Message given at Friends Meeting, July 4, 2021. Slightly edited for publication. Scripture quoted from NRSV.
Friends, I am glad you are here.
Gratitude for the grace and presence of God in this exceptional time – exceptional for the planet, our home; for humanity, our species; for most of us individually as Beings who are linked to one another throughout Creation, and who are here as Quaker family.
Today’s message is an invitation to welcome new Light, what Friends also call continuing revelation. Let us take up “the new and living way” (Heb. 10:20) that is the path of Jesus – that of Love. Let us review and renew our encounter with God on this declared Day of Independence by the nation-state, the United States of America.
I’m grateful to be here with you – alive, surviving overlapping upheavals.
With respect to my mixed lineage of Cherokee Celtic-Irish Descent, I acknowledge the First Nations of this continent, Turtle Island, who are the remnant descended from those who survived genocide in successive waves over centuries, and who continue to strive to survive life-threatening conditions.*
Gratitude for this living legacy of resilience and survival that is empowered by Hope, Faith, and Beauty. It is a call to Harmony Amid Harm, a way of living that says, “I am glad you are here.”
Harmony is the journey from Unity into Right Relationship, transforming us in unexpected ways that heal one another and that brings wholeness to Creation.
I give thanks for the precious ways that we’ve shown up for one another – some visible, and many beyond naming in a public space. Let us continue showing up amid the harm that seems continuous, especially patterns of living that draw us away from Love – Love being that which draws us into Harmony.
I’m grateful for the leading to have served among Durham Friends Meeting as Meeting Care Coordinator in times such as these even amid personal losses, which also is the stuff that living is made of.
I’m grateful too for the ministry of birds, whose songs and calls have returned me to remembering God’s presence and grace amid moments of pain and frustration.
These recurring invitations are Spirit-held openings, as are difficult surprises and inevitable changes. All together, they are the stuff of which living is made.
Indeed, Friends, I am glad you are here.
~ ~ ~
What the Fourth of July carries for me personally is a memory – that of being the sole companion of my maternal grandmother, Margaret, as she transitioned from this material living onto the Otherside Camp at sunrise. That was 15 years ago.
Margaret was a retired middle-school science teacher who became a full-time volunteer, a mother of four, and a spouse to a hard-working poor farmer.
That same summer, I worked with senior refugees, most of whom did not speak English. I picked them up in a van to buy fresh produce and eat lunch at a community center. Many of them had survived adult children lost to violence.
The job ended when the funding stopped that summer, as did the vigil by my grandma’s bedside after her death. But the invitation to Love despite Loss and to seek Harmony Amid Harm persisted.
Beings of Creation, we are glad you are here.
~ ~ ~
“I am glad you are here, Liza,” ** she in a security uniform, me re-packing carry-ons, I looking through wet eyes to her over our masks. And she replied, “I’m glad you’re here too.”
Liza was the agent tasked to give me a second security screening after the first had a false alarm. As a survivor of violence from childhood and adulthood, and someone living with chronic PTSD, airport security can be very trying on the central nervous system.
This occasion was especially taxing, because I was told that I would be taken to a room with a closed door for another screening. Despite panic and immediate tears, I somehow stayed tuned-in to the presence of God and said, “No, I cannot go to a closed room. I’m a survivor of sexual violence. You’ll need to do this in the open.”
Liza replied that she too was such a survivor and would talk with her supervisor. You see, my request wasn’t protocol, so required approval. Permission granted, we proceeded to a calmer adjacent area.
The re-screening brought on a lot of tears. I had to remind myself to breathe. And upon completion, I began the work to re-pack my belongings. Despite wanting to be left alone to recollect my composure, Liza stayed. It was Mother’s Day this year.
Liza spoke fast. She shared that the nearby chapel and sensory room were good places to sit. And then confided her story in me, a complete stranger: surviving abuse as a child from her family, and dis-engaging with them as an adult; later surviving breast cancer, and rejecting subsequent efforts by family to reconnect.
What the presence and grace of God gifted me in that painful moment was to say, “I’m glad you’re here.”
~ ~ ~
Friends, my Quaker family, we are to love the Lord our God with all our heart, and with all our soul, and with all our strength, and with all our mind; and our neighbor as our self (Matt. 22:37, 39).
We are invited to show up – regardless of pandemic, or personality, or pain – to show up for God, for one another, and in turn for ourselves.
We are challenged in order to open us up to “the new and living way” (Heb. 10:20) who is Jesus – or the Living Path of Love. Such is the movement of Spirit amid Harm, calling us toward Harmony.
This is the message I hear from a fresh reading of Matthew ch. 12, vs. 1-8. As Friend Denise reads for us, let us welcome in new Light or continuing revelation:
Not long afterward Jesus was walking through some wheat fields on a Sabbath. His disciples were hungry, so they began to pick heads of wheat and eat the grain. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to Jesus, “Look, it is against our Law for your disciples to do this on the Sabbath!”
Jesus answered, “Have you never read what David did that time when he and his men were hungry? He went into the house of God, and he and his men ate the bread offered to God, even though it was against the Law for them to eat it – only the priests were allowed to eat that bread. Or have you not read in the Law of Moses that every Sabbath the priests in the Temple actually break the Sabbath law, yet they are not guilty? I tell you that there is something here greater than the Temple. The scripture says, ‘It is kindness that I want, not animal sacrifices.’ If you really knew what this means, you would not condemn people who are not guilty; for the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.”
In v. 6, Jesus says, “I tell you that there is something here greater than the Temple.” Yes, just as there is someone here greater than our Meeting House, which we sorely miss. I hear the rush of Spirit’s movement – even with space between us – that is, the presence and grace of God within each of us.
As Friends, we honor the Light carried by each Being in this beautiful Creation. In our honoring of Light – or the Divine in the Human and All – Jesus calls us to be merciful and kind. The Living Path of Love tugs us beyond routine sacrifice or elective service, even beyond how we have done things and how we expect to be doing things.
And this also is Jesus calling us to Freedom: Truth Telling and Integrity all the way down to the Roots of Love, Liberation, and Lies; that is, to face Harm in our pursuit of Harmony.
~ ~ ~
Friends, when are we glad to be here with one another, and why? How do we say this, show it, feel it, and mean it? Just as honestly, when are we not and why?
This is the query I bring for today’s message. Let us listen for Truth, even beyond Facts or Reason or secular Common Sense. Let us seek Harmony while healing Harm. Let us open our hearts to Love, who is Jesus and is carried within each of us.
To draw this query down into our daily lives, I pair it with “The Final Appeal” by Linda Aldrich, former Maine Poet Laureate. You can find the poem on Maine Public Radio’s website <mainepublic.org>, published 29 June 2018, also with an audio version.
The poem’s last line reads, “his words closing around us like sea smoke.” May the “sea smoke” be
like the Spirit of the Living God falling afresh upon us to melt us, mold us, fill us, and use us. ***
* On the whole of the US population today, Native Americans are counted below 2%. One historical comparison: North American Indians have been estimated at 15 million in 1500 versus only 237,000 by 1900. A widely used figure is that 90% of Native Americans were killed due to the onset of settler-colonialism. For a current perspective with historical context, read Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz’s article, “Yes, Native Americans Were the Victims of Genocide” online at <truthout.org>, published 4 June 2016.
** “Liza” is a pseudonym.
*** I refer here to the lyrics of the hymn “Spirit of the Living God”. The song partly is inspired by Acts 10:44, which often is described as the Gentile Pentecost.