Articles & News

Peacefulness in a Chaotic World

Friends Journal - Tue, 05/01/2018 - 12:55am

Peacefulness has been a common theme throughout my life and my journeys. My mother and father have been through so much growing up under Israeli occupation in the West Bank. Many of my dad’s friends have been imprisoned during the occupation, and many have died from the military violence and shootings that occur. Still my parents raised me with Quaker values, whether it was from attending a Quaker school (where my mom was a teacher) or taking me to the meetinghouse every Sunday before my piano lesson. Through their actions and choices, they taught my siblings and me to understand the Quaker testimony of peace.

Being peaceful doesn’t always come easy, especially with Palestine being under occupation; everyone is so angry and they resort to violence. Even my father has been through this phase, where he was so angry at the occupation, he started throwing stones at the Israeli army. After his friends were arrested, my father quickly realized how stupid throwing stones at soldiers is, how being violent toward an army will bring you nothing, how it will do no good. My father is not a Quaker, but he believes that violence will never do good. Violence is not the answer. Being peaceful amid one’s anger shows one’s strength. Stones and rocks mean nothing when it comes to resolving an issue as big as an occupation.

My mother has always believed in Quaker values. She likes to go to meeting for worship every Sunday as it allows her to connect with her Inner Light. When I was back home she liked to take me with her; she tried to teach me Quaker morals as much as she could so I can live with them on a daily basis. My mother is one of my biggest role models for being a peaceful person. Living under the occupation and in an extremely close-minded society has made her even stronger. I also live in an extremely close-minded society; it is extremely sexist, and somewhat violent in its own ways. But even if one is absolutely livid, screaming at someone and hurting someone will not do anything. My mother always told me, “Although you’re angry, take a deep breath and talk—don’t yell, speak.”

My parents made sure that I did not grow up approaching situations in a violent manner, that I did not approach problems with an attacking demeanor, whether it was a verbal argument or a physical fight. Whenever my parents and I fought, we would sit down and talk through it; there were very few situations where someone had to yell. Growing up in this environment may be very hard, but I am glad my parents raised me to be a strong independent woman amidst the brutality of the occupation. I learned that I may have significant anger toward this occupation because it took away precious people in my life, but I also learned that settling violence with even more violence and hatred will never solve this issue. I learned that peacefulness is always a way to go; it’s always possible.

Read more: Student Voices Project 2018

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Categories: Articles & News

Stewardship Brought to the Streets of Our Capital

Friends Journal - Tue, 05/01/2018 - 12:50am

I’ve been surrounded by Quakerism since I was about three years old. From preschool through fifth grade, I attended Goshen Friends School. Then I started attending Westtown School, another Quaker private school, where I’m currently in ninth grade. Quaker values and SPICES were always integrated into both of my schools’ curriculums. At Westtown, I attend meeting for worship every week, learn about the history of Quakerism in classes, and witness as well as participate in meeting for business. I am not a Quaker myself nor part of any other religion, but I love learning about the role of religion in the world and throughout history. Quakerism is a religion that I respect greatly, and I agree with many of its values. Even though I have known about the Quaker testimonies for years, I had yet to apply one to a major life decision until just recently.

I have always been interested in current events, news, politics, and science. The 2016 election and its repercussions sparked my interest in government and in standing up for what I believe in on a national level. I started going to political rallies and marches toward the end of the election and in its aftermath. One of the main issues I care about is climate change and environmental protection. Climate change is a vitally important issue that needs to be addressed worldwide. After hearing claims on the news that climate change is a hoax, I felt that it was necessary to voice my opinion to our government. Then I found out about the People’s Climate March scheduled for April 29, 2017, in Washington, D.C., and this is when the Quaker testimony of stewardship fused with my beliefs and actions.

What I learned about protecting the environment through the testimony of stewardship at Goshen Friends and Westtown influenced my decision to go to the march, let my voice be heard, and stand up for what I believe in. I went with my mother on a large bus filled with protesters who were all headed to the march. When we arrived in Washington, D.C., a large portion of the National Mall was packed with energized environmental activists. While we were gathering, I got to talk to and observe people of all ages, genders, races, ethnicities, and religions, who were present for one reason: to be stewards of the Earth. Once the march started, I got to see the beauty of activism, stewardship, and Quakerism working together. Here were thousands of people all marching together in peaceful agreement on an issue that was important to them. People were carrying signs representing many different aspects of stewardship, including animal rights, nature conservation, climate change awareness, anti-pollution, and anti-oil drilling.

The march went around the National Mall, down Pennsylvania Avenue, and ended at the White House. We chanted and held up our signs as we marched through the streets of Washington. The events lasted all day, and it was one of the most fun and inspiring activities I have ever participated in. When the march ended, I felt very satisfied for taking a stand for what I believe in and for being able to use what I have been taught and apply it to something in the larger community. While not everyone was Quaker at the march, the Quaker testimony of stewardship has the power to extend its reach to people of all religions and even those without religion. This day will stick with me all my life, and it is certainly not the last march I will attend.

Read more: Student Voices Project 2018

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Categories: Articles & News

Soft Soap and Doom

Friends Journal - Tue, 05/01/2018 - 12:45am

“If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end; if you look for comfort you will not get either comfort or truth only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin, and in the end, despair.” —C.S. Lewis

My breath was icy and gave off white puffs in the air. The wind was like a thousand steel knives jutting into my face. I thought I couldn’t be any colder. My skis were sliding across the powdery snow. The white lushness shooting everywhere when my skis rasped against the ground. I was skiing with a group, and staying with the group was my main priority. We were all swerving through the snowy slopes in Breckenridge, Colorado, for the holidays. Me, four other kids, and the teacher. Everything else was tuned out. All I could hear was the sound of my skis scratching on the snow, and the wind whipping against my face. My mind was blank as I went along. Then the teacher stopped, and on cue the rest of the group including me skidded to a stop scattering snow everywhere. We rested for a few minutes, and were about to continue on when out of the corner of my eye, I saw something—something that kept me from going.

There was another ski group coming down the slope. The teacher stopped on one side, and like clockwork, the rest of the group did too. But there was one rogue skier: a young girl whose skis were going all over the place. She was clearly not in control. She kept swerving to the sides, almost tumbling over. Eventually she got close enough to the group, but she was even more unsteady now—unsteady enough for another girl from the group wearing a light blue jacket to stick out her left ski and trip the young girl over, causing her to fall to the white ground with a tumble and lose one ski. The teacher didn’t even notice; she was already off, with the rest of her kids following. I saw the blue-jacketed girl whisper to her friends for a split second before they let their skis continue down the slope, smiling as they left and leaving the young girl who had been tripped practically buried under the white powder. I couldn’t take my eyes off the young girl who had fallen. I almost felt angry, like I wanted to make the blue-jacketed girl fall to the ground like she had made the other one fall. Then I felt an urge to help the young girl trapped in the snow.

I couldn’t decide whether it was to be thanked by her or because I just wanted to help her after how she had been treated. But I knew I couldn’t. I had to stay with the group. Then the teacher’s words pierced my thoughts: “We will meet down there by the lodge.” I tore my eyes away to see her pointing toward a brown wooden cabin at the bottom of the slope. Then she took off, and the group followed. I turned back to the girl buried in the snow. I started arguing with myself. If I didn’t help her, she would never catch up with her group, and I would probably feel bad. If I did help her, then I would be left behind by my group. But then again, I knew where we were meeting. And I could help her and then take off really fast to get to the lodge. After all, my group always waits for everyone. I knew I was wasting time, but eventually I decided to do the thing that I actually least expected to do.

I walked over to the girl, my skis dragging through the snow. I was waddling like a duck, but that’s the only way to walk with skis on. After a whole lot of waddling, I finally made it over to the girl. She was wearing a white and pink jacket. Her orange tinted goggles looking up at me. I was lost with words. “Uh, hi,” I said awkwardly. “Do you want some help getting out?” The girl looked down at her body twisted in the snow. “Uh, yeah. Thanks,” she replied sheepishly. I popped off my skis to make the process easier, and then I started tugging at her reaching arms. She was in quite a pickle. The ski that popped off was a few feet away from her. The other ski was intact but barely. Her legs were bent underneath her, and she was covered in snow from head to toe. Every way she turned she was still stuck in the snow with her one barely clinging ski underneath her torso. I used more and more force, thinking she would never come free. Then I thought guiding her along the way might work.

“Okay so move your leg to the left, try and lift up your ski.” She tried her best to do as I said, and with all the tugging and pulling going on, she eventually flopped out of the snow in a position where she could stand up. “Thanks,” she said gratefully before popping off her other ski so she could walk to the one that was far away from her. “You’re welcome,” I replied satisfyingly as she walked off.

Eventually I made it to the cabin. I couldn’t stop thinking about the young girl I had just helped. At first I thought I did it simply because I saw someone in need and felt the urge to help them. I was fine with that. But if I was being honest, I helped the girl because I wanted her gratitude. I wanted to feel thanked. I wanted to be the hero. I didn’t do it out the kindness of my heart. And that made me feel bad. I did it to make myself feel good, like I was doing a good deed, like I deserved gratitude. Does this mean I’m a bad person? I kept asking myself this over and over again. I knew that I may have been getting worked up about nothing, but it still made me feel bad. Obviously I didn’t like this new opinion about me wanting to be the hero, but it was true. And even if I didn’t like the truth, it was still the truth.

A few days later when I went back to school, this event was still with me. I still carried it in my mind. As I adjusted to school once again, it started creeping up on me until I finally realized it. This honesty inside of me about why I had really helped the young girl had another name: integrity. I believe integrity is honesty—honesty to others but especially to oneself. And even if someone doesn’t like the truth, even if they don’t want it to be true, even if it makes them think the worst of themselves, it’s still the truth. It’s not always soft soap and everything you want it to be, it’s not always doom and despair. Then again, it can be comfort and soft soap, and it can be doom. Honesty just is. I have believed this is what integrity is ever since that icy day on the slopes and the realization of what truth is when I went back to school. Integrity. And I think that it’s something that should always be upheld.

So ever since then, I have made myself be honest with other people, but especially with myself because I learned how important honesty is in life. Ever since then, I have valued honesty as a trait in other people. And I hope that it’s a trait that grows stronger in me every day. And every winter, when the snow is falling and there is frost spreading on the ground and the windows, and I look out and see the icy world around me, I remember how honesty became a big part of my life. By just looking at the snowflakes, I remember. And sometimes, though strange as it may sound, when I’m washing my hands, I remember this too, by feeling the soft soap in my hands.

Read more: Student Voices Project 2018

The post Soft Soap and Doom appeared first on Friends Journal.

Categories: Articles & News

A Simple, Silent Moment

Friends Journal - Tue, 05/01/2018 - 12:40am

Our feet danced in an inch of water, and the wooden benches beneath us were worn from use and age. Anchored in the middle of the lake, my grandpa and I sat in the rowboat that had first belonged to my great-grandfather prior to his death. The boat’s blue paint was chipped and its hull seeped with water. The night was breezy, causing the water to ripple against the sides of the boat. With each deepening shade of the purple sky, our faces became more distorted and twisted in the fading light. My grandpa’s white hair clouded and my dark hair blended into the grey sky. We sat in silence, the water lapping against the sides of the boat.

The fish were not biting, and my rod would not cast. Every time I flung my line high above my head, it would catch in the soft breeze, dropping it into the water only a few feet in front of me. And so, I watched.

With a flick of his wrist, my grandpa cast his rod high into the air. The whoosh, whoosh, whoosh of his line entranced me as his fly plunked into the water. After a minute with no movement on his line, his wrist would flick up and the monotonous click of the reel would escape once again into the night air. With each cast, the fly at the end of his line shot a streak of neon color into the darkening night.

As I sat watching my grandpa rhythmically cast and recast his line, I began to wonder what drew my great-grandfather to purchase this lakeside land. At first, I was not sure, but as I sat listening to the rippling of the water and saw the darkening sky reflect off of the lake, its serenity struck me. Beneath the crumbling hull and chipping paint of the boat, I imagined my mom, her siblings, my grandma, and my great-grandma all sitting in the same rowboat I was sitting in now. It was this simplistic beauty that drew my great-grandfather here, and it is what calls everyone back year after year.

With a flick of his wrist, my grandpa cast his rod high into the air. The whoosh, whoosh, whoosh of his line brought me back as his fly plunked into the water. I looked at the time-warped rowboat and the placid lake around me. I looked deep into my grandfather’s face and found my own. In the deception of the night, the rowboat looked new and youthful, but I could feel its scrapes. In the crevices of the wood, I could feel hundreds of memories and in those memories, I felt love. As my grandpa and I sat side by side, I took in the beauty of the silence and the moment.

Read more: Student Voices Project 2018

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Categories: Articles & News

Powerful Quakers

Friends Journal - Tue, 05/01/2018 - 12:35am

© Rawpixel.com

The Young Friends of Baltimore Yearly Meeting (BYM) open each of our business meetings by reading a short excerpt from our handbook: “when Young Friends gather, we strive to foster a community built on caring, trust, and love.” Far from empty sentiments, these words are the bedrock upon which Young Friends have built a second home. Every few months, Friends from all over the yearly meeting area attend a weekend-long conference in a meetinghouse. There, we hold all sorts of activities, from coffee houses to massive games of capture the flag. It isn’t all fun and games though. Because we are completely self-governed, we have our own business meetings and committees. However distant we may seem from the adults of BYM, we are still a community built on the same Quaker values that are upheld from big meeting to First-day school.

As a group, Quakers have opposed inequalities that are born out of rank and traditional power systems. Young Friends aims to follow these same ideas, yet stratification appears here, too.

While both Quakers and non-Quakers attend Young Friends conferences, the core Quaker values (colloquially known as SPICES: simplicity, peace, integrity, community, equality, and stewardship) are the glue that manages to unite all attendees. The Quaker way of doing things—Quaker process—is empowering for many who wish to have their voices heard.

Rosie Silvers, who was raised Jewish but found Young Friends through the camping program, attests: “Anyone can reap the benefits of the community.” They think that business meetings, despite their tediousness, are ultimately beneficial to the community. As a vocal person both in and outside of the community, Rosie has enjoyed the space Young Friends provides for respecting the thoughts and opinions of teens. In the world, teens are often patronized, even as many adults are who are faced with systemic injustice; it is hard to make their voices heard in the workplace or legal system. “But with the Young Friends, everybody gets a say in everything. And the Nuts and Bolts Committee (NBC) exists to fix the little problems.”

The Nuts and Bolts Committee functions as the youth-comprised executive community for Young Friends. Appointed by the graduating seniors of the previous year, it is the committee of clerks, recording clerks, Youth Programs Committee representatives, and various other figures who serve to steer and aid the community. To describe what the Nuts and Bolts Committee does, Rosie likens Young Friends to a machine and explains that the committee represents the working parts of the machine, keeping everything moving and making sure it works the way it’s supposed to. As a member of the committee, Rosie knows the responsibilities that come with the position. While Rosie’s understanding of Nuts and Bolts is that it is a nurturing group of caretakers, not all in the community agree. Some feel that Nuts and Bolts members dominate the business meetings that are intended to be a platform for a diverse range of voices, and that the committee can be cliquey and exclusive.

Not least among the voices responding to these flaws is Thomas Finegar, a co-clerk of Young Friends. Thomas often feels the pressure of the work and sees a divide occurring within Young Friends. Though Thomas believes that “power isn’t inherently good or bad,” many Quakers dislike power structures. “For whatever reason,” he continues, “human societies gravitate towards creating power structures. Maybe because people want things to get done.” Thomas brought up how the lack of power structures in many Quaker communities seems directly proportional to the lack of work that is accomplished. Among Young Friends, Thomas explains that he “just ends up being the person that people come to for help when the dishes aren’t getting done, and the figure who everyone expects to take a proactive role in, well, everything.” For those who want to do more in the community, Thomas offers a simple solution: be vocal. “If you ask for it, maybe it’ll happen.” But others point out that many of the more vocal people just happen to be on the Nuts and Bolts Committee.

“Some people say,” remarks Anna Goodman, another member of the Nuts and Bolts Committee, “that if you have a vocal person in the community, that the best way to shut them up is by putting them on NBC.” Anna explained that the community is held together by a scaffolding of Quaker ideas, and that the Nuts and Bolts members maintain that scaffolding and set the tone with intentionality and sensitivity. Anna has noticed the same type of social stratification that prevents the community from functioning as it should. “Nuts and Bolts just become the faces and voices of the system, and psychologically, that creates a power structure,” she says. “If people want to do something, they need to step up.”

As a group, Quakers have opposed inequalities that are born out of rank and traditional power systems. Young Friends aims to follow these same ideas, yet stratification appears here, too. However unconsciously, the Nuts and Bolts Committee has shifted into a controlling position, because an organization founded on the idea of running itself often has a problem focusing on a single cause. If Quakers aim to find connection with the Divine through peace, unity, and community, it would stand to reason that losing sight of these values would be the source of spiritual discord within the community. Furthermore, if it is by breaking the community that the seeds of discord are first sown, then the natural solution would be to address the transgressed value that led to the community’s disharmony. Anna, Thomas, and Rosie have all concluded that the way to solve the issue facing their community is for those in the community to choose to help.

The three young Friends unanimously agreed it’s not just the people but also the values of Young Friends that help it be such a loving, tight-knit space. Despite different perspectives, a similar agreement was found for solving the power problem. Those within the Young Friends community need to step up and get more done. If those who were dissatisfied with a Nuts and Bolts position were to speak up, there wouldn’t be a problem. As long as people remain silent about what distresses them, the problem will continue. It is through faith that Quakers speak out of silence, and it must be through that same principle that young Friends speak out within their community. As a clerk, Thomas admits that he has a job to do as a “tone-setter,” but ultimately, the solution isn’t one that can come from a clerk.

In a group of people that is often slow to act, there exists a need to do. There is no obstacle.

 

To many adults, the issues facing a group of high school students may seem far off and irrelevant—just drama of the teen world—but the same problems exist throughout the Quaker community. Thomas, a lifelong Quaker, and Anna, a convinced Friend, have both noticed the same patterns of stratification in Young Friends also occur among the adult Friends. Even though the adult Friends get the dishes done more consistently and fall asleep less often during business meeting, there still seems to be a disconnect between those who do things for the meeting and everyone else. Clerks in the adult meeting are still beset with large amounts of work, a problem many clerks feel they can’t bring attention to for fear of disrupting the meeting.

Many Quaker meetings have certain people do certain jobs for a long time. Unlike the members of Young Friends, the adult Friends don’t leave the community when they graduate, and some may serve on the same committee for years. While it may be subtler among the adults than it is among the teenagers, stratification is still a prevalent problem, and it is one that Quakers as a whole must face. Like any system of human organization, Quaker process has its flaws. In order to address the systemic injustices that exist outside Quakerism in government, culture, and the worldly environment, it is integral that Quakers also maintain their own connection with the Light. In a group of people that is often slow to act, there exists a need to do. There is no obstacle. Ironically, it will take powerful Quakers to expunge the problems existing in the community, but it cannot be just a few leading the charge. To be united, the Quaker community must accept that they are all powerful Quakers.

 

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Categories: Articles & News

April 2018 Full Issue Access

Friends Journal - Sun, 04/01/2018 - 2:35am
Members can download the full PDF or read any article online (see links below). Features: “Nurturing Growth and Healing through Stories” by Astuti Bijlefeld, “Balancing Acts” by Ruthe Schoder-Ehri, “Meeting for Worship for Healing” by Richard K. Lee and Sarah M. Lloyd, “The Cost of a Healing Gift” by John Jeremiah Edminster. Poetry: “A Day of Waiting” by
Categories: Articles & News

Among Friends: Holding in the Light

Friends Journal - Sun, 04/01/2018 - 2:30am
I sat, scared and feigning calm, on the crinkly paper of an exam table in a surgeon’s office, my spouse in the chair beside me. I remember the waiting. It had been three weeks since the biopsy, with no word at all about what they found, and the minutes waiting for the surgeon to come in felt especially concentrated. We had been hearing the click of her high-heeled shoes, back and forth down the hall. They were going to click into our room, the surgeon a picture of competence and certitude, and we were going to hear
Categories: Articles & News

Nurturing Growth and Healing through Stories

Friends Journal - Sun, 04/01/2018 - 2:25am

@milosz_g

Early each spring, my garden offers me images for the work I do as chaplain. Some days as I walk through the garden, there is mud everywhere. There is much to be cleaned up, and there are stark reminders of last year’s mistakes and failures. I begin to think how much work this garden will require. On some of these days, I wonder what makes me think that the garden will turn out any better this year.

On most days, however, I see more than last summer’s shortcoming. I see the mud but also the possibilities. I actually look forward to the coming work and know that I will bring with me the lessons from past successes as well as failures. Those are the days that the garden holds promise and endless possibilities. On those days, I know for sure that this time the garden is going to be good! These are my images for the work I do as chaplain: walking through the mud; seeing possibilities; and watching for signs of growth that point to hope, as new life begins to reach for the light.

In this setting, hope and signs of growth often lie buried deep beneath the surface. In this space, through sharing stories, we find ways to uncover hope and to notice small signs of new life beginning to take hold.

During the past five years, much of my chaplaincy work has been with veterans in a substance abuse treatment program. Several times a week, we meet in small groups to explore the role of spirituality in recovery. At their best, these groups become a space for listening, for giving voice to the big questions, and for allowing these questions to sit with us. Many veterans come to this place weary and heavy-laden indeed. They carry burdens of grief or guilt, loss or shame: burdens some of them have already carried for decades. They come with the humility to be honest about the wreckage they have left behind and with the courage to ask for help.

In this setting, hope and signs of growth often lie buried deep beneath the surface. In this space, through sharing stories, we find ways to uncover hope and to notice small signs of new life beginning to take hold. We switch to another language, to another way of looking at the world and at ourselves. This is no longer the language of facts and proof and differences; this is the language of imagination and possibilities and connections. Stories are the language of spirituality. Spirituality pertains to what gives meaning and purpose to our lives, provides a framework, and offers continuity and community. As Ernest Kurtz and Katherine Ketcham write in The Spirituality of Imperfection, human beings throughout history have resorted to the medium of stories, “which use words in ways that go beyond words to speak the language of the heart.”

A story may catch us off-guard when we suddenly recognize ourselves in it. Stories can charm their way past our defenses, bypass our resistance, and overturn our ready answers. Standing in a long tradition of master storytellers, Jesus often taught through parables. To those who already had all the answers and who were sure they always knew right from wrong, Jesus would respond with a story: “There was a man who had two sons” or “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho.” Stories work because we recognize the people and situations in them, and we will likely meet ourselves in there. God and truth and right are no longer abstracts in a story: they are suddenly there in our midst. In Storycatcher, Christina Baldwin quotes from the Hasidic tradition: “What is truer than truth? The Story.”

As we relearn how to tell and to listen to stories, they are no longer “just stories”—they become truer than truth. There are times in a group that the change in the room is tangible: people relax and may even sit back while we all become listeners as someone begins, “Here is a story, a true story.” As people begin to tell and hear and value their own stories, they may also begin to change and give new shape to the narratives of their lives. It can happen that someone comes across the answer he or she has been searching for, already contained within the story. There is always awe in the silence that follows such a revelation and awe in the voices that gently ask the speaker, “Did you hear what you just said?”

The language of spirituality is the vocabulary of hope, in Kurtz and Ketcham’s elegant phrasing. Spirituality offers guidance and direction. More than explanations, spirituality offers forgiveness. Hope, direction, and forgiveness are what veterans in my groups are searching for. With each new group, we return to the Exodus story as a narrative of the long, long road to freedom. Especially in this setting, it becomes clear that this journey is not only a geographical but also a spiritual journey. Far more than “changing people, places, and things,” this journey requires changing the way we see ourselves. All travelers on this road are not merely changing where they are but who they believe they are. Since spirituality is about “how I see myself and my place in the world,” one of my tasks is to listen for changes in another’s self-understanding. Even finding a starting point for this journey can require real courage. Often as we begin this conversation, someone in the back of the room will say, barely audibly, “I don’t even know who I am.” As we talk about the losses veterans carry with them, more than one will name the most painful loss: “I lost my way, my soul, myself.”

While watching growth happen is a joy, watching grace happen is a gift.

Blade of Light by Cherry Rahn, a sculptor and painter and a member of Central Finger Lakes Meeting in Geneva, N.Y.

In this particular garden where there often is a lethal lack of hope, heartbreak and enormous challenges grow like weeds. There can be open resistance and even hostility. The question is never far away: what makes anyone think it will turn out better this time? Any growth is all the more precious because, here, hope is always a fragile sprout. Here we know the odds, the very real dangers, and setbacks. We know that some veterans will leave the program in anger, in impatience, or in despair. We know that some may return again years later, ready to change, and that some may not live through their first weekend out.

While watching growth happen is a joy, watching grace happen is a gift. In one group, this exchange took place between a veteran in his 60s and another veteran a good 30 years younger: “Listen to me, brother: you don’t want to keep doing this; you can still change.” The response: “I hear you. I love you, man, but in 30 years I don’t want to end up sitting where you are now.” Direction, guidance, acceptance, hope, love—it was all there.

Some weeks ago, a very young man in the group of newcomers mustered the courage to ask a question that was haunting him. He described his struggle with drugs and his failing to live up to his good intentions, saying, “I can’t do what I really want to do, and I keep doing things I don’t want to do.” The word his church’s leaders had used to judge him when he went to them for help was seared in his memory. He asked, “Do you think that makes me defective?“ Silently I said, “Thank you, Paul,” for allowing me to respond with confidence, “No, that makes you human” (Rom. 7:19). The young man let out a long breath as others silently nodded their agreement. Spirituality is the language of hope.

Of course, the image and metaphor of the garden is ancient. The glorious hymn of awe and praise that is the first chapter of Genesis is followed by this image in the second, “and the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east” (Gen. 2:8). As soon as the Holy One had called light and skies and stars, seas and mountains into being with a word, the real work began. God looks at this world and at us as a gardener does, seeing this year’s potential and not last year’s failures. Like any gardener, God looks around, sees the endless possibilities, and gets to work. And the work continues, some of us planting, some watering, while God gives the growth (1 Cor. 3:6).

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Categories: Articles & News

Balancing Acts

Friends Journal - Sun, 04/01/2018 - 2:20am

©PerfectLazybones

 

Healing is a dynamic and a kinetic, a fluid action, a movement toward balance and peace. Our true north, our core nature, is homeostasis: a place of balance and peace. Our human organism seeks this at all times, as we breathe and as we are breathed. We seek balance as we eat and as we are eaten away; we balance as we sing, as we are sung. These are truths that I know from my life, and this is my invocation: O Mystery, bring me to a still point, to soft equilibrium.

I was a nurse for 35 years. This profession for me was an earnest combination of altruism and endless curiosity. Nursing was a tireless meeting of others in need: assessing, responding, encouraging, cleaning, instructing, documenting, praising, coaxing. We often juggled the needs of several sets of patients at once at a busy childbirth center, with a public health caseload, or in a village outreach program. My family, marriage, and sons needed many of these same skills. Considering what constitutes healing was often set aside until I felt that I had time to rest and ponder. At meeting for worship on First Day, I would sit down and sink into the silence, accompanied by the thousands of tiny interactions of my busy week, and know that I could finally allow all this to return to Source.

In this prepared ground, this milieu of meeting together, the Great Mystery is most welcome.

The most useful core concept that animated my practice was this: You nurse with your self. This was relatively radical—to the root—and a concept usually reserved for classes in the four-year nursing education programs’ courses in nursing philosophy. It was not well understood by many of my coworkers, supervisors, and administrators. Nursing as one human being actually being with another was captured neither in the National League for Nursing (NLN) professional board examinations, nor the hospital documentation matrices, nor efficiency time studies.

Yet, for me, this tenet survived through all those years of long hospital shifts, and later as a public health nurse, meeting impoverished young teens and families in the complex urban “jungle” of Seattle or in an Alaskan village. This took time. This was a priority. This became even more true as my experience deepened and I questioned whether healing actually resulted from my efforts to apply conventional medical interventions, or whether healing was a rather mysterious occurrence for both myself and my patients or clients.

You nurse with your self. This interpersonal dynamic—this meeting of souls—was present when all the hard stuff and all the good stuff happened through those years. This is the golden filament that carried through from allopathic nursing and into holistic medicine when I became a classical homeopath. I love this process; I stay with this.

In homeopathic consultation and healing—as in Quaker meeting for worship—there is a belief in the presence and power of the vital force or the inner Light in each being. Both worship and homeopathy invite and employ expectant presence and patient waiting. At best, there is a release of attachment, judgment, and assumptions. Deep listening ensues.

In this prepared ground, this milieu of meeting together, the Great Mystery is most welcome. Mystery—and the unfolding of a person, body and soul—is listened for and longed for. Space is made for right and true energies. And in this way, whatever is out of balance, that which is wonky or wobbly or seemingly broken beyond repair, arrives as well, often cloaked with veils of mystery. These are fascinating to a homeopath or a seeker: these teasing tendrils of life experience and personal expression. Homeopathy calls this the constitutional self-regulating core of being, as it unfolds in conversation, in gesture, and often in silence. For me, it is the fleeting precious arrival of the numinous between us.

We are privileged to discover together that this sweet spot is the occasion of healing. Dynamic and elusive, healing is one of the loveliest gifts of human existence. As one self truly encounters another, as pain or puzzle is expressed, witnessed, and held, there opens a space for a shift, however tiny, toward the good, toward the just, toward the true.

Healing is cherished and invited but ever mysterious: sometimes dancing just beyond our reach, other times sneaking up on us from behind in a dream.

The task is to stay here, quietly, perhaps longer than feels comfortable, away from value judgments, associations, and explanations. As we just rest in the silence together, what can and will emerge is some indication or some clue to lead the way toward the wholeness, the healing, or health that is sought.

This moment may not look or feel like what we want. A dying patient may not get up and say, “Well that was a close call, but I’m not going to die now.” Yet a deep healing can have occurred in the conversation or silence, in the meeting of souls, in the realization of the precious gift of life and choice.

Overt recognition of healing in the labor room may be eclipsed by the excited welcome of a glossy, sputtering new being, yet the mother and all who attend her have witnessed a miracle. The mother takes with her a knowing in her flesh and bones that she has been incredibly brave and that she has participated in the most intimate way in the incubation and bringing forth of new life.

There may not have been anything wrong in her pregnancy and labor; there may not have been a diagnosis or problem for the hospital problem list. Yet great healing has occurred! For this moment at least, all the time when she doubted her own character, strength, and abilities has dissolved. She knows, in her fatigue and great amazement, that now she has arrived at a new place and time. She is new, in relationship, as the healing vessel for this child and for herself. She’s done what she didn’t believe possible, and she has been witnessed and accompanied.

In all of this, healing is a dynamic and elusive force. Healing is cherished and invited but ever mysterious: sometimes dancing just beyond our reach, other times sneaking up on us from behind in a dream. Healing is a verb: a slowing, flowing movement toward balance, toward the good. Healing is always occurring on a continuum, a trajectory of goodness.

I feel incredibly grateful for all the opportunities given to me to meet another and to meet myself. We become partners together in a healing process. We all can nurse ourselves toward the goodness of being ever more fully human.

The post Balancing Acts appeared first on Friends Journal.

Categories: Articles & News

Meeting for Worship for Healing

Friends Journal - Sun, 04/01/2018 - 2:15am

© Burlingham

Meeting for worship for healing (healing prayer) is a gathering for the purpose of holding people, concerns, and situations in the Light. Jesus Christ was a healer. There are 42 stories of his healings in the New Testament, and he assured those whom he called “friends,” rather than “servants” (John 15:15), that they would be able to do the same miracles he did and even more (14:12). Healing has been an activity of Friends from the very beginning. George Fox, James Nayler, Elizabeth Hooton, Mary Penington, and other members of the Valiant Sixty were healers, but records of their healing work were suppressed out of fear of persecution: Friends did not wish anyone to think they were drawing upon or claiming occult powers. George Fox recorded his miraculous healings in a book in order to prove that he followed in the footsteps of Jesus, having the intention it be published after his death. This book, however, and other mentions of healing work were suppressed by Friends of his time, and remained in the shadows until the mid-twentieth century.

Historian Henry J. Cadbury reconstructed some of the book of miracles using the index of Fox’s writings, Fox’s letters, and his unedited Journal. It was published as George Fox’s Book of Miracles in 1948, with an extensive introduction and notes relating to the healing activities of early Friends. It was reprinted by Quakers Uniting in Publications (QUIP) in 2000. Friends Fellowship of Healing, in England, has supported the healing work of Friends and meetings for worship for healing since 1935. It has among its publications many pamphlets dealing with healing, including George Fox and the Healing Ministry by R. D. Hodges. Healing and miracles did not stop when the Valiant Sixty passed on.

Richard Lee first encountered meeting for worship for healing in the home of his English Quaker grandmother when he visited her in Frampton-on-Severn, Gloucestershire, in the late 1960s. Although she was part of a continuous practice passed down from early Friends, it was little known and rarely practiced by North American Friends at the time. The tradition of meeting for worship for healing rose out of early Friends meetings for sufferings during the time when Quakers were being persecuted and thrown in jail on the slightest pretext, often leaving children, livestock, and crops behind and in need of care. At these meetings for sufferings, Friends would gather and worship with attention to what needed to be done to alleviate suffering brought on by persecution. As led by the Spirit during worship, they would then divide up tasks. When the persecutions subsided, the focus changed to folks who were ailing. Gradually, some of the meetings for sufferings evolved into meetings for worship for healing.

Wholeness can come in many different ways. People can receive their heart’s desire as a result of healing prayer, but sometimes the problem presented is a metaphor for something else in life that requires a person to explore further.

© Tatyana

Richard’s grandmother Florence Rose Morgan began instructing him in the ways of healing prayer when he visited her several times in his late teens and early 20s. She held meeting for worship for healing in her home, following the tradition passed down to her through the Foresters of the Forest of Dean in Cinderford, where she spent most of her adult life. Based on this tradition, she appreciated the work of James Nayler more than that of George Fox, although she recognized them both as healers. Friends she knew in Arlingham had records of early Friends meetings for sufferings going back to the 1600s, and they shared this information with Richard in 1966.

In the mid-1980s, Richard began holding occasional meetings for worship for healing in his home. He and Verne and Shirley Bechill also offered them at Lake Erie Yearly Meeting and at the Friends General Conference Gathering as an interest group. In the early 1990s, he traveled to meetings throughout North America and visited England, where he interviewed elderly Friends who had lived into the tradition. He also met with representatives of the Friends Fellowship of Healing and collected their published materials. In 1994, Richard established a regular monthly meeting for worship for healing in his home under the care of Red Cedar Meeting in Lansing, Michigan, that continues to this day.

Meeting for worship for healing is a Quaker meeting for worship that differs from First-day worship in that the clerk directs the attention of worshipers to the persons, concerns, and situations for which healing prayer has been requested. Messages are welcomed. Laying on of hands is also welcomed, if the person requesting healing is comfortable with that. Meeting for worship for healing is not exactly “faith healing,” nor is it shamanic or Reiki. It is, however, friendly to and supplements other healing modalities including Western medicine. Laying on of hands, in particular, can be an important supplement to Western medicine, which rarely includes touch. The purpose of healing prayer is to shift the energy in and around the person or situation in the direction of wholeness. It is usually not intercessory prayer. Spirit is present within and around us all the time and illuminates the worship for Friends from within. Friends assembled often experience a sense of being surrounded by Light or warmth or a loving Presence. Holding the person or situation in the Light both corporately and individually, we join with Spirit to help make the change that is needed.

Wholeness can come in many different ways. People can receive their heart’s desire as a result of healing prayer, but sometimes the problem presented is a metaphor for something else in life that requires a person to explore further. We may discover that someone or something close—an herb, a pet, a family member—can open the door to healing. The emotions around the request can be important. When meeting on behalf of someone seriously or dangerously ill or something direly wrong, it’s important for us to share our fears when the request is first mentioned, and then later, as led by the clerk, go into worship and see what Spirit can do. When physical healing is experienced, it is important to check the situation out with medical or other professionals. Our group has experienced what many of us would term miracles.

Red Cedar Meeting’s meeting for worship for healing is held from 7–9:00 p.m. on the third Monday of each month, and usually there are at least eight to ten of us who faithfully come together to hold individuals, concerns, or situations in the Light. Some Friends come early to help with setting up and having the important preliminary social conversations. Others arrive when they can and slip in quietly, if worship has started. It is better to come late than not to come at all. Healing prayer can take a lot of energy, so there is always food plus a variety of hot teas.

The formal part of the evening begins with the clerk asking for signs of hope, including updates on folks who were held in the Light at earlier meetings for worship for healing. Richard places great importance on the training of clerks, and he has been at this for 23 years, so we have a lot of folks who can serve. Someone clerking for the first time will find a lot of guidance and support from other participants. The group helps the clerk compile the list. Generally, we aim to keep our primary list of requests to around eight, giving priority to folks who are physically present. It’s important to keep requests confidential within the group. After a period of centering, as the clerk is led, he or she will introduce the requests one at a time into our gathered worship, and we will hold it in the Light with full attention. Each clerk has her or his own style of determining the order of the requests and the length of time devoted to each one.

Friends also have their own approaches to healing prayer, and very different experiences of the presence of Spirit. Some folks see colors; others visualize physical problems in detail; some are led to sing or to give vocal ministry as they would in a First-day meeting for worship. Others may be led to laying on of hands. Since not everyone is comfortable with being touched, a chair is placed in the center of the healing circle and persons who wish laying on of hands and who are able can move to it when their request is presented by the clerk. Persons who stay in place in the circle will be held in the Light but not physically touched, unless they have requested it. When those requesting can’t be physically present, worshiping with us from wherever they are can be helpful. Toward the end of our worship, folks are encouraged to name other individuals or concerns, expanding our healing prayer to include many more requests than the original seven or eight. We aim to keep a framing silence after each offering. We find that as the evening progresses, the worship deepens. Sometimes Friends experience a very deep connection to each other and to the Spirit, and the closing of worship is difficult because it is truly covered.

Before the next meeting for worship for healing, we usually follow up and check in with folks who have been held in the Light in the previous gathering. Our aim is for wholeness, recognizing that a situation might be part of a larger picture. We each approach the Light as we are individually and corporately led, and we are careful to pray as the focus person would wish. Therefore, we don’t pray in judgment or condemnation. We also don’t pray for someone who does not wish for prayers. At the end of the evening, Friends often share our individual and corporate experiences that have come out of the worship. Sometimes the conversations continue well into the evening.

Wholeness may manifest immediately or slowly over time, and sometimes it is achieved only after the person dies: a good death can be a form of healing.

© Feel good studio

Coming into wholeness can take a variety of forms. After healing prayer, a friend facing surgery might find during pre-op testing that the surgery is no longer required. A Friend may realize during healing prayer that a long-standing family feud is being caused by his own greed. A Friend may discover while being held in the Light that forgiving someone instead of wanting to kick him may allow a stubborn ankle sprain to heal. Vocal ministry heard during healing prayer may lead a Friend to a new attitude, a new course of action, or a new doctor. Wholeness may manifest immediately or slowly over time, and sometimes it is achieved only after the person dies: a good death can be a form of healing.

Since 1994 Richard has led or co-led 22 weeklong workshops at the Friends General Conference Gathering. Sarah Lloyd, Richard’s assistant, has been the person of presence at the last two. The workshop size has ranged from 8 to 35 Friends. These workshops have “taught Friends how to do it” while also providing a space for individuals, families, and friends to experience healing. Richard has also led more than 30 workshops at Lake Erie Yearly Meeting and done weekend workshops for monthly meetings. For more descriptive, historical, and background information in support of the meeting for worship for healing, please go to the resources page on the Red Cedar Meeting website, Redcedarfriends.org, and type “Meeting for Healing Resources” in the search box.

This work is all a blessing, and healing can “confound the calculus of rationality” as South African Friend and physicist George F. R. Ellis once remarked. Please feel free to join us in healing prayer on the third Monday of the month from wherever you are. We welcome folks to share their own experiences in Quaker meeting for worship for healing. Strive to be open to miracles, Friends, in your own lives.

The post Meeting for Worship for Healing appeared first on Friends Journal.

Categories: Articles & News

The Cost of a Healing Gift

Friends Journal - Sun, 04/01/2018 - 2:10am

© kreus

“Know the virtue of a healing tongue and how to use it.” —James Nayler (1618–1660)

“This anointing is for real. Don’t abuse it.” I woke with my palms buzzing, hearing a voice in my mind saying these words. I’d heard that voice before, and it had a ring of authentic divinity to it, though I couldn’t explain why I thought so. But surely many of my Quaker readers have read “The Lord said to me” in George Fox’s Journal, and perhaps also Isaac Penington’s famous outburst, “This is he, this is he; there is not another, there never was another!” Well, Friend, these things still happen, and I guess that’s what keeps Quaker faith in continuing and immediate revelation alive. God may reveal Godself as He, She, or It, but God does talk to us. (I’ll be using the pronoun “He” in this account only because that’s truest to my personal experience of the Divine Person.)

That voice had first spoken to me years earlier, not long after I’d made a formal offering of myself to God, inspired by my reading of nineteenth-century Quaker Hannah Whitall Smith’s The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life:

Do you, then, now at this moment, surrender yourself wholly to Him? Then, my dear friend, begin at once to reckon that you are His, that He has taken you, and that He is working in you to will and to do of His good pleasure.

Shortly after that surrender, I heard that voice say, “I give ear.”

The Naming of the Gift

I’d just recently returned from a Christ-centered Friends weekend conference at New York Yearly Meeting’s Powell House, where a gifted namer of Friends’ gifts had identified me as carrying a gift of healing. (Me? Really? Well, coworkers at the box factory had told me that my hands took away their headaches … but a divine gift?) At the end of the gathering, she put her hands over mine, and blessed and “sealed” the gift. And now, a few mornings later, I was hearing confirmation from on high—with a warning attached: no abuse of the gift.

To hear “this anointing is for real” left my mind silent for a moment. Then, predictably, my mind and feelings went wild: What does this mean? What’s next?

I felt fear, of course, that I’d “abuse” the gift in some way that would put me into disfavor with God that I’d rue forever: I certainly wouldn’t ask for money! “Freely ye have received,” Jesus said (Matt. 10:8); “freely give.” Would I fall prey to sexual temptation? I hoped not! But might a subtler temptation blind-side me, like a desire to please and impress people? Or might I abuse the gift by self-protectively hiding it under a bushel?

At the same time, I felt excited to imagine that I might have a miracle worker’s career opening up before me. Bzz! From now on my hands might buzz to tell me that they were “charged” and ready to work wonders. Bzz! They’d tell me where the cancer or the kidney stone was, I’d lay them where the buzzing was loudest, and presto! when the buzzing stopped, I’d know I was done and the patient was cured. It was a little boy’s fantasy of having magical powers, with no doubts, no ambiguities, no failures, no grief over sufferers left unhealed. Problem was, my hands never buzzed again. I sometimes tell people that it’s a “blind gift”: it’s not given to me to know when or how it’s working; I just pray that healing occurs. And enough people report improvement, or heat from my hands, that I persist in offering hands-on prayer.

By the grace of God, I had my life partner, Elizabeth, to share my experience with, and she took the news of the buzzing palms and the interior locution soberly. She’d gone to that weekend conference with me, and had her own gifts of wisdom; discernment; and healing named, blessed, and sealed there. She’d heard the divine voice at times, too.

The prospect of inviting spirit guides reminded me that my gift had been from the Holy Spirit, who would surely be spirit guide enough.

Growing into Giftedness

With encouragement from other Quaker healers, Elizabeth and I began to study techniques of hands-on healing: we went to weekend training workshops; we read the writings of Christian healers; shamanic healers; and practitioners of Reiki, traditional Chinese medicine, Ayurveda, and homeopathy. I longed to be able to inspect people’s etheric and astral bodies, their chakras and marmas, with a diagnostician’s eye. So long as it involved no straying from Christ, I aspired to know how to mobilize healing virtues in plant spirits, minerals, colors, and sounds, and how to recognize “holy” places.

But none of that connected for us. Then I came to realize that whatever healing knowledge there was to be found in these disciplines, the Omniscient Teacher knew it all already, and He could guide my hands and mobilize healing energies as He knew best. My part is to pray for the patient innocently, willing only to be Christ’s instrument as I lay hands on. Sometimes I imagine His hands superimposed on mine, dark nail-wounds at the center.

Elizabeth and I dropped out of one training program when we were told that at “Level 3” we’d be encouraged to connect with “spirit guides.” We both smelled temptation. But the prospect of inviting spirit guides reminded me that my gift had been from the Holy Spirit, who would surely be spirit guide enough.

I’ve learned to listen to my own moods, as well as body feelings, as possible indicators of a patient’s condition.

Traditional Chinese medicine finds times of day medically relevant, and medical astrology names better and worse times for healing, but no one knew the right time better for my visit to Carla than the Holy Spirit did. Carla was an old friend who’d gone on to medical school and become an MD. Her pituitary gland was overfunctioning, causing Cushing’s disease, and I’d heard she’d gone into the hospital for corrective surgery. I’d had another errand to run in the city, and her hospital was on the way to it, so, I thought, why not pay Carla a visit? I happened to come to her bedside a few hours after the surgery, as she was plunging into a life-threatening Addison’s disease crisis from pituitary underfunctioning. Did my prayer help? Only God knows: but Carla told me later that my timing had been perfect. I’d call it providential.

I learned an important lesson about healing one evening when, in a casual moonlit conversation with a neighbor on our adjacent doorsteps, she told me of her thyroid trouble, and I offered to lay hands on her neck. Whoosh! No sooner had I touched her skin than I felt powerful, unanticipated sexual arousal. “I’ve never been unfaithful to my husband,” she blurted out nervously: she’d felt it, too. No more touching women without a third party present! I’ve made exceptions to this rule since then, but only rarely, and with awareness of the danger involved.

Along the way, I’ve learned some other lessons about being affected by contact with patients. No one else’s sickness has ever made me feel physically sick, but I was once plunged into an inexplicable mood of despair by the close presence of a woman, who then revealed that her husband was dying of cancer. So I’ve learned to listen to my own moods, as well as body feelings, as possible indicators of a patient’s condition.

Growing into Discipline

But the most challenging limitation that my gift imposed on me was one that only dawned on me gradually. It was about discipline of my speech and thoughts.

First, I met two other Christian healers, Wallace and Vanessa, who, like so many (including myself), had been made aware by a miraculous hands-on intervention that the gifts of healing evidenced in the early church (1 Cor. 12:9, 28) had never been taken from it. This had made them eager to seek out other churches in Manhattan that had healing ministries, and someone at the Friends quarterly meeting office had given them the names of Elizabeth and me. The rest, as they say, is history. Through their ministry, I received the training preparatory to membership in the International Order of Saint Luke the Physician (OSL), a body of “clergy, health professionals, and lay people who feel called to make Jesus’s ministry of healing a regular part of our vocation.” I was inducted into the OSL on October 12, 2013.

Part of that training was the systematic study of the healings of Jesus recorded in the New Testament. In those healing stories, I noticed a pattern: Jesus, when about to do a healing, never imputed the morbid condition (leprosy, blindness, deformity) to His patient; instead, his words anticipated the healing He intended to bring about: “Arise, take up thy bed, and walk!”;  “The maiden is not dead, but sleepeth.” To my dismay, I thought I’d found a contrary example in His statement “Lazarus is dead” (John 11:14), but upon inspection of the original Greek, I learned that Jesus had said “Lazarus died”: a declaration of a past occurrence but not of a present state. My conclusion was to not risk reinforcing the undesirable condition by talking or writing as if it’s the truth of the situation. Instead I help realize the desired state by naming and celebrating it as if your words had the creative power to help it come true.

The Call to Truthful and Harmless Speech

It grew on me that this was part of a more general calling to what I call “truthful and harmless speech.” The apostle James, challenging all believers to tame the tongue, warns us not to let blessing and cursing come out of the same mouth (Jas. 3:10); Paul also advises, “Bless, and curse not” (Rom. 12:14). This happens to be a teaching of spiritual wisdom worldwide: right speech is one of the components of the Noble Eightfold Path of Theravada Buddhism, and the Hindus’ Bhagavad Gita (17:15) prescribes an “austerity of speech” that limits speech to the inoffensive, the truthful, the desirable, and the practice of reading Scripture. It may seem, of course, that the truth is at times quite offensive and undesirable, and I must charge a person with, say, lying. But instead of calling him a liar (which would be “offensive,” and also “undesirable” in the sense of tending to fix him in that identity permanently), I may simply call his statements untrue, and exercise my option of hoping and praying for his repentance of a frequent recourse to untruth, as I was led to repent of my own. There’s a difference.

Any feelings in my heart of the person’s otherness would tend to subvert that connectedness: gender otherness, ethnic or racial otherness, political or religious otherness, particularly any “other” that, by its very nature, is engaged in a competition for dominance or survival with “my” kind.

Right Livelihood, Nonpartisanship, and Chastity of Thought

None of this taming of the tongue, I realized, would be possible without my abstinence from employment where my superiors would require as part of my work my telling untruths or making  evil appear good (Isa. 5:20). Perhaps a Buddhist would say that right speech requires right mindfulness and right livelihood, two other aspects of the Eightfold Path. By the grace of God, I’m now retired from a world of industry, commerce, and mass persuasion, where I was sometimes complicit in corporate truth bending (may God forgive me). Healers, like other framers of prayer, must mean what they say.

Another realization came when I realized that I must not engage in a contest of wills with a person I wish to heal (2 Tim. 2:24). This meant, for me, ceasing to vote in national elections, although I also had other reasons for doing that, chiefly that I couldn’t, in good conscience, express a preference for one armed Caesar over another armed Caesar. That would be voicing a desire for a lesser evil over a greater evil, after Christ had forbidden me to choose evil at all. Paul warned, long ago, against the kind of sophistry that justifies evil means by the supposedly “good” ends they serve (Rom. 3:8).

But I’ll expand further on the connection I feel between the healer’s call and political nonpartisanship: when I do healing work, “I” step back and ask Christ-in-me to work, which I believe He does in concert with Christ-in-the-other-person, Christ being in no way divided (1 Cor. 1:13). Any feelings in my heart of the person’s otherness would tend to subvert that connectedness: gender otherness, ethnic or racial otherness, political or religious otherness, particularly any “other” that, by its very nature, is engaged in a competition for dominance or survival with “my” kind.

It should take only a moment’s reflection to realize that one can’t hope to tame the tongue if one is exercising no restraint on the heart: “for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matt. 12:34). To maintain harmless speech, I must steer the heart not only away from violent desires but also from lustful ones, greedy ones, and self-serving ones of all kinds that go beyond the simple demands of self-care. They will still be there in the heart, of course; the point is not to encourage them. I call this discipline “chastity of thought.” If I should happen to fall in love with someone who is not my wife, I may sober myself up with the memory of something I heard the divine voice say one morning when I saw a heartbreakingly beautiful young woman out of my bus window on my way to work: “So you love her, do you? Have you prayed for her?”

The post The Cost of a Healing Gift appeared first on Friends Journal.

Categories: Articles & News

A Day of Waiting

Friends Journal - Sun, 04/01/2018 - 2:05am

© Richard Griffin

 

Holy Saturday waits
Like a patch of dirt in the lawn
Nothing happening
But shoots, then buds appear
Followed by tomatoes, squash and beans.

Holy Saturday looks dull
It’s the spring in a can
Just boring coils of gray metal
Doing nothing,
Worthless scrap
But waiting 
For the lid to come off.

Hope lost
And was buried.
Nothing to do but go home
And put one heavy foot in front of the other
Because it’s Holy Saturday
And nothing’s happening.

But then Mary shows up with funeral spices
And the gardener whispers her name
And she gets the surprise of her life.
It’s Holy Saturday
Like so many days
Nothing is happening

But the joy

Is in

How

Wrong

We are.

The post A Day of Waiting appeared first on Friends Journal.

Categories: Articles & News

Passages

Friends Journal - Sun, 04/01/2018 - 2:00am
© digitalskillet1 Perhaps my death will be like Dad’s, surrounded by children and the chaplain and the hospice nurse and some aides on staff who had come to love him, too, singing and praying him on his
Categories: Articles & News

Forum April 2018

Friends Journal - Sun, 04/01/2018 - 1:55am
Mismanaging fear Thank you for “The Trouble with ‘Strangers’” (Gerri Williams, FJ Feb.). I agree that we need to establish firm limits around people who are intent on mismanaging fear by demonizing others. It is good to maintain a level of compassion for their suffering but never compromise the truth arising from the facts of history. As I see it, the Trump supporters and those who subscribe to fundamentalist beliefs are entrenched in judging themselves and others. It makes them very fearful and angry. They have difficult work to do
Categories: Articles & News

News April 2018

Friends Journal - Sun, 04/01/2018 - 1:50am
New website features WWI conscientious objectors A website featuring a collection of over 700 digitized archival items from the Swarthmore College Peace Collection that relate to conscientious objection during World War I debuted in February. The website, “Conscientious Objection and the Great War: 1914–1920,” was created and curated by Swarthmore archivist Anne Yoder. The origins of the project go back to 2003 when the Peace Collection received a boxful of documents by brothers David and Julius Eichel, Jewish socialists who were both conscientious objectors (COs) during World War I. Unlike members of
Categories: Articles & News

Heart of Oneness: A Little Book of Connection

Friends Journal - Sun, 04/01/2018 - 12:55am
By Jennifer Kavanagh. Christian Alternative Books, 2017. 88 pages. $10.95/paperback; $5.99/eBook.

This meditation by a British Quaker may be modest in size, but the subject it addresses is a dauntingly ambitious one; in fact it’s one that could risk a bit of superficiality: the paradox of a world of incredible diversity in creative tension with a mutual interconnectedness. The author wisely does not attempt a head-on tackle of this matter that such volumes have been written about, but merely invites us to think with her about where within ourselves we can learn to find underlying unity. “It is this series of paradoxes that this book will seek to address.”

As the narrative gets underway, her detailed review of the wide reach of this dividedness in the world (colonialism, nationalism, segregation, injustices, social divisions, prejudice, thoughtless exploitation of the environment, and more) could tempt the reader to think, “All right, I really don’t need to be reminded once again of all the world’s familiar disconnections,” but Kavanagh soon begins to introduce examples of the underlying unity shining through in endeavors such as the United Nations and European Union, Alternatives to Violence Programs, and a long list of others down to the personal level. And this is only the beginning: her sweeping journey through various challenges to recognize connectedness also includes learning “shared creatureliness” with other animals, another—by way of the challenge of sustainability—of our relationships to the planet, and our “vertical” oneness across time, manifested compellingly in care for future generations.

Then, as a step toward understanding this tugging of opposites, she brings in the incredible diversity of the natural world, and reminds us of our all-too-recent—and still far from complete—realization that all this is interconnected down to the last atom (in fact, “interconnectedness” shows signs of becoming a fashionable buzzword). The question, as she has posed at the outset, is how then do we find our way to this same unity in our social world? Here we deal with the time dimension just mentioned, and even more strongly with the space dimension. The connectedness we experience in various ways (group performance, Skype, group meditation, and so on) is a “field” that surrounds us, and Friends’ meeting for worship stands for us as a potent distillation of this. It is this consciousness of others’ inner lives and minds that makes for depth of worship. We are seeking unity in the Divine, and this leads the author to the final step (I’ve been rearranging her thoughts a bit to reflect my perception of how one idea develops into another).

God is often defined as no more but also no less than the pure relational act itself: God is “the ultimate oneness,” and oneness with God is oneness with all being. So we need to find oneness with our true self, and finding unity means becoming a unity within ourselves. How do we do this? “Living within ourselves requires allowing enough space … for the Spirit to enter in.” We hold within ourselves balances of disconnection such as light–dark and diversity–unity, and balance is at the core of a unified life. My finding oneness in the world must inevitably be preceded by finding oneness in myself. She reminds us that this—formulated in endless different ways—is to be found at the center of all religious traditions.

But achieving a glimpse of the oneness at the heart of existence and then in oneself is not really the goal here, but merely the gateway to insight. The really crucial step each one of us must take is discerning how this insight guides our living and acting in the world. Within the cramped space of only 66 pages, Friend Kavanagh’s meditation offers a direction.

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Categories: Articles & News

Warner Mifflin: Unflinching Quaker Abolitionist

Friends Journal - Sun, 04/01/2018 - 12:50am
By Gary B. Nash. University of Pennsylvania Press, 2017. 352 pages. $34.95/hardcover or eBook. Buy from QuakerBooks

Thorough books have been produced in recent years by historians exploring the writings and works of early Quaker anti-slavery activists, including Marcus Rediker’s biography The Fearless Benjamin Lay: The Quaker Dwarf Who Became the First Revolutionary Abolitionist (reviewed in FJ Sept. 2017) and David L. Crosby’s annotated collection, The Complete Antislavery Writings of Anthony Benezet, 1754–1783 (reviewed in FJ Nov. 2014).

These books and others have been efforts to recover a little known aspect of early American history: how a small band of religious white people—the most vocal of them Quakers—pressed for the universal emancipation of slaves on moral grounds. They met strong opposition from those with vested economic interests in slavery, including fellow Quakers, yet they persisted.

Now Gary Nash, a history research professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, has produced a comprehensive biography of the all-but-forgotten leader of this small movement, Warner Mifflin.

Mifflin, the scion of a wealthy plantation owner, became convinced through epiphanous awakenings to see slavery as an evil antithetical to the natural order and the God who created that order.

Mifflin (1745–1798) freed his own slaves, urged others to do the same, lobbied legislatures to press for slavery’s end, and even advocated and practiced a form of reparations—he called it restitution—paying slaves he freed with money or goods for the work they had done. Southern politicians hated him, with one declaring him “a meddling fanatic.” Many slaves and former slaves held him in the highest regard, as a man who pushed for their cause long after both Lay (1681–1759) and Benezet (1713–1784) and other abolitionists like John Woolman (1720–1772) were gone. Though he would have little or no contact with these activists, Mifflin would take up their cause.

Mifflin grew up on a plantation on the Delmarva Peninsula. As a boy most of his companions were slaves. He did not publicly question the peculiar institution, however, until his late 20s, when he suffered an illness and in his recuperation became, as he wrote, “fully persuaded in my conscience that it is a sin of a deep dye to make slaves of my fellow creatures.” He also wrote he would free slaves because he believed “it to be impossible to obtain that peace my soul desires while my hands are found full of injustice …” Mifflin’s efforts to abolish slavery were complicated by the American Revolution, which tore colonial society apart and sorely tested the Quaker testimony of peace, which Mifflin and others held dear. Many revolutionaries considered Quakers to be royalist sympathizers and profiteers. Quakers were abused and their property destroyed. Mifflin and others risked their lives to travel to Quaker gatherings and to meet with both British and American military leaders to urge peace.

Throughout the war, Mifflin only became more committed to his belief that slavery was a moral wrong. He freed all his slaves and paid them back wages, and his home became a safe haven for slaves and ex-slaves.

Mifflin and other Quakers press leaders of the new United States, including Congress, for an end to slavery. Mifflin was widely known during his lifetime as a leading abolitionist, being praised by like-minded people in the United States and Europe, including Thomas Clarkson, who mentioned him in his popular book on Quakers opposing the slave trade. Southern politicians and businessmen railed against him. But after he died of yellow fever in 1798, his legacy faded almost to oblivion. Now, Professor Nash has delivered a noble effort of, as he puts it, “[r]estoring Warner Mifflin to public memory.” Bravo.

The book has some weaknesses. At points it loses larger themes in too much detail about Mifflin’s family life and his comings and goings. A bigger problem is no fault of Professor Nash, but of the historical record. Here is yet another work about white abolitionists where we learn very little about the people they were trying to free. Slaves, even if named in the book, remain undeveloped as characters because little record was made of their opinions and concerns. We are left to wonder what they thought of the cruel social order in which they were expected to inhabit the lowest level in perpetuity—and we learn little of their own efforts to escape that system’s broad reach.

 

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Categories: Articles & News

Evicted AND Dream Hoarders

Friends Journal - Sun, 04/01/2018 - 12:45am
Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City. By Matthew Desmond. Crown Publishing Group, 2016. 422 pages. $28/hardcover; $17/paperback; $12.99/eBook. Buy from QuakerBooks Dream Hoarders: How the Upper Middle Class Is Leaving Everyone Else in the Dust, Why That Is a Problem, and What to Do About It. By Richard V. Reeves. Brookings Institution Press, 2017. 196 pages. $24/hardcover; $17.99/eBook.

I am not sure when I first became aware that there were (at least) two economies in the United States. Maybe when my client got to my office by three buses instead of one DC Metro train because riding the bus was so much cheaper. Surely when my receptionist quit paying her rent and waited for eviction so that she had enough for a deposit and first month’s rent for her new place—a tactic that never had occurred to me.

These two books reflect those different economies. The one you live in and the one that others live in. Evicted is primarily how the poorer economy works. Dream Hoarders is about the economy in which most Friends live and how we help perpetuate the other economy. Together, these books paint a grim picture, but also give a glimmer of hope.

These books are not focused on racism—they are about poverty and wealth. Ultimately, however, they are about the enduring burdens of segregation and red-line districts.

Evicted, through the fascinating interwoven stories of renters and landlords, tells how eviction has become so profitable that the process has exponentially increased. Tenants are trying to survive a system that is not set up for their survival. Neither good nor bad choices seem to have much bearing on their quests to live in acceptable housing, have enough to eat, and provide stability for their families. In a society that expects people to spend 30 percent or less of their income on housing, some people spend 70 percent or more of their already inadequate income on housing, leaving only a few dollars for food and emergencies. Any emergency means not making the rent and—eventually—getting evicted from their already inadequate housing.

Or maybe not—who gets evicted depends on the caprice of the landlord. A person who complains about rats and holes in the walls and owes a few dollars is more likely to be evicted than a person who passively accepts the horrors in which they live. Anything that brings the police—including complaining of being beaten by their man—can result in eviction. Going to court to oppose eviction may mean the loss of the inadequate job they cling to. A person who is aggressive in the face of demands (usually a man) may be left alone; another person who just tries to avoid being seen (usually a woman) may be evicted instead. Desmond writes: “If incarceration had come to define the lives of men from impoverished black neighborhoods, eviction was shaping the lives of women. Poor black men were locked up. Poor black women were locked out.”

Those who are evicted find themselves in even worse situations. Furniture, clothing, toys, and food are abandoned, stolen, or destroyed. Court notices and appointment reminders go to the wrong address. A person cannot get an apartment in a better, safer place with an eviction on their record. Their children may have to change schools. Depression may threaten to hang over the whole family. And in most cases eviction leaves the evicted person with insurmountable debt on the court records.

You’d think the insurmountable debt wouldn’t matter—after all these people have nothing that the landlord can levy or attach a lien to—but it does. There are companies that profit by watching to see if the evicted person ever comes into money, for instance, from the final results of litigation over the accident that put them out of work, or from finally crawling up from the depths of their lives. And then one more time they are smacked down, and the money they saw as their salvation disappears, in whole or in part, along with their hopes.

Desmond argues that the federal voucher system where individuals pay 30 percent of their income and the government pays the rest works and should be expanded—an unlikely result in today’s political climate. Although it is clear that the individuals who found stable housing had relatively happy endings.

But the voucher system pays landlords more than the fair market value for apartments, becoming a veritable windfall to landlords even with the additional “burden” of keeping the housing up to code. Because of this skewing many fewer people receive vouchers than qualify and that could be funded. A December 23, 2017 U.S. District Court decision in D.C. required using local neighborhoods to determine fair market value; this decision may have changed that practice.

All in all, this is a book which illuminates Martin Luther King Jr.’s words: “Every condition exists simply because someone profits by its existence. This economic exploitation is crystallized in the slum.”

So other than being a shockingly sad story in the human family (a rather abstract view), what does this other economy have to do with most Friends? That is where Dream Hoarders takes up the story.

Dream Hoarders is full of data, most of which is not surprising. There is a widening gap between classes in our country. Rather than call people rich, we call them “upper middle class” and leave that term, “rich,” for the 1 percent. People with money who have children spend that money on helping those children succeed. People without money who have children have fewer choices. There are dozens of graphs illustrating the various points. This is information that you could find in a dozen books over the last ten years. And this, too, is a picture of the legacy of Jim Crow.

What makes Richard Reeves’s book worth the read (besides his humor) is how he frames and explains the data we have heard countless times since the Occupy Movement in 2011. He is focused less on the 1 percent and more on the top 20 percent—the upper middle class in which many if not most Friends comfortably reside. And he focuses on the things people do that don’t just help their children, but that actually harm other children—intentionally or not. He looks at society in the United States as a zero-sum society in which affluent parents violate some vague antitrust rules by promoting their children’s positions. Finally, he provides suggestions on how we, as a nation, can move toward the society which we claim to have and one where the American Dream is not just a fantasy in Frank Capra movies.

But while his framing of the issue is useful—how the upper middle class profits from 529 plans to fund the tax-free education of their children and how they have created a glass floor—his solutions are not.

He suggests the need for downward mobility without really exploring what that would mean. Must children be impoverished to make society fairer? Or could we focus more on grants rather than using the tax code to provide educational aid to those who cannot afford to buy it? The most recent “reform” of the tax code has limited aid for education, but 529 plans for the affluent are still protected. The extremely wealthy, especially employers, gain. Teachers and employees are written out of the code. Is education even the answer in a society where highly educated people cannot reliably find work since 2008? Can we encourage more people to look to skilled work or vocational education? Can we continue to work to blur the red lines of yesterday rather than just displace them with gentrification?

Two books which ostensibly explore economics ultimately highlight the continuing price of white privilege. Neither one provides a complete solution, but both offer insight into a way forward. Both will make you think.

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Categories: Articles & News

Jesus, Christ and Servant of God: Meditations on the Gospel According to John

Friends Journal - Sun, 04/01/2018 - 12:40am
By David Johnson. Inner Light Books, 2017. 278 pages. $35/hardcover; $25/paperback; $12.50/eBook. Buy from QuakerBooks

It is certainly not surprising that Quaker publisher Inner Light Books would publish a collection of meditations on the Gospel of John, for light is a prominent theme in John. Early on we read, “In him was life, and that life was the light of all people,” and later on Jesus says, “I am the light of the world.” John is often referred to as “the Quaker Gospel.” So Australian Quaker David Johnson (son of John?) writes Quaker meditations on this Quaker gospel for a Quaker press. What is he “pressing” for? Johnson writes, “Each of us is invited to follow the inward Light in trust, seeking the possibility of a life of real holiness admitted by Jesus for himself.” Jesus is Christ in that he makes God present for us, and he is servant of God in that he does the will of God.

Here Johnson continues to pursue the task he set out in his previous book, A Quaker Prayer Life. In reading the gospel, Johnson attempts to move his reader “from the head to the heart,” from the intellectual to the spiritual, from information to transformation. Johnson certainly doesn’t neglect the head, for he includes some important information about John, but he aims for the transformation of the heart. The last line of the epilogue is representative: “Open our hearts, O God, to the Light of Christ.”

In 2007–2008, Johnson read every verse of the Gospel of John. For eight months he didn’t read anything else. It was a spiritual journey for him. He notes how the Holy Spirit opened up new meaning for him, and so these meditations are the fruit of that labor of the Spirit in Johnson’s life. He therefore produces what is in essence a Quaker commentary on the Gospel of John. He covers virtually every passage in the gospel, beginning with the Prologue (chapter 1 in John), continuing with the conversations with Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman (chapters 3 and 4), moving on to the Feeding of the 5,000 (chapter 6), the miracle of healing the man born blind (chapter 9), the raising of Lazarus (chapter 11), the Farewell Discourses (chapters 13–17), the trial before Pilate (chapters 18–19), and the Resurrection accounts, which include the miraculous catch of fish and the fireside chat with Peter (chapter 21). And he reads these passages in the company of early Friends as well as modern mystical writers such as Thomas Merton. (Unfortunately, the vast majority of the people he quotes are male.)

This book is Christocentric but from a universalistic bent. It centers on Jesus, as the Gospel of John so radically does. Yet it is also open to the truth of other faiths. Johnson often refers to other religious traditions, such as Islam, Buddhism, or Hinduism, and says that they communicate that same search for the Ultimate.

This book reminded me of another one with an almost identical subtitle, Conversation with Christ: Quaker Meditations on the Gospel of John by Douglas Gwyn (Quaker Press of FGC, 2011). Curiously, Johnson does not refer to it, though he does refer to two of Gwyn’s works on early Friends. He also does not refer to Quaker biblical scholar Paul Anderson, who has written a number of important works on the Gospel of John. I think particularly of Anderson’s 2000 Pendle Hill pamphlet, Navigating the Living Waters of the Gospel of John.

Nevertheless, Johnson is successful in his project. He shows how “the Quaker Gospel” might still speak to those yearning for authentic religious experience in this age of pluralism. Johnson connects the time of the Gospel of John to the time of early Quakers to today. Anyone interested in a Quaker—or mystical—approach to John could read this book with benefit and inspiration.

This book found me in something of a “dark night of the soul,” so I resonated with his approach. In reading his book, I felt the light of Christ shining in my own (New)heart.

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Categories: Articles & News

A Seeker’s Theology: Christianity Reinterpreted as Mysticism

Friends Journal - Sun, 04/01/2018 - 12:35am
By John G. Macort. Self-published, 2016. 231 pages. $9.50/paperback. Buy from QuakerBooks

John Macort, formerly an Episcopalian priest but long acquainted with Friends and recently a member, shares with the reader some elements of his spiritual autobiography. The present volume represents a compilation of lectures delivered over the course of several years, and perhaps is best appreciated not by a cover-to-cover march through the book, but rather by reading the chapters as one is drawn to them. Yet the book as a whole is intended to build up a picture of the author’s theology, as a result of his grappling with modern Bible scholarship and modern science.

Macort is strongly of the opinion that (in Bishop John Spong’s words) Christianity must change or die. He shows a broad familiarity with twentieth-century theological currents. The effect of these was to strip away traditional certainties about the nature of God, the nature of the atonement, the place and role of Jesus, and the reliability (or not) of Scripture. In grappling with the latter, theologians from whom Macort has learned an understanding of scripture as the product of communities of faith. With the Christian scriptures, one can make reasonable conjectures about who was speaking, to whom, with what emphases and purposes, and what at least some of their raw materials were. In addition to this humanist–historical view, there also grew up an understanding about the nature of myth (in the sense of a culture’s way of expressing big ideas about its identity, purpose, and values). This kind of scholarship, along with the rapid advance of the sciences, and the general trend of modernity to “desacralize” or “disenchant” the world, has eaten away the authority of traditional religion.

Macort clearly has confronted these challenges, as he recounts, and has sought a more rational, flexible, and open religion. Mysticism, a way of being in the world organized by the personal experience of the holy, has seemed to give him powerful tools for understanding Jesus’s preaching, the universal dimensions of the Spirit, the mystery of the Eucharist, the nature of human spiritual growth, and authentic worship. His particular take on mysticism is linked to his stance as a “panentheist”—one who subthe view that God is in everything, rather than a separate entity “out there.” (This is a stance taken, for example, by Thomas Merton; and see Tom Gates’s Pendle Hill pamphlet #422, Reclaiming the Transcendent.)

With this background, Macort sees Quakerism as described by Rufus Jones and Douglas Steere, as one among many mystical movements that have sprung up across centuries and cultures. As the back cover says, “God is experienced mystically in many cultures and religions. The Christian faith must be reinterpreted as mystical experience.” Quakerism’s method allows for God’s active love, most fully embodied in Jesus, to break through and work transformations in the world: “Through meditation, we are guided in ways to act in love for others and respect for all existence.”

This book is not a systematic theology, but records an individual’s striving to work out his faith and put the results into words. Some will find it appealing, and some baffling, but I appreciate it whenever a Friend takes a deep breath, rolls up their sleeves, and undertakes to speak of their struggles and the discoveries they have made, as pilgrim souls in this bewildering world of wonders.

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