“Tree of Life,” by Jane Field

Message given by Jane Field of the Maine Council of Churches at Durham Friends Meeting, May 1, 2022

I bring you greetings from the Maine Council of Churches, where I serve as the Executive Director. We are an ecumenical coalition of seven Protestant denominations in the state, including yours, the Religious Society of Friends. Together, we have 441 congregations with more than 55,000 members who live out their faith in towns from Kittery to Fort Kent, from Rumford to Eastport. The Quaker representative who sits on our Board is Diane Dicranian; a member of your Meeting, Cush Anthony, is an at-large member of the Board; and we work with the Clerk of the New England Yearly Meeting, Bruce Neumann, and consult with him on major issues before the Council. In fact, we are the grateful recipients of a Prejudice and Poverty Grant from the Yearly Meeting that is funding our upcoming event in Brunswick, “Saying Peace, Peace When There Is No Peace: How Demanding Civility Risks Protecting White Privilege,” next Thursday, May 5, from 11am to 1pm in-person at the UU Church and streaming online—we hope you’ll join us!

Your own Leslie Manning almost single-handedly held the Council together during some difficult days of restructuring about 10 years ago, and continued to serve on our Public Policy Committee for years after the boat stopped rocking. Another Quaker in MCC’s Hall of Fame is Tom Ewell, who served as Executive Director in the 80’s and 90’s and remains on my speed dial even today as a trusted colleague and faithful supporter of the Council. 

We are a small (but scrappy!) nonprofit organization whose mission is to inspire congregations and Mainers of faith and goodwill to unite in working for the common good, building a culture of justice, compassion and peace, where peace is built with justice and justice is guided by love. We carry out that mission by offering statewide educational programs and resources, and through faith-based legislative advocacy in Augusta—promoting policies that:

  • Reduce poverty, hunger and homelessness
  • Protect and restore the environment
  • Increase equitable access to health care and education
  • Defend the rights and dignity of the vulnerable and marginalized (particularly LGBTQ+ and New Mainers, people of color, and our Wabanaki tribal neighbors)
  • And ensure that Mainers can live together harmoniously with equity, peace, and safety for everybody.

If you would like to learn more about our work, you’re welcome to take a copy of our most recent newsletter or visit our website (mainecouncilofchurches.org).  You can sign up to receive our newsletters and emails—either via our website, our Facebook page, or by phone.

You could say that we at the Maine Council of Churches are all about making connections—and this morning I’d like us to spend some time thinking about how and why God’s dream is for us to be … connected.  

We’re going to do that by looking at the hidden life of trees. That’s the title of a wonderful book by Peter Wohlleben, a forester who works deep in the forests of Germany, and who has learned astonishing things about trees—trees just like the ones outside this building, just like the ones in your own backyards. As I describe his extraordinary findings, I invite you to think about a favorite tree of yours (we all have one, don’t we? Mine is a Japanese pine that stands at the water’s edge near my family’s camp; my whole life it has been framed perfectly in the camp’s picture window that looks out on the lake).

Picture your tree’s trunk. Did your mind’s eye automatically look up? Now look down to where your tree’s trunk meets the earth, and let your imagination envision the intricate root systems that are lying underground below your tree.

In his book, Wohlleben describes something miraculous going on in those roots that we humans can neither see nor hear: trees are communicating with one another. He has discovered they depend on a complicated web of cooperative, interdependent relationships, alliances and kinship networks. Wise old mother trees feed their saplings and warn neighbor trees when danger is approaching. Reckless teenagers take foolhardy risks chasing the light and drinking excessively, and usually pay with their lives. Crown princes wait for old monarchs to fall, so they can take their place in the full glory of sunlight. It’s all happening in the ultra-slow motion that is tree time. [Smithsonian, “Do Trees Talk to Each Other?” by Richard Grant, March 2018]

A revolution has been taking place in the scientific understanding of trees, and the latest studies confirm what Wohlleben and his colleague Suzanne Simard of British Columbia have long suspected: Trees are far more alert, social, sophisticated—and even intelligent—than we thought. There is now scientific evidence showing that trees of the same species are communal, and often form alliances with trees of other species, too, living in cooperative, interdependent relationships, maintained by communication and a collective intelligence similar to an insect colony. 

These soaring columns of living wood draw our eyes upward, but the real action is taking place underground, just a few inches below our feet. Wohlleben jokes that we could call this underground communication network “the ‘wood-wide web.” It connects trees to each other through a web of roots and fungus. Trees share water and nutrients through the network, and also use it to communicate. They send distress signals about drought, disease, or insect attacks, and other trees alter their behavior when they receive these messages.  

Scientists call these “mycorrhizal” (my-core-eyes-all) networks. The fine, hairlike root tips of trees join together with microscopic fungal filaments to form the basic links of the network. Trees pay a kind of fee for network services (like a cable or cell phone bill!) by allowing the fungi to consume about 30 percent of the sugar that the trees photosynthesize from sunlight. The sugar is what fuels the fungi, as they scavenge the soil for mineral nutrients, which are then absorbed and consumed by the trees. One teaspoon [hold up a teaspoon] of forest soil contains several MILES of these fungal filaments!

For young saplings in a deeply shaded part of the forest, the network is a lifeline. Lacking the sunlight to photosynthesize, they survive because big trees, including their parents, pump sugar into their roots through the network. For elderly trees, it serves as nursing care. Once, Wohlleben came across a gigantic beech stump, four or five feet across. The tree was felled 400 or 500 years ago, but scraping away the surface with his penknife, he found something astonishing: the stump was still green with chlorophyll. There was only one explanation. The surrounding beeches were keeping it alive, by pumping sugar to it through the network. “When beeches do this, they remind me of elephants,” he says. “They are reluctant to abandon their dead, especially when it’s a big, old, revered matriarch.”  

To communicate through the network, trees send chemical, hormonal and slow-pulsing electrical signals, which scientists are just beginning to decipher. Some trees may also emit and detect sounds, a crackling noise in the roots at a frequency inaudible to humans.

Trees also communicate through the air, using pheromones and other scent signals. In Africa, when a giraffe starts chewing acacia leaves, the tree notices the injury and emits a distress signal in the form of ethylene gas. Upon detecting this gas, neighboring acacias start pumping tannins into their leaves. In large enough quantities these compounds can sicken or even kill large herbivores—like giraffes. (Giraffes are aware of this, however, having evolved with acacias, and this is why they browse into the wind, so the warning gas doesn’t reach the trees ahead of them. Giraffes seem to know that the trees are talking to one another!)

Trees can detect scent and taste through their leaves. When elms and pines come under attack by leaf-eating caterpillars, they detect the caterpillar saliva, and release pheromones that attract wasps who lay their eggs inside the caterpillars. The wasp larvae eat the caterpillars from the inside out. “Very unpleasant for the caterpillars,” says Wohlleben. “Very clever of the trees.”

A recent study shows that trees recognize the taste of deer saliva. When a deer is biting a branch, the tree brings defending chemicals to make the leaves taste bad so the deer will stop. If, on the other hand, a human breaks the branch, the tree knows the difference, and brings in substances to heal the wound.

Why do trees share resources and form alliances with trees of other species? Doesn’t the law of natural selection—“survival of the fittest”—suggest that they should be competing? “Actually, it doesn’t make evolutionary sense for trees to behave like resource-grabbing individualists,” botanist Simard says. “They live longest and reproduce most often in a healthy stable forest. That’s why they’ve evolved to help their neighbors.”

But this isn’t a high school biology class—why talk about this in a worship service? I can think of at least two reasons. The first is just the sheer miracle of it all—how amazing is God’s creation?!  

The second reason to talk about this in worship is because it is a beautiful metaphor from nature about how we are meant to exist in community, especially within the church, both at the local level, and in the broader, wider church, as we are, you and I, through the Maine Council of Churches. We are meant to be connected, just like trees are. We, too, are meant to love and help our neighbors. As Paul taught the Corinthians, “If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.”  

It is our hope and prayer at the Council that we can be a sort of “mycorrhizal network” connecting local congregations like yours here at Durham Meeting with others all around the state. Like trees who are connected through vast root systems, we can share what nourishes us. We can send distress signals when someone among us is in danger or under attack so that all of us can rally around and take action. We can look out for young ones and our elders, and we can learn from each other.

Because, like trees, it doesn’t make evolutionary sense for us to behave “like resource-grabbing individualists,” either. We, too, live longest and best in a healthy, stable “forest”—a community where we love our neighbors, even as we love ourselves.

So this morning, while I am here as your guest, let us give thanks for the “mycorrhizal” system that connects us to each other, to the wider faith community (including the Maine Council of Churches), and to our neighbors of every faith, a system that connects us to creation, and to God. Let us celebrate how we, like the trees, thrive in a network of trust, shared language, and deeply interdependent relationships that are shaped by faith, hope and love, justice, compassion and peace. May it be so. Amen.

“The Light, The Seed, The Tree of Life,” by Doug Bennett

Message given at Durham Friends Meeting, April 10, 2022

How do we talk about a God who is beyond our knowing?

The opening hymn we sang this morning, “Immortal, Invisible God Only Wise,” praises a God beyond our comprehension: “immortal, invisible God only wise, in Light inaccessible hid from our eyes.”  That’s one way to talk about God: to acknowledge that God is so far beyond us we can’t begin to comprehend.  Walter Smith, who wrote the hymn doesn’t even try. 

We Quakers often take a different path.  Sometimes we talk about ‘that of God within.’  That’s pretty inspecific.

Often we speak often of the Light, or the Light Within.  (And it isn’t a ”Light inaccessible hid from our eyes” that we’re talking about.)  We often ask that people be “held in the Light,” and we ask that others “hold us in the Light” in difficult times.  This is Light we claim to be able to experience, and this has become our preferred way of talking about God or Spirit or Jesus. 

Of course, it’s a metaphor.  We don’t literally mean we worship Light in the same way we might imagine a group of people worshipping a volcano or fire; it’s not even like worshipping the great and powerful Oz.  We know words will fail us when we speak of God.  Words can’t really capture the power or the majesty of God.  Words can’t really convey the fullness of God’s love for us.  So, we use a term that gestures at some of what we comprehend about God.  As I say, it’s a metaphor. 

Early Friends (and not just Friends) found this idea of God as Light in the Bible.  It’s often a metaphor there.  Here are some familiar verses

Isaiah 9:2      The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined. 

Matthew 4:16    The people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned.”

Goodness!  There’s Matthew showing us Jesus quoting Isaiah!

John 8:12      Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” 

Ephesians 5:8     For at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light.

Drawing from that passage, early Friends called themselves The Children of the Light. 

It’s a very powerful and suggestive metaphor.  When it’s there, Light makes things clear to us.  Light warms us and comforts us.  Light is everywhere.  These are features of Light: that it comforts us, and that it can be anywhere.  We’re saying God is something like this too.  But it’s a metaphor; again, it’s not Light that we worship. 

I find this metaphor of the Light most helpful when I bring to mind that Light can be searching, that it can reveal what is in dark corners, that it can strip us bare, reveal what we would like to conceal.  But we use it less often this way. 

God is more than we can ever wrap our minds around.  That’s a reason we resort to metaphors.  When we resort to a metaphor we’re saying ‘God is sort of like this, in some ways. 

This use of a metaphor, it seems to me, is akin to Jesus’s use of parables.  Most of Jesus’s teaching come to us as parables rather than as rules to follow or dos and don’ts.  We’re meant to learn something from the parable, and we do, but sometimes the parable helps us see that what we’re to learn is more complicated than any simple rule.  We’re learning a way of thinking and learning a way of being that’s beyond simple laws or rules.  Teaching us through parables is a better way to learn that.  But it’s also a warning that we shouldn’t think the lesson can be reduced to something simple or clear-cut. 

It’s the same with a metaphor.  When we remember it’s just a metaphor, we need to remember not to take it too literally – not to settle into thinking that God IS Light – or that’s the totality of God.

I’ve been reading some writings of early Friends.  Here is Isaac Penington, an important early Quaker, and a wonderful writer.  In one of his works, shortly after he began considering himself a Quaker, he wrote of the Savior in this way:

He is the tree of life … whose leaves have virtue in them to heal the nations. He is the plant of righteousness, the plant of God’s right hand. Hast thou ever known such a plant in thee, planted there by the right hand of God?

“He is the tree of life.”  That is another wonderful metaphor – the tree of life planted inside us.

It puts me in mind of another marvelous metaphor much used by early Friends, used perhaps as often as they spoke of the Light.  This is the idea of talking about an indwelling God, the God within, as The Seed.  This metaphor, too, has Biblical roots. 

Here is Matthew 13:31-32   He presented another parable to them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven  is like a mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field; and this is smaller than all other seeds, but when it is full grown, it is larger than the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and nest in its branches.”

Many of us will remember the parable of the sower that is in three gospels — Mark, Matthew and Luke.  That, too, is about God as “The Seed.”

Here is another take on the Seed:

John 12:23-25    Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it to life eternal.

Here is 1 John 3:9       No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God.

Just like the Light, or the Light Within, the Seed is a powerful image.  It, too, is just a metaphor, but it calls out or suggests different aspects of the nature of God and of our possible relationship with God.  I think that’s one reason early Friends didn’t just settle on one metaphor, but shifted from metaphor to metaphor: the Light, the Seed, the Tree of Life, and many others. 

This metaphor of the Seed helps us see God in a different way.  The Light is just there.  But the Seed needs to be tended.  That’s like the tree of life.  It’s just a seed unless it is given the right kind of attention.  If it’s not given the right kind of attention, it may dry up. 

Early Friends sometimes talked, too, of another Seed; this one they called the Seed of the serpent.  Human beings could give their attention to one or to the other.  One of those Seeds would grow, and the other would not.  It’s a choice you make.  Without care and attention from you, it’s the Seed of the serpent that will flourish in you. 

This is very different from Light and Darkness.  There are two Seeds.  We can tend one or we can tend the other will decide which will grow.  If we give ourselves over to greed or envy or hatred, it is the Seed of the Serpent that will grow. 

The metaphor of the Light has been a familiar one since I first encountered Quakers.  I think it has become so common, so used, so overworked, that it’s become a little unhelpful.  It has less potency to help me see God.  These other metaphors are helping me other aspects of God, and thus becoming more useful to me in my spiritual life. 

And I’m finding these three images together, these metaphors of the Light, the Seed and the Tree of Life very helpful to me.  Together, the three metaphors, bring to mind something growing, changing, life-filled.

also posted on Riverview Friend

“Desmond and the Very Mean Word,” by Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Douglas Carlton Abrams, pril 3, 2022

The April 3 message at Durham Friends Meeting was a reading of this book by Cindy Wood. The book is one of those distributed by the Meeting to teachers in this area as part of the Meeting’s Social Justice Enrichment Project.

Desmond and the Very Mean Word, by Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Douglas Carlton Abrams, illustrated by A. G. Ford

An actual event from the Nobel Peace Prize winner’s childhood forms the heart of a story about the difficulties and rewards of forgiveness. Young Desmond proudly rides his new bike through the streets of the township when he encounters a group of aggressive boys who taunt him with a “very mean word.” Desmond struggles with his own feelings of anger and retribution, but, after wise counsel from trusted mentor Father Trevor, finds his way to forgive. 

Oh God, Eternal Friend and Guide

OH GOD, ETERNAL FRIEND AND GUIDE – closing hymn at Durham Friends Meeting, March 19, 2022

Worship in Song p. 175; words by Lewy Olfson, music by John B. Dykes

Oh God, eternal friend and guide, I feel you ever by my side.

Through times of darkness, doubt, and stress, Through times of pain and hopelessness,

However deep my doubt or shame, I hear you call me by my name.

Oh God, my all-forgiving friend, You journey with me to the end.

My step may falter, foot may stray, As endlessly I lose my way;

Though weak my purpose, lax my will, I know your love is with me still.

My cries for help go not unheard. Your mercy shines in act and word.

Your grace designed to make me whole, Your gentleness to heal my soul.

For this alone I sing your praise: That you are with me all my days.

“Wangari’s Trees of Peace,” by Jeanette Winter

Message given at Durham Friends Meeting, March 13, 2022

Today’s message at Durham Friends Meeting was a reading of Jeanette Winter’s Wangari’s Trees of Peace. (Thank you to Wendy Schlotterbeck for the reading.) This book and many others have been donated by this Meeting to schools in the region surrounding us.

Here’s a summary of the story: As a young girl growing up in Kenya, Wangari was surrounded by trees. But years later when she returns home, she is shocked to see whole forests being cut down, and she knows that soon all the trees will be destroyed. So Wangari decides to do something—and starts by planting nine seedlings in her own backyard. And as they grow, so do her plans . . . This true story of Wangari Maathai, environmentalist and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, is a shining example of how one woman’s passion, vision, and determination inspired great change.

Clarion Books, 2018

As an opening hymn, we sang “I Am An Acorn, words and music by Carol Johnson, #242 in Worship in Song

I am an acorn, the package, the seed.

God is within me and God is the tree.

I am unfolding the way I should be.

Carved in the palm of his hand.

Carved in the palm of his hand.

“Welcoming a Vision,” by Mey Hasbrook

Message given at Durham Friends Meeting, March 6, 2022

In discerning today’s message, an earlier expectation requires broadening. While writing is an option for some, it is not an option for all. So what I thought would be us writing a letter to the Divine –  the heart of our own hearts –  will become a prayer to the Divine. The prayer will be invited at the message closing. Here’s a query for today, and to which we’ll come back

●from a Quaker named William – Is thy heart right?
●and from today’s closing hymn – Who in God’s heav’n has passed beyond [our] vision?

~~

Since November, I’ve been reading and re-reading Chapter 12 of II Corinthians, all the while navigating life at a strong current. This letter is attributed to Apostle Paul and addresses a young, fractious, floundering church.

Ch. 12 is pretty intense:  from visions beyond words gifted by the Divine, to unavoidable and relentless pain, to divine grace. Paradoxically, weakness can open a path to strength; indeed, herein is the power of Christ, which shapes my life as the power of Love. 

Paul gives this story:  Three times I appealed to the Lord about the thorn in my flesh, that it would leave me, but he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.’
So –
claims Paul – I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me – which for today’s message, let’s hold as ‘the power of Love’.
Paul continues – Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.

A friend of my late stepmother has become a pen pal, and it was she who sent me the reference to this scripture.  Her card arrived after I finished a series of major medical tests, which began due to a diagnosis of a chronic benign condition.  Yet tests evolved to eliminate concerns about cancer.  Indeed, the passage came at an opportune time. 

‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.’

I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me – remember, we’re holding ‘the power of Christ’ as ‘the power of Love’.

Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.

~~

Paul and the other apostles were traveling ministers, as was William Savery circa the late 18th century.  His national home was the newly-formed United States, mired in partisanship and conquest.  William’s ministry led him to England, and his sermon drawn upon today is titled “An Age of Uncommon Events”*; it’s from 1796.

He reminds Friends, [W]hile we are endeavouring to seek after truth, do not let us be afraid of coming to the knowledge of it.

Recognizing the budding natural science of the age, William commends one science worth them all.  He goes on to explain how this is to know God and one’s self, an inquiry of thought as well as feeling.

The impact of such knowing, explains William, enlarges the love of professors of Christianity –  so, those who claim to be Christian.

He calls upon the standard of Christ’s prayer amid agony, Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.
And he calls Friends to a prayer, Forgive us our trespasses, only as we forgive them that trespass against us.  Yes, William includes only intentionally.

I am new to William Savery, and found “An Age of Uncommon Events” in search of Quaker references to II Corinthians. 
What arises clearly for today’s message from William’s sermon and Chapter 12 of II Cor. is to honor the heart ache expressed in both – the type of heart ache from being broken open by the Light, by Christ who is the living path of Love.
Also, to face the paradox of heart ache and hardship with the presence of Christ – that is knowing that Christ’s presence is powerful, gifting inner strength through Love.

~~ 
Friends, it is time now to prepare for our prayer to the Divine. For those of you who are able and wish to write this down, feel free. Most importantly, follow whatever form to which you feel called. 

May we be faithful in listening to Spirit, and to welcome continuing revelation. May our worship inspire us to a vision of expansive Love, beginning right here where we are – among one another – even in heart ache, even amid hardship, and always in the presence of Christ.

Transitioning to prayer, I return to the query, and share excerpts from today’s texts:

QUERY
●from Friend William, Is thy heart right?
●from today’s closing hymn, Who in God’s heav’n has passed beyond [our] vision?

EXCERPT from Ch. 12 of II Cor.
Have you been thinking all along that we have been defending ourselves before you? We are speaking in Christ before God. Everything we do, beloved, is for the sake of building you up. For I fear that when I come, I may find you not as I wish, and that you may find me not as you wish…

EXCERPT from “An Age of Uncommon Events”

Oh may the God of all mercy, wisdom, and power, hasten this day; enlarge the love of professors of Christianity one towards another, throw down all the walls of opposition, which were built up in the day of departure from the fountain of living water, and bring us again to drink at Shiloh’s stream; that all the heritage may drink at the fountain itself, and the world once more rejoice in knowing him to reign and to rule over all, whose right it is, and ever will remain. 
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
*“An Age of Uncommon Events” is available online through the Quaker Heritage Press web site.

“Prayers for Healing, Peace Making, Love and Compassion Among Us and the Wider World,” by Mey Hasbrook

Inspired after an extended time of duress ~Mey Hasbrook, November 20, 2021

_/|\_ _/|\_ _/|\_

May the Spirit of the Living God fall afresh upon us:

into our hearts and among our communities,

alongside neighbors and opponents,

moving us toward strangers and the estranged.

May we who mourn on the day called “thanksgiving” be held with care, even wrapping one’s arms around one’s self.

May we who gather to break bread seek to mend rifts that distance us from one another.

May we who are “alone” this season invite the blessed company of the Earth, the angelic host, and those who’ve come before us.

May we who are exhausted be gentle and kind to ourselves.

May we who are ill find hope and wholeness wherever is possible.

May we who are materially, spiritually, and/or emotionally rich especially extend generosity with openhearts and hands.

May we who carry hurts and hindrances lay them down at the banks of the Living Waters.

May we who face challenges beyond our imagination find renewed comfort in Psalm 23 and the music of songbirds.

May the Spirit of the Living God fall afresh upon us.

_/|\_ _/|\_ _/|\_

“Becoming Quaker,” by Joyce Gibson

Message given at Durham Friends Meeting, January 9, 2022

G’ morning Y’all,

Happy New Year!  IT IS GOOD TO  BE HERE WITH EVERYONE.  WHEN I THINK ABOUT THE COMMUNITES I BELONG TO, THIS MEETING IS HIGH ON MY LIST, JUST BEYOND MY FAMILY.  MORE DISCUSSION ABOUT COMMUNITY COMES LATER.

EACH TIME I OFFER A MESSAGE I CHOOSE A TOPIC I AM STRUGGLING WITH; THIS TIME IS NO DIFFERENT.  I HAVE QUESTIONS ABOUT WHETHER I AM A QUAKER.  HOW DO I KNOW WHEN I BECOME A QUAKER?  DOES ATTENDING OR BECOMING A MEMBER OF A MEETING MAKE ONE A QUAKER?  WHAT DOES IT TAKE TO BECOME A QUAKER?  THUS, THIS MORNING, I HOPE TO THINK WITH YOU ABOUT WHAT IT TAKES TO BECOME A QUAKER.  IS  BEING A DURHAM QUAKER DIFFERENT FROM BEING A PORTLAND OR WOODBROOKE QUAKER?

HOW DO WE MANIFEST OUR QUAKERISM?  FIRST, I THOUGHT ABOUT OUR TESTIMONIES AND OUR PRINCIPLES.  GEORGE FOX IS NORMALLY THOUGHT OF AS OUR FOUNDER, AT LEAST THE PERSON WHO IS KNOWN FOR ‘DISCOVERING THE LIGHT’, AFTER A LONG SPIRITUAL QUEST WHICH BEGAN IN HIS LATE TEENS BECAUSE HE FELT THAT CHRISTIANS HE KNEW WERE NOT ‘LIVING THEIR BELIEFS’.  GORDON BROWNE, WHO WROTE A PENDLE HILL PAMPHLET CALLED INTRODUCING QUAKERS (Adapted from a Pendle Hill-On-The-Road presentation, Newbury, VT, Nov. 2-3,1990), SUMMARIZED THE PRINCIPLES OF FOX BASED ON FOX’S UNDERSTANDING OF THE BIBLE WHICH HE KNEW INTIMATELY:

  • That God is directly accessible to all persons without the need of an intermediary priest or ritual;
  • That there is in all persons an in-dwelling Seed or Christ or Light (he used all these metaphors) which is of God and which, if they will but heed it, will guide them and shape their lives in accordance with the will of God;
  • That true religion cannot be learned from books or set prayers, words or rituals, which Fox called “empty forms”, but comes only from direct experiences of God, known through the Seed or Christ or Light within;
  • That the Scriptures can be understood only as one enters into the Spirit which gave them forth;
  • That there is an ocean of darkness and death—of sin and misery—over the world but also an ocean of light and of love, which flows over the ocean of darkness, revealing the infinite love of God; and
  • That the power and love of God are over all, erasing the artificial division between the secular and religious so that all of life, when lived in the Spirit, becomes sacramental.  The traditional outward sacraments, again characterized as empty forms, are to be discarded in favor of the spiritual reality they symbolize. (Pages, 2, 3 from Introducing Quakers, 1990)

You can imagine that these ideas did not play well in the 17th century, though based Biblically, and Fox’s public ministry was not welcomed by the authorities in the churches.  Though he found thousands of seekers and influenced his ideas to be spread by others, (and eventually across the pond to Boston and Cape Cod in 1656, and 1657 respectively), he paid heavily personally and physically with imprisonments and beatings because of what he believed.

THEN THERE ARE QUAKER TESTIMONIES.  DURING THE TIME I BECAME A MEMBER OF DURHAM MEETING (THIS DOES NOT MEAN I BECAME A QUAKER, Y’ALL!) IN 2015, OUR THEN PASTOR, DOUG GWYN AND OTHERS REFERENCED OUR TESTIMONIES AS AN ACRONYM:  SPICES—SIMPLICITY, PEACE, INTEGRITY, COMMUNITY, EQUALITY, AND SUSTANIBILITY.  LIVING YOUR UNDERSTANDING OF THESE TESTIMONIES DEPENDS ON HOW YOU INTERPRET THEM, BUT YOU CAN CERTAINLY FIND EXAMPLES IN OUR FAITH AND PRACTICE BOOKS FROM NEW ENGLAND YEARLY MEETING; ACTUALLY, BEFORE THE PANDEMIC, SOME OF US WERE LEARNING HOW FOLKS IN OUR COMMUNITY VIEWED THE TESTIMONIES THROUGH SHARING THEIR FAITH JOURNIES IN THE ADULT EDUCATION CLASSES.

A BOOK I WANT TO SHARE QUOTES FROM IS A SHORT ONE BY GEOFFREY DURHAM, CALLED WHAT DO QUAKERS BELIEVE ? (Christian Alternative Books, 2019).  HE WRITES REGULARLY ABOUT QUAKERS, AND IS ONE OF THE FOUNDERS OF QUAKER QUEST, AN OUTREACH PROJECT TO INTRODUCE FOLKS TO QUAKERISM.  IT IS A PAPERBACK OF ONLY 68 PAGES, WITH CLEAR EVERYDAY LANGUAGE.  HERE ARE A FEW THINGS HE OFFERS:

  • Quakers believe that formal creeds are unnecessary, because what matters to them is the truth and integrity of personal experience.
  • Quakers believe that religious doctrines and dogmas are unhelpful and should be set aside.
  • Quakers believe that regular attendance at Quaker meetings has the power to change people, help them find meaning and give them a purpose in life.
  • Quakers believe that they should be guided by love and what love requires of them.  (Pages 9, 10)

HOW DO WE DISCERN WHAT LOVE REQUIRES OF US? 

(BY THE WAY, BROWNE REPORTS THAT EARLY FRIENDS CALLED THEMSELVES “FRIENDS OF TRUTH” OR “PUBLISHERS OF TRUTH” NOT THE RELIGIOUS SOCIETY OF FRIENDS…THE TRUTH THEY WERE TALKING ABOUT WAS CAPITAL “T” AND IT BELONGED TO GOD; IT WAS ETERNAL, UNCHANGING, AND HUMAN BEINGS WOULD EXPERIENCE GLIMPSES OF IT AND GAIN FRAGMENTS OF IT BY BEING OPEN AND SENSITIVE TO THE LEADINGS OF THE SEED, THE CHRIST, THE LIGHT WITHIN).  QUAKERS BELIEVE THAT REVELATION OF GOD’STRUTH DOES NOT END WITH THE BIBLE, BUT CAN BE REALIZED THROUGH PEOPLE’S EXPERIENCES TODAY. 

SO, WE HAVE PRINCIPLES, TESTMONIES, THINGS WE BELIEVE, INCLUDING TRUTH TELLING . . . NOW WHAT?

  • DOES UNDERSTANDING THESE PRINCIPLES AND TESTIMONIES HELP US BECOME QUAKERS?
  • WHAT IS YOUR EXPERIENCE BECOMING QUAKER?
  • DID YOU TAKE COURSES?  DID YOU JUST SOAK IT ALL IN BY ATTENDING MEETINGS?
  • DO YOU HAVE A QUAKER MENTOR OR SPIRITUAL DIRECTOR? 
  • DID YOU JUST GROW UP QUAKER AND LEARNED THROUGH YOUR FAMILY AND OTHER FRIENDS?  OR DID YOU BECOME A CONVINCED QUAKER FROM SOME OTHER RELIGIOUS TRADITION?
  • DOES BECOMING QUAKER REQUIRE INDIVIDUAL EFFORT AND COMMUNITY EXPERIENCES?

BEGINNING YOUR QUAKER SPIRITUAL JOURNEY: HERE ARE SOME THINGS I KNOW ABOUT BECOMING A QUAKER…

  1. LEARNING FROM OTHERS:  WE HAVE QUITE A POOL OF PEOPLE WHO EXHIBIT THE PRINCIPLES OF QUAKERISM @DURHAM; JUST WATCHING THEM AND UNDERSTANDING THEIR ACTIONS OFFER ‘WHAT PRACTICING QUAKER PRINCIPLES LOOKS LIKE. You can name them, and some are here today, right on the screen.
  2. LETTING GO OF THINKING YOU ARE IN CHARGE OF YOURSELF (AND OTHERS THINGS IN OUR WORLD); THIS IS THE TOUGHEST CHALLENGE OF OUR SPIRITUAL JOURNEY.  ROBERT GRISWOLD SHARES IN HIS PAMPHLET ON “MARKING THE QUAKER PATH” (Pendle Hill Pamphlet 439, 2016) THAT NO ONE TOLD HIM THAT BEING ON THIS SPIRITUAL JOURNEY TO BECOME A QUAKER, IS A LIFELONG PROCESS.

YOUR EGO AND OTHER DISTRACTIONS IN OUR WORLD, COMPETE MIGHTLY TO PREVENT YOU FROM CONNECTING TO THAT “STILL SMALL VOICE” OF GOD.  THE GOD WHO LOVES AND ACCEPTS YOU UNCONDITIONALLY, BY THE WAY!

In NEYM’s 1985 Faith and Practice we learn about Waiting Upon the Lord, p.97:

           When you come to your meetings . . . what do you do? . . . Do you walk in the “Light of your own fire and the sparks which you have kindled?”  Or rather, do you sit down in True Silence, resting from your own Will and Workings, and waiting upon the Lord, fixed with your minds in that Light wherewith Christ has enlightened you, until the Lord breaths life in you, refresheth you, and prepares you . . . that you may offer unto him a pure and spiritual sacrifice? (William Penn:  Works, ed. Joseph Besse, 1726, vol 1, p.219.  “A tender visitation,” published 1677.

  • AN EXPERIENCE WITH GOD.  An experience of Divine Reality changes us from fearful, wounded, and lost people into a safe, healing, and compassionate people on a meaningful journey.  With this experience we come to be aware that we are at home in the world and at peace.  It isn’t good enough to think we’ve found the path, or to believe we have found the path, or to hope we have found the path.  We have to find the path and stay on it.  And, to have this experience, we have to stop and wait and be silent, inside as well as outside. (Page 8, Griswold, 2016)

I HAD BEGUN TO GO ON SILENT RETREATS WITH A GROUP CALLED, CHURCH OF THE SAVIOR IN MARYLAND; THIS RELATIONSHIP HAD BEGUN WITH OUR CONGREGATIONAL CHURCH IN LITTLETON, MA WHEN WE DECIDED TO RE FRESH OURSELVES SPIRITUALLY, WORK ON OUR INWARD AND OUTWARD JOURNEYS AS A CHURCH COMMUNITY.  WE STAYED ON THE MAILING LIST AFTER OUR EXPERIENCE, AND SILENT RETREATS WERE PART OF THEIR REGULAR PRACTICE.  I ATTENDED A COUPLE OF THEM AND ON MY LAST ONE WAS CONVINCED BY A LOVING COUPLE TO CONSIDER FINDING A SPIRITUAL ADVISOR FOR DEEPER SPIRITUAL GROWTH.

*I FOUND A SPRITUAL ADVISOR WHO WAS QUAKER. EARLY ON IN OUR SESSIONS, SHE HAD A PRACTICE WHERE SHE WOULD STOP LISTENING TO MY ISSUES, AND ASK THAT WE STOP TO DISCERN WHAT GOD THINKS ABOUT THE SITUATION.  FOR MONTHS I WOULD CLOSE MY EYES, JUST LOOK AROUND, THINK SHE WAS OUT OF HER HEAD, OR WONDER WHAT WAS WRONG WITH ME THAT I COULD NOT HEAR GOD SPEAKING TO ME IN THE SILENCE.  THEN ONE DAY, I HEARD HIM, THOUGH IT DID NOT HAPPEN EVERY SESSION, I BEGAN TO LET GO AND CONNECT.

  • DISCIPLINES:  INDIVIDUAL ACTIVITY, SUCH AS PRAYING; LISTENING, BUILDING THE TRUST NEEDED TO CULTIVATE A HEART THAT CAN HEAR AND EYES THAT CAN SEE ALL THAT IS SAID, OR NOT SAID; WORKING ON SPIRITUAL TASKS WITH OTHERS.
  • Becoming a Quaker is ALWAYS A WORK IN PROGRESS. 
  • NEXT WEEK: HOW DO WE HELP AND SUPPORT EACH OTHER ON OUR JOURNEYS—AS A COMMUNITY? 

“Are You Engaged in a Spiritual Adventure with Our Meeting?” by Joyce Gibson

Message given at Durham Friends Meeting, January 16, 2022

Today, I want to follow-up on my message from last week on Becoming a Quaker.  In thinking through our testimonies, community is the one that strikes me as critically important, and was the topic that a few of you commented on last week, as well.  Are we a distinct community?  What distinguishes us from other Christian or Quaker communities?  Many people join us from other faith traditions that feel more restrictive than ours, and are attracted by our belief that Christ, the Light or Spirit resides in every human, and that no priest or intermediary is necessary.  For me, nurturing that Divine Relationship is a challenge, and perhaps one I need more collective education about.  Daphne Clement once told me that just showing up was the most important thing to do in learning to be a Quaker; finding meaning and purpose here together is where we learn about each other and Quakerism.

Or maybe people are attracted to our understanding that God is LOVE for everyone, as described in one of our principles according to George Fox:  That the power and love of God are over all, erasing the artificial division between the secular and religious so that all of life, when lived in the Spirit, becomes sacramental.  The traditional outward sacraments, (such as crucifixes, rosaries, statues, palm leaves) again characterized as empty forms, are to be discarded in favor of the spiritual reality they symbolize.

How is the Love of God manifested in our community?

Do we have a corporate responsibility as a community of Quakers to share and demonstrate God’s LOVE?  The ten commandments offer guidance for building community, many asking us to take care of each other.  In Exodus 20: 2-17,  Moses relays a message to the people from God, how God wants to be regarded, and how they are to deal with each other:  These come from the Bible in contemporary language, THE MESSAGE)

  1. No other gods, only me.
  2. No carved gods of any size, shape or form of anything whatever, whether of things that fly, or walk or swim;  (no smart phones, TV shows, internet addictions?)
  3. No using the name of God, your God, in curses or silly banter;
  4. Observe the sabbath, to keep it holy.  Work six days and do everything you need to do.  But the seventh is a Sabbath to God, your God.
  5. Honor your father and mother so that you’ll live a long time in the land that God, your God is giving you;
  6. No murder;
  7. No adultery;
  8. No stealing;
  9. No lies about your neighbor;
  10.  No lusting after your neighbor’s house—or wife or servant or maid or ox or donkey.  Don’t set your heart on anything that is your neighbors.  Can we use the commandments as one guide to sustain community?

Here is what Faith and Practice (1986) tells us about community:

a)…While Friends had great respect for the individual person, the real unit in the society of Friends has always been the Meeting (p. 54, chapter 1, Quaker Faith)

In another section, there is a quote about Meeting as a Caring Community:

b)…To share in the experience of the Presence in corporate worship, to strive to let Divine Will guide one’s life, to uphold others in prayer, to live in a sense of unfailing Love, is to participate in a spiritual adventure in which Friends come to know one another and to respect one another at a level where differences of age or sex, of wealth or position, of education or vocation, of race or nation are all irrelevant.  Within this sort of fellowship, as in a family, griefs and joys, fear and hopes, failures and accomplishments are naturally shared, even individuality and independence are scrupulously respected. (Pps. 120-121, The Meeting as a Caring Community).

I think the magic words herein are: to participate in a spiritual adventure in which Friends come to know one another and to respect one another.  Are you engaged in a spiritual adventure with our Meeting?  How can we provide or promote such an opportunity for each of us?

I find myself spending more time on Quaker projects than I imagined I would; and when I think back to my youth and early adulthood, I could not imagine using my time this way!  I am so impressed with our young people’s sense of God and their relationship with God.  Some (like me) have been living in a clue-free zone about God for a long time.

It could be that we need a re-charging of our batteries, of our adventurous selves since we have been trying our best to manage the pandemic– in our families, at work, in the larger community, and certainly here at Meeting.  One of our Friends from the Putney, Vermont Meeting, has been facilitating workshops called “Reflecting on Our Collective Well-Being:  Grieving, Healing, and Community, wherever he has been invited, and I think the title is an apt one to consider for ourselves:  A conversation about our collective well-being would be useful to me.

How do we discern how to be a more caring community during a pandemic?  How do we discern our own role in helping to reduce the tensions, and challenges brought on in our regular everyday lives?

I believe that there are a number of ways that we already participate in spiritual adventures with each other, and it is one of the reasons I have joined a few different groups here at Durham, and affiliated with some in the New England Yearly Meeting.  Thus, when you join a committee, volunteer with the youth, call one of us to check on us, serve on Trustees or Nominating Committee, or engage in continuous prayer for the Meeting, you are participating in spiritual adventures. 

There is another way that many find much more powerful though—when we worship together and feel the Presence.  Michael Birkel, faculty at Earlham College, calls it the “The Collective Dimension of Worship”…Worship in community is more than prayer in solitude.  It is not simply common purpose but a felt sense of togetherness that joins worshipers.  We can experience one another at depths that challenge our experience to describe them (p. 44, Silence and Witness)

There is another, higher dimension of worship, that some have experienced that comes when we are together.  Thomas Kelly (one of my prayer mentors) wrote about it this wayIn the Quaker practice of group worship on the basis of silence come special times when an electric hush and solemnity and depth of power steals over the worshipers.  A blanket of divine covering comes over the room, a stillness that can be felt is over all, and the worshipers are gathered into a unity and synthesis of life which is amazing indeed.  A quickening Presence pervades  us, breaking down some part of the special privacy and isolation of our individual lives and blending our spirits within a superindividual Life and Power…(The Gathered Meeting, reprinted in the Eternal Promise, Richmond, Indiana:  Friends United Pres, 1977, p. 72)  THIS PRACTICE IN HIS PRESENCE IS UNIQUELY OURS!

Before leaving I must share a recent experience I had with a few women who identify as Quaker.  I was stunned at how one person introduced herself  because I had NEVER HEARD ANYONE COMBINE THEIR INTRODUCTION AS SHE DID.  We were asked to give our names, Meeting affiliation, pronouns, etc.   She used her tribal name and quaker as part of her identification, together, separate from identifying her Meeting; it sounded like her title—Wampanoag Quaker.  She went on to explain to us that her people view themselves as Community first, and that seeking a spiritual home, Quakers were the closest she and her people could find where community was valued as a priority.  This person embraces the DIVINE as part of her natural life; it was refreshing to behold. 

“The Presence of the Holy Spirit,” by Martha Hinshaw Sheldon

Message given at Durham Friends Meeting, January 2, 2022

We come together to share, to lament, to share joys, to praise, to support, to be a community in a place in time, in a place in space, a building on land that sustains and reminds us of our history.   On the lands of the Wabanaki peoples. 

“May today there be peace within. May you trust God that you are exactly where you are meant to be. May you not forget the infinite possibilities that are born of faith. May you use those gifts that you have received and pass on the love that has been given to you. May you be content knowing you are a child of God. Let this presence settle into your bones, and allow your soul the freedom to sing, dance, praise and love. It is there for each and every one of us.” — Teresa of Ávila, a Catholic nun

This week.

Despair and hope. The essence of life, essence of faith, essence of the Holy Spirit.  The only story worth sharing along with a large dose of love. 

Anti-Apartheid Leader and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Funeral yesterday.  Image of Desmond Tutu dancing in pink robes, being carried in a plain pine box.  A life force of love and hope. 

Wildfires in Colorado – Sandra and Tom looking out their front door over the neighbours houses into the smoke and fire blowing across the land.  A force of nature.

Death of Corrymeela leader – Kate, a force to be reckoned with.  A light of joy and humour.   My friend Paul writing about my friend Kate.   ‘Insightful leader, wonderful sense of humour, not always my friend but always my friend.’

Anniversary of Wounded knee massacre in 1890.  The Lakota people refused to assimilate and did not allow westward expansion through their territories.   A force of evil destroying vision.

Despair and hope. 

One night long ago in a land far away. 

On the road to Bethlehem one Christmas eve while teaching in the Ramallah Friends Schools, I was reminded again of the Spirit eternal presence.  We meet every so often and the memory sustains me.  This time I was walking with a large assembly of people from around the world, people who had started 2 years before in Seattle and walked across the United States and Europe sharing the words of the Prince of Peace.  The original group grew, doubled and tripled, as people along the way left their families and homes to join the fellowship and the message.

I joined the group in Jerusalem at 4:00 in the afternoon.  At first we talked quietly in small groups getting to know one another, hearing and sharing experiences of the journey and the excitement of knowing that this was the last leg of a very long road.  As dusk darkened to night and we descended the hills to the fields around Bethlehem the talking stopped.  Except for occasional whispers, we walked in silence. 

I, as the shepherds long ago, felt very small out under the vast black sky.  My eyes and the eyes of those around me were wide with anticipation, wondering what might happen and eager to soak up all that the shepherds might have seen and anticipated. 

Both the Magi from the east and the modern pilgrims from around the world came far distances to seek the birthplace of the Son of God, to learn more about the Prince of Peace, to hear again of the Holy Spirit.  They left their homes and families to witness, to see, to understand, to praise and to share the message of peace with others.

I was reminded again of the eternal presence of the Holy Spirit that Christmas eve many years ago.  A hush had descended upon the group.   The night was inky black.  There were no streetlights or cars rushing by or the glow from city lights on the horizon.  Darkness was all around. 

Standing in the crowd I felt alone at first and then realized there was a great Spirit in and around me that filled me with the certainty that I was not and would never be alone.  That black cool night warmed, and the light of the stars brightened the sky.  The road had been long and arduous, my own as well as that of my fellow travellers.  But the awareness and certainty of the presence of the Holy Spirit was with us, in our hearts, our souls, our bones, again and we would continue our lives and remember this joy. 

May this new year be a time to know the presence of the Holy spirit even while remembering times of sorrow, to be quiet amidst the noise, to be alone with the Holy Spirit among the crowds, and to meet again as a reminder of love, joy and steadfast presence. 

“Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness” – Desmon Tutu

“May today there be peace within. May you trust God that you are exactly where you are meant to be. May you not forget the infinite possibilities that are born of faith. May you use those gifts that you have received and pass on the love that has been given to you. May you be content knowing you are a child of God. Let this presence settle into your bones, and allow your soul the freedom to sing, dance, praise and love. It is there for each and every one of us.” Teresa of Ávila, a Catholic nun

“Annunciation,” by Denise Levertov

Read as call to worship, Durham Friends Meeting, December 26, 2021

We know the scene: the room, variously furnished,

almost always a lectern, a book; always
the tall lily.
Arrived on solemn grandeur of great wings,
the angelic ambassador, standing or hovering,
whom she acknowledges, a guest.

But we are told of meek obedience. No one mentions
courage.
The engendering Spirit
did not enter her without consent.
God waited.

She was free
to accept or to refuse, choice
integral to humanness.

Aren’t there annunciations
of one sort or another
in most lives?
Some unwillingly
undertake great destinies,
enact them in sullen pride,
uncomprehending.
More often
those moments
when roads of light and storm
open from darkness in a man or woman,
are turned away from
in dread, in a wave of weakness, in despair
and with relief.
Ordinary lives continue.
God does not smite them.
But the gates close, the pathway vanishes.

She had been a child who played, ate, slept
like any other child – but unlike others,
wept only for pity, laughed
in joy not triumph.
Compassion and intelligence
fused in her, indivisible.

Called to a destiny more momentous
than any in all of Time,
she did not quail,
only asked
a simple, ‘How can this be?’
and gravely, courteously,
took to heart the angel’s reply,
perceiving instantly
the astounding ministry she was offered:

to bear in her womb
Infinite weight and lightness; to carry
in hidden, finite inwardness,
nine months of Eternity; to contain
in slender vase of being,
the sum of power –
in narrow flesh,
the sum of light.
Then bring to birth,
push out into air, a Man-child
needing, like any other,
milk and love –

but who was God.

This was the moment no one speaks of,
when she could still refuse.

A breath unbreathed,
                                Spirit,
                                          suspended,
                                                            waiting.

She did not cry, ‘I cannot. I am not worthy,’
Nor, ‘I have not the strength.’
She did not submit with gritted teeth,
                                                       raging, coerced.
Bravest of all humans,
                                  consent illumined her.
The room filled with its light,
the lily glowed in it,
                               and the iridescent wings.
Consent,
              courage unparalleled,
opened her utterly.

“The Story of the Crowd at Christmas,” by Colin Saxton (FUM)

Message given at Durham Friends Meeting, December 19, 2021

Luke 2:8-20 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, 14 Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” 15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” 16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

Some of you may remember a time in history when a daily newspaper was delivered—in print—to your home. No, really! And it had actual news in it—of international, national and local interest. Really! Actual news?!? You can google it—and see I am telling the truth.

We had one of those newspaper when I was growing up that included a section devoted to feature stories—less the who, what, when, and where of the days events—and more articles focused around human interest. In my newspaper, this was called the Living Section.

About the time I was in middle-school, the Living Section began running a daily feature called People. It was always on page 2 and it chronicled the comings and goings of all of the cultural celebrities—the actresses, models, singers, athletes and politicians. Whenever possible, it also included any noteworthy local people—the self-proclaimed movers and shakers close to home. Thanks to the people section, the rest of us could keep up on the opinions, fashion choices, and activities of the famous, fabulous, wealthy and beautifulthose near to us and far away.

In all of the years I read the paper, not one person I actually knew was ever listed. Many of the same people would show up, over and over again, in this section—but the rest of us, actually the vast majority of us, never had our photos, our names, or anything else about us ever included here.

For whatever reason, our plain, ordinary, less significant or more hidden lives did not qualify as worthy to show-up within a section devoted to, at least by the standards of the newspaper, the people who mattered most. In a world just dying to know the latest gossip around the stars, there simply was no time or space to waste on the dimly-lit lives of a mere members of the crowd.

While the Bible certainly has its own share of big personalities, one of my favorite characters throughout the text—and especially in the NT—is the “crowd.” It is a group that gets mentioned, in one form or another, about 200 times in the NT alone. These are the ones who follow Jesus nearly everywhere he goes. They are curious, desperate for help, eager to hear him teach, astonished when he says the Kingdom belongs to people just like them. The crowd is comprised of potential followers, happy fence sitters, and rabid opponents—sometimes all in the same person. Most of these nameless and faceless people we know nothing about—not their political persuasions, their fashion tips, thoughts on the latest diet plan or social controversy. All we know is they are part of the mass of humanity who are open to…and maybe even eager for…God to show up and do something to heal their sickness, rekindle their hope, free them from their burdens, forgive their sins, and restore a broken world to something more just, more peaceable and more humane than they know in the moment.

I encourage you to read the NT from the perspective of the crowd—at some point—to place yourself squarely within that community. Listen from their perspective. See from the place of one who stands in the back of the room rather than the front. Consider the difference it might make to watch the drama of God unfold through the eyes of one who may just be grateful and surprised to be included at all…rather than focusing on whether life is happening the way I want, planned, or demand.

Crowd members come from all walks of life in NT—but most often they’re the lower class—the uneducated, the common, the ones so ordinary they fade into the backdrop. They were tax-collectors, prostitutes, sinners of all shapes and sizes. Among them, you will find fisherman, farmers, peasant women and more than a few shepherds.

 In this morning’s scripture reading, we heard the familiar story of angels lighting up the night sky and bringing glorious news to a group of unlikely recipients—shepherds. For whatever reason, news of this transforming moment in time—one on which history pivots—comes to commoners rather than the politically privileged, members of the religious hierarchy, the affluent or the well-known. These are just shepherds. No accounts. Ordinaries. Unexceptionals. Those who seemingly would be last to be in the loop on something this significant.

But there they were, living their ordinary lives—out in the field tending the sheep when the brilliant glory of an angel pierces the darkness. Terrified by this visitation, the angel tries to calm their appropriate fear with news of great joy, hope and peace.

“I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

            And just in case any of the shepherds missed the significance of what they were hearing & seeing, a whole host of angels show up, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom God’s favor rests.”  This, Friends, is breaking news & shepherds have front row seats

Our foremothers and fathers in the Quaker faith sometimes wrote and spoke of a Day of Visitation” –a period of time or times in everyone’s life when they are open to hearing the invitational voice of God and responding to it. For the ones who are attentive and obedient to respond, a life and connection to God will grow and flourish in them and they will be nourished and nurtured into a greater and stronger faith. It is a day/time when God shows up in a way we can see/hear—and often we do.

But for those who close their eyes and ears and hearts and minds to God’s coming—if the Light is continually ignored or rebelled against, it is likely to grow increasingly dim over time and one day may disappear completely. For whatever reason, we can learn to ignore the voice of SP and even the blinding light of an angel army.

Maybe on this day of visitation, the shepherds had no choice but to see and respond. Maybe this experience was so compelling that they had to go immediately to Bethlehem to find the child. But I wonder… Many times, as it is recorded in the biblical text, God intervenes in some sort of amazing way and plenty people seem to miss it. My favorite example comes from John 12, where the very voice of God speaks in an audible way within the hearing of a large crowd. Some heard it for what it was and praised God. Others thought it was “just an angel;” others confused it for thunder… I wonder whether there were any shepherds among the bunch who missed the angel visitation altogether or confused it for a lightning storm?

What we know is a small band of shepherds heard and saw. Then they got up and went. They acted on what they heard from the angels and moved to experience the Holy One for themselves.

I wish—I wish—we knew more of what happens to them and through them from that point on…but remember these are just members of the crowd. Their stories never make the front page or even page 2 of the Living Section. All we know is they return to the field—they go home and back to work—praising and glorifying God for everything they were privileged to hear and see. They go back into their ordinary lives having encountered a gaggle (not sure that is the right term…) of angels and having seen the Messiah.

I want to believe, and in fact do believe, they did return to the anonymity of their lives but not unchanged. I have known too many people who have had their lives lit up by angels, who have heard the Voice of God rattle their windows, who felt the Spirit shake their souls to know something like this is not easily forgotten. Something happens in us—and in turn through us—because God comes close and meets us.

If you read church history and as we account for the rapid spread of the gospel after the birth of Christ, the reality is it is mostly attributable to the lives and witness of the crowds rather than the well-known people. Oh, the Pauls, the Peters, the Marys and Marthas, and assorted early church leaders had their place and role—but most good historians will say it was the nameless and faceless sisters and brothers who were mostly responsible for the sudden and dramatic rise of Christianity. It was their faithful witness, their radical obedience, their spirit empowered lives and God-infused love that drew so many, many more into the fellowship of faith. Having encountered Christ, they went back to their lives and work praising and glorifying God along the way—and others noticed the difference—and felt drawn to Christ and a the Beloved Community.

            I have wondered this week about the shepherds and what happened to each of them after that first Christmas. How did they recover from something like this? Was it hard to go back to working under a night sky that was only lit by stars? I wonder, most of all, how these nobody- shepherds dealt with the somebodies who questioned their experience or tried to silence their story. Would they give in to that very real pressure or would they “remember.”

            In Hebrew the word “remember” can mean to “make present.” To remember “the Lord your God”  in the Old Testament was more than sparking a memory, it was to re-experience the very real Presence of God in that moment in time. To “remember your forefathers and mothers” was more than to kindle a nice feeling about those who have come before, it was to welcome them into that very moment in time.

            I don’t understand all of the mechanics of how this work—but I believe it and have experienced it. And so, I wondered how the shepherds remembered the angelic visit. Did they re-mind one another…so that they could keep that experience alive and vivid…so that it would continue to strengthen and grow their faithfulness?

            We live, I believe, in a world that bends us toward forgetfulness. Though it is subtle and often unintentional, there is a quiet assault on our experiences of the holy. Too often we are encouraged to remain quiet about them. Others will work to explain away what we saw or heard. This is especially true, I think, if you are a crowd member—a nobody—whose story the world has neither time or interest to hear.

            More and more, I am convinced that most people have an angel story—or two—they can tell. But many—I fear—have stopped remembering them because no one asks or seems interested. Maybe, one of the best gifts we can give another person is the invitation to remember—and to share that story. In doing so, it just may make vivid and alive that very same presence that lit up their sky, or rattled their windows or shook their soul. And along the way, leave us and them praising and glorifying God once again.      

“Alice,” by Kitsie Hildebrandt

Part of a message given at Durham Friends Meeting, December 12, 2021

Alice, by Kitsie Hildebrandt

Alice started joining our worship as an old lady.

She was a neighbor of Muriel Marston

And that was more that good enough for me, for us at Durham Meeting.

She always wore a well-worn acrylic cardigan, and was lovely.

She became a regular.

One Sunday she stood, and started to speak.

(She had not spoken out of the silent worship before.)

I didn’t know she could speak another language, when

Suddenly it struck me that she was speaking in tongues.

At a Quaker Meeting, imagine that.

And it was beautiful,

Heartfelt, sincere, fervent, pleading.

As she spoke

I felt my judgment fade away; I was able to give over

And my heart grew.

I experienced God speaking

To me, to everyone there.

I longed to hear her again, and I did.

I have shared this experience with others.

They usually frown, blink, and do that thing with their head.

As if to say, “How can that be, in a Quaker Meeting?”

I want to say, “Well. I guess you had to be there.”

“A Green Burial – Tom Frye,” by Peter Crysdale

Part of a message given at Durham Friends Meeting, December 12, 2021

A Green Burial  – Tom Frye, by Peter Crysdale

Someone asked me,

How did you find your way to Durham Meeting?

I answered, “Ralph brought me!”

He brought Tom Frye too… 40 years ago – 

Both of us came and went and returned.

The other day Tommie Frye came back again,

In a simple pine box –

Laid in a hole at the Lunt –

Dug by his friends – next to Sukie, his friend 

For all those years. He decided to do 

What love does and give 

His body back to Mother Earth

In the simplest of ways. 

Back then – Tom came to the Parsonage with Ralph 

To find his way, after a long hardship. 

I came up on weekends –

Sitting at that table in the parsonage kitchen 

Tom told of his life – his profound suffering –

He was neither bitter nor vengeful – 

It was one foot after the other – hanging around

The Parsonage was an act of recovery, 

An act of Love.

One year Tom was Santa at the Meeting

Christmas party – Ruth Graham thought

He was too tall To be Santa. 

The next year she was Santa – 

Made up and clothed so no

One could tell it was her –

I knew – so did Tom. 

And that Halloween when Ralph got

Tom to lie down in an old sunken grave –

In the Cemetery behind the Parsonage.

Covered him with leaves – the kids 

Came by with their flashlights in the dark –

Tom rose – they were terrified.

God’s mischief is Love in motion.

Remember the Spring kite-flying 

Extravaganza in the Parsonage yard – 

Tom and Ralph again – 

Later every tree was festooned with a kite. 

There was Petunia the Parsonage Pig –  

Ralph brought her home – 

Because the elders complained that there 

Weren’t enough kids in the Meeting – 

Ralph said he could train pigs – 

Petunia would have none of it –

She lived in the Parsonage and got bigger

And bigger – first Day came and Ralph read 

A chapter from Charlotte’s Web in Meeting,

A row of attentive kids looked on in wonder. 

Worship is about being found by the love.  

One First Day after a huge snowfall – 

Three feet of snow – slid off

the roof of the Meetinghouse – 

Landed with a HARUMPH!!!  

The Worship Settled that day –

Someone told me 

On another First Day, Tom, 

Who rarely spoke in Meeting – 

Sang Amazing Grace – 

The Worship Settled.

We were slowly seasoned 

by a Quaker cast of Characters – 

Helen – Ruth and Lucy – Merton and Bea, 

Charlotte and Mary – John Curtis – Clarabel and

Louis – Lyda Wentworth – oh so many others –

Seasoned means absorbing the Love.

I went off to Pendle Hill and Tom moved to Freeport –

Got a job – found a love – 

Recovering takes a lifetime. Last week 

Tom moved back- was buried in the Lunt –

We stood around tossing rose petals as we covered 

His body with earth. Love welcomes us home.

“Losing and Finding Our Bearings,” by Doug Bennett

Message given at at Durham Friends Meeting, December 5, 2021

Sometimes when we’re confused, we say “let me just get my bearings, here.”  I may have just woken up from a nap.  Or I may have stumbled on a walk.  Maybe I’ve hit my head on a rafter in the basement and that’s left me woozy.  Everything seems odd; I’m disoriented or muddled.  So I say, “Let me just get my bearings, here.” 

Once I woke up in the middle of the night in a strange hotel room.  I’d been traveling a good deal, changing time zones, and sleeping in unfamiliar hotels.  When I work in the dark that night I didn’t know where I was or what I was doing.  But even worse, I couldn’t quite think who I was.  That was confusing and more than a little frightening. 

In those moments when I’m confused, I search for something fixed and clear that tells us who we are or what we’re doing or where we’re going.  It might be a familiar landmark that helps me get my bearings.  It might be any number of things, but it’s something I can grasp hold of that helps us get our bearings.  It needs to be something fixed, something sturdy – hopefully so fixed its permanent. 

That awful night in a strange hotel room, it was only when I tripped over my briefcase that I’d left on the floor of the room that it all came back to me.  I got my bearings.  Suddenly it all came back to me.  Once again I knew who I was and what I was doing there.  The briefcase wasn’t particularly fixed.  I kicked it a few feet when I tripped over it, but there was a familiar object filled with familiar things that put me right again in the world and in my mind.  But often, familiar things aren’t where we should look to find our bearings. 

“Let me just get my bearings, here.”  It’s an unusual phrase.  It comes from navigation, especially from navigating at sea when there were no landmarks in view and before there was GPS or anything like it.  It comes from using the stars or a compass to find your way.  Hopefully you have a map (or something like a map) that shows where you’re going, and the map shows which way is north.  You use a compass to help you know which compass direction to steer to take you where you want to go.  That direction is your bearing.  It’s the number of degrees away from due north you want to head.  If a wave (or something) knocks you off course, you use the compass to get back on your bearings. 

This phrase, this idea, is on my mind because we’re living in crazy-making times.  Every morning there is a fresh load of things on the news that sound crazy to me.  They sound like people have lost their way. 

Most obviously, there’s a pandemic that’s killing millions.  We have a vaccine that protects against it and is almost sure to prevent serious illness.  But some people won’t take it.  That seems crazy to me.  I can only imagine those people have lost their bearings. 

Talk of conspiracies abound.  I’m not eager to wander into politics here today, but if you read the news at all, I think you know what I mean. 

It feels like a lot of people have lost their bearings.  They’re confused, or muddled – or afraid, and they’re looking for something that helps them get their bearings back.  They’re looking for something to grab hold of, something sturdy and solid, that helps them get their bearings. 

Where do they look for something to get their bearings?  That’s really what I want to talk about today. 

Some people try to find their bearings at work.  Their work has meaning for them and they try to do it well.  When they can’t find work, or when their work seems pointless or degrading, it can feel like they’ve lost their bearings.  Other people try to find their bearings in their family – in the relationships that connect people to one another.  When those relationships don’t work or break down, or when they take a shape they hadn’t expected – had never imagined – that, too can feel like they’ve lost their bearings.

And some people try to find their bearings in traditions.  They want things to be just like they were when they were growing up, or the way they were for their parents or their grandparents.  Change is hard.  And when comes, as it always does, people feel like they’ve lost their bearings. Maybe they are looking for their bearings in the wrong place. 

Jesus’s parents lived in crazy-making times.  The Romans had conquered Judea in 63 BC, not long before they were born.  Suddenly the Jews were no longer an independent people.  Their king was not really their king.  Jesus was born into a world at a time and in a place where many people had lost their bearings. 

Where should we look for our bearings?  That’s really what I want to talk about today. 

Think about the “three wise men” who have a starring role in Matthew’s account of the birth of Jesus.  Who were these “wise men?” Who were these men who felt compelled to follow a star – something that itself seems a little crazy.  But it felt right to them – and it was right.  Who were these guys?

We generally call them Kings, or the Magi. (“Magi” is from the same root as the word “magic.”)  It’s a word from the Persian language and that’s where we think these Magi came from. I’ve been reading a new translation of the Gospels, this one by Sarah Ruden, a Classics scholar who has been drawn to worship among Friends.  Here’s how she translates the verses in Matthew 2:

When Jesus had been born in Bethlehem in Judea in the days of Herod the king, look, diviners from where the sun rises appeared at Jerusalem, saying, “Where is the King of the Jews who has been born? We did see his star at its rising and have come to prostrate ourselves before him.”

“Diviners” is how she translates the word.  What makes these men “wise” is that they took their bearings from the stars.  They took them from something much more fixed and solid than work or family or tradition.  These three were skilled at reading the stars, and they saw in the stars the signs of divine things. 

“Diviners.”  They were not Jews and of course they were not Christians (Jesus was just about to be born).  They were probably Zoroastrian priests, but they took their bearings from the stars and that led them – compelled them – to come a long distance to worship a baby they’d never me – whose parents they’d never met.  They took their bearings from the stars – from divine things.  And the Ruden translation says:

 “When they saw the star there, their joy was heaped on joy, in great abundance.”

It wasn’t dizziness they felt.  It wasn’t confusion.   It’s because they took their bearings from divine things, not from earthly things, that this strange long journey they took filled them with joy. 

It’s easy to get caught up in earthly things.  It’s easy to try to find our bearings in those earthly things.  But those earthly things – work and family and tradition – are unlikely to give us a long-lasting and joy-filling sense of who we are and what’s right to do.

Those Diviners followed a star.  They followed it to Jesus at the point of his birth.  And his birth can point us towards a way of finding our bearings. 

That’s why we celebrate Christmas.  That’s why we find an abundance of joy in Christmas. 

How do we find our bearings in divine things?  That’s why Christmas is only the beginning of the story.   There’s a long road to travel to find our bearings, but we have to look to divine things to travel that road. 

Also posted on River View Friend

Personal Spiritual Practices

This text received preliminary approval at Yearly Meeting Sessions in August 2021 for inclusion in Faith and Practice, the book that provides guidance for Friends in New England Yearly Meeting. Read as a message at Durham Friends Meeting by members of its Committee on Ministry and Counsel, November 14, 2021.

Personal Spiritual Practices (from NEYM Interim Faith and Practice)

“Give over thine own willing, give over thy own running, give over thine own desiring to know or be anything and sink down to the seed which God sows in the heart, and let that grow in thee and be in thee and breathe in thee and act in thee; and thou shalt find by sweet experience that the Lord knows that and loves and owns that, and will lead it to the inheritance of Life, which is its portion.”Isaac Penington, 1661

…the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control… . If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.Galatians 5: 22-23, 25

The basic spiritual discipline of Friends is regular worship, both communal and individual. This discipline is supported by a variety of practices. Just as one supports a busy life with healthy personal habits, which vary from person to person, Friends choose spiritual practices that help ground them in the life and guidance of the Spirit.  Although most of these are shared with other faiths, a few are especially valued by Friends, such as intentionally taking time to “stand still in the Light” (George Fox) and to “sink down to the Seed”. Friends believe that the Light can illuminate the whole of one’s spiritual being.  It may fill one with joy and comfort, or it may show what is distressing and difficult, shedding light on places one may not wish to acknowledge or face. By embracing this guidance of the Spirit, Friends open themselves to the possibility of transformation.

Friends seek to live in continual awareness of the Spirit. It is the underlying intention of awakening to the Presence that makes something a spiritual practice. Many people commit themselves to a daily spiritual practice to settle their hearts and minds and to refresh their awareness of God’s presence and guidance. Early Friends recommended daily times of “retirement”: time spent in worship, prayer and Bible reading, in silent waiting upon the Spirit, and in journal writing. Contemporary Friends continue to use these practices and have augmented them with readings from Quaker writers past and present, meditation, gratitude practices, engagement with nature, wisdom from other traditions, movement, artistic endeavors, and service, among others. Friends may also look for those moments in their lives when they feel particularly centered or open to the movement of Divine love and find ways to use these times of awareness as a spiritual practice. When Friends embrace these times as a priority, they make space for them, integrating these practices into their lives. Regardless of how peaceful or busy a Friend’s life may feel in any particular moment, taking time to attend to one’s own spiritual condition can offer refreshment and renewal.

A daily spiritual practice helps bring one into a realm of spiritual stillness that opens one to the Inward Light. The Light illuminates the inner landscape, allowing one to see oneself more clearly.  Early Friends spoke of being “searched” by the light while at the same time feeling the calling and the support to transform themselves. Friends understand that in opening themselves to the enlivening influences of the Spirit, their experience allows them to become more open channels of God’s love. Spiritual practices also help one to stay in balance, bringing one back to center and so more available to the motions of divine love. Sometimes the fruits of a practice are what one hopes for and expects. At other times those fruits may be surprising, challenging, and life-changing. Sometimes it is difficult to recognize them at all. While a spiritual practice is the journey of an individual with the Inward Light, it bears fruit in the world.

Over time it is not uncommon to find that a particular spiritual practice no longer opens the space of refreshment and inspiration that it has in the past. An ebb and flow of motivation to continue in a daily practice is also a common experience. Spiritually dry periods or plateaus can be discouraging, yet worship, patience, and trust may reveal important lessons. By remaining alert to the changing dynamics of living in the Spirit, one may come to discern whether it is right to continue a particular practice, despite the dryness, or whether it is time to move on. The counsel of a spiritual companion can be a great aid in this discernment.  Seemingly independent of one’s effort or awareness, experiences of breakthrough may arrive.

Children also experience spiritual insights. They understand, at an early age, the impulse toward moments of quiet joy or spontaneous expressions of gratitude and may instinctively adopt spiritual practices that center, calm, and sustain them in difficult times. A child’s awareness of the Presence often reveals itself in unselfconscious expressions of awe and wonder at life. The freshness of a child’s trust and exuberance of discovery are gifts. Young people learn to nurture spiritual awareness by observing the practices of adults in their lives. Many families use mealtimes to pause together for silent grace or a spoken prayer of gratitude. Times of shared reverence can be a source of joy for all ages.

Friends who practice a discipline of worship throughout the week come to meeting prepared for corporate worship. They are able to center more quickly and help to anchor the meeting in prayer. Their practice is a gift to the community, enhancing its life in the Spirit and aiding in the faithful conduct of business.

Spiritual discipline, at its heart, involves a decision to listen for, and be obedient to, the Inward Guide in every situation, holding the commitment to do whatever love requires.

“Begin where you are.  Obey now.  Use what little obedience you are capable of, even if it be like a grain of mustard seed.  Begin where you are.  Live this present moment, this present hour as you now sit in your seats in utter, utter submission and openness toward Him.” Thomas Kelly, 1939

Extracts

1. Retirement may be the practice most accessible to contemporary Friends. Our meetings for worship are times of retirement. Walks in the woods or sitting by the ocean can be times of retirement, as can retreats extended over several days. Thomas Kelly wrote that we can be in contact with “an amazing sanctuary of the soul, a holy place, a divine center.” Times of retirement are the times when we pull back from the chatter and busyness of our outward lives, enter that amazing sanctuary, and allow our inner wisdom, the Inward Teacher, to rise up in us.

For early Friends retirement was a prerequisite for a life of faithfulness. Retirement was a daily discipline, sometimes many times in a day. We may think that at the pace of 21st-century life, there isn’t time for daily retirement, yet retirement is a basic building block for all other spiritual disciplines. We have to pause, let the static quiet, so that we can hear. Thomas Kelly reassures us that if we establish mental habits of inward orientation, the processes of inward prayer do not grow more complex, but more simple. (Patricia McBee, 2003)

2. Stand still in that which is pure, after ye see yourselves; and then mercy comes in. After thou seest thy thoughts… do not think, but submit; and then power comes. Stand still in that which shows and discovers; and there doth strength immediately come. And stand still in the light, and submit to it, and the other will be hushed and gone; and then content[ment] comes. (George Fox, 1652)

3. The purpose of meditation is to enable us to hear God more clearly. Meditation is listening, sensing, heeding the life and light of Christ. This comes right to the heart of our faith. The life that pleases God is not a set of religious duties; it is to hear His voice and obey His word. Meditation opens the door to this way of living. (Richard Foster, 1978)

4. Just before the farm dam, I pause, totally by myself. I look up the valley. The sky is an incredible blue, touched by the rock faces of the mountains. I rest on my stick, and I am filled with peace. God is near. (Neil Brathwaite, 2007)

5. Written shortly after the death of his father with whom he shared a passion for photography.

The real beauty is the magic that happens while the product is being made. For myself that journey consists of silence, listening to the world around me and waiting for it to speak. … Most of the time I find that peace in nature, but that’s only a particular setting.

I find my inner light has a clearer voice when the waves of the ocean lap on the rocks with the sun dipping below the horizon and lighting the sky with deep golds and reds to darker magentas and deep purple blues. I can feel my father next to me, sitting in silence as we wait for the magic hour to pass while capturing images that center my mind and bring me to calm….The journey of art is my religious space, the end product is the voice that has sparked me to speak. Whether someone likes it or not is not what is important to me, it is the journey. (Will Reilly, unpublished, 2020)

6. Consider now the prayer-life of Jesus… Incident after incident is introduced by the statement that Jesus was praying. Are we so much nearer God that we can afford to dispense with that which to Him was of such vital moment? But apart from this, it seems to me that this prayer-habit of Jesus throws light upon the purpose of prayer. … We pray, not to change God’s will, but to bring our wills into correspondence with His. (William Littleboy, 1937)

7. I have always greeted God in the morning. It makes a difference. There is no way that I would have faced my teaching day without morning devotional time. One year I had a girl in my class whose behavior often devastated the other children, leaving them in tears. Having used many methods of responding to her behavior and its impact on the other children, I knew that more help was needed. Each morning I held her in prayer with me, in a circle of light, putting Jesus in the mix as well. I could not do this alone and needed a strong visual to remind me of that. Her behavior gradually changed for the better. One day she surprised me by giving me a hug. I do not know if the prayers helped her, or more probably, changed me, and my relationship to her, and she responded positively. (Sue Reilly, 2021)

8. I love to knit. I love creating lovely things, learning new stitches, designing my own patterns. But really, how many shawls, sweaters, socks can one person use? I have discovered over time that knitting for charity is a useful way to engage in a craft I love without being overwhelmed by things I don’t really need. As I was browsing through charity knitting websites I came across the story of a mother whose infant died at birth. She recounted the pain of going to the children’s section of a department store to find a gown in which to bury her child. The store was filled with mothers and healthy babies and adorable clothing her child would never grow to wear. She fled, overwhelmed with grief. I found patterns for burial gowns on the site and thought maybe I should try one. Small, no big commitment, not too complicated. As I began to knit, however, I found myself thinking about that mother. I was grateful that I never had to experience that pain. I grew more and more quiet in my mind, simply letting my hands be guided by compassion. The completed gown and cap were given to a friend who is a chaplain in a hospital that specializes in high risk births. She asked me to knit more. Since then, I have knit many burial gowns, the smallest only six inches from neck to hem. I don’t knit them all the time. I wait until I find myself unsettled in my own life, feeling unbalanced, or small minded, or ungrateful. Then it is time. As love and compassion flow through my needles, they also flow through me. As I offer a gift of love and healing, I am also healed, returned to balance, held in loving arms. (Marion Athearn, 2017)

9. Music. The language of all humankind. For some, it is the vibration of the sound that flows up from the ground and flows through their body becoming the drum of their heartbeat. For some it is a friend, holding them. For some it is what knows exactly the right thing to say.  For some it is what inspires movement, drawing their arms to sky, palms open. For me, it is sanctuary. Music is the air that I breathe, the food that I hunger for. In a wide ocean with no boat, it is my life jacket. Music is what flows through my veins and pours out of my soul, it fills my belly in the evening…There is a sense of such awe that I experience when singing or otherwise creating song with a group of other people. It becomes evident that we each are all merely a colored piece of thread, woven together into a larger tapestry. Together we sing through the dissonances and burst into colorful harmonies, we mourn together, and we sing of splendor and joy together. I don’t know what God is. I don’t know who, why, or how God is. I don’t even know IF God is. What I do know, though, is that whatever this light is, whatever this energy shared amongst all of humanity is, this feeling, this togetherness, this LOVE, is what will bring me to walk hand in hand with the unexpected, and lead me through the melody of life. (Joli Reynolds, age 18, 2020)

10. For many of us, it’s in meeting for worship (typically in a Quaker meetinghouse) that we most readily connect deeply with Spirit, seek guidance, offer thanks for the abundance of our lives, and honestly feel the pain and confusion that sometimes dominate life’s moments.

But in artistic creation, and in the contemplation of the artistic, we can also be present with Spirit, and open to important leadings.  For me, being in the dance studio, typically with my camera, I’ve found that as I experience the creation of new choreography I witness a living, moving rendition of God’s grandeur.  The dance studio has become my other meetinghouse, where miracles happen every day and where both the dancers’ and my own creativity come alive and find new expression.  A spirit of grace enters my life each time I set forth in these sacred spaces, and God does speak to me. Just as we center into worship, I center into my presence in that space where dance is created. I use the word “worship” to describe this experience – there is no other word that captures the reverence and excitement. Early Friends were afraid of the arts, concerned that artistic work would be a distraction from the spiritual work that is so important. Friends were cautioned to avoid the arts, to not have pianos or other instruments in their homes, and to shun any possible distractions. My testimony is exactly the opposite: creating and experiencing any artistic work is a way to encounter our spiritual center, to be led by it, and to express it. When we stop measuring our artistic attempts and just look for the purity and passion of our intent and our source, we will find that our lives are filled with even more spiritual nourishment. (Arthur Fink, 2018)

11. I read that I was supposed to make “a place for inward retirement and waiting upon God” in my daily life, as the Queries in those days expressed it… . At last I began to realise … that these apparently stuffy old Friends were really talking sense. If I studied what they were trying to tell me, I might possibly find that the “place of inward retirement” was not a place I had to go to, it was there all the time. I could know the “place of inward retirement” wherever I was, or whatever I was doing, and find the spiritual refreshment for which, knowingly or unknowingly, I was longing, and hear the voice of God in my heart. Thus I began to realise that prayer was not a formality, or an obligation, it was a place which was there all the time and always available. (Elfrida Vipont Foulds,1983)

Also, see Chapter 1, Extracts 1.18, 1.20 and 1.36.

Advices

  1. Preserve places of silence in your life to “sink down to the Seed”.
  2. Yield your life to the Inward Guide, remembering to turn to that guidance throughout your day.
  3. Make time for the Bible and spiritual writings in your devotional reading. Become familiar with the experiences of Friends through time.
  4. Be aware of times and activities which help ground you and open you to the Presence, and make space for them in your life. 
  5. Recognize and uphold the spiritual life of children and youth. Invite them into times of quiet reflection and prayer. 
  6. Know that you are held in love when your practice takes you to a place of illumination that is painful or unsettling. Open yourself to God and the possibility of transformation. 
  7. Experiment.  Be adventurous.

Queries

  1. Do you make time in your daily life for reading, silence and waiting for God in prayer that you may know more of the guidance and presence of the Holy Spirit?
  2. Do your spiritual practices lead you to a greater sense of the Presence?
  3. What practices help open you to be a channel for Divine love?
  4. Do you take time to attend to your spiritual condition? Do you turn to Faith and Practice for inspiration as a part of your spiritual practice?
  5. Are there times you resist a spiritual practice, and why?
  6. During times of dryness or difficulty what helps you to persevere? Can you trust that God’s work is continuing when you cannot feel it?

Following My Thread, By Shirley Hager (Winthrop Center Friends)

Message given at Durham Friends Meeting, October 31, 2021

Before I begin, I’d like to offer an acknowledgement that I’m living on land that was once the home of Abenaki peoples, part of the great Wabanaki confederacy. I realize, with both sadness and gratitude, that I benefit from this land that was cared for here in Western Maine for thousands of years before the settlers arrived. I’ve learned that one-half mile from my house was, for a time, the village of Amesokanti that formed in the late 1600s as Abenaki and other tribes, aided by the French, fled the English incursion into the interior of what is now Maine. That village too was ultimately deserted as the English encroached further.

Let’s take a moment to honor those peoples…

And now, as I’m going to be talking about leadings this morning, I’d like to begin with this poem by William Stafford:

The Way It Is, by William Stafford

There’s a thread you follow. It goes among

things that change.  But it doesn’t change.

People wonder about what you are pursuing.

You have to explain about the thread.

But it is hard for others to see.

While you hold it you can’t get lost.

Tragedies happen; people get hurt

or die; and you suffer and get old.

Nothing you do can stop time’s unfolding.

You don’t ever let go of the thread.

When I was invited to give a message this morning, I decided to speak about my leading to work alongside Indigenous people, and why I focus so much of my life on their concerns, which I’ve discovered are, and should be, all our concerns as well, but I certainly didn’t know that when my journey began.

As I’ve thought about my leading to do this work, I’d like first to offer my own reflection on the difference between a calling and a leading. I’ve not read anywhere that, in the generally accepted use of these words, there is a difference.  I think we typically use these words interchangeably. But to me these two words have slightly different connotations.  I think of a calling as something known to you. As in, I have a calling to be a doctor, or a teacher, etc.  It’s as if you see something calling to you and you begin to work your way toward it.  A leading, on the other hand, implies to me that something is leading you on, but you may have no idea what that something is.  Following that leading is an act of faith because you sure don’t have much else to go on.  It’s an inkling, a nudge, a little voice that won’t be quiet. It’s something that feels right when you follow it and doesn’t feel right when you don’t.

I’d like to read you a bit from my story that gives you a sense of some of those first inklings of a leading that I’ve had most of my life—this is from the book, The Gatherings: Reimagining Indigenous-Settler Relations that I believe many of you are familiar with, co-authored by myself and 13 others-both Wabanaki and non-Native and just published this year. The book tells the story of an experience between Wabanaki people, the Indigenous peoples of Maine, and a group of non-Natives that began 35 years ago, in 1986. In the book, we each tell our story of what led us, Wabanaki and non-Native, to meet together during long weekend gatherings over several years and many seasons in the 1980s and ‘90s.  We met to understand one another and to learn what it takes to have respectful and mutually beneficial relationships across our cultures and our horrific shared history. Bringing this message to you has given me an opportunity to look back at what led me to devote so much of my time, my energy, my whole heart to this endeavor and to the writing of the book that describes it. It also gives me an opportunity to share a few passages with you from the book itself.

As a child, I had a lot of romantic ideas about Native people. Of course, everyone watched Westerns back then, but when I watched Westerns I always sided with the Indians. I remember being fascinated by the tipis and the Indian “villages.” That’s how I wanted to live – the way they lived. I grew up in North Carolina during segregation. My mother was from the South and had stayed close to home most of her life. My father, however, grew up in Missouri, then joined the Navy and was stationed in Colorado; and when he got out of the Navy he went to college on the GI Bill. So, he had seen a lot more of the world, as well as being a very compassionate man. Once, when I was about eight years old, I saw a Black person being mistreated and, although I don’t recall the details, it must have bothered me. I remember being home that evening and looking up at my dad and asking, “Why? Why was this person treated this way?” I’ll never forget his response. He said, “I think it must be that some people put others down to make themselves feel big.” And then he said, “When I was out West they treated the Indians just the way we treat – he would have said “colored people” back then – colored people here.” A light came on for me. Since I had such romantic notions about Indians, if they were treated badly too then all of a sudden the whole system didn’t make sense. Suddenly it all seemed wrong.

I left North Carolina as an adult, and spent six years in Utah, attending graduate school and working. The whole time I lived there, I was aware that there were Native peoples living in Utah, and I hoped that I might meet some Native students at the university, but I never had the opportunity.

Fast forward to 1986. I was by then living in Maine and, at the time, was active with a Quaker peace program based in southern Maine. I heard about a new peace and justice organization that was devoted primarily to promoting sustainability in the Gulf of Maine bioregion, namely Maine and the Maritimes. This organization was called the Center for Vision and Policy (CVP), and I thought that the two organizations should be introduced. I contacted the founder of CVP, Elly Haney, and we met one morning at a local Portland diner. She filled me in on CVP, their activities, and plans for the future. Their plans included a particularly notable decision for a primarily “White” organization: a commitment that any vision of sustainability should include the perspective of the Indigenous people who had lived for thousands of years, and continued to live, in the bioregion. I was completely hooked:

[From the book] Currently the CVP board was mulling over the question of how to reach out and find Native individuals who would be interested in participating in this endeavor, and Elly [the founder of CVP] admitted they were pretty much clueless about how to start. She planned to contact existing Native organizations as well as a few people whose names she had been given, but was feeling less than confident of a positive response….[I said]“Well, I’m going to a New England Quaker gathering in Amherst next week,  producing the brochure from my purse. “There’s a Wampanoag man named gkisedtanamoogk” – whose name I couldn’t yet pronounce – “speaking there. Maybe I could talk to him.”

How the resulting Gatherings between Wabanaki and non-Native individuals that we speak about in the book came to be is a story much too long to tell in the time I have here but suffice it to say that my connection with gkisedtanamoogk proved to be the catalyst for everything that happened after that. The Gatherings developed over time, with much deliberation and planning, primarily between gkisedtanamoogk and myself. But once we began to meet in the Gatherings, it was the feeling that what we were doing was, as Quakers say, a “rightly ordered” thing to do, that kept me committed.

I’d like to share a pivotal moment for me that arose in the Gatherings.

The first Gathering that we held was a typical educational event, where we invited Wabanaki speakers to talk to us, the non-Natives, and educate us about their history, our shared history, and current issues in their lives. It went well enough that we decided to hold a second Gathering the following year.

[From the book] During the year after our first Gathering, when we were planning the second one, gkisedtanamoogk offered to build a Fire and to have a First Light ceremony there. This was before our decision to hold all of our meetings around the Fire, and so his suggestion caught me by surprise. I was tremendously excited because I had wanted to experience something like that my whole life.

Native women had already told me that when women were menstruating they didn’t participate in these ceremonies. Sure enough, that’s what happened to me and, after all the anticipation, I was crushed. While the ceremony was going on, I left the group and climbed one of the little hills overlooking the retreat center. I lay down between a couple of big boulders on the hillside and dissolved into tears. I had worked all year to put this event together and I wasn’t going to experience the very thing I had looked forward to the most. I remember praying up there among the rocks and asking for answers, or at least a way to cope with my disappointment, and what came to me was … this was a test of my commitment. We didn’t create this event so I could take part in a ceremony. This was about something much bigger, and I needed to accept things as they were, even though I didn’t fully understand them or necessarily agree with them. I think I grew up a little that day. I came to a realization of the seriousness of what we were doing, and that it was important to stay with it, no matter what.

[Important note: this practice of excluding women during the “Moon Time” as it was referred to, I understand from Wabanaki individuals has been challenged by women and men alike and I believe that it is rare now to see women sitting outside the Circle.]

I did, of course, get to experience the ceremonies and the Circles in which we met many times over the years.

And, as time went on, I say in the book:

I remember a distinct feeling of “filling up” as the Talking Stick would go around and the stories would be shared. Another way I describe it is, it felt like a wound healing that, until then, I didn’t know was there. I think that we White people carry around the wounds of the separations that we’ve created, whether it’s our separation from Native Americans or African-Americans, or from the land itself. Oppressed peoples feel the brunt of the system we’ve created, but we feel it too. We suffer from the separation without being aware of it most of the time. Being in those Circles was a spiritual experience, I don’t know any other name for it; as if we were doing something so right with Creation that you could feel it…

What kept many of us coming back to these Gatherings, kept a number of us in touch all those years since the Gatherings ended, and led the 14 of us to create this book about our experiences can only be attributed to the feelings that we had in being together. 

My experience in those Circles was perhaps the strongest sense I’ve ever had of being supported, even carried, by the Spirit. What we were doing felt so right—the sense of healing something that had been tragically broken, the feeling of being held together around the Fire that was lit for us every time—these are feelings that I have had in a few other situations, even occasionally in Quaker meeting, but never so consistently and so long-lasting as the sense of rightness that carried over from one Gathering to the next and was still present after nearly twenty-five years when we first came back together around the making of this book.

There are so many aspects of this experience that I could share with you—it was hard to choose. But I wanted to focus this morning on this experience of rightness, of participating in what God, Creator, the Universe wants to happen. I feel entirely blessed to have known this feeling. And only in reflecting back over my life can I identify those nudges, and recognize the still, small voice urging me onto the path that eventually led me to participate in the Gatherings, and to co-create this book.

I want to leave you with some queries for your own life: can you identify times when there were inklings, nudges, tiny voices, urging you in a certain direction?  Did you listen? Or not? Can you remember occasions when you felt a certain “rightness” in what you were doing? What was that like? Have those occasions informed the rest of your life in any way?

There’s a thread you follow. It goes among

things that change.  But it doesn’t change…

You don’t ever let go of the thread.

Has there been a thread that you’ve followed in your life?

Thank you.

“War and Foolishness,” by Doug Bennett

Message given at Durham Friends Meeting, September 19, 2021

War is what’s on my mind and in my heart today – and foolishness, too.  War and foolishness because war, I believe, is one of the most profound forms of human foolishness, and tragic, too.  War and foolishness have been on my mind because of the recent end of the war in Afghanistan and also because of the recent 20th anniversary of 9/11 and the subsequent launch of the ‘war on terror.’  Hundreds of thousands of lives lost – who knows how many? – and trillions of dollars spent badly. 

In October of 2012 –I jotted down the following list of things that are likely to happen in a war – things that are likely to happen beyond soldiers being killed or wounded.  I don’t remember what led me to write down this list.  This was nine years ago, and eleven years after 9/11.  Most U.S. troops had left Iraq a year earlier, and U.S. troops would still be in Afghanistan for almost a decade longer.  So I don’t remember why I jotted down this list.  We were very much in the middle of a never-ending war, as we always seem to be. 

  • Young lives will be ruined.  The survivors will wake with terrible memories. 
  • Civilians will be killed.
  • The costs will be much, much higher than anticipated.
  • Unspeakable acts will be committed, some by us.
  • Civil liberties at home will be trampled.
  • There will be secrecy and lies that undermine democracy.
  • We will worsen our relations with some otherwise uninvolved friends and serve the purposes of some opportunistic bad actors.
  • We will create massive, distant wreckage that we will not want to repair.
  • We will entangle ourselves in ways that will make it hard for us to disengage.
  • We will set in motion an unfolding humanitarian crisis that will last for years: refugees, divided families, deprivation and the like. 
  • We will sow the seeds of future conflict. 
  • We will fail to learn lessons of peacebuilding because we won’t have tried it, again. 

All these things happened in Afghanistan.  All these things happened in Iraq.  And they happened in Syria and Lebanon and Libya, too – and not only in those places.  It would be foolish to go to war and not expect that most of the bad things will happen.  Those who support wars should have their eyes wide open and their hearts hardened in anticipation of these tragedies. 

I’ve opposed this sequence of wars.  When I’ve written my Senators or written a letter to the editor, I’ve talked about these terrible things that are likely to happen and urged them to oppose these wars.  I’ve mostly written about things on this list. 

Let’s call the items on this list the prudential arguments against war.  War won’t get us where we want to get to.  It won’t bring peace; it will bring further war.  It will not bring understanding; it will bring mistrust and hatred.  War today will bring war tomorrow.  You’d have to be foolish to expect anything else.  We have abundant recent evidence. 

But these prudential reasons for being against war aren’t really why I’m against war.  These prudential reasons are important – very important – but deep down I know I am against war because I am a foolish person – foolish in a very different way. 

I’m a different kind of foolish person because I’m a pacifist. 

I became a pacifist in the late 1960s during another war, the one in Vietnam.  (All those bad things on the list happened then, too; they always do.)  I became a pacifist before I became a Quaker.  It was in understanding why pacifism made sense, even though it was foolishness, that I found my way to Quakerism.

Why is pacifism a kind of foolishness?  Do you even need to ask?  Tell someone you are a pacifist and they look at you with utter dismay and incredulity.  Voiced or unvoiced you hear a torrent of questions.  Would you have let the Nazis win?  If someone attacked your mother, wouldn’t you try to stop the attacker?  If they attacked your wife? Your children?  Would you really not raise a hand to stop an aggressor? 

It’s unfathomable; people can’t believe you’re serious; as soon as you say you’re a pacifist they know you are a fool. 

You certainly put yourself beyond the boundaries of reasoned argument.  You can no longer have any standing whatsoever in discussions of foreign policy.  There is no point in writing your Senator and telling her she should oppose a war because you’re a pacifist.  That letter will carry no weight.  When you say you’re a pacifist you put yourself out of bounds – beyond the pale.  Only ‘serious people’ get to participate in the decisions about going to war – and no ‘serious person’ is a pacifist.

I understand being a pacifist is foolishness.  It’s a very, very different kind of foolishness from the foolishness of thinking that war won’t bring those twelve terrible things I listed before.  You have to choose which kind of foolishness is yours:  believing that war will work, or believing that one door to a different, better world (the “beloved community”) is marked “I will not go to war.”  Let’s call the pacifist argument against war the transformational argument against war.  It’s an argument deeply grounded in Jesus’s argument to love your neighbor as yourself. 

“What if everyone acted like you did?”  That’s one of the torrent of questions you provoke if you declare for pacifism.  And that one question is easy to answer:  You can say, that would be wonderful.  You have to believe – you should believe – that everyone can and should make the same choice, the choice to say no to war.  Not just your family and friends, not just your fellow citizens, but everyone would make the same choice. 

Pacifism is a kind of foolishness that begins by saying I am not going to accept that what has happened over and over again is the only possibility. 

“I told them I lived in the virtue of that life and power that took away the occasion of all wars.”  That’s from George Fox, of course.  He’s saying, I took myself out of this world and put myself in a different world.  And, he might well have added, I’m not coming back. 

Join me in the that new world, Fox is saying.  Sign up for the foolishness that says there are new possibilities.  We can do this together.  We can choose to love one another.  We can put ourselves into an understanding that each and every one of us is a child of God, capable of giving and receiving love.  But each of us has to begin by making the individual choice to say no to war.  Each of us needs to make a solid commitment to the way of love, not a tentative or half-hearted, ‘but you go first’ one. 

Yes, that’s foolishness.  It is a rare and wonderful kind of foolishness.  Here’s a statement from British Friends in 1920 – that is, just after the end of another horrible war – in which all those terrible things happened. 

“When the early Friends said that the ‘Spirit of Christ would never move them to fight and war against any man with outward weapons!’ they not only testified that war was wrong, but they also indicated that there was a new and right way of dealing with men consonant with Love, and certain to be attended by a success far greater than had ever been attained by war. Instead of destroying or suppressing the evil-doers, the new method would transform them into children of light. These early Friends were come ‘into the Covenant of Peace which was before wars and strifes were’ and by their lives lived in the power of the light they were helping others to enter that same covenant.”

Or as A. J. Muste once put it, “there is no way to peace; peace is the way.”

Yes, pacifism is foolishness by the world’s lights, but it is, I believe, a far, far better foolishness than the endless alternative of war. 

So here is the choice, a choice between two kinds of foolishness.  Do you choose the foolishness of war and its terrible train of tragedies, or the foolishness of a new life lived in love?

Also posted on Riverview Friend.

“Praying for Zoom Support,” by David Coletta

Message given at Durham Friends Meeting, September 12, 2021, by David Coletta, Three Rivers Meeting

Good morning, Friends.

I want to thank you for inviting me to bring the message this morning. Just to say a little about where I’m bringing it from… I live in Boston, but I happen to be in Hanover, New Hampshire this weekend, so that’s where I’m physically Zooming in from. Back when you invited me a couple of months ago, it seemed like maybe by now it would be safe to come visit you in person to give the message, but it didn’t turn out that way. And this is only the second time I have ever brought a prepared message to a Quaker meeting. The first time was a couple of months ago, as one of the hosts of Three Rivers, where we bring a prepared message each time. As you heard in the introduction, Three Rivers is a worship experiment that has been meeting online under the care of Fresh Pond Monthly Meeting since the beginning of the pandemic. Before it was Three Rivers, it was a project called “Quaker Dinner Church” started by Kristina Keefe-Perry. As a worship experiment, we are not even formally a worship group, although we are hoping to gain formal status as a preparative meeting under the care of Fresh Pond some time in the next year or so. Anyway, I’m grateful for the opportunity to bring a message a second time.

There’s someone here at this meeting today who is responsible for the “Zoom” aspect of worship, and sometimes that person is called the “tech host”. I think maybe you call it “Zoom support” here? I’d like to take a moment now and invite us all to hold that person or people in prayer as they work to support us.

Thank you, Friends. A little later on I’ll say more about why that bit of prayer is important to me.

But first I want to share about my personal journey of the last 18 months or so – how I came to this work. At the beginning of 2020 I finished a career in software engineering. For quite some time before that, I had been aiming at February 2020 as the time to wrap up my software career and start something new. My work had been focused for a long time on technology, and I wanted to transition into doing work that was more about connecting with people. I really didn’t know what the work was going to be, but only a few weeks after I quit my job, I found out. There was this Sunday in March 2020 when we went to our local meetings in person, not realizing that it was going to be the last time for a while. And then the very next Sunday many of our meetings held worship online via Zoom for the first time. It wasn’t yet obvious to me what my work was going to look like, but what struck me then was how many folks were going to need tech help in order to do the basic things that were necessary in order to join Zoom worship: besides getting Zoom to work, it suddenly became important to manage all these Zoom links somehow! So I made a website where people could sign up for free one-on-one tech help, and I spent some time every day helping people figure this stuff out. This turned out to be excellent preparation: it was obvious, it was sorely needed, and it was challenging for me. I was used to having complete command and facility with technology, and this work required me to develop compassion and understanding for what it felt like not to be in command.

Back to Friends Meetings. It quickly became clear that it was one thing to hold meeting for worship over Zoom, and quite another to hold meeting for business. I studied how Beacon Hill Friends Meeting and Friends Meeting at Cambridge were experimenting with the features in Zoom like “raise hand”, and noticed how some of our business practices were being modified in small ways to accommodate the needs of the clerks’ table and of the body in an online setting. I found opportunities to try being the “tech host” for worship and business, and helped write some of the guidelines we were using. I joined these new things called “tech teams” at Beacon Hill and Cambridge, who met every week or two to identify tech hosts for events, teach each other how to use the tech, and generally huddle for warmth and mutual support. It was and is challenging work. 

By now it was early June and I could see we were going to need this same work to happen at Yearly Meeting sessions, which were going to have to be online if they were to happen at all. I approached the Yearly Meeting staff and offered to recruit and lead a team of volunteers who would do the tech hosting work for the business meetings and plenary events of Yearly Meeting sessions. We only had about eight weeks to prepare, and these were eight of the scariest weeks of my life. I had seen business meeting work over Zoom at the monthly meeting level, but I had never seen it work with hundreds of people present. A great blessing for us was that New York Yearly Meeting was a couple of weeks ahead of us all summer long in their preparations, so I reached out to my friend Jennifer Swann who was helping New York Yearly Meeting figure out their sessions tech, and the two of us worked together to bring those learnings to New England. At the same time, amidst all that fear, there was a still small voice at the center of it all telling me that I was in the right place, doing the right work at the right time, that I had been preparing for that work my whole life, and that everything would be okay. That everything already was okay.

This is probably a good point to explain why praying for the tech host is important to me. When the tech for a Zoom meeting is going well, it’s invisible. Everything just works. And this is like so much of the infrastructure in our world that we take for granted: we mostly only think about electricity when the power goes out, right? But the tech team is doing all sorts of little things, quietly, invisibly, to make sure that everything just works. Being on the tech team can feel a lot like being on the backstage crew of a theater production! But that’s not what we’re doing in our meetings for worship and business: it’s not a show, it’s a living, breathing witness to the promptings of the Spirit. So we don’t judge our meetings by how well the clerk hits their cues, or whether the finance committee report starts and ends on time. When we pray for the tech team, it’s a chance to let go of our expectations that the show follow the script.

After 2020 sessions I was hungry for more of this work. So in the fall, I went on to recruit and lead the tech team for FCNL’s Annual Meeting, and in the spring of 2021 for the FWCC Section of the Americas meeting, and then this summer for our recently concluded 2021 Yearly Meeting sessions. I learned more and more at each of these conferences about the work and how to lead it. My first priority was not to put on a glitch-free show, but to create a fulfilling opportunity for service for the people on the tech teams. That meant providing training and practice sessions, it meant not asking any one person to do more than they were capable of, and it meant putting structures in place by which we could support each other. The work can be really scary! Press the wrong button and end the meeting by mistake? That happens! And it feels terrible! And yet it somehow has to be possible to move past these mistakes with the understanding that God is inviting us to be faithful — not perfect! What makes that moving-past possible is being present to each other, over the physical distance, praying for and supporting each other, literally whispering messages of support — and reminders of upcoming cues — in each others’ ears. So another thing that is mostly invisible to you when you go to a big Zoom event is that we members of the tech team are connected to each other in additional ways beyond Zoom, via invisible threads of technology. And these connections somehow manage to restore a great deal of the intimacy of being together in person, for us on the tech team to be sure, and maybe for everyone else too.

So with all that in mind, now I want to talk about a stark contrast that I have been experiencing this year. It’s a contrast between the richness and sense of great abundance that I feel on these tech teams at big Quaker events, versus the burnout and sense of scarcity that I hear about when I meet with Friends’ meetings who are trying to discern the way forward with online and hybrid worship. And it’s different for different sized meetings. Some of our smaller meetings never went on Zoom at all: they kept meeting on each others’ porches, or they met each by themselves in their own homes at the appointed time. Some of our bigger meetings formed tech teams and created that same sense of mutual support that I described. And our medium-sized meetings struggled. I heard stories of meetings where there were just one or two people doing all the tech hosting, and they were tired and burned out. And this was just from holding online-only worship. When they heard that holding hybrid worship was even more work, it was as if I was describing a trip to another planet.

Friends, we are tired. The work of holding our communities together when we can’t be together in person is hard work. We are tired from not being able to come together for our Yearly Meeting sessions, tired from being afraid for our health and safety when we perform the basic functions of daily life, and so, so tired of the uncertainty. It can feel like we are wandering in the desert sometimes. And you know we have lost folks along the way. Friends for whom online worship just doesn’t work. Friends whose passing cannot be commemorated in person. And our young Friends, for whom Zoom church and Zoom retreats on top of Zoom school is just more Zoom than anyone should be asked to endure, let alone kids. When we are this tired, we yearn for things to go back to normal. That’s legit, right? Please just let us all come back to our meeting houses together and sit next to each other and sing together and shake each others’ hands and feel safe and connected. Let’s take a moment now and hold that yearning in our hearts, breathe into it, and acknowledge that it’s a totally valid thing to want.

One of the things I had to learn the hard way during the pandemic is that there are at least a couple of different ways that Friends respond under these circumstances, in the ways that we care for our meetings for worship. One is what I’ll call “holding”. It’s about calming, being careful and predictable, about protecting meeting for worship, and resisting change. The other way some folks respond is what I’ll call “experimenting”. It’s about changing, learning, about embracing chaos, about making lots of mistakes, and figuring out new things that work. Both of these kinds of care are needed! As you might guess, my response was mostly about experimenting, and I came up against a lot of resistance to that in the week-in, week-out meetings for worship of a local meeting. I had to accept that I was going to have to create my own opportunities to experiment, and as it turned out, the large events with big tech teams were the perfect place, because that abundance of energy and creativity and connection that came with such a big tech team created the safety within which to experiment. That experimentation was and is a big part of what sustains me through this time. But I want to caution you: every meeting needs both kinds of care, holding and experimenting. If your meeting tends to lean in the direction of holding, don’t forget to embrace and support those among you who want to experiment and learn. And if, like Three Rivers, your meeting is all about experimenting, remember those folks who come each time looking for something that feels familiar.

I want to share with you the vision that has been breaking through for me, just here and there a little, of what’s around the corner for us. One of the things we have been learning about online and hybrid worship is that it’s an opportunity to create accessible space for those Friends we were leaving out in the “before times.” People who couldn’t come to the meetinghouse because of health or distance or ability now can join online. People who could come, but couldn’t hear, now can read closed captions. And these are just a couple of the many ways that our meetings have become, and have the potential to become, more accessible. 

When I think about and speak about hybrid worship, I try to resist the idea that it’s centered in the physical meetinghouse, with a few remote participants. Instead I talk about it as an online meeting in which some of the “Zoom squares” have groups instead of individuals in them. One of those groups might be the folks at the meetinghouse. Some of those groups might be families at home. By my definition this meeting today is a hybrid meeting for worship. Maybe that was already your picture of hybrid worship! If it wasn’t, try it on for size. 

I feel like one of the effects of the pandemic has been to atomize us into soap bubbles! Early on during the pandemic we tried to stay in the smallest bubble we could. Later on some of the bubbles popped as things got safer. Maybe now we are trying to find smaller bubbles again. It’s like some of the bubbles are popping and joining together, and other new ones are forming. But imagine that we start to actually get good at this. Good at holding meeting for worship with bubbles of all sizes, and at adapting the sizes of our bubbles as the needs of the pandemic dictate. Who’s to say where it stops? If we can hold hybrid worship in one meeting with lots of different sized bubbles, could we join two meetings together in hybrid worship? How about a whole quarter? or a yearly meeting? What does this mean for the idea of your “local Friends Meeting”? What does it even mean to be a “Friend at a distance” any more? And what does it mean for the burnout and exhaustion that many meetings are experiencing? Maybe it’s okay to let the meeting down the road do the online hosting, and just show up? Maybe each meeting doesn’t have to do it all on their own? Maybe it’s okay to let down some of the boundaries that separate us?

By the way, if you find hope and inspiration in this vision, I recommend reading Emily Provance’s piece called “Fruit Basket Upset and the Eighth Continent”, published in March 2021. I’m indebted to her for some of these ideas, and I share her sense of hope.

I want to close with a poem that I first heard at Three Rivers. It’s called “The Way It Is,” by William Stafford, and best as I can tell it was first published in 1998 in his collection of the same name. For me this poem touches on what it feels like to be doing this particular work in this moment.

The Way It Is, by William Stafford

There’s a thread you follow. It goes among

things that change. But it doesn’t change.

People wonder about what you are pursuing.

You have to explain about the thread.

But it is hard for others to see.

While you hold it you can’t get lost.

Tragedies happen; people get hurt

or die; and you suffer and get old.

Nothing you do can stop time’s unfolding.

You don’t ever let go of the thread.

“Faith Without Works Is Dead:” an exhortation from Leslie Manning

In Meeting this morning (September 5, 2021), Leslie Manning encouraged and exhorted us all to do more to make this troubled world a better place. She drew upon the Epistle of James, and a poem attributed to Rumi.

From the Epistle of James, 2:14-20 Faith Without Works Is Dead

14 What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? 17 Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

18 But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. 19 You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble! 20 But do you want to know, O foolish mortal, that faith without works is dead?

Unfold Your Own Myth by Rumi

Who gets up early
to discover the moment light begins?
Who finds us here circling, bewildered, like atoms?
Who comes to a spring thirsty
and sees the moon reflected in it?
Who, like Jacob blind with grief and age,
smells the shirt of his lost son
and can see again?
Who lets a bucket down and brings up
a flowing prophet?
Or like Moses goes for fire
and finds what burns inside the sunrise?

Jesus slips into a house to escape enemies,
and opens a door to the other world.
Soloman cuts open a fish, and there’s a gold ring.
Omar storms in to kill the prophet
and leaves with blessings.
Chase a deer and end up everywhere!
An oyster opens his mouth to swallow one drop.
Now there’s a pearl.
A vagrant wanders empty ruins.
Suddenly he’s wealthy.

But don’t be satisfied with stories, how things
have gone with others. Unfold
your own myth, without complicated explanation,
so everyone will understand the passage,
We have opened you.

Start walking toward Shams*. Your legs will get heavy
and tired. Then comes a moment
of feeling the wings you’ve grown,
lifting.

*also Sharms, City of Peace

“A Prayer for Reconciliation,” by Pádraig Ó Tuama

by Pádraig Ó Tuama, leader of the Corrymeela Community, read by Martha Hinshaw Sheldon this morning (21.9.5) opening worship

Where there is separation
there is pain.
And where there is pain
there is story.

And where there is story
there is understanding
and misunderstanding
listening
and not listening.

May we — separated peoples, estranged strangers,
unfriended families, divided communities —
turn toward each other,
and turn toward our stories,
with understanding
and listening,
with argument and acceptance,
with challenge, change
and consolation.

Because if God is to be found,
God will be found
in the space
between.

Amen.

“There Is a Balm in Gilead,” by Fritz Weiss

Message given at Durham Friends Meeting, August 15, 2021

Hymn – “There is a balm in Gilead”

This hymn comes from Jeremiah’ despair – 8:22 – “Is there no balm in Gilead, is there no physician there..” This hymn is the communities response to the prophet’s lament.

 In the Bible half hour talks in NEYM’s sessions in 2019, Colin Saxton mentioned that his favorite character in the Bible is the crowd.  It is the crowd who question, or doubt, or seek or follow.  Colin said he could find himself in the crowd.  A faith journey is a journey of questions, doubts, seeking and following.

The message I have today began when I participated in a brief bible study group last summer with a group of clergy affiliated folks in Portland supporting the Black Lives Matter movement.  We specifically were pondering the shift from being allies to being in solidarity with the BLM protesters. Our Bible study explored the story of the loaves and fishes.  Today I want to think about how this story starts.  I want to pay a little attention to the wisdom of the crowd in the beginning of this well know story.

Mathew 14: 13 13 “When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns”

John 6 1 -2 “Sometime after this, Jesus crossed to the far shore of the Sea of Galilee, and a great crowd of people followed him.

The story begins when Jesus learns that his cousin John had been brutally and unexpectedly executed. – When Jesus heard that John had been brutally executed, he withdrew.

I imagine that Jesus himself was angry, scared, grieving, despairing, and so he withdrew from people. Jesus knew John, loved John, traveled with and preached with John. John’s execution was personal; and it may have challenged his confidence that the beloved community of God that Jesus was proclaiming was already here. So Jesus withdrew.  I certainly do this when I feel broken, I withdraw to be by myself. It’s a very human response.   

And the crowd also knew and loved and traveled with John were also probably angry, scared, grieving and despairing.  The crowd followed Jesus and would not let him be alone.

The version we read in the bible study group next said that Jesus came to the crowd and “all felt compassion and all were healed.”  I couldn’t find that version as I prepared this message; most translations say that Jesus came to the crowd that Jesus felt compassion and the all in the crowd were healed. I prefer the version we read last summer.

All felt compassion, all were healed, not simply the crowd, but also Jesus.  And then they stayed together for the rest of the day and did not want to return to their homes and the story goes on from there. But I want to stay focused on that miracle of healing at the beginning of the story – All felt compassion, which literally means ”to suffer together” and all were healed. I’m sure after the healing there was still grief, despair, and brokenness, and there was compassion. The movement from suffering alone to suffering together was the movement of healing. Healing was moving to a space where both profound grief and profound love could be known as parts of a whole rather than as contradictory impulses.

I hear in this story that the crowd was wiser then the teacher.  The crowd knew that, as early quakers knew, that the ocean of darkness and death are real and are a part of our experience;

and that we bring the light which overcomes the darkness to each other.  We help each other to the light.

This message germinated for me in that small group gathering in Portland after the execution of George Floyd, and when we read the story we were feeling grief, and anger and some despair. This past year has been hard for most of us in many ways; the pandemic, we’ve been isolated, the politics have been hard, the systemic racism in our country has been exposed again. And we’ve remembered that our “city on the hill” is built on a foundation which includes genocide and slavery. At times I’ve continue to feel despair, grief and fear.  And we continue to gather together.  This morning I remind us of the wisdom of the crowd, who calls us to be together with compassion – suffering together-  with compassion and to be healed.  This is the movement to wholeness. This is what we learned when we affirm that “there is a balm in Gilead.”

The Bolivian Quaker Education Fund, by Helen Howard Hebben

Message given at Durham Friends Meeting, July 18, 2021

Thank you very much for inviting me.  I became a Friend in Poplar Ridge NY, a hamlet so small that it is frequently not included on maps of New York State. The Friends Meeting is located in an area of the finger lakes that many Friends settled in the early 19th century and is the only surviving one from about 7 within short distance that were active at one time.  It is semi programmed three Sundays a month and unprogrammed the last Sunday.

I will share a bit about me and why I am passionate about BQEF:  the worst day of my life was the day my younger daughter was killed in a terrible accident.  Emily was 23.  It was a year after she graduated from Hampshire College.  My Friends Meeting cared for me and gradually I began to see my way again.   A hospice grief counselor told a group of us bereft parents that we needed to find a way to take our children with us through our lives.  A Friend from my Care Committee suggested that I join the Bolivian Quaker Education Program Board and share the story in my new home in Michigan. Way opened to for me to do that, and the work has stretched me and brought me joy.

There are more than 30,000 Quakers in Bolivia, and they are all Evangelical.   Almost all of them are Ayamara, which, with Quechua are the largest groups of Indigenous people in this majority indigenous country.  You may wonder why they are Quaker.  Quaker missionaries and educators went to Bolivia in the early 20th century from the West Coast, Indiana, and Ohio.  It was illegal to educate indigenous people until 1950, but somehow Quakers built schools and taught in them.  The cultural values of the Ayamara are very similar to Quaker values, which may have made our religion attractive.

Newton Garver, a philosophy professor at the University of Buffalo, made several trips to Bolivia starting in the late 80’s. There he met and had conversations with Bernabe Yujra, a leader in the Aneala Yearly Meeting, about what Quakers in Bolivia needed.  Bernabe was clear that they wanted more connections with Friends in the North and that their young adults wanted higher education and needed some help with it.  A few were enrolled in the tuition-free public universities, but because they also had to work to pay for food and housing and transportation, it often took them 8-10 years to complete degree requirements. 

In the new organizations, it was determined that Bernabe would manage a small office in LaPaz, recruit and choose scholarship students, and pay the stipends, and support and counsel the students who are the first in their families to attend universities or other schools of their choice.  In most cases their parents are only partially literate.  In the 19 years of its existence, BQEF has graduated 220 young Bolivians!  It is a drop in the bucket of need, but it has been highly successful in bringing those young people and their families out of crushing poverty!

The US office of BQEF is modest with one part time contract employee.   We raise funds to support the program and make sure that all US laws are followed in handling funds and transfers to Bolivia.  The program is funded largely by individual Friends, monthly and yearly meetings.  We have also run study tours, the most recent having been postponed due to Covid.  We hope that may go next year.  

BQEF has sponsored graduate teaching assistants to come to the US to work in Quaker schools.  After a year in the US they take home teaching resources, and hands-on methods of teaching. Their English and leadership have greatly improved, and they are comfortable in international Quaker settings.

We have had North American and European volunteers go to Bolivian that have used their skills in a variety of ways.  Because there are very few native speakers teaching English in Bolivia those skills are always needed.

One of the ways that Friends Meetings can help is to sponsor a student, currently at $850. per year.  This has the advantage of connecting First Day Students to a real person in Bolivia, with the possibility of an ongoing relationship. Scholarship students write letters to their sponsors and we have just begun a program of connecting sponsors and students via Zoom with the assistance of a translator. 

 Zoom is an asset that Covid has brought to our attention.  We now have meetings with staff and students in Bolivia, and if you are interested, we could arrange a session with an English-speaking graduate.  In fact, on Tuesday there will be an interest group as part of NYYM annual sessions, on how Covid has affected our students and their families. 

I will be glad to answer your questions following Meeting for Worship.  Thank you for your attention.

A Prayer of Gratitude, by Brown Lethem

        In gratitude we come, opened and childlike Lord,
        God, source of all Life, all Beauty, and all Mystery  
        Enfold us in the water, light and air of your Goodness
        Your fertile soil
        That we, your small seeds might grow
        Worthy of your Harvest.

July 18, 2021, at Durham Friends Meeting

“A Call to Harmony Amid Harm – or ‘I am glad you are here,’” by Mey Hasbrook

Message given at Friends Meeting, July 4, 2021. Slightly edited for publication. Scripture quoted from NRSV.

—–

Friends, I am glad you are here.

Gratitude for the grace and presence of God in this exceptional time – exceptional for the planet, our home; for humanity, our species; for most of us individually as Beings who are linked to one another throughout Creation, and who are here as Quaker family.

Today’s message is an invitation to welcome new Light, what Friends also call continuing revelation. Let us take up “the new and living way” (Heb. 10:20) that is the path of Jesus – that of Love. Let us review and renew our encounter with God on this declared Day of Independence by the nation-state, the United States of America.

I’m grateful to be here with you – alive, surviving overlapping upheavals.

With respect to my mixed lineage of Cherokee Celtic-Irish Descent, I acknowledge the First Nations of this continent, Turtle Island, who are the remnant descended from those who survived genocide in successive waves over centuries, and who continue to strive to survive life-threatening conditions.*

Gratitude for this living legacy of resilience and survival that is empowered by Hope, Faith, and Beauty. It is a call to Harmony Amid Harm, a way of living that says, “I am glad you are here.”

Harmony is the journey from Unity into Right Relationship, transforming us in unexpected ways that heal one another and that brings wholeness to Creation.

I give thanks for the precious ways that we’ve shown up for one another – some visible, and many beyond naming in a public space. Let us continue showing up amid the harm that seems continuous, especially patterns of living that draw us away from Love – Love being that which draws us into Harmony.

I’m grateful for the leading to have served among Durham Friends Meeting as Meeting Care Coordinator in times such as these even amid personal losses, which also is the stuff that living is made of.

I’m grateful too for the ministry of birds, whose songs and calls have returned me to remembering God’s presence and grace amid moments of pain and frustration.

These recurring invitations are Spirit-held openings, as are difficult surprises and inevitable changes. All together, they are the stuff of which living is made.

Indeed, Friends, I am glad you are here.

~ ~ ~
What the Fourth of July carries for me personally is a memory – that of being the sole companion of my maternal grandmother, Margaret, as she transitioned from this material living onto the Otherside Camp at sunrise. That was 15 years ago.

Margaret was a retired middle-school science teacher who became a full-time volunteer, a mother of four, and a spouse to a hard-working poor farmer.

That same summer, I worked with senior refugees, most of whom did not speak English. I picked them up in a van to buy fresh produce and eat lunch at a community center. Many of them had survived adult children lost to violence.

The job ended when the funding stopped that summer, as did the vigil by my grandma’s bedside after her death. But the invitation to Love despite Loss and to seek Harmony Amid Harm persisted.

Beings of Creation, we are glad you are here.

~ ~ ~ 
“I am glad you are here, Liza,” ** she in a security uniform, me re-packing carry-ons, I looking through wet eyes to her over our masks. And she replied, “I’m glad you’re here too.”

Liza was the agent tasked to give me a second security screening after the first had a false alarm. As a survivor of violence from childhood and adulthood, and someone living with chronic PTSD, airport security can be very trying on the central nervous system.

This occasion was especially taxing, because I was told that I would be taken to a room with a closed door for another screening. Despite panic and immediate tears, I somehow stayed tuned-in to the presence of God and said, “No, I cannot go to a closed room. I’m a survivor of sexual violence. You’ll need to do this in the open.”

Liza replied that she too was such a survivor and would talk with her supervisor. You see, my request wasn’t protocol, so required approval. Permission granted, we proceeded to a calmer adjacent area.

The re-screening brought on a lot of tears. I had to remind myself to breathe. And upon completion, I began the work to re-pack my belongings. Despite wanting to be left alone to recollect my composure, Liza stayed. It was Mother’s Day this year.

Liza spoke fast. She shared that the nearby chapel and sensory room were good places to sit. And then confided her story in me, a complete stranger: surviving abuse as a child from her family, and dis-engaging with them as an adult; later surviving breast cancer, and rejecting subsequent efforts by family to reconnect.

What the presence and grace of God gifted me in that painful moment was to say, “I’m glad you’re here.” 

~ ~ ~

Friends, my Quaker family, we are to love the Lord our God with all our heart, and with all our soul, and with all our strength, and with all our mind; and our neighbor as our self (Matt. 22:37, 39).

We are invited to show up – regardless of pandemic, or personality, or pain – to show up for God, for one another, and in turn for ourselves.

We are challenged in order to open us up to “the new and living way” (Heb. 10:20) who is Jesus –  or the Living Path of Love.  Such is the movement of Spirit amid Harm, calling us toward Harmony.

This is the message I hear from a fresh reading of Matthew ch. 12, vs. 1-8.  As Friend Denise reads for us, let us welcome in new Light or continuing revelation:

Not long afterward Jesus was walking through some wheat fields on a Sabbath. His disciples were hungry, so they began to pick heads of wheat and eat the grain. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to Jesus, “Look, it is against our Law for your disciples to do this on the Sabbath!” 

Jesus answered, “Have you never read what David did that time when he and his men were hungry? He went into the house of God, and he and his men ate the bread offered to God, even though it was against the Law for them to eat it –  only the priests were allowed to eat that bread. Or have you not read in the Law of Moses that every Sabbath the priests in the Temple actually break the Sabbath law, yet they are not guilty? I tell you that there is something here greater than the Temple. The scripture says, ‘It is kindness that I want, not animal sacrifices.’ If you really knew what this means, you would not condemn people who are not guilty; for the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.”

In v. 6, Jesus says, “I tell you that there is something here greater than the Temple.” Yes, just as there is someone here greater than our Meeting House, which we sorely miss. I hear the rush of Spirit’s movement – even with space between us –  that is, the presence and grace of God within each of us.

As Friends, we honor the Light carried by each Being in this beautiful Creation. In our honoring of Light – or the Divine in the Human and All – Jesus calls us to be merciful and kind. The Living Path of Love tugs us beyond routine sacrifice or elective service, even beyond how we have done things and how we expect to be doing things.

And this also is Jesus calling us to Freedom:  Truth Telling and Integrity all the way down to the Roots of Love, Liberation, and Lies; that is, to face Harm in our pursuit of Harmony.
~ ~ ~

Friends, when are we glad to be here with one another, and why? How do we say this, show it, feel it, and mean it? Just as honestly, when are we not and why?

This is the query I bring for today’s message. Let us listen for Truth, even beyond Facts or Reason or secular Common Sense. Let us seek Harmony while healing Harm. Let us open our hearts to Love, who is Jesus and is carried within each of us.

To draw this query down into our daily lives, I pair it with “The Final Appeal” by Linda Aldrich, former Maine Poet Laureate. You can find the poem on Maine Public Radio’s website <mainepublic.org>, published 29 June 2018, also with an audio version.

The poem’s last line reads, “his words closing around us like sea smoke.” May the “sea smoke” be

like the Spirit of the Living God falling afresh upon us to melt us, mold us, fill us, and use us. ***

——

* On the whole of the US population today, Native Americans are counted below 2%. One historical comparison: North American Indians have been estimated at 15 million in 1500 versus only 237,000 by 1900.  A widely used figure is that 90% of Native Americans were killed due to the onset of settler-colonialism. For a current perspective with historical context, read Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz’s article, “Yes, Native Americans Were the Victims of Genocide” online at <truthout.org>, published 4 June 2016.

** “Liza” is a pseudonym.

*** I refer here to the lyrics of the hymn “Spirit of the Living God”. The song partly is inspired by Acts 10:44, which often is described as the Gentile Pentecost.

“Making Things Right: Apologies and Reparations,” by Cush Anthony

Message given at Durham Friends Meeting, May 9, 2021

Despite our best efforts, all of us make mistakes from time to time, and sometimes they come at the expense of others. When that happens, we try our best to apologize in a meaningful way.

            All good apologies include a statement such as “I am sorry for what I did.” Or perhaps you simply say, “I was wrong,” or “I made a mistake.” A true apology focuses on your own actions, and never on the other person’s response. And it never includes a phrase which to you justifies what you did. Never should you say “I’m sorry, but…”  That is not a true apology.

            Is saying you are sorry enough? A good apology should also include efforts on your part to make things right. Making amends. Doing an action to repair the damage you have done. In other words, some reparations are called for.

            We should apply those same principles when considering a wrong done by our society to someone or some group of people. When the dominant culture in this country harms another group of Americans, reparations should be a part of an apology.

One of the most shameful moments in American history was establishing internment camps for Americans of Japanese ancestry, during World War Two. Innocent people were made to live in prison like conditions, solely because of their ancestry. After the war was over and when Americans came to recognize that the country had done wrong to those people, a bill was passed by Congress that gave some cash reparations payments to those who had suffered at our hands. This is an example of commendable governmental action in granting reparations when offering an apology for mistakes made by our society.

Alas, we have not done that in regard to the harm done to former slaves and other black and brown Americans. It is time we did so. There is in fact a bill in Congress that calls for just that. HR 40 is an act to establish the commission to study and develop reparations proposals for African Americans. It was first introduced by Representative John Conyers in 1989 and has been reintroduced each year since then. The current version recently cleared a subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee and is headed for markup and then to the floor of the House. It seeks to provide money payments to repair the harm done both by slavery and by the Jim Crow laws that followed. It deserves our support.

Also note the excellent Friends Journal recent article by Harold Weaver of Wellesley Friends Meeting entitled, A Proposed Plan of Retrospective Justice. It is well worth reading.

We should also examine government treatment of indigenous people. Congressional proclamations have expressed apology for our treatment of Native Americans generally, but including no reparations have been proposed.

Here in Maine, we are currently doing something similar to offering reparations. A series of bills pending in the legislature will give the Wabanaki greater sovereignty. While not true reparations, enacting these measures will constitute a form of making things right after not doing so for many years. Unfortunately, the bills were recently tabled and will be acted on in the next legislative session, in 2022. The Peace and Social Concerns committee encourages lobbying for them both now and when they come up next year.

In summary, making things right should always be part of the apologies we offer when we have made a mistake, both as individuals and collectively.

[You may also be interested in a Pendle Hill Pamphlet (#465, October 2020) by Hal Weaver, Race, Systemic Violence, and Retrospective Justice: An African American Quaker Scholar-Activist Challenges Conventional Narratives.]

“Beacon of Light,” by Linda Muller

Message given at Durham Friends Meeting, April 18, 2021

Reflecting back on our rather unique winter, I am reminded how our neighbor down the street did a great service for our neighborhood. During the dark of winter he added light — white lights all up and down the great reaching branches of a large maple tree in his front yard — beautiful and encouraging. On the night of the winter solstice we made note of it — walked down to its base and paused — in appreciation. We paused in appreciation of that beautiful light, and for all that the solstice and Christmas symbolize…. the return of the light.

And so, all along through the rising numbers of the pandemic, the January shocks emanating from Washington, D.C., and diminished opportunities to be with friends and family, that tree — that light — was a beautiful, faithful reminder of hope. The way forward towards light.

And now, Friends, I will turn my attention to that hope.

How have I kindled and rekindled hope and light to envision my way forward? Will the joy of rebirth, as spring comes on, open me to more creativity and sharing? More prayerful listening? Is this the way we each empower the light?

Beyond that, how have I helped my family and household to keep hope and serve our neighbors?

And, of course, as our Meeting envisions our way forward, we will want to consider:

  • How can we as a Meeting be a beacon of light to our local and wider community?
  • What changes will come when we are able to gather in person?
  • Can we help the many people grieving losses (of loved ones, jobs, and homes)?
  • Are we a community that appreciates and supports creativity? With this in mind, do we want to grow the Cafe Corner that Mey has begun?
  • Are we a community that provides material assistance — a play group? a music and poetry night?
  • Are we a community that provides a place for listening and sharing — a support group, or perhaps a safe space for reflection and contemplation?
  • Do we want to create a productive organic vegetable garden? then share the produce?
  • Are we willing to share a place to take a walk in the woods, perhaps with benches to rest, perhaps a place for children to develop a relationship with the land?

Of course, Friends, I speak of the community outside of our Meeting, to provide a service. I hope we will all give some consideration to these and other ideas, because these are just a starting point. If we want to, we can be a beacon of light to our local community.

As a final reminder, friends, a quote from the young inaugural poet, Amanda Gorman, “There is always light, if only we’re brave enough to see it, if only we’re brave enough to BE it.”

Thank you, Friends, for your attention. Blessings be with you as you continue with your day.

“The World We Build,” by Leslie Manning

Message given at Durham Friends Meeting, March 28, 2021

Also available on the NEYM Website as Ministry Cannot Be Untethered

Mind the light of God in your consciences which will show you all deceit; dwelling in it, guides out of the many things into one spirit, which cannot lie, nor deceive. Those who are guided by it, are one. ~ George Fox, 1624-1691

Early Friends refer to the Inward Light, which, we are warned, will rip us open.  And, my conscience is troubled.

As we observe the beginning of Passover, the festival of liberation, and the observance of Holy Week, which celebrates liberation in a totally different Way, let us remain open to that searching Light.  It blazes into the empty tomb no and emanates from it. It serves as a beacon in the wandering of the desert that is our culture, our economy, our politics.

It is a pillar of fire and a still, small voice.

As I prepare for the completion of my time with the Chaplaincy Institute of Maine and to graduate in June, I have made the decision to be ordained by that wisdom school in the Interfaith tradition.  ChIme’s mission is to educate and ordain interfaith leaders who serve with integrity, spiritual presence, and prophetic voice. 

And, I cannot do any of this without you.  We friends believe that the Spirit delivers a variety of gifts, but not equally. These gifts are given to an individual for the benefit and the greater good of the community.  In our tradition, we name, claim, nurture and care for the gifts given to us all and hold those so gifted accountable for those gifts.  So you, my community, have done for me.

You heard me when I came to you and asked, as a condition of my membership

 to become an open, inclusive and affirming community.  

You offered me leadership and teaching roles here 

and encouraged me to step out into our wider Society.  

You held me as I served with the Maine Council of Churches,

 and provided me with a travel minute when I was led to visit other FUM affiliated meetings   nationally and many here in New England ==with a concern for unity among all Friends.  

You embraced me when I served as an openly lesbian member of the General Board of Friends United Meeting as a representative for New England, even as that association continues to discriminate against me.

You provided me with clearness committees and prayerful support, 

you challenged me to remain faithful and held me while I mourned for members of my family, our state and this world.  And you will, I have no doubt, continue to do so.

Because, my ministry cannot be untethered. It must have root in our faith community and be subject to the wisdom and discernment of our gathered body in order to flourish.  Our Quaker history teaches us, especially today, Palm Sunday, what happens to a ministry gone astray; what happens when a Friend seeks the support of a wider community and is refused.  We are challenged by the James Naylors and Benjamin Lays of this world and it is our responsibility to take them under our care.

Leadings must be tested, within community.

Ministry must be supported with prayer and accountability, within community,

Care must be exercised, so that Truth may prosper.

I have a young friend who speaks of the “many awfuls” of this world, the many awfuls – but believes, as I do, that we are here to help heal them. I have close friends who have been baptized in a Christian tradition which asks them, every year “Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?” And their promise is, “I will, with God’s help.”

And, so it goes.  I commit to showing up and speaking up, here and in the wider world, not with all the answers, but hopefully asking some of the right questions.

And my conscience is troubled.

 I ask this of us:  How do we live together in peace, knowing all the sins and darkness of this world — embracing and celebrating our differences, if we continue to prize our comfort over our convictions? 

 In a time of deep uncertainty and turmoil, of climate catastrophe, increased militarization and commodification of the world’s resources, my hearts asks:

What would our conscience have us do? 

I hold these questions for ourselves and for our wider Religious Society>  

Is capitalism compatible with Christianity?  with Quakerism?

Is our capacity to commit to being an anti-racist faith community in direct proportion to our ability to live with difference?

How can we be living our testimonies if we remain conflict averse and afraid of engaging in the work it takes to love our enemy and pray for those who would do us harm? 

AS I prepare to leave the Chime community and take up my work in the greater world, I will need your love and challenging support more than ever.  For you see, Friends, I am not content with our condition of seeking a world, as articulated by Friends Committee on National Legislation who say:

We seek a world free of war and the threat of war; We seek a society with equity and justice for all;  We seek a community where every person’s potential may be fulfilled; We seek an earth restored.

I am not content with merely seeking that world, I am building it.  And I invite you to join me.