“A Flag for Juneteenth,” by Kim Taylor

The message at Durham Friends Meeting this week was a reading, by Cindy Wood, of A Flag for Juneteenth, by Kim Taylor (Holiday Books, 2023). This message was part of the Social Justice Enrichment Project being carried through by our Peace and Social Concerns Committee.

Expert quilter Kim Taylor shares a unique and powerful story of the celebration of the first Juneteenth, from the perspective of a young girl.

On June 19, 1865, in Galveston, General Gordon Granger of the Union Army delivered the message that African Americans in Texas were free. Since then, Juneteenth, as the day has come to be known, has steadily gained recognition throughout the United States. ln 2020,a powerful wave of protests and demonstrations calling for racial justice and equality brought new awareness to the significance of the holiday.

A Flag for Juneteenth depicts a close-knit community of enslaved African Americans on a plantation in Texas, the day before the announcement is to be made that all enslaved people are free. Young Huldah, who is preparing to celebrate her tenth birthday, can’t possibly anticipate how much her life will change that Juneteenth morning. The story follows Huldah and her community as they process the news of their freedom and celebrate together by creating a community freedom flag.

Debut author and artist Kim Taylor sets this story apart by applying her skills as an expert quilter. Each of the illustrations has been lovingly hand sewn and quilted, giving the book a homespun, tactile quality that is altogether unique.

“Integrity, the Backbone of the Testimonies,” by Doug Bennett

Message given at Durham Friends Meeting, May 21, 2023

I was first introduced to Quakerism as a student at Haverford College.  One way I received that first introduction was a quotation in ornate script (unusually ornate for Quakerism) that hung in the Common Room.  It was from a Commencement Address in 1883 by Isaac Sharpless, then the college president, in 1883.  It reads:

“I suggest that you preach truth and do righteousness as you have been taught, whereinsoever that teaching may commend itself to your consciences and your judgements. For your consciences and your judgments we have not sought to bind; and see you to it that no other institution, no political party, no social circle, no religious organizations, no pet ambitions put such chains on you as would tempt you to sacrifice one iota of the moral freedom of your consciences or the intellectual freedom of your judgements.”

I’m not the only Haverfordian who was struck by those words.  I know several who carry it around in their wallets, or have copies of that inscription in their homes. 

I’m no longer sure that this Isaac Sharpless quotation is a good introduction to Quakerism.  For me, it speaks too much of individualism, of conscience and freedom, and not enough of worship or God’s will, or of community for that matter. 

Nevertheless, that injunction to “preach truth and do righteousness” laid a heavy stamp on me and it still speaks to me.  It’s an active exhortation.  These are positive things to do, things to do actively, not things to avoid, not things to stay silent upon.  “Preach truth and do righteousness.” It’s an urging to be wholly and fully yourself, to stand for what you believe, and to enact those beliefs in the world in every way that you can.  “Preach truth and do righteousness,” or, as another Quaker once put it, “Let your life speak.”

That Sharpless quotation mostly warns against the constraints that others may place on our inclination to say or do the right thing – political parties, say, or religious organizations.  But over the years I’ve been more struck by the constraints we place on ourselves.  The ways we hold ourselves back – hold ourselves back from doing the right thing.  We do nothing.  We stay silent and seated rather than “preach truth and do righteousness.”  We pay attention to what’s ‘in our interest’ or what’s ‘comfortable’ for us.  Mostly what holds us back is loving ourselves more than loving our neighbors. 

Today, I see a lot of people standing around doing nothing.  Bad things happen, and lots of people step backwards or they sit down.  In current parlance, they ‘ghost.’  “It’s not mine to do anything about,” they seem to be saying.  “Maybe this will soon blow over.”  “I’m not getting involved.”  “I don’t think I want to get drawn into this.”  Maybe we roll our eyes or look away when lies are told.  Down that road, what’s the truth of things becomes murky, and we all grow cynical in the belief that everyone cuts corners, and no one does anything about it. 

The currently popular list of Quaker testimonies follows a SPICES mnemonic: simplicity, peace, integrity, community, equality, stewardship.  It’s “Integrity” I want to lift up today, and there it is in the middle of the SPICES list. 

That list makes it one of six, but Wilmer Cooper wrote a Pendle Hill pamphlet in which he said “’integrity’ is the essential Quaker testimony and undergirds all other testimonies of Friends.”  (PH 296, p 6).  (Wilmer was the founding Dean of the Earlham School of Religion and someone who, along with his wife Emily, Ellen and I had the privilege to know.)  I think he’s right; integrity is the essential Quaker testimony.

He opens the Pendle Hill pamphlet by telling a story about Elfrida Vipont Foulds, a distinguished British Quaker and historian, going to the village of Fenney Drayton, where George Fox had grown up, to see if she could better understand what shaped him.  She sat in the church where he worshipped as a child – an Anglican Church of course.  And she forms a picture of men and women coming week after week on Sunday, religiously.  And then she says “But the self-same people would go from the church the following week cheating their neighbors, cheating in the marketplace, they would get drunk in the ale houses; husbands would beat their wives and parents would cuff their children.  Next Sunday they would go back to the village church….”.  (p 4).  The taproot for Fox, she concluded, is that “Fox felt the need for integrity in daily life.” 

This makes sense.  For me, integrity is the essential Quaker testimony. 

The word integrity evolved from the Latin adjective integer, meaning whole or complete. The word has come to mean “an undivided or unbroken completeness.”  And with regard to our behavior, it has come to mean “soundness of moral principle and character; entire uprightness or fidelity, especially in regard to truth and fair dealing”.

Here are a few things it asks of us. 

Integrity means speaking the truth of course. It asks for honesty through and through.  In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells us:

37 But let [a]your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’ For whatever is more than these is from the evil one” (Matthew 5:37). 

Early Friends –and Friends today – refuse to swear oaths, because to swear an oath before making a statement implies that this time I’m telling the truth, but at other times, maybe not. 

It is not just being truthful in what you do say, but also in having the courage to speak up, and to tell the whole truth that you know, even when that’s painful.  Just knowing the truth isn’t good enough; you have to tell others.  You have to make that an unwavering practice and habit.  Speak the truth at all times, but also:  step forward to be of assistance.  Don’t ‘leave it to others.’ If you won’t speak up, who will? 

Integrity means standing up as well as speaking up – standing up for others.  It means being actively engaged when others are wronged.  I’m sure you can all think of instances of wrongdoing that we later learn others knew about and yet stayed silent.  That’s not integrity.  Speaking up about wrongdoing has become rare enough that we’ve coined a word to describe those who do: “whistleblower.”  But often we realize many people knew about the wrongdoing, and only one or two spoke up – and maybe not immediately.  That’s not integrity.  When someone ‘blows the whistle,’ ask yourself who hasn’t said a word.  We rarely need whistleblowers if the rest of us will speak up in the first place.

Integrity means treating everyone the same, not treating some more favorably because they have power or can provide benefits to you.  Early Friends were known for having just one price for all customers.  Integrity today means caring for everyone, not just ourselves or our allies or our friends. 

Integrity means caring for others as well as yourself.  It means treating others with ‘unreserved respect’ – as if they, too, were hosts for a Divine presence within.  It means loving your neighbors as much as yourself.  Loving our neighbors means not just comforting them in private but stepping forward in public for them on their behalf.  It means standing up for others – all others.

In A Christmas Carol, Scrooge is a man who is all about his business – in every way, every hour of every day.  He thinks Christmas is a humbug; he thinks charity is absurd.  But by the end he is a man transformed.  He is a joyful man celebrating Christmas, and also now a man of integrity.  Dickens has Scrooge say about “his business” now that he is a reformed man:”

“Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, benevolence, were all my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!”  Scrooge goes from being a man who stays put in his counting house to someone who steps forward to help others.  

Integrity asks that we be trustworthy:  good to our word, consistent, reliable, always, in private and in public, indoors and out.  When I was a Boy Scout, we would regularly recite the Scout Law:  “A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent.”  It’s a list of twelve, but it begins with “trustworthy,” reminding us to live by the other eleven always and consistently.  It gives the others strength. 

Speaking up, standing up, treating everyone with respect, with fairness, with caring;  being trustworthy; that’s what integrity asks of us. It’s a lot.  Sometimes, maybe often, it means taking steps away from comfort. 

We speak of “faithfulness” as central to our relationship to God.  In a parallel way, “integrity” is central in our relationships with other people.  Both mean doing what we should be doing, doing it actively, doing it wholeheartedly, with no holding back. 

What does integrity ask of us?  Everything.  To have integrity means ‘being whole,’ and that means embracing the whole of things, not just your corner of things.  It means to live a life in which we are fully present – whole, wholly yourself, wholly present.  It means living as if you lived in the new kingdom.  When Fox says (and this is a cornerstone of the peace testimony) “I told them I lived in the virtue of that life and power that taketh away the occasion for war,” he means he went the whole way in his obedience to God, not part way.  He inhabited the new kingdom with his whole self as if he were a tent pole. 

To have integrity means being part of the backbone of how all things should be.  Integrity is the essential Quaker testimony because it gives voice and strength to all the others. It means standing up for and supporting the way all things should be.  The other testimonies – simplicity, peace, community, equality, stewardship – mean very little without integrity to give them backbone.

Or, as Isaac Sharpless instructed: “preach truth and do righteousness.”


Also posted on River View Friend

“Our Mother Tongue,” by Leslie Manning

Message given at Durham Friends Meeting, May 14, 2023

Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.  (Matthew 6:34)

This appears at the end of the Sermon on the Mount, and is something I try to remember and practice.  What stops me?  Often, it is fear.

Don’t worry.

Be not afraid.

Fear not, for I am always with you.  We hear this again and again from G!D and the angels.

So do not fear, for I am with you;

    do not be dismayed, for I am your God.

I will strengthen you and help you;

    I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.   (Isaiah 41:10)

The celebration of Pentecost (50 days after Passover) in the Jewish tradition is the bringing of the first fruits from the winter harvest to G!d in the temple. They are offered in commemoration of the most significant gift G!d made to G!d’s people, the Torah, the laws and commandments that stated how people are to live in relationship with G!d and each other.  We know them as the Ten Commandments.  Love G!d, love your neighbor, love yourself.

After Jesus’ death and return, he left his followers for the final time promising that he would send the Comforter to them, the Spirit of Truth who comes from the Father.  Com meaning with, forte, meaning strength.  Consolation, yes, but also strength. 

When that Spirit arrived, the followers were filled with power, divine power, and went out into the packed streets of Jerusalem, full of celebrants of the festival, and spoke, preached, prophesied and testified to all they had learned and knew to be true in the tongues of every person present, spoke to each of them in their own language, their mother tongue.  And we are told that people were amazed and many believed.

For us as Friends, it could be said that our mother tongue is in our sacred silence, our expectant waiting, our seeking oneness with that same divine power that descended upon the original followers and continues to be available to each one of us, as it was to Fox and Fell, Woolman and Mott, Jones and Kelly, and is available and present whenever we gather, seeking unity with each other and divine will.

The deeper unity we seek and work for is described by Julian of Norwich when she writes, “The love of God creates in us such a oneing that when it is  truly seen, no person can separate themselves from another person.”

Or, we believe, from all of Creation.  So, let us put aside the fear that separates us from each other and the Creator, and join together in waiting upon that Spirit.  Taking each day as it comes as the gift it is meant to be.

“Separate Is Never Equal,” by Duncan Tonatiuh; Read by Ingrid Chalufour

Message given at Durham Friends Meeting, May 7, 2023

Ingrid Chalufour, clerk of Peace and Social Concerns introduced this morning’s book in this way:

Good Morning Friends!

I will start by asking you to hold the Obadiah Brown Benevolent Fund Committee in the light this week as they review our proposal and decide if we will receive a grant from them. They meet on Friday and we hope to hear next week.

A part of introducing social justice to young children is introducing them to injustice. Whether it impacts their own lives or the lives of others, whether it is a part of history or the present day, injustice is a part of the package. One of the things we will explore and clarify for ourselves next year is what are the injustices to introduce young children to, when, and how.

I happen to believe that injustice should always be introduced to young children in the context of activists who are working to correct the injustice. We have shared quite a few of those books with you and I have another one today.

I share a book by Duncan Tonatiuh, a prolific author and illustrator of social justice books for young children. This book tells the story of the Mendez family in the 1940s in California. It is a true story and the author did a great deal of research, interviewing Sylvia Mendez and using actual text from the court files. The book is called Separate is Never Equal.

.You can hear the book read here, from Reading Is Fundamental.

“Who Do You Say I Am? A Shift in Understanding,” by Martha Hinshaw Sheldon

Notes for the message at Durham Friends Meeting, April 23, 2023

Shifts in our understanding. 

Who do you say I am?  A question asked to elicit recognition and confirmation of Jesus.  A shift in understanding.  Who do you say you are?  Who do you say we are?

Christ, son of man, son of God, messiah, Adoniah, prince of peace, heretic, abba.

Quakers, seekers, religious society of friends, friends of Christ, seekers of the truth. 

Each defines how we respond to life and others, how we behave, how we live out our faith.

Musician Tommy Sands brought a group of kids together with other musicians to sing outside the building where the Good Friday/Belfast Agreement was being hammered out the Thursday before the Friday.  The children present reminded the politicians and negotiators of that which is important.   There was a marked shift in talks after the children sang. 

“700 days of failure, one day of success.”  George Mitchell.  

Who do you say I am?

Commentator on the 25 year Good Friday Agreement anniversary said there was a significant shift in the negotiations when the participants shifted their focus from – What do you kill for?  To what do you live for?

I add the following.

What do you hate?   What do you love?

What do you criticize?  What do you support?

What do you take power from?  What do you give power to?

Find your truth, share your truth, live your truth. 

— From Humankind, by Rutger Bregman

*She was not alone.  Kitty Genoese.  1964.  Her neighbor had a friend call the police and then ran to be with her as she died.  There were 38 people in the area but only one real witness who saw and heard anything. 

The lord of the flies is not necessarily a real outcome. A real 15 month outcast shows different.  June 1965. A group of boys washed ashore a deserted island near Tonga.  They were out to see the world.  They created a working, cooperative system to successfully live on the island for 15 months.  

Images that fill our minds.  Identities of a nation, of a people.

Elizabeth Schrader. Called to study Mary.  To learn who she was.   She read original manuscripts. And worked for a PHD in Biblical studies.  She found that the village of   Magdala does not exist.  The one claimed to be the village is speculation.  Did not exist back In the time.  There were many towns named Magdala, the present day Magdala was not a village but a city as evidenced from digs being done now and was likely called Teracaya. Elizabeth came to the belief that Magdalene was a title.  Mandala means tower.  like the rock. Truth denied. 

Also in the Initial story Martha was not present.  It was just Mary. Martha added to dilute the focus on Mary.  Elizabeth found early scriptures that did not include both women.  And then found later scriptures with evidence of changing the participants of the story.  The reason to put Martha in and explain that Mary is from Magdala rather than Magdala being a title is to have power over the truth.  Sometimes one needs to come forward with new understandings to shift the truth.  To fully know the answer to Who do you say I am?  Who do you say we are?  Sometimes this shift comes through the voices of the young.   

What we focus on we give life to.  When willing to grow and learn more about a situation or person, faith expands.  To include more, The great I am.  The larger picture of those involved.  

Shift to embrace more. Shift to possibilities of understanding beyond where we are now.   

May we stand on the foundation of the rock and look to the light of the tower.   

“A Song for the Unsung: Bayard Rustin, the Man Behind the 1963 March on Washington,” by Carole Boston Weatherford & Rob Sanders

Today’s worsip at Durham Friends Meeting involved a reading of one of the books from the Social Justice Enrichment Project. The book was A Song for the Unsung: Bayard Rustin, the Man Behind the 1963 March on Washington, by Carole Boston Weatherford & Rob Sanders

From the National Park Service tribute to Bayard Rustin:

Bayard Rustin was a brilliant strategist, pacifist, and forward-thinking civil rights activist during the middle of the 20th century. In 1947 as a member of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, Rustin planned the “Journey of Reconciliation”, which would be used as a model for the Freedom Rides of the 1960’s. He served as a mentor to Martin Luther King, Jr. in the practice of nonviolent civil resistance, and was an intellectual and organizational force behind the burgeoning civil rights movement during the 1950s and 1960s. He organized protests in England and studied Ghandian principles in India. His life as an openly gay man, however, put him at odds with the cultural norms of the larger society and left him either working behind the scenes or outside of the movement for stretches of time.

Born 1912 in West Chester, Pennsylvania, Rustin was raised a Quaker and his family was engaged in civil rights activism. He attended Wilberforce University, Cheney State Teachers College, and City College of New York. A charismatic man, he earned a living as a spiritual singer in nightclubs while living in New York City. He took a brief interest in the Communist movement and was a life-long pacifist, due to his Quaker upbringing. His commitment to civil and human rights came at a personal cost. He was arrested multiple times and twice went to jail.

In the 1940s he met A. Philip Randolph and worked with him on various proposed marches on Washington, D.C. to protest segregation in the armed forces and the defense industry. Because of their experiences together, when Randolph was name to head the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963, he appointed Rustin as Deputy Director and overall logistical planner. In 1947, Rustin and George Houser, executive secretary of CORE, organized the Journey of Reconciliation which was the first of the Freedom Rides. The Rides were intended to test the U.S. Supreme Court’s ban on racial discrimination in interstate travel. Rustin was arrested for violating state laws regarding segregated seating on public transportation and served twenty-two days on a chain gang.

With the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, his talents and tireless work were transferred to human rights and the gay rights movement. In the 1970s and 1980s he worked as a human rights and election monitor for Freedom House and also testified on behalf of New York State’s Gay Rights Bill. Bayard Rustin died from a ruptured appendix on August 24, 1987 at the age of 75.

The Easter Story

Today’s message at Durham Friends Meeting (April 9, 2023) involved readings of the Easter story from the Bible interspersed with Easter hymns. Here is the 20th chapter of the Gospel of John, the story of Easter.

John 20 — from the King James Version

20 The first day of the week cometh Mary Magdalene early, when it was yet dark, unto the sepulchre, and seeth the stone taken away from the sepulchre.

Then she runneth, and cometh to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple, whom Jesus loved, and saith unto them, They have taken away the Lord out of the sepulchre, and we know not where they have laid him.

Peter therefore went forth, and that other disciple, and came to the sepulchre.

So they ran both together: and the other disciple did outrun Peter, and came first to the sepulchre.

And he stooping down, and looking in, saw the linen clothes lying; yet went he not in.

Then cometh Simon Peter following him, and went into the sepulchre, and seeth the linen clothes lie,

And the napkin, that was about his head, not lying with the linen clothes, but wrapped together in a place by itself.

Then went in also that other disciple, which came first to the sepulchre, and he saw, and believed.

For as yet they knew not the scripture, that he must rise again from the dead.

10 Then the disciples went away again unto their own home.

11 But Mary stood without at the sepulchre weeping: and as she wept, she stooped down, and looked into the sepulchre,

12 And seeth two angels in white sitting, the one at the head, and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain.

13 And they say unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? She saith unto them, Because they have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid him.

14 And when she had thus said, she turned herself back, and saw Jesus standing, and knew not that it was Jesus.

15 Jesus saith unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? whom seekest thou? She, supposing him to be the gardener, saith unto him, Sir, if thou have borne him hence, tell me where thou hast laid him, and I will take him away.

16 Jesus saith unto her, Mary. She turned herself, and saith unto him, Rabboni; which is to say, Master.

17 Jesus saith unto her, Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God.

18 Mary Magdalene came and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord, and that he had spoken these things unto her.

19 Then the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews, came Jesus and stood in the midst, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you.

20 And when he had so said, he shewed unto them his hands and his side. Then were the disciples glad, when they saw the Lord.

21 Then said Jesus to them again, Peace be unto you: as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you.

22 And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost:

23 Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained.

24 But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came.

25 The other disciples therefore said unto him, We have seen the Lord. But he said unto them, Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe.

26 And after eight days again his disciples were within, and Thomas with them: then came Jesus, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, Peace be unto you.

27 Then saith he to Thomas, Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing.

28 And Thomas answered and said unto him, My Lord and my God.

29 Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.

30 And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book:

31 But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name.

“Way Opens When …. We Remember We Are the Water,”  by Mey Hasbrook

Message given at Durham Friends Meeting, March 19, 2023

I’d like to begin with an invitation to open our hearts, to invite in Spirit who is always with us; and The Ancestors:  the ancestors who brought us this Quaker Meeting, the ancestors who we carry here through our flesh, and the ancestors we have chosen on our spiritual paths. May they add their Light to our time together.

                                                            ~ ~ ~

……Friends, I’m excited to share today’s message.  My prayer is that we embrace an invitation to listen to Spirit from within, moment-to-moment, so that we may be – that is, embody – Love Incarnate.  And by becoming Love Incarnate, that we hear the Waterways sustaining all life in this world, so that we may learn to listen to the Water of our own bodies sustaining us constantly.  From a new folk song to be shared later, this message is titled, “Way opens when… we remember we are the water.”

……Preparing today’s message, I held with care the Quaker saying “When Way Opens”.  I’ve often heard its use to conjure a thing that happens beyond us, like a divine intervention that parts the Red Sea; or a limiting use to mean an exception, like a once-in-a-generation passing of a comet.  Yet Way Opening is not by nature an external nor rare event. 

……Way Opening is Love, Love Incarnate – loving as we breathe and have being.  Way Opening is the Life-Giving Power of Spirit who lives within us and moves through us, a movement of the Waterways by which Rivers and Oceans continuously join together.  The ongoing motion of Love requires open-ended learning rather than a routine or a fixed route.   Quakers call this “continuous revelation”, and it looks like this:  being curious, asking questions, pausing, and accompanying one another. 

……In preparing today’s message, I’ve heard the former “When Way Opens” anew as “Way Opens When . . .”

  • Way Opens When… we love God entirely.  Early Friend Isaac Pennington calls this “giving over” everything and “giving over” continuously.
  • Way Opens When…  we love ourselves and, in extension, one another – because to love our neighbors as ourselves, we must first learn to love ourselves.
  • Way Opens When … God is Our Vision, as in our opening hymn – God being the Living Path of Love, the Jesus Way.  We need to see anew– that is, to learn to think anew – as boundless as oceans and as continuous as the rivers flowing into the oceans.

The Life-Giving Power of Spirit is constricted or expanded by how we think about ourselves, and how we relate to others and our universe.  This teaching – or rather Learning – of Way Opening is to honor being and thereby relationships.  Because Spirit lives and moves within and between us – breathing beings made of water. 

……At the same time, this learning teaches on equal footing how harm is caused when we sacrifice our being and relationships in a trade for “things and thoughts”.  Some names for Harm are Power-Over, Empire, and Oppression including Everyday Racism in which we all are immersed.  In this learning, “things and thoughts” are the stuff that make up our physical and social structures – venerated institutions, private property, and white privilege.  The leading for today’s message is not to define all of these names, but rather to call us back to the Jesus Way: Way Opening as being Love Incarnate.

                                                            ~  ~  ~

Listening for the movement of Spirit as Living Love and the movement of Water as that of Life –  both in continuous flow – let’s wade into this message from the Morecambe Bay, the largest estuary of Northwest England and largest mudflats of the UK.  Four rivers flow into the Irish Sea here.  The mixing of brackish waters nourishes abundant biodiversity.  I first walked the shoreline at low-tide with a few companions. We were taking a workshop at Swarthmoor Hall, a 16th-century building famed for use by Early Quakers especially Margaret Fell and George Fox. 

……The program was called Experiment with the Light, a Quaker spiritual practice.  The practice unfolds over a series of prompts to encourage sensory impressions especially visualization.  Our leaders clearly explained the process, framing our gathering within the setting of First Friends due to location.  The leaders’ plan was for the group to practice in the Great Hall, and then for us to create individual block prints in the modern building inspired by our experiences.

……The first night that we gathered in the Great Hall, I had a strong allergic reaction to the space.  The idea to open windows did not remedy my condition, which is no surprise; centuries of allergens in ancient walls are not easily “aired out”.  So, best-laid plans required re-vision.  The new plan brought practice sessions in the open outdoors, weather permitting; and, otherwise, encircling within the modern building including early evening.  Yet the later night worship sharing would still be held in the Great Hall.

……In this “story-ing” of what unfolded – this version of the story – the leaders’ shift of plan sounds reasonable, a “rational compromise”.  What’s missing in this story about “outcome” is how its shape came into being.  Late the first night after my allergic reaction, the leaders spoke with workshop participants in the Great Hall without me taking part.  I sat in an adjacent room hearing muffled voices through very thick doors.  The morning after, one of the leaders spoke with me for us to finalize a new plan.  Our gathering as a whole never discussed together what was unfolding.  Does that sound familiar, Friends?

……Gratefully, a few participants took interest in me beyond our formal program.  I learned from one person how she and a few others said aloud during that decisive talk with leaders how I ought to be included in the process.  A few felt that nothing of the program ought to held in the Great Hall if I would be excluded.  My low-tide walk along near the grassy side of the Bay’s mudflats was with these few companions. What a difference a few companions make!
                                                            ~  ~  ~

Friends, my leading to give today’s message arose months ago, originally to honor the Water on World Water Day, which is March 22nd.   The United Nations focus for 2023  is “about accelerating change to solve the water and sanitation crisis,” continuing, “And because water affects us all, we need everyone to take action.”  This theme resonates my experiences in recent months, listening to the Waterways within this body right here.  Because there is a need for clean-up and urgent care throughout our wider world and right here with one another.

……In my journey to become Love Incarnate and to focus on loving neighbors, I’ve bumped into a lot of “things and thoughts” including our Beloved Community – right here and regionally.  I’ve witnessed harm done to others and experienced it done to myself:  harm as Power-Over, Empire, and Oppression of Everyday Racism – which for some is beyond recognition like swimming in a fishbowl, and which for me as a mixed-race person is daily painful in this wider world and hurts even more in Beloved Community.

……What God calls me to now is to love myself as I would love my neighbor, and to remind us that we should not confuse Love Incarnate with methods or monuments.  Friends, the Jesus Way is not our Meeting Houses, Handbooks, business agendas, nor current practices of Gospel Order.  The Life-Giving Power of Spirit arrives through our bodies and through our relationships, not our “thoughts and things.”  Power-Over is never a reasonable option, and Everyday Racism is never not a part of what we are dealing with in our relationships.
                                                            ~  ~  ~

As we ready for expectant waiting worship, Friends, I invite us to flow with the Waterways within us and across this Blue Ball – our Earth and only home.  Let us hear what God asks of us, moment to moment.  We will hear a folk song titled “Strangers” by Nickel Creek; that’s what’s inspired today’s title.  I invite a full-bodied listening that opens us up to the Life-Giving Power of Spirit through the music, through the instruments and voices.  What do you hear arise?  How do you and we become Love Incarnate?  How do we all come together to become Love Incarnate?  And in this Loving, how do we name harm and repair our relationships? 

……Don’t worry about following all of the lyrics.  The invitations is to enter in and hold the query, listening to our bodies.  If you need to get up and sway, go for it!  The lyrics I’m reading out are from the outro, which again has inspired today’s message title:

As we drone on
(As we drone on
Past the break of dawn)
Hit rock bottom
(Of that dry well)
And get to shoveling
(Fellow stranger)
We’re our own water
(And we’ve been too long)
Too long coming
To be gone

~ ~ ~ …… ~ ~
Afterword for publication.
Gratitude to Friends who accompanied me in preparing and giving this message, Andrew Grant (Mt. Toby MM) and Melissa Foster (Framingham MM); as well as “steadying” Friends from Three Rivers Worship Group.  Deep listening to three “wells” abundantly watered this message:

  • The Parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10, as Jesus focused on how to be a neighbor;
  • Plenary            “Repairing Harmfully Designed Foundations” by Eppchez Yes (Green Street MM, Philadelphia YM) <https://youtu.be/qaCNvGLyDVg>;
  • and “Strangers” by the trio Nickel Creek <https://youtu.be/qjBbnwDJHOg>.

“Why Are We Here? And Why So Few?” by Doug Bennett        

Message given at Durham Friends Meeting, March 12, 2023

Why are we here at Meeting? I’ve found myself wondering.  And if it seems so important that we’re here, why are there so few of us?  Even  more I’ve been wondering that too.  Are we special?  What do others know that lead them to make other choices on Sunday mornings?  What are we missing that those others get?  Or what are they missing? 

When I was in graduate school – yes, a long while ago – I was part of a circle of friends, good friends, that numbered about a dozen people.  They were all smart and curious, and came from all over.  Women and men, people from both coasts and from the middle, some from the south, some from other countries – quite a variety.  None of these people, then or now,  are religiously inclined.  They didn’t, and they don’t go to church.    I’m the odd one in that bunch. 

After graduate school I became a faculty member in the department of political science at Temple University.  I was one of about 25 faculty members.    It was during that time that I became  a Quaker and started going regularly to Quaker Meeting.  But I don’t remember any of these other faculty members being at all religiously inclined.  Perhaps one or two were, but it couldn’t have been more than that.

From  Temple I went to Reed College as Provost – chief academic officer.  I looked after a faculty of about 100  men and women.  Two of them were serious Roman Catholics, and two were observant Jews, though I think more culturally than religiously.    Most of my professional life I’ve been surrounded by people who weren’t religious. 

I’m saying all this simply to observe that today, in the United States, a lot of highly educated, so-called smart people are not religiously inclined.  They don’t see themselves as having a spiritual life and they don’t go to church or meeting or synagogue or mosque for the most part.  Smart people aren’t buying it, the life religious.  They don’t see any point to it.  They think there are better things to do on a Sunday morning. 

But it’s not just smart people.  Quite a number of surveys have shown that the percentage of people who attend church regularly has gone down considerably in recent decades, and a much larger share of the American population are ‘Nones’ who have no religious affiliation at all. 

So why are we here – here at Meeting for Worship?  What are we seeing that others don’t?  Or, I suppose, what are they seeing that we do not?  What makes us special? 

I can’t speak for you, but I want to try to say why I’m here today and why I’m here most Sundays.  Let me mention a couple of reasons.  They sound different one from another, but they link together in my mind.

I come to Meeting because I need to work on myself.  I have to figure out how to deal with all the many ways I’m not as good a person as I’d like to be.  I need some place to work on my failings.  I want to seek more clarity.  But I also want to seek more forgiveness, because when I see my failings more clearly, I don’t feel great, and I need to find a way to make a fresh start.  That’s a big reason. 

Here’s a second: I have a sense that there is more to this life than meets the eye – and more than meets any of our regular senses (seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, touching).  What that more is I have a hard time saying.  That ‘more’ is elusive.  But it also feels important.  Rufus Jones, the great Quaker scholar and mystic, wrote a book titled New Eyes for Invisibles.  I come to Meeting because I’m trying to develop — together with others — those new eyes for invisibles.  He quotes 2 Corinthians 4:18:

… we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.

“We must somehow recover our power to see essential realities vividly.”  That’s the first sentence of the Rufus Jones book. 

This second reason is connected to the first.  The more I develop new eyes for invisibles, the more clearly I see my sinful nature.  The more I develop ‘new eyes for invisibles’ the more my excuses and delusions fall away, and the better I see new possibilities.  Those two go hand in hand.  Those first two, you might say, are personal reasons.  But there’s more. 

In coming to Meeting I join with others in building a community of people that share the same wantings – to see more and more clearly, and to deal with the ways we each fall short.  We’re seeking, aren’t we, to build a better community together.  Sometimes we call what we’re trying to build ‘the beloved community.’  We might think of it as kind of a pilot project for the human race.  If we can build a beloved community here among a few dozen of us, maybe we’ll be taking a step to building a beloved community for the whole of humanity.  Here’s Matthew 5:14-16:

“Ye are the light of the world.  A city set on a hill cannot be hid.” 15 Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

This third reason is clearly related to a fourth reason I’m here.  If we do build beloved community here in a little brick Meetinghouse in Durham, Maine, surely it will show itself to others.  Our light will shine for others to see. 

That’s a grand thought, isn’t it.  Carved over a fireplace mantle at Earlham College are these words (and some of you know them):  “They gathered sticks and kindled a fire and left it burning.”  That’s what we’re trying to do by coming here.  We’re gathering sticks and kindling a fire and we hope to keep it burning not just for ourselves but for others. 

All this has been on my mind recently because there are not as many of us as there were just a few years ago.  Why is that? 

We all know we have suffered some very sad loses.  Margaret Wentworth has gone to her reward.  And Charlotte Anne Curtis, too.  Sue Wood and Helen Clarkson.  And not so long ago Tommy Frye, Sukie Rice and Clarabel Marstaller.  We have reasons to be a sad meeting. 

But it isn’t just those passings.  I imagine we can all think of people who once attended worship regularly who do not come any more – or come very rarely.  Some people are drifting away.  Perhaps it has something to do with COVID, or perhaps with our moving away from a pastor.  I don’t know.  It sure doesn’t feel like there’s less need now to find our spiritual bearings in this troubled world.  And yet there are fewer of us. That can’t be a good thing.

In Shakespeare’s Henry V, there’s a famous scene when Henry’s soldiers are around their campfires the night before the Battle of Agincourt.  The English soldiers are tired and bruised from days of travel and fighting.  Worse, they know they are seriously outnumbered by the French soldiers they will face the next day.  Henry gives them a speech to lift their spirits.  He tries to make them feel good about being fewer. 

Essentially, Henry’s message is this:  Because there will be fewer of us, there will be all the more glory for each of us, individually, when we win tomorrow. 

The fewer men, the greater share of honour.
God’s will! I pray thee, wish not one man more.

And Henry continues:

From this day to the ending of the world,
we in it shall be remember’d;
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;                          

 [From Henry V, Act IV, Scene III]

We should see it as a privilege to be so few Henry is saying.  More glory for each of us because   we are so few.  We few are special, and that’s all to the good. 

We should note his soldiers did win the battle. But it’s Henry’s message, not ours.  Ours is exactly the reverse.  We’re hoping for more, not fewer.  We’re caring for ourselves, we’re caring for one another, and we’re preparing a place for yet more to join with us. 

In gathering here to worship together, we are always hoping others will join with us.  Each Sunday we know – we hope – we may be surprised by newcomers. 

So that’s a fifth reason I come to Meeting:  to keep hope alive.  To make it possible for others to experience what I hope to experience in coming to Meeting.  We seek seeing more clearly; we seek the promise of forgiveness; we seek the beloved community.  In seeking all these we are kindling the fire.  We are nurturing hope.  We are holding the door open for all those others. 

Or that’s why I’m here.  Why are you here even if others aren’t?  What’s your answer?

“Richard Wright and the Library Card,” by William Miller

The March 5, 2023 message at Durham Friends Meeting was “Richard Wright and the Library Card,” a children’s book by William Miller and illustrated by R. Gregory Christie.

Jeanne Baker Stinson read the book this morning. It is one of the books being distributed to school teachers in this area through our Social Justice Enrichment Project. She began with this message:

This morning I’m here to share with you one in a series of books from the Durham Meeting Social Justice Books Project.  I’m honored to be a member of this committee, to be a part of this important work, and I thank Margaret Leitch Copland for finding this book.

Richard Wright and the Library Card is a fictionalized version of an incident in Richard Wright’s life that he later wrote about in his autobiography, Black Boy.  As you all know, Richard Wright went on to be a best-selling author – writing about the often brutal and dehumanizing experience of being a Black boy, and then man, in America.  In this book he pursues his dream of gaining access to books and stories with persistence and agency and is transformed by this experience.

In my everyday life I teach first/second grade – so I read a lot of picture books. Picture Books are a powerful art form – the combination of visual art with a relatively small number of very carefully chosen words often results in a work that is more than the sum of its parts and worthy of rereading, discussion, and contemplation.

Since we don’t have time for repeated readings here, I’m going to direct your attention to a couple of things that you might not notice the first time through.

  • Notice how Richard already believed in the power of story – thus his pursuit – but is transformed in ways even he didn’t expect.
  • In addition – keep your eyes on Jim.  Jim plays a very minor and even reluctant role in Richard’s quest and yet he is changed as well.

I’m sure there’s a message here for us.

You can see and hear a reading of the book here.


In opening worship before the reading, Renee Cote read a Maya Angelou poem.

Still I Rise


You may write me down in history

With your bitter, twisted lies,

You may trod me in the very dirt

But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?

Why are you beset with gloom?

’Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells

Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,

With the certainty of tides,

Just like hopes springing high,

Still I’ll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?

Bowed head and lowered eyes?

Shoulders falling down like teardrops,

Weakened by my soulful cries?

Does my haughtiness offend you?

Don’t you take it awful hard

’Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines

Diggin’ in my own backyard.

You may shoot me with your words,

You may cut me with your eyes,

You may kill me with your hatefulness,

But still, like air, I’ll rise.

Does my sexiness upset you?

Does it come as a surprise

That I dance like I’ve got diamonds

At the meeting of my thighs?

Out of the huts of history’s shame

I rise

Up from a past that’s rooted in pain

I rise

I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,

Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.

Leaving behind nights of terror and fear

I rise

Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear

I rise

Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,

I am the dream and the hope of the slave.

I rise

I rise

I rise.

Maya Angelou, “Still I Rise” from And Still I Rise: A Book of Poems.  Copyright © 1978 by Maya Angelou. Drawn from the Poetry Foundation website.

“The Basis of Holy Obedience,” 1948

At the beginning of unprogrammed worship on February 26, 2023 at Durham Friends Meeting, Joyce Gibson (providing Care of Worship) read this selection from NEYM’s 1985 Faith and Practice on “The Basis of Holy Obedience” (p. 102):

The Basis of Holy Obedience

Worship, according to the ancient practice of the Religious Society of Friends, is entirely without any human direction or supervision. A group of devout persons come together and sit down quietly with no prearrangement, each seeking to have an immediate sense of divine leading and to know at first hand the presence of the Living Christ. It is not wholly accurate to say that such a Meeting is held on the basis of Silence; it is more accurate to say that it is held on the basis of “Holy Obedience.” Those who enter such a Meeting can harm it in two specific ways: first, by an advanced determination to speak; and second by an advanced determination to keep silent. The only way in which a worshipper can help such a Meeting is by an advanced determination to try to be responsive in listening to the still small voice and doing whatever may be commanded. — Statement prepared for a Friends’ meeting attended by delegates to the World Council of Churches in Amsterdam, Holland, in 1948.

“It’s Time to Write a State of Society Report,” February 19, 2023

Worship at Durham Friends Meeting on February 19, 2023 focused on our annual practice of writing a ‘A State of Society’ report for this Meeting for 2022. You can find State of Society Reports from previous years at this link.

Tess Hartford gave a message about State of Society Reports that also carried a request for contributions tyo our annual report.

         What is the State of Society Report? According to our Faith and Practice we receive these words as the purpose and value of such a report. “At the end of the calendar year, Ministry and Counsel should appoint one or more of its members to prepare and present to its sessions a report on the state of the monthly meeting. The report when approved should be forwarded to the Monthly Meeting. When approved by the Monthly Meeting, it should be forwarded to the quarterly meeting and then on to the yearly meeting. The report should be a searching self examination by the meeting and its members of their spiritual strengths and weaknesses and of the efforts to foster growth in the spiritual life. Reports may cover the full range of interest and concerns and should emphasize those indicative of spiritual health of the meeting.”

        Things to consider are following:

           ` Quality of worship and spiritual ministry;

           `efforts to foster spiritual growth;

           ` stands taken on Friends’ principles;

           ` personal and family relations;

           ` relations with community and other religious groups;

           ` participation in general activities of Friends;

           ` significant activities, outreach, or concerns of the local meeting;

           ` youth of the meeting; and

           `the meeting community;

And to this list I would also add; encouragement of gifts and leadings among meeting members and attenders. So those of us who make up the M&C committee have before us the charge if you will to generate this State of Society report, but as co-clerk of Ministry and Counsel, along with Renee Cote, I am eager to hear form all of you since we are all carrying various thoughts, sentiments, hopes and fears, and concerns as individuals. We are all in this together .What do you think are some of our strengths and some of our weaknesses? How have we grown together this last year? What are some of the challenges we face and where do we need to place more of our attention? And what is important to each of us as we face this new year ahead?

           I will share with you some of my “burden” on my soul. When I use the word “burden” I don’t mean something that is distasteful or repulsive or something I am so weighed down by that I feel hopeless.IN this instance when I use the word”burden” I frame it as a hea in vy concern. Then, if I name it, I can share it and when I share it, it becomes lighter, and not so heavy. In the words of our great teacher Jesus of Nazareth, we are heartened when he said, “Come to me all you who are heavy laden and I will give you rest. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. I am gentle and humble in spirit. Accept my work and learn from me” My burden is light!!!! Let’s meditate on that for a moment- my burden is light. We are given the word light- we have been given the light in which we are covered, covered, so that might carry that yoke of light wherever we are. The opportunity to embrace this light is through our relationship with the living Christ within. The Christ light that asks us to gently surrender our small grievances, our fears of uncertainty, our sense of hopelessness and our deep woundedness. A collective woundedness that we all experience through loneliness, isolation and our sense of separateness from life and from each other.

            I believe that in this examination of our lives as individuals and as a community of seekers, the burden of light requires us to pick up some of the lost threads, and to reach across the divides among us, to show up and submit to the light of God’s power and presence in order to heal our wounds. I believe that we must ask for the humility to see one another as true brothers and sisters, friends, and lean into each other with radical trust and openness. And so Friends, I ask each one of you to examine what is on your heart and to take a little time to write down what are your concerns, your sense of our strengths and weaknesses and to consider where the light is leading us for the good of the whole. What is important to you as a vital member of this community of the Society of Friends? We of M&C ask you to share your thoughts and hearts’ desires, so that we together can build on and continue to grow stronger. To become more forbearing, more loving, more vital and more compassionate with ourselves and the world..The body of Christ who pray and worship together, who work and joy together, who shine light in a world that sorely needs.it. Shining a light, respecting and appreciating our differences, siding on correctness of attitude and communicating our kindness to and with each other. Being a candle flame that can be felt and perceived even in the darkest of times. We have so much for which to be grateful.

At the beginning of Meeting, Leslie Manning (care of worship) read a letter from Sarah Gant (Clerk of the Meeting Accompaniment Group) and Noah Baker Merrill (General Secretary) of New England Yearly Meeting:

“It is that time of year when we gather in our local meetings to reflect on our collective condition as a faith community. This process is a chance to prayerfully reflect: What is our growing edge as a spiritual community? How is the Spirit moving among us? Where have we found sustenance and nurture? How have we sought to hold up and care for our meeting communities?

“The draft chapter on Ministry & Counsel (https://neym.org/engage-texts-currently-under-discussion) from the Faith and Practice Revision Committee offers some guidance on the State of Society process:

“Corporate discernment on its spiritual condition helps the community see how it has been led, how faithfully it has responded to challenges, and where it might need to focus its attention in the future. It helps bind the community and renew its sense of commitment.

“Reports may cover the full range of interests and concerns but typically emphasize those indicative of the spiritual health of the meeting—both that which is thriving and that which is challenging, changing, or needs strengthening, such as:

  • The quality of worship and vocal ministry
  • The strength of relationships and trust within the meeting community
  • Efforts to foster spiritual growth and evidence of growth
  • Possible hardships for the meeting, and how Friends are responding to those challenges
  • Significant events or activities in the meeting’s year together
  • Social or civic concerns of the meeting and stands taken on Friends’ religious principles
  • Service and relationship with Friends beyond the local meeting
  • Relations with the community and other religious groups

“It is important for us, as a gathered community of monthly meetings and worship groups across New England, to hear how Spirit is at work in our midst.

“from Sarah Gant, Clerk, Meeting Accompaniment Group and Noah Merrill, General Secretary, New England Yearly Meeting”

“Can Sophie Change the World?” by Nancy Elizabeth Wallace

The February 12 message at Durham Friends Meeting was “Can Sophie Change the World?” a children’s book by Nancy Elizabeth Wallace and illustrated by Aura Lewis.

Ingrid Chalufour, clerk of our Peace and Social Concerns Committee read the book this morning. It is one of the books being distributed to school teachers in this area through our Social Justice Enrichment Project.

Here’s the Publisher’s Weekly summary of the book: “When Sophie asks Grandpop what he wants for his birthday, he gives her a tall order: for the week leading up to his birthday, he asks Sophie to change the world via kind deeds, or mitzvahs. Dubious about the impact she can make, she approaches the week with a new level of attentiveness and intentionality, and Lewis’s delicate mixed-media vignettes show Sophie modeling consideration and thoughtfulness in her day-to-day. Though Sophie continues to believe that “I didn’t change the world,” Grandpop begs to differ; as Wallace writes, Sophie has helped make it a “more giving, sharing, blooming, caring place,” and the pink-skinned, Jewish-cued family celebrates by crafting a flower-like record of her good deeds. Some readers may wish for a clearer explanation of mitzvah, including connection to the Jewish tradition, but the story effectively shows how every kind act creates its own momentum of good. Ages 3–5.”

The book was also reviewed in the Friends Journal issue of December 1, 2022.

“Yes to the Troops, No to the Wars,” by Wayne Finegar, Quaker House, Fayetteville North Carolina

The message at Durham Friends Meeting on February 5 was “Yes to the Troops, No to the Wars,” by Wayne Finegar, the Executive Director of Friends House in North Carolina. He spoke about the ministry of Friends House, about his own role in being its leader — a ministry of service he called it — and about his preparation (also doubts) for doing this work. He grew up in Sandy Spring Friends Meeting where he is still a member, went to Swarthmore College, earned a law degree, worked for a time as an attorney, married and became a stay-at-home dad, then worked for Baltimore Yearly Meeting (Associate General Secretary, then Acting General Secretary), before coming to Quaker House a year ago — just as the war in Ukraine began. He shared with us this description of Quaker House (“a place of peace in a place of war” that “works to end wars and militarism”):

What is Quaker House?

Quaker House is a manifestation of the Friends’ (or Quaker) Peace Testimony. Based in Fayetteville, NC, home of Ft. Bragg, Quaker House provides counseling and support to service members who are questioning their role in or treatment by the military; educates them, their families, and the public about military issues; and advocates for a more peaceful world.

Quaker House began in 1969 when Dean Holland, a Vietnam era soldier seeking CO (conscientious objector) discharge, hitch-hiked from Fort Bragg in Fayetteville, North Carolina to Chapel Hill Friends Meeting to request their help. Once there, he said to the Meeting, “Quakers should be in Fayetteville.”

The response of Chapel Hill Friends was the founding of Quaker House. The work was soon joined by Durham and Raleigh Friends Meetings, and then by other meetings and supportive individuals. By July 1969, the Board named the first director, Wood Bouldin, and rented a house near downtown Fayetteville.

In the 50+ years then, Quaker House has evolved in a variety of ways, in response U.S. wars and their harmful effects on our service members, their families, the Fayetteville community, and the nation.

Our founding support for active military participants has become the GI Rights Hotline. Along with other groups, Quaker House’s counselors handle several thousand calls per year, from military members stationed anywhere over the world. The counselors advise on issues of conscientious objection, AWOL, forms of discrimination, harassment, and other related issues.

The recognition of the effects of trauma on the military and their families led to the development of the Quaker House Counseling Service. We provide confidential counseling for participants and families experiencing domestic abuse, moral injury, and substance abuse.

Quaker House is deeply rooted in the traditions and practices of the Religious Society of Friends. After more than fifty years, we remain steadfast in our motto: “Yes to the Troops. No to the Wars.” This means advocacy for peace and against militarism in our schools, our homes, and our society.

The counseling provided through the GH Rights Hotline and the Counseling Service is free to everyone. Quaker House depends on the support of donations to continue our work.

For more information: Wayne Finegar, Quaker House Executive Director

quakerhouse.org                  910-323-3912                       execdirector@quakerhouse.org

GI Rights Hotline       24/7

GIRightsHotline.org              877-447-4487

“Peace Is an Inside Job,” by Craig Freshley

World peace is a nice idea, but when news of conflicts from around the world are so abundant on my screens I can find myself drowning in despair.

I’ve learned some simple tricks to help me foster peace in a battle-torn world. First of all, the world is not my responsibility. Of course people are suffering, yet just because I know about it doesn’t mean I should do something about it. I have choices.

Someone once told me, “Detachment is the key to peace.” When I read a headline about homeless people in the cold I have two choices: do something about it or let it go. Fretting about “what needs be done” or lashing out at someone else with blame are generally not good choices; they just foster, well, fretting and blame.

The trick is to foster peace in my head rather than in the world. What can I do to foster peace at home, peace with myself? My trick: I draw a line between what I can change and what I can’t. I can’t change you, for instance. And I can’t change Congress. But I can be nice to you. And I can write to Congress.

Another trick? I read historical novels and learn about the struggles of those who have gone before me. I get to see that right now, it’s not so bad. It could be worse. I develop gratitude for the current plight when I see it in the context of historical plights.

Here’s a third trick: I try to help someone else. If you want to feel good about yourself, do good things. Not think good things or post good things, but actually do good things. It brings me peace to look back on my day and take stock of what I gave, not what I got. When I try to make a ledger of what I received, it often turns into a list of “what I should have received.” For some crazy reason — maybe because I’m human — I tend to focus on the deficits. Gotta fix that. Gotta remember: I am owed nothing.

I’m not good at these tricks. Actually, right now, I’m writing this to myself. I’m reminding myself of what works to bring me peace. I’m vowing to do better.

There is no truer statement than “peace begins at home.” Doing things to make yourself more peaceful is not selfish, it’s practical. Because here’s the thing, when I’m at peace with myself it’s contagious and people nearby might catch it.

“Who Against Hope Believed in Hope,” by Fritz Weiss

Message given at Durham Friends Meeting, January 22, 2023

Romans 4:18: In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations; as he had been told, “So shall your descendants be.”

Last Wednesday I learned that the theme of the upcoming Yearly Meeting session in Cuba this February has a theme drawn from Romans 4: 18.  I realized that this is in fact an accurate summary of the theme of this message and it is one more example of the mysterious working of the Spirit.

This message is a personal reflection coming from the challenge I have felt in recent years to live in an attitude of hope.

I have struggled to continue to hold on to hope during the past years. It is not a new insight that one can lose hope in this world of brokenness and  troubles. And it is also true that living in the awareness of God’s presence should be a source for hope.  That hope is one of the fruits of faith and an essential attitude to be, in fact, the light of God in the world.

In the prayer attributed to St, Francis, there is a list of paired attitudes including “Where there is despair, let me find hope.”  To be honest, in the face of climate change I feel despair, in the face of the politics in the country, I feel despair, in the face of entrenched and persistent structural racism and inequality, I feel despair.  And then there is the pandemic which has separated me from community that has often connected me to the joy of God’s presence in my life.  

My meditation on hope begins with recognizing that hope often is attached to specific outcomes – hope as a form of intercessory prayer.  I hope (and pray) for peace I hope (and pray) for integrity in our politics, I hope (and pray) for healing, for the safety of my children, for relief for the captive and good news for the poor, for the climate, for justice.  

I recognize this kind of hope has an unspoken assumption of both power and privilege – these are outcomes I deserve and over which I expect to have influence. Hope is an expression of autonomy and that this is a part of the reason that faith has a hard time holding on to this hope – that that system of power and privilege is what we are called from not what we are called to. We are called to a different relationship with the world,  I am reminded that in a message that Francisco Burgos brought to Durham a couple of years ago he said “Hope attached to outcome is privilege”

And I recognize that when the outcomes I hope for do not happen, there is an invitation to despair. This kind of hope opens the door to being broken hearted.

Walter Wink, when talking about Christian non-violence as taught by Jesus, illustrated that Jesus was not talking about a binary choice between war or  peace.  Jesus  was talking about a third way – about empowered non-violent resistance – about what early Friends called the “Lambs War”.  That the binary choice was a false choice.  That faith opened unexpected doors to unexpected ways of being powerful in the world without being violent.

The Hope of Faith is different than the Hope of desire.

I would like to share a few threads of what I found over the past few months, and in which I have found a way to be hopeful while feeling despair. 

Veronice Miles on the BTS podcast “climate changed” in the episode “If I can’t make a difference than what do I do”, talked about hope as an “inward yearning for the kingdom – (the beloved community (MLK)”  – this yearning requires imagination to yearn for something that we have never experienced, something extraordinary, something barely known- what Brueggemann called a Prophetic imagination. It seems to me that this inward yearning is our part of seeking the inward light. 

Peterson Toscano talks about “Embodied hope”  – hope that comes not from our mind but that is felt in our bodies – the lift in one’s heart, one’s body when we are surprised by beauty or grace.  This is the hope of our hands and our back – the hope expressed in what we do.

Jen Wilkin in an essay on the Sermon on the Mount, talks about Jesus teaching us to obey – and knowing that we can obey and through this obedience therein lies hope.   And Jesus  is clear that obedience is to love.

The prayer Jesus taught begins with two elements – first “thy kingdom come, thy will be done”  It begins with our embracing of God’s will.  What matters is not our hoping or thinking or desiring but obedience and then the prayer continues with “Give us this day our daily bread, Forgive us our trespasses, Lead us from evil”. These are demands – we are taught to both embrace God’s will, and to demand our daily bread.

In the face of broken heartedness as an outcome of the Hope of Desire, I am trying to embrace the  Hope of Faith.  A Hope not attached to outcomes but to doing, hope not attached to wishing but to demanding,  not to knowing, but imagining, and not to thinking but feeling. Hope not as the opposite of despair, but a third way of empowered prophetic surrender.  Hope not as a choice but as the path.  

Finally Wendell Berry in one of his Sabbath Poems says “ What I fear most is despair for the world and for us; [despair which results in] forever less of beauty, silence, open air, gratitude, unbidden happiness, affection, unegotistical desire.”   Finding a way of living in that faithful stance of hope is also finding a way to experience “forever more of beauty, silence, open air, gratitude, unbidden happiness, affection, unegotistical desire.”  

“Freedom Over Me,” by Ashley Bryan

For January 15, 2023, the message at Durham Friends Meeting was a reading, by Ingrid Chalufour, of a book by Ashley Bryan, Freedom Over Me.

From the publisher’s website

Newbery Honor Book
Coretta Scott King Author Honor Book
Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor Book

Using original slave auction and plantation estate documents, Ashley Bryan offers a moving and powerful picture book that contrasts the monetary value of a person with the priceless value of life experiences and dreams that a slave owner could never take away.

Here are the cover and one page from the book:

“The Struggle of a Lifetime,” by Leslie Manning

The January 8, 2023 message at Durham Friends Meeting was given by Leslie Manning. The message, on “The Struggle of a Lifetime,” revolved around these passages, one from W. E. B. Dubois, and one from Rep. John Lewis

From W.E.B. Du Bois: “It is the wind and the rain, O God, the cold and storm that makes this earth of thine to blossom and bear its fruit. 

“So in our lives it is storm and stress and hurt and suffering that makes real men and women bring the world’s work to its highest perfection.

“Let us learn then, in these growing years, to respect the harder, sterner aspects of life together, with its joy and laughter, and to weave them all into the great web which hangs holy to the Lord.”


From Rep. John Lewis:  June 2018: “Do not get lost in a sea of despair. Be hopeful, be optimistic. Our struggle is not the struggle of a day, a week, a month, or a year, it is the struggle of a lifetime. Never, ever be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble.”

“Healing River,” by Mey Hasbrook

Message given at Durham Friends Meeting, December 11, 2022

While not a usual story for this time of year – Advent, and what we observe as Christmas – today’s message I believe shares in its heart or essence.  I offer a query for today’s expectant waiting worship, as lifted by our opening song, “Healing River”:

Who is the Healing River?  How do we welcome the river? And how does healing arise?

As we gently carry this query, let’s visit a river this morning found in Yellowstone National Park, what’s popularly lauded as the first national park of the United States.  The land base is linked with 27 tribal nations.

Wolves now are abundant because of being returned to the land in 1995, after being killed off in the 1930s.  Yellowstone’s web site explains “the presence of wolves triggered a still-unfolding cascade effect among animals and plants–one that will take decades of research to understand.” 

A brief video documents and narrates the recovery of the land in Yellowstone, since humans returned the wolves.  Taller trees invite songbirds.  Forests regenerate, giving beavers willow to create habitats for more species.  And the river’s course becomes more steady with stronger banks, since elk seek refuge in wooded areas. 

This ecological process is called a trophic cascade, beginning with “the top of the food chain” and continuing “all the way down to the bottom.”  We are bearing witness to a kind of modern miracle described  “when an ecosystem becomes whole again”, and all because of welcoming wolves back to the land.

I wish to honor the healing that is taking place there especially with the river.  The river as Living Waters, establishing healthier spaces for an increasing range of plants and animals.  This possibility only arose through restoring balance.  The presence of wolves spread out the elks, ending overuse of banks; human efforts did not accomplish this aim in prior decades.

Again, our query: Who is the Healing River?  How do we welcome the river? And how does healing arise?

Twenty-seven tribal nations are linked with the land called Yellowstone National Park.  The park’s historical accounts of itself erased the Original Peoples’ own stories and even their existence.  This year is the 150th anniversary of Yellowstone, and a new Tribal Heritage Center was opened. One of the center’s aims is to bring “Native American artists, scholars and others to speak directly with visitors about Indigenous cultures.”

I pray that this small change – of bringing in some Indigenous persons with firsthand stories of Original Peoples – will become like the trophic cascade credited to wolves.  As Doug Smith, a wildlife biologist in charge of the Yellowstone Wolf Project, describes:  “like kicking a pebble down a mountain slope where conditions were just right that a falling pebble could trigger an avalanche of change.”

Yes, certain changes despite being small can contribute to the restoration of life and land for Original Peoples and for All.  Justice too is miraculous and brings healing, or wholeness.  How will we embrace the movement of Spirit? 

What is our leading from the shared space of what we call Durham Friends Meeting – this gathering in a Meeting House near the Androscoggin River, alongside a forest under our care, sitting on the lands of Wabanaki Peoples?  How does God call us as a faith community – and as persons of Quaker faith –  to welcome the healing river to our neighbors, to every kind of neighbor?

In closing today’s message, I’ll read a Bible passage of great importance to me over decades.  While it does not name a river, the scripture does speak about the Living Waters, healing, and change.  I believe it’s a bridge to the kind of change that we seek at this time of year.  From Isaiah 58 verses 6 to 12 (NRSVUE):

6 Is not this the fast that I choose:

to loose the bonds of injustice,

to undo the straps of the yoke,

to let the oppressed go free,

and to break every yoke?

7 Is it not to share your bread with the hungry

and bring the homeless poor into your house;

when you see the naked, to cover them

and not to hide yourself from your own kin?

8 Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,

and your healing shall spring up quickly;

your vindicator [a] shall go before you;

the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.

9 Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;

you shall cry for help, and he will say, “Here I am.”

If you remove the yoke from among you,

the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,

10 if you offer your food to the hungry

and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,

then your light shall rise in the darkness

and your gloom be like the noonday.

11 The Lord will guide you continually

and satisfy your needs in parched places

and make your bones strong,,

and you shall be like a watered garden,

like a spring of water whose waters never fail.

12 Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;

you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;

you shall be called the repairer of the breach,

the restorer of streets to live in.

~~~~~~~~~~ | ~~~~~~~~~~ | ~~~~~~~~~~ | ~~~~~~~~~~

About the hymn “Healing River”.
American “Fran” Minkoff wrote the lyrics, and the song released the same year, 1964, that Pete Seeger spent the Mississippi Freedom Summer working for racial justice.  Singing to an audience upon learning of the murder of three young civil rights workers, the musician describes the audience’s response  not “shouting for revenge” but, instead,“an intense determination to continue this work of love.” Attributed to his memoir, as described here –  https://singout.org/folksingers-field-report-august-5-1964/ .

About the Yellowstone Wolf Project.
Video and article titled, “Wolf Reintroduction Changes Ecosystem in Yellowstone” (2021), found here – https://www.yellowstonepark.com/things-to-do/wildlife/wolf-reintroduction-changes-ecosystem/ .

About the Tribal Heritage Center at Yellowstone.
Article titled, “Yellowstone showcases the area’s Indigenous peoples for 150th anniversary” (2022), found here –  https://thepointsguy.com/news/yellowstone-showcases-indigenous-peoples/ .

“The Living Waters,” by Mey Hasbrook

Message given at Durham Friends Meeting, November 13, 2022

For me, prayer is like water:  We seek water, listen for its sound and follow. We go to fresh water and drink, and bring it back to offer others.  We wash and refresh with water. 

Prayer is akin to worship, and emerges through worship.  We may call worship “inviting” the Divine.  I experience worship as remembering the Living Presence of the Divine…  Who Already Is –  Spirit, God, Jesus, The Light.  It’s like re-immersing in a body of water – at times, being with the calm stillness that always is; and at others, riding life’s waves and strong currents.
My leading to bring the message came when sitting here in worship.  It was during Meeting for Worship with Attention to Healing – for short, Meeting for Healing. This worship is led by Portland Friends, and I sync Durham’s Owl system occasionally – the next time being Thursday, December 1st.

Friends first convened this meeting for healing when the Covid pandemic started.  I visited by Zoom while living in  Michigan, sitting in my home’s basement. Friends continue to gather on a bimonthly basis. I’d like to share the introduction from Portland Friends about their meeting for healing: 

Meeting for Worship for Healing is an old Quaker tradition.  Our goal with this meeting is to focus on the physical and spiritual illnesses of the current world.  It’s not intended to be the same as a full meeting for worship but instead is meant to be focused on communal prayer.  We are often blessed with a time of deep silence.  Messages may arise but should be de-centered from our ego.

Invitation to Worship in clamorous times

We are living through a time when we are inundated with words.

We invite you during worship to sink deeply

Below the political messages,

below the personal efforts to put things into words

Down to the Silence

Down to the Living Waters
Down to the Source that connects us all
Meeting for Healing – at times also called “healing prayer” – is foundational to my  becoming a Quaker.  Preparing today’s message has made this fact plain to me.  During Durham Friends’ listening session on October 30th, I heard stories of how people came to be here – in Quaker worship, at this meeting house.  And I could feel the truth of my own:  My experience is about seeking the Living Waters, or the Living Presence; and listening to where God would have me be, or to go.

Please join me in a journey.  Let’s go to Lansing, Michigan, dialing back to October 2007.  I attend my first Sunday silent worship.  Held in a community room at a neighborhood book store, the meeting is called “early worship” and hosts a small circle.  How have I come to be here?

A seed is planted two years earlier, 2005, by a writer friend who also is a fellow former evangelical.  She thinks that I’d like “Quaker meeting”  – that is, Quaker as she knows it:  silent or unprogrammed worship.  When she gives me this idea, I already know Quakers since 9/11, through our co-organizing anti-war protests and programs over several years.

So come again to the Fall of 2007, I try out the bookstore location for worship.  Firstly, because it is not a church;  my body has found it a hardship to sit in a church for several years.  And I also come because I recently began sobriety from alcohol.  The most basic truth is that I come to Quaker worship because I am thirsting for the Living Waters, and it is the Living Presence that brings me back.
A new acquaintance from Sunday worship tells me about another meeting.  It’s a monthly meeting for healing.  The gathering is at the home of Richard, a cozy cape-cod house laden with knick-knacks.  An avid thrifter, Richard is warm-hearted, big-bellied, and a very out gay man who wears amber-beaded necklaces during worship.

I become a regular in this home-based worship.  People who show up bring open hearts, and we are human in every way.  After worship, many stay to ask questions and share our experiences.  We enjoy Richard’s pots of tea and a potluck-style dinner.  Through faithfulness and fellowship, friendships grow.  And some months later, I do visit the larger later Sunday worship, which gathers in a circular room of a local church.
Friends, let us journey “back” to here and now.   And wherever we are “arriving” from in the Meeting House – perhaps sitting on a bench with one another, or physically from another geography – I pray that we refresh ourselves with the Living Waters.  I pray that we hear the Living Presence calling us into relationship – with Jesus as the Path of Love, with one another, and with persons known and yet known to us.  Friend Rufus Jones, from the 19th and 20th centuries with roots in Maine, writes:

…most of our life, whether it is simple or complex, is a life of relationships with other persons. It is this fact of inter-relationship that makes life spiritual, and it is this that often makes it so tragic.  We cannot, if we would, fence round our souls and keep them naked and alone.  We are good or bad, not in soul-tight compartments, but in our dealing with other persons who fill our world.

highest* dealings, those which affect our entire being in the profoundest way, are our relationships with God. Nothing else so completely shapes one’s whole nature as his way of responding to his Infinite Companion, for everybody does respond in one way or another.         (*emphasis in original text)

Here is the closing prayer that I lift up:   Spirit, may the doors of Durham Friends Meeting open widely – physically from the Meeting House, and imaginatively as a faith community into our daily lives.  May we open our homes to neighbors, seekers, and strangers.  May we become invitations to prayer and worship.  May we refresh our minds, hearts, and souls with the Living Waters.  May we remember the Living Presence of the Divine Who Already Is.  Jesus, may we be healed and bring healing to others.  Amen.
Resources about Meeting for Healing among historical and contemporary Friends are available on this web page maintained by Red Cedar Friends Meeting of Lansing, Michigan (Lake Erie YM), <https://redcedarfriends.org/join-us-for-worship/deepening-our-experience/meeting-with-attention-to-healing/meeting-for-healing-resources/> .

“Fear Not,” by Doug Bennett

Message given at Durham Friends Meeting, October 16, 2022

“Fear not.”  That’s my message this morning:  “Fear not.” 

In the Bible, this may be the statement most commonly said by God, or by one of God’s special messengers.  I’ve read that this phrase appears 103 times in the Bible.  I don’t know whether that’s an accurate count but it’s a big number. 

“Fear not.”  There aren’t that many clear, unambiguous instructions from God in the Bible (even if some people mistakenly think there are).  But there is this one:  “fear not.” 

I don’t know whether it’s an instruction or a command, an exhortation or a soothing comfort.  Maybe it’s all of these.  Maybe sometimes it’s one and sometimes another.

“21 So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones. Thus he reassured them and comforted them.”  That’s Genesis 51:21.  It’s Joseph speaking to his brothers who had sold him into slavery.  The brothers had worldly reasons to fear what Joseph might do.  But Joseph is telling them what God wants him to say:  fear not. 

Or how about this:  22 You shall not fear them; for it is the Lord your God who fights for you.’”  That’s Deuteronomy 3:22.  That’s Moses talking to Joshua, his military commander, telling him that God will look out for them as they conquer their way toward the Promised Land. 

And then there’s this:  Fear not, for I am with you;  I will bring your offspring from the east,  and from the west I will gather you;”  That’s from Isaiah 53:5, the prophet Isaiah speaking, at a time when God’s people weren’t paying attention and had worldly reason to worry that God was very displeased with them. 

I’m not going to read all 103 instances, but I’ll read one more.  “Fear not” is not only in the Hebrew Testament.  Here is Luke 1:30, the beginning of the Christmas story:  30 And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.”  That’s the Angel Gabriel speaking to Mary, giving her good – if surprising — news. 

“Fear not.”  It’s said over and over again.  “Al tirah;”  that’s the Hebrew. 

There’s a lot to fear in this world.  In the book of Exodus, with the Israelites in captivity in Egypt, God sent ten plagues:  water turning to blood, frogs, lice, flies, livestock pestilence, boils, hail, locusts, darkness and the killing of firstborn children.  And God counsels “fear not.” 

In recent years, we’ve had what begins to feel like our own ten plagues.  Terrorist acts, endless war, financial panic, wildfires, more war, Covid pandemic, hurricanes, school shootings, attempted election theft, abortion madness (whichever side you’re on).  You get why we’re fearful.  But God says, “Fear not.” 

Many are feeling anger, too, but much of that anger grows out of fear.

I’m talking to myself this morning as much as I’m talking to any of you.  I wake up to the temptation to feel fear every day.  And I go to sleep facing the same temptation.  Fear can paralyze us.  I find myself bracing for the next bit of bad news.  I don’t do anything constructive because I want to hear that next bit of bad news. 

In the science fiction classic Dune, Frank Herbert has a character – it’s Paul Antreides – say “I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.” 

It’s the same thought.  When we fear, we diminish ourselves; we die a little without really dying, we die a little-death.  We grow passive; we withdraw from life.  And there’s more: we isolate ourselves from others; we withdraw from God.  Fear takes us over.  It becomes all consuming. 

God says “fear not:” if we can do that, then what?  If we can manage to follow God’s instruction, to “fear not,” if we empty ourselves of fear, what next?  With what do we fill the large hole that fear has been filling up inside us?  When we empty ourselves of fear, when we let it go, what should we look to find instead?

This oft-repeated exhortation to “fear not” is telling us what not to do.  It isn’t, just in these words, telling us what we should do.  But isn’t it obvious?  Isn’t courage the alternative to fear? 

Here’s the surprise for many of us.  God does not tell us to “have courage.”  To exhort us to “have courage” would have us rely on ourselves.  But that’s not it; that’s not what we should do. 

Instead, over and over, God says “trust in me;” “have faith in me.”  The opposite of fear isn’t courage.  It’s faith.  It’s trust in the Lord.  It’s “know that God loves you, always.”

Listen to Psalm 56:

When I am afraid,
I will trust in you.
In God, whose word I praise,
In God I trust; I will not be afraid.
What can mortal man do to me?

And here’s Psalm 46:

God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.The Lord of Hosts is with us; The God of Jacob is our refuge.

We may find courage once we have faith, but faith and trust come first — and love.

In 1:John:1, one of the letters in the New Testament, we are told to “rely on the love God has for us.”  That letter continues:

God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. 17 This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. 18 There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

Trust in the Lord.  Have faith.  Give yourself over to love:  that’s what God tells us when God tells us not to be caught up in fear. 

The first bit of the Bible I learned by heart was the 23d Psalm.  Perhaps you learned it, too, as a child.  I invite you to say it with me: 

The LORD Is My Shepherd  A Psalm of David.  The 23d Psalm

1The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
2He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
3He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
for his name’s sake.

4Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,c
I will fear no evil, for you are with me;
your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

5You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
6Surelyd goodness and mercye shall follow me all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell
f in the house of the LORD forever.g

So Friends, this morning I am reminding you of God’s reassurance, “fear not.”  Trust in God.  Have faith.  Love one another and love God.  Remember that God is with us, always. 

also posted on River View Friend

“Meditation,” by Mimi Marstaller

On September 25, 2022, Mimi Marstaller gave a message on meditation.

In it, she shared a poem, “Longing”, by Julie Cadwallader Staub.

Longing, By Julie Cadwallader Staub

Consider the blackpoll warbler.

She tips the scales
at one ounce
before she migrates, taking off
from the seacoast to our east
flying higher and higher
ascending two or three miles
during her eighty hours of flight
until she lands,
in Tobago,
north of Venezuela
three days older,
and weighing half as much.

She flies over open ocean almost the whole way.

Oh she is not so different from us.
The arc of our lives is a mystery too.
We do not understand,
we cannot see
what guides us on our way:
that longing that pulls us toward light.

Not knowing, we fly onward
hearing the dull roar of the waves below.

“First Love,” by Ken Jacobsen

Message delivered at Durham Friends Meeting, September 18, 2022

This morning’s message at Durham Friends was given by Ken Jacobsen, a member of Ohio Yearly Meeting (Conservative). 

He spoke of First Love, beginning with recollection of the passing of his wife and partner Katherine five and a half years ago.  Out of his grief he found himself led back to his first love – the first love any of us know – the steady love that God has for each and every one of us.

This life, he said, is “a school of love.”

He drew our attention to the teaching about the two great commandments in Mark 12:28-31:

28 One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”

29 “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.[a] 30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’[b] 31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[c] There is no commandment greater than these.”

Towards the end, Ken Jacobson brought to our recollection Isaac Penington’s letter that begins “Our life is love.”  Here is the full text of that letter. 

TO FRIENDS IN AMERSHAM                      Aylesbury, 4th of Third Month, 1667


Our life is love, and peace, and tenderness; and bearing one with another, and forgiving one another, and not laying accusations one against another; but praying one for another, and helping one another up with a tender hand, if there has been any slip or fall; and waiting till the Lord gives sense and repentance, if sense and repentance in any be wanting. Oh! wait to feel this spirit, and to be guided to walk in this spirit, that ye may enjoy the Lord in sweetness, and walk sweetly, meekly, tenderly, peaceably, and lovingly one with another. And then, ye will be a praise to the Lord; and anything that is, or hath been, or may be, amiss, ye will come over in the true dominion, even in the Lamb’s dominion; and that which is contrary shall be trampled upon, as life rises and rules in you. So watch your hearts and <487> ways; and watch one over another, in that which is gentle and tender, and knows it can neither preserve itself, nor help another out of the snare; but the Lord must be waited upon, to do this in and for us all. So mind Truth, the service, enjoyment, and possession of it in your hearts; and so to walk, as ye may bring no disgrace upon it, but may be a good savor in the places where ye live, the meek, innocent, tender, righteous life reigning in you, governing over you, and shining through you, in the eyes of all with whom ye converse.

Your Friend in the Truth, and a desirer of your welfare and prosperity therein. — Isaac Penington

“Spiritual Leadership for a Climate-Changed World,” by Rev. Allen Ewing-Merrill, Executive Director, The BTS Center

Message given at Durham Friends Meeting, August 14, 2022

Words of Joanna Macy, on gratitude:

We have received an inestimable gift. To be alive in this beautiful, self-organizing universe — to participate in the dance of life with senses to perceive it, lungs that breathe it, organs that draw nourishment from it — is a wonder beyond words. It is an extraordinary privilege to be accorded a human life, with self-reflexive consciousness that brings awareness of our own actions and the ability to make choices. It lets us choose to take part in the healing of our world.

Gratitude for the gift of life is the primary wellspring of all religions, the hallmark of the mystic, the source of all true art. Yet we so easily take this gift for granted. That is why so many spiritual traditions begin with thanksgiving, to remind us that for all our woes and worries, our existence itself is an unearned benefaction, which we could never of ourselves create.

The great open secret of gratitude is that it is not dependent on external circumstance. It’s like a setting or channel that we can switch to at any moment, no matter what’s going on around us. It helps us connect to our basic right to be here, like the breath does. It’s a stance of the soul… Gratitude is the kernel that can flower into everything we need to know.

Take a few deep breaths and call to mind something for which you are grateful. If you’re comfortable, hold your hands in front of you like this, and imagine that you are holding this thing for which you are grateful. Quite possibly it’s not a tangible thing that you can hold in your hand, but imagine that you are. Hold it, and silently offer your unspoken words of thanks.

Today I’d like to talk with you about spiritual leadership for a climate-changed world.

First I want to let you in on a little secret: When I say “Spiritual leadership,” I’m talking about you. You are a spiritual leader. By virtue of the fact that you are part of this Friends Meeting, striving to embody Quaker values — a commitment to simplicity, a belief in the centrality of silence, openness to truth as it is continually revealed, a genuine desire to seek peace with oneself and others, practices rooted in community, equality, and stewardship (these are some of the things I appreciate about the Quaker tradition!) — by virtue of this, I want to you to hear me say that you are a spiritual leader. Maybe you’ve never thought of yourself that way, but today I boldly proclaim that you are one, or at least you have the potential to be one, and the world needs you to live into the fullness of that identity.

Spiritual leadership for a climate-changed world — do you see what we did there? Climate-changed? Maybe you noticed that we added a little “d” tacked on the end. What happens when we do that? Suddenly that familiar phrase, “climate change,” becomes past tense. No longer can we think of climate change as something off in the future. It’s here and now — and it’s a primary characteristic of the world in which we are living and in which spiritual leaders are called to lead.

So what does spiritual leadership demand of us, in a world where temperatures are rising? Yesterday’s headline read, “The Arctic is heating up nearly four times faster than the whole planet, study finds.” Probably you know that the Gulf of Maine is warming faster than 96% of the oceans on the planet. In a world where sea levels are rising, causing more frequent flooding that threatens coastal communities, even forcing residents of some low-lying islands to relocate… In a world of more intense hurricanes, unpredictable winter storms, disastrous drought in some places and equally disastrous rainstorms in other places… In a world where devasting wildfires destroy habitats and ravage forests that sequester carbon… In a world where 1 in 7 bird species is at risk of extinction and more than 40% of insect species are in decline, 1/3 of them endangered — and of course, the loss of birds and insects threatens agriculture in significant ways, which has a devastating ripple effect across the food chain… What does spiritual leadership require of us in a climate-changed world?

I don’t know about you, but I find it’s essential, maybe even a little bit liberating, to name the truth — to put it all out there and acknowledge it for what it is. The truth is heavy, but what’s worse than confronting all of this is denying it. Turns out there’s nothing at all hopeful about burying our heads in the sand. Environmental scientist Katharine Hayhoe says she is often asked, “What can I do?” Her response: the most important thing we can do to address the climate crisis is to talk about it.

When I talk about it, I often quote another environmental advocate, Gus Speth:

“I used to think the top environmental problems were biodiversity loss, ecosystem collapse, and climate change. I thought that with thirty years of good science we could address these problems. But I was wrong. The top environmental problems are selfishness, greed, and apathy, and to deal with these we need a cultural and spiritual transformation. And we scientists don’t know how to do that.”

When I hear these words, I get energized. Cultural and spiritual transformation may not be within the purview of scientific community, but it should be within the purview of the faith community! It should be within the purview of the Quaker community! We at The BTS Center are focusing on spiritual leadership for a climate-changed world, because we want to see cultural and spiritual transformation!

The climate crisis is more than just a parts-per-million problem. It’s more than just a fossil fuels problem. It’s more than just a plastics problem, more than just a global warming or greenhouse gas or sea level rise or species extinction problem — these are all symptoms. The underlying crisis is a spiritual crisis — rooted in selfishness, greed, and apathy, expressed in a pernicious cycle of domination, extraction, and consumption. In our extractive capitalist culture, we have been fed the lie that the sole purpose in life is to consume more. To see meaningful change, we need a new vision for what it means to live a good life — a life that is rooted in justice, in equity, in the common good, and not only for ourselves, but also for all living things.

At its roots, the climate crisis is a spiritual crisis, and the solutions need to be grounded in spiritual transformation.

Which is to say, the world needs us to show up in this moment. The world needs you, my Quaker friends: you and your commitment to simplicity, your belief in the centrality of silence, your openness to truth as it is continually revealed, your genuine desire to seek peace with oneself and others, you practices rooted in community, equality, and stewardship — more than ever before, the world needs you and your spiritual leadership. And I know that can be overwhelming, and I know we don’t know where to start, but I want to suggest that it begins by digging ever more deeply into our practice of faith. For a moment, let me return quickly to Joanna Macy.

In her book Active Hope, Joanna Macy offers some important guidance for what she calls the Work that  Reconnects:

• Begin with Gratitude: “When we come from gratitude,” Joanna Macy suggests, “we become more present to the wonder of being alive in this amazing living world, to the many gifts we receive, to the beauty we appreciate.” Especially in a time when so much in our world seems to be spinning out of control — so much loss, so much suffering, so much violence — we need to practice gratitude, and it needs to be daily because yesterday’s gratitude isn’t sufficient for today’s struggles. A regular practice of gratitude helps to build a context of trust and psychological buoyancy that supports us to face difficult realities.

• Honor our pain for the world: When we begin with naming what we love, what we’re grateful for, we quickly become aware of all that is unraveling in our world, and this leads us to feel deep pain — maybe outrage, alarm, grief, guilt, dread, despair — these are all normal and healthy responses to a world in trauma. It’s important to honor these emotions. Joanna Macy writes, “Our pain for the world not only alerts us to danger, but also reveals our profound caring. And this caring derives from our interconnectedness with all life. We need not fear it.”

• See with new eyes: This means widening our vision, taking stock of the resources and communities available to us. In Joanna Macy’s words, “When seeing with new eyes, you know that it isn’t just you facing this. You are just one part of a much larger story, a continuing stream of life on Earth that has flowed for more than three and a half billion years and that has survived five mass extinctions. When you sink into this deeper, stronger flow and experience yourself as part of it, a different set of possibilities emerges.” We begin to see ourselves differently. We begin to see our own power differently. We discover a richer experience of community and a more expansive view of time.

• Go forth: Let go of feeling like this is all on you. Focus on discovering and playing your part, sharing your gifts, offering your best contributions to the healing of the world. Take the next faithful step.

Begin with gratitude. Honor our pain for the world. See with new eyes. Go forth.

In their collection of essays called All We Can Save: Truth, Courage, and Solutions for the Climate Crisis, editors Ayana Elizabeth Johnson and Katharine Wilkinson write:

“So where do we go from here? First, we take a breath. It’s a lot. And in some ways, we, humans, were not designed for a crisis this massive and all-encompassing. In other ways, we were made for this moment. What we do now is dream. From a foundation of science and community (note: I would add spiritual practice, as well), we must imagine the future we want to live in, and the future we want to pass on, and every day do something to reel the dream closer to reality.”

This is who we’re called to be, and this is what we’re called to do.

What if you’re not feeling particularly optimistic? Here’s what Joanna Macy says:

“I’m not insisting that we be brimming with hope. It’s okay not to be optimistic. Buddhist teachings say feeling that you have to maintain hope can wear you out. So just be present. The biggest gift you can give is to be absolutely present. And when you’re worrying about whether you’re hopeful or hopeless or pessimistic or optimistic — who cares? The main thing is that you’re showing up, that you’re here, and that you’re finding ever more capacity to love this world because it will not be healed without that. That is what is going to unleash our intelligence and our ingenuity and our solidarity for the healing of our world.”

May it be so. Amen.

“Membership Matters,” by Doug Bennett

Message given at Durham Friends Meeting, September 11, 2022

It’s membership that’s on my mind this morning.  It’s on my mind because recently I’ve been asked a few times about how one becomes a member of a Quaker Meeting.  I’m a member of Ministry and Council, the committee of the Meeting that handles membership matters.  

Membership:  Is this a club you’re joining?  Is membership just a matter of affiliation? Like being a member of Rotary, not a member of the Lions or of the Odd Fellows.  Or like being a Phillies fan not a Mets or Yankees fan. 

I wasn’t born into membership.  I’m a convinced Friend, not a birthright Friend.   I grew up in a Presbyterian Church.  I first went to Quaker Meeting in college, and attended fitfully until I made the decision to become a member in my mid-30s.  I remember with some embarrassment how long it took me to write a letter to the Meeting I joined – mostly because I didn’t really know what I believed.  Writing the letter made that all too clear.  They took me in anyway.  (It turned out it didn’t matter so much what I believed.  More on that later.)

I said I grew up in a Presbyterian Church.  My mother and my father had each grown up in a Northern Baptist Church.  They had full body immersion baptism as teenagers, not infant Baptism.  They met at a Northern Baptist college – Bates.  But as a family we went to a Presbyterian Church.  Why?  because it was nearby, because friends went there, and because there wasn’t a Northern Baptist Church easily to be found.  So was this Rotary not Lions, Phillies not Yankees.  I wondered as a kid.  Does it matter?  Why?

Early Quakers didn’t have membership.  They weren’t trying to create another distinct group of Christians with a slightly different set of beliefs.  They wanted to change the way everyone thought about being a Christian.  It was only after a few decades had passed and Quakers were being persecuted that they started having membership – so they could keep track of who needed assistance from other Quakers while they were in jail or didn’t have a job.  

Being a Quaker is an affiliation, I suppose.  This is my religious club; this is my religious clubhouse.  But this isn’t all it is, an affiliation.  A little over a decade ago I was a member of Quaker Meeting in Indiana Yearly Meeting, and we were thrown out.  Not from Quakerism, but from the Yearly Meeting.  It was a rude and unsettling experience.  Why were we thrown out?  Because we had beliefs and practices that welcomed people whatever their sexual orientation.  We didn’t believe homosexuality was a sin.   So we got the heave-ho. 

Does being a Quaker mean having the correct beliefs?  Many Friends recoil from that thought, don’t we?  Part of being a Quaker is not having a creed, not having to ascribe to a formula of beliefs.  It’s something else, something more.  That ‘non-creedalism (no orthodox, insisted-on beliefs) is important to me, and it seems like Indiana Yearly Meeting lost its way on that. 

What does it mean to become a Quaker, a member of a Quaker Church or Quaker Meeting.  It’s not just an affiliation.  It’s more.  To talk about that something more I think we have to think about matters of discipline and commitment, too. 

Let’s start with discipline. I know that can be a worrying, even forbidding term, with its suggestive overtones of punishment. It becomes a warmer word, however, when we think of it as having to do with being a disciple – a student, a follower, a learner. Discipline is a way of discipleship. 

We each need a discipline, I think, because we each need a way to learn about God and what God expects of us. I’m wary of those who believe that knowing God is easy, as if it were something that just happens without our having to make much effort. Perhaps that is so for some people, but I am skeptical. For me, knowing God takes active effort. Making no effort is much more likely to lead me towards inattention and selfish behavior. 

So for me, I need a discipline: a learning strategy, a regular approach to knowing God. I am pretty sure we do not all need the same discipline.  For me, that is a clue to why it is not a bad thing that there are a variety of denominations. Think of each as embodying a distinctive religious discipline. “This is how we work together to know God.”   (Of course, for many denominations, there is also a creed, an orthodoxy.)

For me, waiting worship is a most helpful approach: gathering with others in stillness to seek God.  I know many who find the repetition of the Mass to be especially useful for drawing closer to God.  I know many people who value external sacraments, or who value ‘smells and bells’, or – a lot of other things.  A place to start on a spiritual journey is to know what spiritual discipline is best for you. 

From the British Quaker Ben Pink Dandelion I learned a new word:  orthopraxy.  Quakers, he says, don’t have an orthodoxy; they don’t have a creed.  But they do have a set of distinctive practices especially in worship.  Those distinctive practices, especially waiting worship, are the orthopraxy. 

Discipline opens the door to commitment, and to community   There may be some who can find and settle into a discipline all by themselves – without anyone else.  But that’s not for me, and I imagine would not be for most others.  If I am to settle into deep, waiting worship, I want to gather with others in doing that.  We do it together.  And so it is with most religious disciplines: their practice requires a community to practice them well.  So spiritual discipline requires community, and community requires commitment. 

In seeking such a community, I’m looking for a group of people who will not just be present once, but be present together over time, gathering and regathering.  I’m looking for a group of people who will make a commitment to being together for worship and seeking, and I’ll expect to make a commitment to them, too.  To become a member of a Quaker Meeting is to say, ‘you can count on me as we seek together for God’s will.’ 

How will that commitment be shown?  I can imagine a variety of ways: via regular financial contributions, via service on committees, via volunteering to help in other ways.  But most of all through regular count-upon-it attendance, week in and week out.  Taking part, showing up, being engaged.  In my Quaker meeting it does me good to see familiar faces each week, people I expect to be there and who expect me to be there, too.  We gather strength from one another. 

Also posted on Riverview Friend

“Grounding in Love” by Mey Hasbrook

James Weldon Johnson, born in 1870 during Reconstruction after the US Civil War, wrote the poem-song “Lift Every Voice and Sing” while his brother put it to music. They did this in commemoration of Abraham Lincoln’s birthday in 1900. James recounts:

The song was taught to and sung by a chorus of five hundred colored school children.
Shortly afterwards my brother and I moved away from Jacksonville to New York, and the song passed out of our minds. But the school children of Jacksonville kept singing it; they went off to other schools and sang it; they became teachers and taught it to other children. Within twenty years it was being sung over the South and in some other parts of the country.

This is how “Lift Every Voice and Sing” became cherished as the Negro or Black National Anthem: young people to young people, teachers to youth; sewing, growing and moving. Martin Luther King, Jr. closes his 1967 speech “Where Do We Go From Here?” with one of its stanza

Stony the road we trod,

Bitter the chastening rod,

Felt in the days when hope unborn had died;

Yet with a steady beat,

Have not our weary feet

Come to the place for which our fathers sighed?

We have come over a way that with tears has been watered,

We have come, treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered,

Out from the gloomy past,

Till now we stand at last

Where the white gleam of our bright star is cast.

The speech was MLK Jr.’s last presidential address given to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the African-American civil rights group that still exists and was founded after the Montgomery Bus Boycott. The speech’s timing was just one year before Dr. King’s assassination and a decade after the SCLC began. In the speech, he celebrates gains of the Civil Rights Movement including two monumental Supreme Court rulings.

He equally names the work still required of the Movement: to grow into or move into wholeness. He encourages to embrace “divine dissatisfaction” until this vision of wholeness becomes reality, stating: “that day when nobody will shout, ‘White Power!’ when nobody will shout, ‘Black Power!’ but everybody will talk about God’s power and human power.”

He recalls the story of Jesus instructing the tax collector Nicodemus to be born again. So Dr. King says to America that the nation must be born again: “that your whole structure must be changed.” And to move into such deep change, he grounds “divine dissatisfaction” in Love for the work toward wholeness. Love for him is “a strong, demanding love”; and a choice in response to hate and oppression, able to endure even betrayal.

The turbulence of today is like that of 55 years ago when MLK Jr. asked “Where Do We Go From Here?” From our here-and-now, Love still is what sustains the making of the Kin-dom of God – a future sewn, grown, and moving us toward wholeness from our present moment of struggle.

Listening to Spirit and inviting wisdom from ancestors, I am compelled by experience that Love is God and requires me to “sink down to the seed” – a phrase from the First Friends, our faithful ancestors: spiritually-empowered dissidents living through civil war in England and during the Reformation.

The experience of “sinking down to the seed” requires me to draw-down into the Divine Source, also called the Living Waters, in order to draw-up Love. I believe that this is the legacy for the Religious Society of Friends and, thereby, the inheritance of Durham Monthly Meeting as a faith community: to act with confidence that with God all things are possible and that Love is required in the work of wholeness.

Let’s encounter and embody “God’s power and human power”, the kind of power that Dr. King bears witness to: “Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is love correcting everything that stands against love. And this is what we must see as we move on.”

So, it is in the name of Christ and Beloved Community, that I invite our embracing the movement of divine dissatisfaction toward wholeness: Where will we go from here? How will we ground ourselves in Love among the wider world and among one another? How will we nurture “a strong, demanding Love” as an enduring choice?

Will we be courageous, examine our hearts, and become willing to risk all? Like Early Friend James Nayler, whose last words were shared as the opening reading for today’s worship. Friend James was tortured as punishment for blasphemy. He made peace with God despite his broken body, and sought reconciliation with his spiritual brother George Fox despite being rebuffed repeatedly.

Will we hear Christ, and follow the call as did Ananias? The Ananias who Jesus called to heal the persecutor Saul, and who Jesus had recently blinded.

I believe that this is the legacy for the Religious Society of Friends and, thereby, the inheritance of Durham Monthly Meeting as a faith community: to act with confidence that with God all things are possible and that Love is required in the work of wholeness.

It is my prayer that we may be grounded in Love. May we sink down to the seed to draw-down to the Divine Source, the Living Waters. May we draw-up an enduring choice to work for wholeness, a work that requires all of ourselves: to heal and receive healing; to repair breaches and reconcile one to another; and to testify to God’s power and human power. Amen.


“A Gathered People.” Last words of James Nayler found in Quaker Faith & Practice, 5th edition, Britain Yearly Meeting, Chapter 19.12 <https://qfp.quaker.org.uk/passage/19-12/>

“Lift Every Voice and Sing.” Song and introduction by James Weldon Johnson found on the Poetry Foundation web site, <https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/46549/lift-every-voice-and-sing>.

“Where Do We Go From Here?” Speech by Martin Luther King, Jr. found on the Stanford University web site, <https://kinginstitute.stanford.edu/where-do-we-go-here>.

“The Quaker Testimony of Community,” by C. Wess Daniels

Sometimes “Community” is lifted up as a testimony within the Quaker world. I can see why. Our emphasis on group decision-making, communion in the form of waiting worship where Christ is present in our midst, and our belief that testimony is our public expression of our communal encounter of our faith in Christ are all examples.These are the results of processes and practices that rely on a strong foundation of community, but the work involved in creating that strong sense of community is much harder to come by. This may come as a shock to some of you but my story of community among Quakers has been very up and down over the past 21 years of identifying as a Quaker. Mine has been a story of trying to belong and understand what it means to belong. There have been times when some Friends in some places have not been so welcoming [some going so far as to try to get me to leave]. But there have also been Friends in many places who have welcomed me even when I didn’t always fit into their categories.But those are longer stories to be shared another time. The point is: Just because we say we have a testimony of community does not automatically mean community and belonging exist.

Belonging to a Friends meeting and being a Quaker are identities in parallel: I am a Quaker because of my own convictions and understanding of who God is & I seek to belong to a local expressions of that larger and much older tradition. Sometimes my commitment to one impacts my commitment to the other and vice versa, but they are not always in sync.

What helps with creating belonging in our local expressions of the Quaker tradition? Here are three quick ideas:

1. We need to have a strong centerInstead of being focused on protecting external boundaries of community (what belief, or identity, or practice is acceptable), we commit to a deep knowing and understanding of the center of our tradition. For me that is a deep commitment to the liberating Jesus who is present in our midst and who stands in solidarity with the poor and all those on the margins. Being clear about our center – whatever that is – allows us to invite people into something. It recognizes that we cannot be all things to all people but we can be this specific expression of community to those who want to be a part of that. I don’t just want to belong. I want to belong to something. 

2. We need to make practices and beliefs explicitAs new people show up they need be helped to know what is going on, what is believed, and how to get engaged. We should have structures, practices, and liturgies that assume from the outset that people who have no prior understanding of the Quaker tradition will be in our midst. There should be no mystery to who we are and what we do. We have a lot of implicit theology and practice that can feel exclusive if you’ve never experienced any of it before. I have heard people say this quote far too often, “Quakerism cannot be taught, only caught.” That is terrible theology and points to a culture of secrecy that will not only keep people from belonging, but it will also slowly kill off discipleship within our communities. Quakerism must be taught, re-interpreted, and re-taught again. 

3. We need to build weak links with each other That low threshold moments of community can build lasting links to one another. It’s one thing to show up to an important business meeting, but if we don’t know each other, have never shared a meal, don’t know each other’s fears, joys, kids names, it is almost impossible to do the hard work of discernment together well. The baseball game we went to as a meeting last night is an example of building weak links. So are potlucks and bonfires. Things where we get together for fun, the stakes are low, and the goal is to build connections. The more inputs we have with these opportunities, the more we can invite various people in, the more we do the mundane work of building belonging.We don’t need to be big productions and we don’t need permission to do this: all it takes is an invitation to share a meal, a cup of coffee or tea, a walk, a podcast, or a project together. We can all be build weak links right now.

I think we always need this kind of work, but we need it especially right now when the world feels so dangerous and inhospitable. We need to re-introduce ourselves to community and to one another.Quakers have to work just like everyone else to build community and a sense of belonging. I believe we can do this by being clear about who we are and what we’re up to (our center), about onboarding people into our tradition (making thing explicit), and by making the effort to be lower-f friends with each other (building those weak links with each other).

by Wess Daniels, Greensboro, NC (Haw River Watershed)

“This I Know Experimentally,” by Doug Bennett

Message given at Durham Friends Meeting, June 5, 2022

I want to begin this morning with a story familiar to Friends.  It’s the story of George Fox’s epiphany.  It’s about a moment in his life in 1647 when he was at a place called Pendle Hill.  It’s the moment he realized that God could and would speak to him in the present.  It’s the story of when he came to realize that he did not need priests or preachers or pastors.  It’s the story of when he came to realize the power of the Light Within.

He had been  seeking help in his spiritual journey from various learned and supposedly wise people.  None of them seemed to be able to help him.  He was in despair.  And then he realized something unexpected and wonderful.  Here’s how he tells the story in his Journal.  Speaking of the priests and preachers and pastors from whom he had been seeking assistance, he said,

I saw there was none among them all that could speak to my condition. And when all my hopes in them and in all men were gone, so that I had nothing outwardly to help me, nor could tell what to do, then, oh, then, I heard a voice which said, ‘There is one, even Christ Jesus, that can speak to your condition;’ and when I heard it my heart did leap for joy. Then the Lord let me see why there was none upon the earth that could speak to my condition, namely, that I might give Him all the glory; for all are concluded under sin, and shut up in unbelief as I had been, that Jesus Christ might have the pre-eminence who enlightens, and gives grace, and faith, and power. Thus when God doth work, who shall prevent it? and this I knew experimentally.”    — George Fox, 1647

I think the words we mostly remember from this are these:  “I heard a voice which said, ‘There is one, even Christ Jesus, that can speak to your condition;’ and when I heard it my heart did leap for joy.”

Those are striking words, no doubt about it.  But today it’s the last phrase that is on my mind.  “And this I knew experimentally.”  “And this I knew experimentally:”  what did Fox mean by this?

I’m not a linguist or a philologist, but I think Fox’s use of the word “experimentally” is a very early use of that word in English.  It’s a newish word when he spoke it.  We don’t yet have in 1647 ‘the scientific method’ as we know it today.  Galileo had just died, still convicted of heresy by the Pope.  And Isaac Newton was just age 5 in 1647.  We shouldn’t think the word ‘experimental’ had precisely the same narrow meaning then that it might today. But it did have a meaning roughly like the way we use it today

Broadly speaking, to know something “experimentally” is to know it “by experience.”  Fox doesn’t mean that he had conducted a formal experiment with randomized groups or controls or double-blind procedures, the way scientists might speak about experiments today.  But in saying he knew this “experimentally” he does mean he had direct experience. 

When we speak of “experience” we mean direct observation of or participation in events as a basis of knowledge.  Normally, we mean seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling, touching – knowledge we gain through our senses.  Most of us today think of our senses as external senses: they are how we perceive or experience the world ‘out there’.  What Fox is saying, I think, is that we can have internal experience.  There is another sense beyond the five we mostly count.  It’s an internal sense.  I think this is what Fox is speaking about when he says, “And this I knew experimentally.”

I felt it.  I heard it.  It touched me.  I felt it within. 

This is all on my mind because I’ve found myself thinking about what this ‘direct experience’ feels like.  What does it ‘feel like’ when God or Jesus or the Holy Spirit – however you want to name the Divine — ‘speaks to my condition?’  What do I know when I know experimentally?

Fox heard a voice.  There are some who have quite a forceful experience.  The Apostle Paul was one.  Acts 9:3-4 tells the story:  As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”  He saw a light. 

In 1559 (about a century before Fox’s epiphany) Teresa of Avila, a Carmelite Nun had a quite direct experience with a seraph – a kind of angel:

I saw in his hand a long spear of gold, and at the point there seemed to be a little fire. He appeared to me to be thrusting it at times into my heart, and to pierce my very entrails; when he drew it out, he seemed to draw them out also, and to leave me all on fire with a great love of God. The pain was so great, that it made me moan; and yet so surpassing was the sweetness of this excessive pain, that I could not wish to be rid of it … She felt a touch that pierced her. 

 Most of us don’t have experiences as dramatic as these.  So, again, what does it feel like?  That’s a question for each of us to answer.  Each of us might give a somewhat different answer. For most of us, it’s less like piercings of the heart and more like glimpses and nudges.  Over the centuries, Quakers have recorded what it felt like in journals and in letters to one another.  The glimpses and nudges are so gentle that most of us have to learn to notice them.  They can be subtle; they can be easy to miss. 

This spring, along with a dozen or two others, I’ve been in a Midweek Meditation group led by Brian Drayton.  He’s been having us read and reflect on some of the letters and essays of Isaac Penington, a contemporary of Fox who was drawn to Quakerism.  

In one, Penington speaks of the “breathings” of the Lord leaving a living presence in him. 

In the same essay, he asks, “Dost thou feel the ease which comes from the living arm, to the heart which is joined to it in the light of the gospel?”  And he asks, “Dost thou feel the life and power flowing in upon thee from the free fountain?”  The direct experience he’s talking about is a breath, now it’s a touch, and now it’s a taste of water.

What strikes me in these passages is that Penington is not saying, authoritatively, ‘This is what it feels like.’  He’s not telling; he’s asking: “Dost thou feel?”  He is suggesting; he is coaching.  He is asking, did it feel something like this? 

He is directing our attention to what it might feel like.  But it is up to us to say.  We have to figure it out.  We have to feel it; we can’t be told what we should feel. 

In these suggestions he offers – “Dost thou feel?” – he mentions all of the familiar external senses as what it might feel like internally.  It might be something we see, or it might be a voice we hear.  It might be a body touch – a nudge that leads us down a path.  It might be a lingering smell, or a taste of something refreshing that gives us guidance. 

Penington has a language for the external senses, but not really the words that communicate what it might feel like within.  Nor really do any of us.  So Penington offers a variety of analogies: it might feel like this; it might feel like that, it might feel like this. 

Penington is assuring us, with Fox, “this we know experimentally.”  We can have direct experience.  He is also telling us, the experience may be subtle; we may have to search for it; we may have to quiet ourselves and still ourselves to feel the experience. 

Nevertheless, we can do this.  This we know experimentally.  So, Friends: dost thou feel?

Also posted on Riverviewfriend