is recognized for her gift in organization. Jan Wood has identified many different areas of spiritual gifts, which I’ve posted, and Lisa spoke about those. I’ll share a few examples with you.

            Jan has given some of the gifts unexpected names. One is exorcism- the ability to liberate from systemic oppression. Wendy and Brown exemplify this gift, as they work to create a world not dominated by environmental degradation or militarism, but one where respect and justice for all beings and the earth is primary.

            There is the spiritual gift of translation, the ability to translate or understand languages you don’t know or the ability to understand and help others communicate across seemingly impossible divides. Craig exemplifies this with his facilitation of Makeshift Coffee houses.

            There is the spiritual gift of service: the ability and desire to meet the practical needs of people. Dorothy Curtis exemplifies this as she cooks bounteous portions when needed, leads the Woman’s Society, and helps organize memorial service refreshments. Dan as trustee and soundman and Kitsie as treasurer and trustee also exemplify this gift.

            Margaret Wentworth exemplifies the gift of trust, or faith- the deep assurance that “all is well” even when circumstances go awry.

            Paul Miller’s work as a counselor exemplifies the gift of healing- the ability to cure and restore body, mind, emotions, and/or spirit.

            With her work with the Kakamega Orphan Care Center, Sukie exemplifies the gift of shepherding or pastoring – the ability and desire to care for a group of people over time.

            I could go on and on, as many Sunday mornings I have gone around the room and thought of each person and the gifts that each one brings to this meeting and to the world. Everyone has bells they are ringing, whether or not it was the bell of their perfect offering, or the one that still rings no matter what.

            After my closing prayer, I’ll hand around a basket. Please draw a slip and look at the gift written on it. We did this at yearly meeting, then Lisa asked us these questions, which I modified slightly for our circumstance:

1. If this gift is new to you, how might you be asked to breathe life into it in the days and weeks ahead?

2. If this is a gift you currently manifest, how can you deepen and exercise this gift to a fuller extent?

3. If this gift is not for you, who do you see manifesting this gift that you can affirm and support? How can you name this gift in another, thereby empowering it to work among us?

Again, as Leonard Cohen wrote: Ring the bells that still will ring. Forget your perfect offering. There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.

I offer this prayer: Dear Divine Spirit, thank you for filling us with light, for giving us spiritual gifts, for accepting our imperfect offerings. Thank you for giving us the strength, courage, and wisdom to share those gifts with the world. Let our lights shine brightly and our bells ring out clearly.             Amen.

If you want to learn more about Jan Wood’s descriptions of spiritual gifts, go to https://goodnewsassoc.org/associates/jan-wood/spiritual-gifts-resources/

“Go to the Limits of Your Longing,” by Brown Lethem

Message given at Durham Friends Meeting, November 3, 2019

I came across a poem by Rainer Maria Rilke that I want to read. It is from his Book of Hours: Love Poems to God.

 Go to the Limits of Your Longing

 God speaks to each of us as he makes us,
 then walks with us silently out of the night.
 
 These are the words we dimly hear:
 You, sent out beyond your recall,
 go to the limits of your longing .
 
 Embody me.
 flare up like a flame
     and make big shadows I can move in.
 Let everything happen to you:  beauty and terror.
 Just keep going.  No feeling is final.
 
 Don’t let yourself lose me.
 Nearby is the country they call life.
 You will know it by its seriousness.
 
 Give me your hand.
 
 (Book of Hours, I 59) 

Doug’s words last week on getting past the “ME land” experience in waiting worship were telling.

My experiences of Quakerism since joining in 1971 have given me an understanding of corporate worship that  is thrilling, when it happens and  keeps me coming back for that deeper sense of community. The combined energy of an aggregate of Friends in deep expectant silence can produce what Friends call, there gathered meeting. 

 It’s a powerful experience of worship the requires few words, but produces the mindfulness of being in the now.

Finding that still, small voice of God within each of us requires an emptying out of the worldly noise and the personal ego as Doug reminds us.   Bringing that level of immersion in Silence and Communion is a goal.  I don’t often achieve this, but I know it is attainable.

I want that experience of the gathered meeting because it releases love and validates my belief in Prayer as expectant waiting.  It opens in me a clearness, an opening to love that I yearn for. To the extent that prayer channels and focuses my experience of love  it is self serving.  But is that not what God wants for us?

In my art work when I am deeply involved in process I experience a similar opening and being in the now. clearness that I associate with being in touch with  loss of self and ego. An energy that makes me keep coming back for that experience of the Spirit that is a renewal.   

There is a popular refrain that goes “Only the good die young.”  Some of us sinners have to live to a ripe old age to even approach that experience of devotion to god that St.Theresa of Avila and Thomas Kelly speak of. 

Especially those who have “gone to the limits of your longing’ and have loved the world of experience. 

We need to reach out for that hand.

“Beyond Me,” by Doug Bennett

Excerpt from a message by Doug Bennett at Durham Friends Meeting, October 27, 2019

A lot of the time I’m pretty taken with myself.  I admit that.  I know that.  Many days, maybe most days, I can float on a river of “me-ness.”  I’m in “me-land” much of the time. 

It’s my concerns I’m thinking about; my needs, my wants, my worries, my hopes, my pleasures, my pains.  Me Me Me Me Me Me Me.  There’s a lot of me in my world. 

I may be worse in this regard than most people.  I don’t really know, but maybe.  I certainly don’t think I’m better at getting away from me-land than most people. 

Still, I do notice that most other people most of the time are wondering around in me-land. 

It can be a comfortable place to be, even when I’m annoyed or unhappy about something.  I’m the most important person in me-land.  What I want is the most important thing.  My thoughts are the ones I want to hear – and often the ones I want others to hear.  My hurts, my pains are the ones that seem to most need attention. 

How about you?  Are you number one in your feelings and thoughts most of the time? Are you in Me-land much of the time? 

I don’t believe I’ll ever fully escape Me-land, but I think I’m better for getting out as often as I can. I know I’m going to wind up back in Me-land but I don’t give up trying to escape. 

Where’s the door?  Where’s the pathway out?  Where’s the secret tunnel or hidden stairway?  How do I get outside of Me-land?  How does anyone? 

Actually, I’ve come to think there may be many ways to escape.  Some work better for some people; some work better for others.  (Number 6 found a different way to try in each episode of The Prisoner.)   If you want to escape and are willing to try, you have to find the way or the ways that work for you. 

Here’s one way that works for me – one pathway:  waiting worship. 

In Meeting for Worship, I try to lay down all the Me-ness.  I try to quiet the voices in my head that I know are “me” voices.  I try to lay aside the voices that are talking about my wants, my needs, my hopes, my concerns, and see if I can hear another voice – let’s call it the voice of God. 

Is it really God’s voice?  (How do I know who or what God is? I don’t know. That’s ‘beyond me.’)  All I know is that sometimes I can find another voice, and it’s not mine.  It’s a voice ‘beyond me.’  It’s more than me. 

Making friends with that voice is important to me.  Making friends with that voice settles me, makes me more aware.  Makes me (I think) a better person. 

It’s a voice that connects me.  It connects me to ‘whoever-that-voice-is’ (call it God or Spirit or Light).  But it also connects me to other people.  It helps me know them better – and in a way that’s less colored by “me-ness.” 

Do you have someone in your life who really knows you well?  Who’s honest with you, always, but always tells you things in a really tender and loving way?  I hope so.  (Actually, I’m pretty sure you do.)

It’s great if that someone is another person: a partner, a child a friend.  That bond of knowing you well, that connection, is love. 

But there’s something else, I believe, that can know each of us really well – who loves us.  That’s the voice of God I seek in worship.  That’s the voice we seek together. 

And the connection that voice makes with us is love.  Love: that’s what’s “beyond me.”

The entire message can be found at Doug’s blog, River View Friend.

“Redemption Centers,” by Leslie Manning

Message given at Durham Friends Meeting, August 25, 2019

You may have heard me tell the story about a good friend visiting me the summer after we moved to Maine.  “I never realized Maine was so religious” she observed.  “It’s not,” I replied, “Maine is the least religious state in the least religious part of the country.”
“Then why do I keep seeing all these Redemption Centers?’
Friends, I believe that every county jail and prison in Maine is a redemption center.  Our new Commissioner of the Department of Corrections says publicly “I am in the redemption business.”  Randy Liberty, yes, that is his last name, is the former warden of Maine State Prison, the former Sheriff of Kennebec County, a veteran who has PTSD and the child of a formerly incarcerated person.  He and his staff are changing the way we operate the Department of Corrections, with help and oversight from the legislative committee on Criminal Justice and Public Safety. 
This committee used to be comprised of former law enforcement, prosecutors and correctional professionals; now it includes social workers, defense attorneys and advocates for those incarcerated.  And we are seeing the difference.  In my work with Friends Committee on Maine Public Policy, Maine Prisoners Advocacy Coalition and the new Maine Prisoners Re-entry Network, I can say after almost twenty years of doing this work, that we are seeing new possibilities in our approach to justice in the prison and court systems.  Lifetime law enforcement leaders are stating that “we cannot arrest our way” out of the opioid epidemic; addiction but no treatment centers, mental illness without adequate care and treatment.  County sheriffs will tell us that they opearte the biggest mental health facilities in the state.  And, as of last April, there were only 16 detox beds for the entire state.  So, where do most people detox? In our jails.
As part of my chaplaincy work, I am now working with people leaving incarceration and re-entering our communities.  Over 90% of the folks in our prisons and jails in Maine do return and if they do not have good employment, stable housing or community support we know they end up back where they came from, in the same circles that put them inside to begin with.
I have been working with Sophia’s House and the Maine Prisoners Re-entry Network to recruit and train community mentors who will visit, support and meet with returning citizens prior to and after their release.  It’s a program that some of us tried to initiate ten years ago, when we trained over 70 volunteers but the Department would not work with us.  That is not the case now.  I have been working with Maureen and Cush Anthony, if you are interested, please speak with one of us.

“Holding in the Light,” by Doug Bennett

From a message at Durham Friends Meeting, September 15, 2019

I recently had occasion to read again about a very unusual episode in the history of Friends.  It’s a story told in Elizabeth Gray Vining’s biography of Rufus Jones. 

November 9 & 10, 1938:  that was Kristalnacht, or the Night of the Broken Glass.  All over Germany people broke into Jewish homes, stores and synagogues wreaking destruction and terror, and carrying many Jews off towards Concentration camps.  It seemed spontaneous but we now know it was a well-planned attack that helped the Nazis take yet greater control. 

In the wake of that horrible night, three Quakers resolved to make a visit to Germany.  Rufus Jones, Robert Yarnall and George Walton hatched a plan to travel to Germany, to speak to the highest ranking official in Germany to whom they could gain access, and to ask to be allowed to intercede.  The statement they eventually delivered in person to German officials stated they wanted “to inquire in the most friendly manner whether there is anything we can do to promote life and human welfare and to relieve suffering.”

They hoped to meet with Heinrich Himmler, the head of the SS and someone we now remember as a chief architect of the Holocaust.  They didn’t succeed in seeing Himmler, but they did meet with two very high-ranking members of the SS.  They made their presentation, the two men they met with left the room and went to speak with someone in higher authority, perhaps Himmler himself.  Jones and Yarnall and Walton sat in silent worship — holding the German authorities in the Light. 

In the end, they did receive permission for some Quaker relief work to go forward in the days before the Second World War broke out, and for some additional Jews to be allowed to leave Germany to safety.  But of course, they didn’t stop the Holocaust. 

In his journal, Rufus Jones described to officials with whom they met as “Hard-faced, iron-natured men.”   He didn’t think they were ‘good guys.’  They didn’t have any illusions about the character of the men they would meet.  Still, it’s hard to say what Jones and Yarnall and Walton expected.  But in her biography, Elizabeth Gray Vining said that “Rufus Jones to the end of his days believed there had been a softening and a moment of vision.”

A good deal of history looks back on this episode as an instance of profound naiveté.  A foolish gesture, one perhaps even bordering on treason. 

But weren’t they holding the SS officers in the Light? Weren’t they trying to lift up the way of love and peace, trying to lift it above the way of violence and death?  Whatever they expected, wasn’t it worth the effort?  I guess I think so. 

Reading about this desperate mission to the SS leave me wondering why we mostly “hold in the Light” those we most care about, our friends and family.  Certainly, we should hold our dear ones in the Light.  But shouldn’t we also “hold in the Light” those who trouble us most: those who seem most wrong-headed or dangerous?  Do we believe they are beyond God’s reach, beyond God’s love?  I guess I don’t think so. 

As we settle into waiting worship, I invite each of us to call to mind people we think are as bad as people can be, and hold them in the light, believing that the Light, the love, can reach them too. 

The full message can be found on Riverview Friend

Overcoming Militarism and Racism, by Brown Lethem

Message given at Durham Friends Meeting, July 7, 2019

Good morning friends!

I want to start off my message by quoting Meister Eckhart, the 14th century theologian and mystic who believed in a personal path to God.

Know then that God is bound to act, to pour himself out into thee as soon as ever He shall find thee ready ….Finding thee ready He is obliged to act, to overflow into thee; just as the sun must needs burst forth when the air is bright and clear, and is unable to contain itself. Forsooth it were a very grave defect in God if, finding thee so empty and so bare, He wrought no excellent work in thee nor primed thee with glorious gifts.

Thou needest not seek Him here or there, He is no further off than at the door of thy heart; there He stands lingering,, awaiting whoever is ready to open and let Him in…He longs for thee a thousandfold more urgently than thou for Him; one point the opening and the entering.”

There are many ways in which each of us can project the inner spirit of God in our every day lives. Witnessing through giving of our gifts. As Lewis Hyde explained in his marvelous book The Gift, which I highly recommend.

By walking cheerfully over the earth and treating others with kindness is one way….. In service work:…. In practical ways like helping others with a problem: ….SOME, i know do it through singing: …… some by praying or visiting the sick:

Some express this gift in making art.

But as Friends we are also urged to outwardly witness for peace….., As Faith and Practice tells us, that witness is the experience of Christian love. It is that love made visible. It is a form of active prayer.

As most of you know, my leading has focused on elimination of militarism but because of growing up in a very racist culture, a small midwestern town enveloped by fear and paranoia separating me from the experience of a vibrant American multi-culture

(Racism cripples the young)

my message touches on both militarism and racism, both having directly affected my life in negative ways.

Some of you will remember my brief message in Meeting some time ago when I asked the question “ what led Friends among others in the ninetieth century to engage in non-violent civil disobedience by participating in the underground railroad, and by breaking laws that put their own lives at risk?

This question led me to a lot of reading which gradually focused on two authors: John Woolman and James Baldwin. It also turned into the subject of a series of paintings.

In reading John Woolman I got my answer: When enough people of good faith, including Quakers, could no longer tolerate the abuses of slavery. ….. Often even in the face of extreme disapproval by their peers, economic loss, and threat of death ….. They took action.

My query that followed in our recent study of queries was: do contemporary Quakers encourage outward action of liberation from unjust laws and conditions? Or do we endorse sufferance and toleration? Do spirituality and prayer take precedence over action in the world? How can we balance the two?

It is, as Parker Palmer points out, one of those paradoxes that each of us must cope with.

Each day it becomes more clear that American democratic ideals of equal opportunity have been supplanted by a permanent underclass of Native Americans, people of color, and those living in abject poverty who in ever greater numbers go from poverty , to prison, to drugs or suicide.

Why can’t the richest nation in the world change this condition?

The underlying reason, I believe, is the economics of systemic racism and inadequate education which has stacked the deck for this segment of our population.

When we increasingly question this crisis we are confronted by the power elite with the need for national security. In other words, fear.

And that 60 percent of our discretionary budget must go for the military.

It does become evident that power and greed benefit by our endless wars and that racism is built into that status quo. Martin Luther King pointed that out during the Vietnam War era.

What John Woolman and James Baldwin both spoke to so prophetically was the fact that oppression is equally destructive to both sides.

To eliminate the injustice frees up both: the slave owner’s terrible burden of guilt as well as the dehumanization of the slave in Woolman’s time.

Baldwin wrote in the 1960’s:

“The price of the liberation of the white people is the liberation of the blacks… And

in short, we, the Black and the White, deeply need each other here if we are really to become a nation. If we are really, that is, to achieve our identity, our maturity as men and women.”

Both Woolman and Baldwin envisioned the restorative justice principle basic to Christ’s message.

Can we envision a time when the violence of war will not be on the table? And when the abundant wealth of this nation will create an equal playing field for all Americans?

In practical terms, to restore justice, I believe we need to consider a program of reparation for those most damaged by racism, just as the Germans did for the victims of the holocaust. And we need to reallocate our priorities from the military to free education and health care for all.

The time has come.

Then and then only will we achieve full maturity as a nation.

Two Poems for Children’s Sunday

Two poems read by Amy Kustra on Children’s Sunday, June 2, at Durham Friends Meeting

On this day, we pray for tender compassion on all the little ones, whose souls, so fresh from the light, shine in our midst with a darling adorable brightness.  May we honor them deeply, learn from the truly, respecting the deep wisdom they carry.  Make us wise in our nurturing of then, generous in our loving, unending in our compassion, expansive in our wisdom, kind in our intelligence, and graceful with our hearts.  Let us give to them and receive from them, and let it be known among us that they are neither our projects nor our possessions, but messengers of light, illuminations of love.     – Daphne Rose Kingma from the book A Grateful Heart 

Today with Spring here finally we ought to be living outdoors with our friends. Let’s go to those strangers in the field and dance around them like bees from flower to flower building in the beehive air our true hexagonal homes.  excerpt from “The Whole Place Goes Up,” – Rumi

David Johnson to speak on the Gospel of John, June 9

Early Friends’ understanding of the Word was deeply rooted in the gospel of John. Come hear a student of both John and early Friends speak about early Friends’ understanding of the “measure” of Light given to each person and how it related to their understanding of perfection, and what their relevance are to us today.

Australian Friend David Johnson, author of A Quaker Prayer Lifeand Jesus, Christ and Servant of God: Meditations on the Gospel According to John (both published by Inner Light Books), will offer the message at meeting and a small workshop after worship at Durham on Sunday, June 9.  All are welcome.

We write this to make our[a] joy complete. This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all[b] sin. John 1, 4-7 NIV

“Learning Compassion,” by Leslie Manning

This past Sunday (May 26) Leslie Manning brought us a message that grew out of Hebrews 13:1-3:

13 Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters. Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it. Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.

She invited us to settle into worship seeking the place where our compassion grows. After a time together in silence, she invited us to go out onto the grounds (as we felt led) and reflect on the passage from Hebrews.

When we returned to the Meeting room, she reflected on the difference between empathy, where the focus remains on what we ourselves are feeling, and compassion, where the focus remains on what another person is feeling or suffering. For many of us, empathy comes more easily than compassion.

To help us learn compassion, she taught us a Buddhist Metta, a meditation practice to learn compassion. In meditation, start with yourself, say inwardly ‘may I be healthy and whole, may I be strong, may I be at ease.’ When ready, move your focus to a friend or loved one, and say inwardly ‘may you be healthy and whole, may you be strong, may you be at ease.’ And then when ready, move your focus again to someone beyond your accustomed circle of family of friends and say inwardly ‘may you be healthy and whole, may you be strong, may you be at ease.’

“Learning to Drive” by Doug Bennett

Message at Durham Friends Meeting, May 19, 2019

We celebrated my Dad’s 100th birthday two weeks ago.  He wasn’t with us; he died in 1990.  But I made him a cake and we celebrated his good life.

He taught me a lot of things.  More things than I learned: I should have paid better attention.  One thing he taught me was how to drive.  I wanted to get my license so I did pay attention to that, and so I learned.

He was a pretty tough, demanding driving instructor.  Good enough wasn’t good enough for him, so he made sure I knew how to handle difficult situations of all kinds.  For example, this was in Rochester, New York, and he wanted to be sure I could handle icy roads.  So there was a Sunday we went down to a supermarket parking lot.  There weren’t any cars because supermarkets weren’t open on Sunday when I was a teen.  And for an hour and a half he had me get up to speed in our family sedan, slam on the brakes, and then deal with the resulting skid.  Over and over again, skid after skid.  He wanted me to be comfortable behind the wheel with the car out of control.  He wanted me to have that experience. 

We also had a little Renault that he drove to work.   It had a five speed manual transmission.  Evening after evening, after dinner, he’d take me to a dirt road on a nearby county park and make me practice with that manual gearshift. Often the road was muddy so starting up was harder.  And after I sort of got the hang of it, he had me start the car in second gear.  When I got the hang of that, he’d find a little hill and have me start the car moving in second gear on that little hill.  It all felt a little severe at the time, but I’m glad he made sure I learned to drive well. 

Learning to drive has been on my mind because now Ellen and I are teaching Robbie to drive.  He’s had his learner’s permit for several months, and his first times behind the wheel, at least legally, came in his driver’s education course.  But since he’s had his permit he drives every chance that comes his way. 

I just said “Ellen and I are teaching Robbie to drive.”  Now I know that isn’t quite right.  It’s rather: “we’re helping him learn to drive.”  There’s a big difference. 

What gets done, what gets learned, he has to do.  We’ve introduced him to a succession of challenges and he’s figured out how to handle them.  Instead of a Renault Dauphin, he’s learned to drive a stick shift in our 1987 Jetta, which has sadly just failed a basic safety check so he can’t take his driving test in that.  I’ve had him start the car up in second.  I’ve looked for muddy dirt tracks up at the Topsham Fairgrounds.  He’s dealt with starting up a stick shift on hills.    He’s handled a few skids – though no icy supermarket parking lots. 

I’m not downplaying the role of teachers when I say what we learn we have to learn ourselves.  Teachers can play a big role, but the learning is something you have to do yourself.  The learning can’t be injected with a needle or poured down your throat.  Whatever it is: learning to drive, learning geometry, learning to bake a cake – learning what’s important in life. 

Teachers can encourage, they can coach, they can challenge, they can pose tasks or problems, but they can’t do the learning for you.

As I’ve been sitting next to Robbie in the passenger seat, he’s in control and I’m not.  It’s his hands on the steering wheel; his feet on the pedals.  I make suggestions and comments. I call attention to hazards and situations.  I talk to him about other drivers; how you can’t be responsible for what they’ll do and you’d better be prepared for the worst.  I talk to him about speed limits, about conditions when even going the speed limit isn’t safe. 

I quickly realized – I already knew this, but the realization really hit me – that I can’t tell him things fast enough, even when I’m sitting right next to him.  His learning to drive has to be a matter of his having fully taken in what he needs to know to drive well.  I can’t be some voice in his head he’ll hear every time he turns on the ignition.  (“What would my Dad say about that?”) 

I can still hear my dad talking to me about driving if I really put my mind to it, but that’s not how I drive. 

Nevertheless, there are lots of occasions when I wish I could hear from my Dad.  There are lots of matters I’d love to talk over with him.  There are so many questions I never asked him, and so many others I where didn’t listen carefully the one time or two I did ask him.  Wherever I’ve gone, he’s been there before me: being a teen, falling in love, having children, working, retiring from work

All this about learning to drive and wishing I still had my Dad sitting next to me helping me learn to drive has gotten me thinking about how we learn from God – how we might learn things from God: about living the good life, about fixing the things that aren’t right in this world, about what’s worth celebrating and what’s worth mourning.  Those sorts of things.  Here I am in the driver’s seat.  Is God there next to me?  I think God is.  I think that’s something we Quakers know and maybe can teach others.

Learning life is tougher than learning to drive.  None of us ever quite learns everything we need to know.  It’s like we do need our dad, or better, our mom sitting next to us, giving us the occasional suggestion, pointing out a difficult situation ahead.  And here’s the deal, the wonderful deal.  There she is sitting beside us.  She doesn’t say much most of the time, and we don’t expect her to say much most of the time.  But she’s there sitting next to us.  She’s ready to offer advice, or simply tell us it’s all OK.  When we ask.  When we’re prepared to listen. 

Of course that’s not exactly what George Fox meant we he said “Jesus has come to teach his people himself.”  He didn’t mean Jesus would be literally sitting next to us when we’re driving.  He meant something stranger and yet more wonderful. 

He meant Jesus, or the Inward Teacher, or the Seed, or the Light was always with us, always inside us — as well as all around us.  When we need guidance, we have to be sure to ask.  We have to be ready to still ourselves and listen.  That takes some learning: how to seek, how to ask, how to still myself, how to listen.

And lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world,” Jesus tells his disciples in Matthew 28.  What an amazing, reassuring promise. 

Today I don’t have my Dad with me in the way that I’d like.  So it’s a great comfort to me to know that I have the Inward Teacher wherever I go. 

crossposted on River View Friend

“A Language for the Inward Landscape,” by Doug Bennett

Message at Durham Friends Meeting          May 5, 2019

I’ve been reading a remarkable recent book.  It’s by Brian Drayton and William Taber, and published in 2015.  Its title is a little forbidding: A Language for the Inward Landscape: Spiritual Wisdom for the Quaker Movement.  Let me explain a little how this book came to be and what it’s about.

Bill Taber was a remarkable Quaker, an Ohio Conservative Friend who had deep spiritual gifts.  (If you don’t know what it means to be a Conservative Friend, let’s talk about that during social hour.)  I came to know Bill Taber when he was a member of ESR’s Board of Advisors.  He taught at Pendle Hill for many years.  He did many, many workshops and wrote a number of books and pamphlets. 

He had a concern that we modern Quakers had lost touch with the meaning of many Quaker phrases that we have inherited from the first generation of Quakers.  He meant phrases like “hold in the Light” or “the measure of Truth given to each of us.”  He wanted Friends to understand those terms as they were first used because he thought they were important, essential even, to understanding Quaker spirituality.  He did a number of workshops on these old Quaker phrases, which he called “A Language for the Inward Landscape.”  He imagined writing a book, but he died before he could write it.

Brian Drayton is a member of New England Yearly Meeting, a member of Weare Friends in New Hampshire, and another person of deep spiritual gifts.  After Bill Taber’s death, he drew on Taber’s notes and his own understanding to write the book Bill Taber might have written. 

Our Meeting library has a copy and that’s how I came to read it.  There’s an inscription on the cover page, signed by Brian Drayton, which reads “for dear Clarabel, friend and fellow worker in the gospel.” So this is a special book for us here at Durham Friends. 

Why do Drayton and Taber speak of the inward landscape?  Because for many, especially Quakers, our spiritual life unfolds within us, not ‘out there.’  Look around this Meetinghouse: no pictures, no statues, no stained glass, no soaring arches, no incense.  No one dressed up in robes, no kneeling, very little performance.  There may be people for whom a spiritual life requires that external sensory pageant.  But for Quakers (and not only Quakers) the life spiritual unfolds within us as we seek a still small voice: the teacher within, or “the Light.”

Today, let me just say a little about what Taber and Drayton tell us about what early Quakers meant by “the Light”  — what we’re looking for in this inward landscape. 

For starters, of course there is the remarkable opening of the Gospel of John. 

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome[a] it.

There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.

The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. 

About this, Drayton and Taber say  “It must be emphasized that the first Friends did not start with this and other “Light” passages in the Bible, and then set out to make them part of living experience.  Nor was it that these seekers read the scriptures, and found the answers to their questions, ending their search.  The “light and life” passages had power for Friends because they expressed the way in which these spiritual pilgrims encountered Christ among them.” 

In short: the experience of “the Light” came first:  the felt experience.  That helped them make sense of what it says in the Gospel of John. 

Drayton and Taber quote something written by Isaac Penington, an important early Quaker.  Penington imagines having a conversation with a person first learning about God and Jesus. 

Hearing of the Savior, the learner asks “But hath not this Saviour a name? What is his name? “

And Penington answers “It were better for thee to learn his name by feeling his virtue and power in thy heart than by rote.  Yet if thou canst receive it, this is his name: the Light, the Light of the World.”

So Penington is sating we should strive to know The Light (whatever we call it) by our own experience, not from doctrines or creeds nor even, first, from the Bible.

Drayton and Taber quote Rufus Jones, a much more modern Quaker saying much the same thing.  Here is Jones:

“The Light Within, which is the central Quaker idea, is no abstract phrase.  It is an experience.  It is a type of religion that turns away from arid theological notions and that insists instead upon a real and vital experience of God revealed to persons in their own souls, in their own personal lives….

“We no more need to go somewhere to find God than the fish needs to soar to find the ocean or the eagle needs to plunge to find the air…

The Pioneer Quakers believed with all their minds and strength that something like that was true, that they had discovered it, tested it, and were themselves a demonstration of it.”

For these early Friends, “The Light” was a powerful metaphor, a way of referring to something so powerful that it was difficult, maybe impossible, to capture in words.  They didn’t want us to know it through words; they wanted us to know it through direct experience. 

For these early Friends, The Light was a illumination, it was the source of Truth, it was an antidote to sin, and it was a basis of unity. 

That’s a lot, but they didn’t want us to take their word for it.  They wanted us to seek to experience it inwardly, for ourselves.

+++

Drayton and Taber want us to be careful, even self-conscious, when we use the term “Light.”  So I want to read an important paragraph that ends with a few queries. 

“In areas of Quakerdom in which the language about ‘the Light within’ has come to be used in the context of a great deal of theological diversity or uncertainty, it is important to ask, ‘What do we mean when we say “I will hold you in the light?”’  When the Light is identified, as traditionally, with the inward presence and work of Christ, this identification implies some expectation of spiritual experience. The Light is interpreted by what we learn of Christ in the Gospels and New Testament Letters; at the same time, the scriptural record is also interpreted by our encounter with the living Christ in ourselves and others.

“If the Light is not linked with the Spirit of Christ, then we must seek other ways to understand what in our experience is in harmony with the Light that we know, and what is not. So it is good to take some time in our meetings to ask each other with real interest such concrete questions as:

“(1) What do you mean by the Light, and is that an important way you experience God’s presence and action?

“(2) Have you experienced the Light visually? Do you know someone who has or unusually does?

“(3) What are the ways you distinguish between some prompting or teaching of the Light, and a prompting or urging from some other source? 

“(4) What is the relation between the Light you experience and that which I experience?”

Many have found we experience the Light in waiting worship.  So let us settle into worshipful seeking together. 

_____________________________

  • Brian Drayton and William P. Taber, A Language for the Inward Landscape: Spiritual Wisdom from the Quaker Movement (Tract Association of Friends, 2015), chapter 2, pp. 15-38. 
  • Isaac Penington, “Short Catechism for the Sake of the Simple-Hearted,” in The Works of Isac Penington, a Minister of the Gospel in the Society of Friends, volume 1, pp 123-4.
  • Rufus Jones, An Interpretation of Quakerism,” https://www.pym.org/publications/pamphlets/an-interpretation-of-quakerism/.

cross-posted on River View Friend

“When I Was In Prison, You Visited Me,” by Jan Collins

Message at Durham Friends Meeting, April 14, 2019

Thank-you for welcoming me here on this glorious Palm Sunday, the day when Jesus was welcomed like a King into Jerusalem,  less than a week before his death and rebirth. On this day, I am considering Christ’s prescriptions about what it means to lead a good life and to be transformed/reborn/resurrected. 

I consider this passage from Matthew 25. Jesus has referred to the people on his right and tells them they will be with him in heaven –

“For I was hungry and you gave Me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave Me something to drink, I was a stranger and you took Me in, I was naked and you clothed Me, I was sick and you looked after Me, I was in prison and you visited Me.’…”

The righteous respond that they have never done this for him, and he says

Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of Mine, you did for Me.’

Why did Jesus choose the phrase, “I was in prison and you visited me”? At first glance it appears to be out of place.

We have all fed the hungry and clothed the naked, taken in strangers, or looked after the sick. It is easy to do. Who would not share their food with a hungry child who approached you begging?

….But, who among us have visited in prison? It is not so easy to do. Prisons and jails are not easily accessed, they are out of the way and there are barriers to visiting. They also require more than giving things. They require us to give of our deepest self.

 Do not let these barriers dissuade you, the visit will be transformative.

When I was three, my father was imprisoned. He had a drinking problem. He went to a convenience store, stole some beer and money from the cash register.

He was also the breadwinner in our family. His imprisonment meant that we had no income and were soon homeless… My mother was now a single parent of four children under the age of 5.

We were lucky. My uncle, a farmer, offered us a small plywood trailer that he used to travel to county fairs as our new home. It had a set of bunkbeds. My sister and I slept on the top bunk each of us at either end. My mother slept with my two little brothers in the bottom bunk.It was without running water, but did have electricity and an outhouse. Before winter set in we were able to move to a small house that another uncle owned and rented.

While Dad was in jail, my parents divorced because my dad was also violent when he drank.

These events shaped who I am. When a parent goes to jail, it is a public event. I grew up believing everyone knew, but trying to hide it just the same. We carried, I carried that shame.

When you visit jail or prison, you will find people of all colors, religions, and creeds…but mostly you will find the poor, the mentally ill, the abused, societies cast-offs. At a recent meeting of inmates at Maine State Prison the speaker asked those who had not had a court appointed lawyer to raise a hand. In a room of over 40 people only three raised their hand. Only three people in the room were deemed to have adequate resources to pay for their own attorney.

This week, you may or may not have seen a report from the 6th Amendment Foundation(the 6th amendment guarantees the right to an adequate defense)which was presented to the Judiciary Committee of the Maine State Legislature. The report gave a scathing inditement of Maine’s indigent legal defense system, saying in some cases it completely failed its constitutional requirements and was ripe for a class action lawsuit.

In most jails, 70%-80% are awaiting trial, too poor to pay bail. Not yet found guilty of anything, they will likely lose their jobs while they await trial. Others are serving time because they are too poor to pay their fine.

The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world. …higher than Cuba, higher than Russia, higher than Iran. Our rate of incarceration is 7 times higher than any other NATO member.

Who do we incarcerate? In the late 1970’s we decided to stop treating addiction as a medical problem and to instead treat it as a criminal issue. Up to 80% of inmates have a substance use disorder. Sixty percent have a co-occurring mental health diagnosis. Cumberland County Sheriff Kevin Joyce is fond of saying that he runs the largest mental health facility in the state….and yet he has no mental health resources. Families tell him that they are glad that their family member has finally been arrested, because maybe now they will be able to get the help they need.

Sadly, that is not true. We do not do addiction treatment in jails, except in rare instances, and we do not do mental health treatment. In fact, the Department of Corrections will tell you they have no budget for programming. We have so many people incarcerated, that we do not have money for rehabilitation. You have probably heard of the prison “wood shop” at Maine State Prison, but did you know that most positions there are for people who will never be released? People with short sentences will likely not receive skills training.

In Maine, we release close to 1600 inmates each year. Only a tiny fraction are lucky enough to be chosen for reentry beds.

Many inmates released from Maine State Prison, are given $50 and their clothes in a garbage bag when they are released. Barely enough for a day’s meals, it is certainly not enough to start a new life.

Why am I here? In 2014 my son was sentenced to 20 years in prison. My husband and I had adopted  him and two siblings from foster care where they had been in 5 homes in 5 years.

His imprisonment began my journey of reclaiming my past and of discovering, sadly that he would not get the help he needed in prison. In fact, he would get the opposite.

I hope you will join me on my journey, because in it I have discovered just why Jesus required us to visit those in prison. They are the hungry, the sick, the naked, and the strangers among us. And they are the disappeared, the people no-one sees, and the people without a voice.

Please join me in prison and in giving the incarcerated a voice.

Jan Collins, Wilton, ME

Maine Prisoner Advocacy Coalition Assistant Director

“Message or Miracle: Awakening to the Light,” by Doug Bennett

From a message given at Durham Friends Meeting, April 7, 2019

For some, Jesus’s message is what you take to heart.  What he preached, what he taught, was so very different from what anyone else was teaching.  Not just turn the other cheek.  The last shall be first. Be not proud but be humble.  Ask for forgiveness.  Help the poor in possession, body or spirit.  He taught a new way of life that turned upside down the common sense of the world, and you find it oddly compelling even if very, very challenging to follow.  

For others, it’s the miracles.  There were miracles he performed while he was alive.  Water to wine, lepers cleansed of their affliction, the sick healed, a multitude fed on a few loaves and fishes, even one raised from the dead.  Like a master magician, he saved his most stunning miracle for the end by coming back from his own death. 

Message or miracle? Miracle or message?  Speaking for myself, I’ve been more drawn to the message, the challenging message, than to the miracle.  I’ve not been sure what to make of the miracle story.  This spring season presses us to think about the miracle. 

I grew up in a church that recited the Apostles Creed nearly every Sunday.  It wasn’t really written by the Apostles, but it is old, probably from the 4th century.  Quakers are suspicious of creeds.  George Fox, our founder, said, “You will say, Christ saith this, and the apostles say this: but what canst thou say?”  But just today I want to read the Apostles Creed:

I believe in God, the Father almighty,
      creator of heaven and earth.

I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
      who was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary.
      He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
      was crucified, died, and was buried;
      he descended to hell.
      The third day he rose again from the dead.
      He ascended to heaven
      and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty.
      From there he will come to judge the living and the dead

I believe in the Holy Spirit,
      the holy catholic church,
      the communion of saints,
      the forgiveness of sins,
      the resurrection of the body,
      and the life everlasting. Amen.

I am struck by how much that 115-word summary stresses the miracle.  It hardly says a word about the message – maybe nothing at all.  Where is the Sermon on the Mount in that Creed?  The Good Samaritan? Where is the tenderness to the poor or broken-hearted? Where is the call to peace and justice?

That Creed with its focus on the miracle side gives us guidance about how we are to understand the miracle.  “Resurrection of the body”: that would be a miracle. “Ditto “Life everlasting” – the door to heaven swung open to believers.  “Forgiveness of sins”: some theologians speak of “substitutionary atonement:” Christ died for our sins so we can be forgiven, a dramatic ‘paying it forward.’ 

But let’s note.  People don’t write creeds to sum up what everyone believes.  They write creeds to forge agreement, maybe even force agreement.  Among early Christians there was disagreement about what the miracle of Jesus’s last days was about.  Serious disagreement.  The Apostles Creed was put together to insist on orthodoxy.  If you didn’t subscribe to that you were a heretic.  Hence the Quaker reluctance about creeds.  “What canst thou say?”

The entire message is available at Doug’s blog, River View Friend