Primitive Christianity Revived, Again
QuakerQuaker member Madeline Schaefer recently started a podcasting interview program called Friends Speaks my Mind and wanted to know how to host it here on the site. We've been puttering around and have put together a system that not only hosts it but automatically creates a podcast feed for your iPod, phone or computer podcast player.
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For Palm Sunday we had an experiential, intergenerational worship time complete with children's story and palm branches. Listen to the podcasthere!
Sunday’s formal message in worship focused on how to center, as Quakers say, meaning to sink deep into listening for Spirit. I am certain it was prompted by a conversation the week before among a lively group of experienced worshippers and newcomers trying to figure it out. It was a blessing and reminded me that it had once been difficult for me, too.
Something had primed me for Sunday and it took no time to slide in to that space where I heard the minister’s words, they registered, but I could smile and know I was somewhere else. A breathy giggle arose when the minster talked about being “occupied by spirit.” I already was – gratefully.
A three-hour astrological reading Friday, I am certain, prepped me for the hour of worship. That may sound like heresy, but it’s not. The female voice on the other end of the line holds a Ph.D from Yale; she’s no quack. I’m still combing through the 50 pages of notes, assimilating and responding. Recorded disks will arrive shortly, but I can’t wait. Basically, she confirmed my spiritual connection, intuition and ability to transcend my interior. That’s why worship comes easily. A dozen years of practice also doesn’t hurt.
One of my gifts, I have sensed and the astrologer confirmed, is having these experiences and being able to communicate them.
I understand there are as many ways to respond to God as there are individuals, so I don’t claim mine is the path for everyone. But, at least, I have the ability to explain how I center. I have also meditated and it is far more than that. It is an emptying, but also a refilling of Spirit. For me meditation always stopped short of that. Here’s my method:
Closing my eyes, I visualize that I ampeeling back the layers of my heart, one by one,clearing away distraction and thought.Think of peeling thin, fragile and translucentonion skins, attempting to reach the core.Following my breath, I let it plug my braininto my heart instead of the opposite,
as when I am conscious in regular, livingmode. I imagine a place in the back of my heart,a rather secret compartment, between myshoulder blades. When I reach it, I shudderwith a particular sensation, unlike any other …a kind of healing that carries a sharpness, an alertness,so I am not quite melting into it. There is a fine distinctionbetween it and surrender. Untapped energy resides here,lulling me into a relaxed attentiveness of being completelyhere, but also aware of what’s transpiring around me.It resembles that state between dreaming and waking.I can listen, but be deeply present. It’s a restorative place,
much like laying my head in Spirit’s lap as I do incentering prayer. To arrive in this spot, I must
intuitively feel my way in, locate the back door,the one behind my heart and empty myself, surrendermyself. That means quieting my brain, letting it rest, sothat my soul arises to meet God within.
Oh, and when I can do this, REALLY do this (well, when grace is at work), I am so at peace, feeling the bliss, the unity of love. This is a wonderful state. On occasion, there is more as there was Sunday. I am transported back to an ancient, timeless realm. Images arise, mostly fragments and flashes, a sort of message that will take some time to assimilate. I had four of those:
• A small group of shepherds or gatherers, crouched together under cloaks inside the mouth of a cave, waiting.
• A view of a very large and powerful white bird, its talons shackled, breaking free and ascending.
• Two weathered stone tablets broken apart with symbols and numbers and an inked heart torn at the break, half resting on each tablet.
• A folk icon of Jesus, crudely rendered, laying on its side on a piece of wood with wings, floating away.
When I quickly sketched these images on a church bulletin, the mouth of the cave became the thumb and index finger forming the opening with the wrist and hand extending back. A rough translation, which means nothing to me right now is:people are waiting in God’s hands, as spirit is freed, the secret of the heart revealed as the image of Jesus is no longer needed. I sense a freeing spiritual energy that’s not slave to tradition.
• How do I worship?
• What methods do I use to listen to God?
• What helps me center?
• Can I find where God resides within?
• How has practice helped?
Listen to post:
We had our annual All Church Retreat this last weekend, and for the last few years we've been enjoying just spending the weekend at the meetinghouse (though we sleep at home in our own beds...) rather than going away for the weekend. This way, lots of people can participate for the time they have available, and it's way cheaper so everyone can come. We have a lot of fun together Friday night, all day Saturday and Sunday morning, playing lots of for-fun games and get-to-know-you games, eating together, hearing from a speaker sometimes, playing together and listening to one another's hearts. On Sundays, we have a short "hymn sing" where we dust off the hymnals that get scant use the rest of the year, though they're still in our pew racks. Then we hear the stories of a couple of Friends in our midst. This year we heard from Nathanael Ankeny and Sandi Chamberlin Thornton around the theme "Encouragement in the Long Obedience," taken from our year-long theme "A Long Obedience in the Same Direction."
Last week we heard from one of our members, Scot Headley, continuing our Peace Month conversation, about being "Pulled in Both Directions," and this week the George Fox University Players visited and presented "Enough Already!"
Once again, I have taken up temporary residence in a cabin called Simplicity. I seem to come back, again and again, to this theme. Here it is concrete; in this aesthetically plain one-room retreat of re-claimed materials. It is a place I can re-claim my life away from the material world and closer to Spirit’s realm.
My prayer last night, after arriving and settling in just before 5:30 silent worship, was this:
Dear God Please be with me on this retreat.
I desire simplicity in my life.
That means surrendering my fears,
tendency to measure life and live bythe world’s conventions, which
constrict and constrain me.
As those die, I ask you to replace them
with creativity, experiencing life as a prayer,
bowing to Jesus and re-claiming my soul. Amen
After a fitful, dream-laden sleep and a yoga practice, I walked to the labyrinth, my fears bubbling up, seeking to pray off the layers. I entered intent on leaving them at the center. I began silently chanting “I know I have Jesus” over and over, then searching, pleading, “but I am looking for someone to teach me from the world.”
Who should pop into my head, but my husband, the one who claims to practice no spirituality? I questioned. Yes, that one. The one I gave you as a partner … you are not alone in this world. It was almost too obvious an answer for me. Then I began to see the light: “Ah, the one who is playful, doesn’t taken himself seriously, prefers not to worry, wants to create on his terms and doesn’t accept the world’s.” And also, in some respects, his carbon copy, Lily. Ok, so Jesus is my spiritual model and Tad is my in-the-world, how-to-navigate it partner … I got it!
Guidance at the center came in the form of an exercise: “sift the fears of truth from non-truth. This sifting will bring clarity and simplicity.”
In my cabin, I created a chart labeled fear/real/truth and dealt with them. In discerning where I can let go and where I must work, two queries arose:
• How can I be MORE of myself?
• How can I live in that place between the material and spiritual worlds, between the layers where it is more peaceful?
Those answers really are merging into one as a new reality and way to live forms for me. I am haunted by something I read last night, a Thomas Merton quote, someone wrote in the cabin guest book:
“When I am liberated by silence, when I am no longer involved in the measurement of life, but in the living of it … my whole life becomes a prayer.”
That’s precisely what I desire. I seek a constant awareness of God so that my breath is prayer. For me, that means:
– A daily practice of gratitude and another of emptying the daily stresses and fears. I require a morning meditation/prayer and one for evening. One that I create for myself.
– Exercising loving kindness, particularly on myself, and releasing my pattern of judgment of criticism of others and myself.
– Maintaining loving relationships.
– Reconnecting and centering daily, but also regular retreats to re-balance, such as this one, and spending time in nature, among God’s creation.
– Engaging in meaningful work.
– Showing my vulnerability and undertanding that other’s reactions are projections of their own wounds, not their judgment of me.
– Falling in love with myself again.
Simple. And freeing … here. Can I do it at home?
• What role does simplicity play in my life?
• What would my prayer be around it?
• What fears am I driven to explore, possibly cast aside?
• How can I do that work?
• How am I called to be MORE of myself?
MORE OF WHO YOU ARE
Be MORE of who you are.
Not less or who anyone else says you are.
Listen deeply, inside, to know who you are.
Listen to your heart.
To me [God].
Love is always the answer.
Live in love.
Respond in love.
Act in love.
Listen to post:
Can't seem to get this little guy – I think he once told me Antonio was his name – out of my head. He's an elementary-aged student, probably seven or eight, in a school for autism-spectrum kids that occupies a part of the building where my art studio is located. As I come and go, I encounter him, with his kind and patient aide, at recess.
The first time we met, in the stairwell, he introduced himself with a big grin and asked my name. His outgoingness seems atypical of the other students.
A few weeks ago, in warm early-winter weather, I arrived at the time he was returning from an outdoor visit. The aide was holding the door as Antonio trailed behind, cupping something in his hands: earthworms. He held them up to show me, then nudged them closer in case I wanted to touch them. I politely declined. His aide remarked that the child "likes to take care of all the little creatures." I responded "He has a big heart, doesn't he?" The aide shook his head in agreement and Antonio parted my company repeating: "I have I big heart, I have a big heart ..."
I thought of Antonio yesterday when an ugly, ancient-looking beast of a bug straggled out of somewhere and crawled across my studio carpet. Happily, it's the only bug I've ever encountered there. I trapped him with a paint cup, slid a sheet of clean, white card stock underneath and traveled to another room ... several doorways down the hall ... opened the window and let him go. "Be free, my friend," I said feeling somewhat guilty as I released him into a colder climate than the one he'd been enjoying. Just not guilty enough to let him share my space.
What would Antonio have done? Let him crawl up into his hands? Let him stay inside?
Antonio is a wonderful reminder to pay attention to the small things in life, the little creatures, which are as much a part of Spirit's world as we. The boy reminds me of a little creature flying under the radar of the "normal" world, possibly at its margins in a better place of his own making. One filled with ordinary things many of us miss or merely bypass. How could earthworms, who really just lay there and wriggle around in their stickiness, strike tenderness in anyone's heart? Because they are living beings and part of God's Creation. Antonio seems to intuitively know this.
The concept of living at the margins has spoken to me ever since I first read about it in Henri Nouwen's work. An accomplished theologian, teacher, scholar and writer, that's where he chose to live the last 11 years of life: among the most needy and castoffs in the Daybreak community for those with mental and physical disabilities near Toronto, where he is buried.
In a 1994 Christianity Today interview, Nouwen said:
"Jesus didn't say, 'Blessed are those who care for the poor.' He said, 'Blessed are we where we are poor, where we are broken.' It is there that God loves us deeply and pulls us into deeper communion with himself. I find it very important to stress that we are wounded healers; we don't have to run away from our vulnerability as if we don't hurt."
Maybe Antonio is confronting his vulnerability in the earthworms. I have grown to appreciate my reminder of vulnerability: each time I hear the whimpers, moans and cries from the school on the other side of my studio wall. At first, I prayed until someone knowledgeable about autism said it's more of a release than communication of pain. And yet is IS a call to vulnerability, to expose our wounds and pain.
Henri Nouwen believed so:
When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives means the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand.
• What or whom has been my reminder of vulnerability?
• How have I expressed or uncovered my wounds?
• How have my wounds become my gifts?
• How am I the wounded healer?
• What stretches my heart?
such a simple
act, one of
that, as adults,
is what may
Listen to post:
We looked back and looked ahead this week in worship with a message and activities led by Sarah Klatt Dickerson called "Turning the Page."
Milford Spiritual Center Labyrinth –1.1.13
Sunday, I held a second, intimate labyrinth workshop and began it with the following queries:
– How can I center myself as I leave one year and begin another?
– What unresolved issues in my life can I leave at the center of the labyrinth?
People murmured and elicited deep sighs as I read them out loud. I believe they struck a chord.
Today, January 1, I feel compelled to answer those myself as well as the three others that accompanied the first two:
– What is my prayer for the new year?
– What can I leave behind?
– How do I want to enter the new year?
After bumbling along for years trying so many on, I clearly require a regular, daily practice such as deep breathing, prayer, gratitude and deep connection. My own ... something to root and ground me every day and always be there ... first thing. When I recently asked my shaman how he tamed his ego, he replied "With a daily practice." I must uncover mine instead of toying with a variety at different times, in different venues. I need something simple, doable and rock solid for a mom, not a nun or monk. I'm open to suggestions. I also desire to enter 2013 by examining my blessings of the last year and expressing gratitude for them. I don't want to forge on mindlessly; that leaves ego in charge.
TRUST TO TRANSFORMATION
What must I lay before the Lord? Money, pure and simple, I want to put down my love/hate, but mostly hate, relationship with this tool. I am realizing it does not have to be evil, that, indeed, it can be used for good. Last year, I initiated a gratitude practice and began to see currency as more of a blessing, one that began flowing. I want to make my peace and lessen the tie between it and my self worth, one our culture promotes. I also choose to shed my woundedness, now that I better understand its source, in the center of the labyrinth as well as my self doubt ... trusting Spirit to transform these negatives.
Meeting along the way
Spirit, please help me to:
trust more fully,
give you what creates struggle within me,
remain in the wonderful flow I've experienced recently,
be more fully present,
clearly see all that I have,
express joy and
serve ... with a full heart!
I commit to dumping doubt, old patterns and self loathing as my old armor, yet realize it will be challenging.
I pledge to embrace this time:
healthy in mind, body and spirit;
as if I'm on a grand adventure with God at my side,
How does your heart respond:
• How can I center myself as I leave one year and begin another?
• What unresolved issues in my life can I leave at the center of the labyrinth?
• What is my prayer for the new year?
• What can I leave behind?
• How do I want to enter the new year?
out with the old
that no longer fits,
that binds me,
tightens my heart,
tears me from God
in with the new,
the joyful and colorful
the loose and flowing
leadings and paths
edging nearer Spirit
Listen to post:
This week included our normal morning worship as well as a candlelight service on Christmas Eve. Check out Sunday's service, "Finding God in the Unexpected," and the Christmas Eve service, including videos of our cute kids telling different parts of the Christmas story.
Christmas has arrived early. Unannounced, in smallish ways and yet, it's really here in my heart forever.
These gifts are altering my attitude about generosity, abundance and money – greatly. Oddly enough, I think this wave of Spirit began four weeks ago EXACTLY at the Alamo. The floodgates opened and anything is possible. I am proof.
To backtrack a bit, I arrived at the Alamo on a chilly-for-San-Antonio morning to visit the Mission. Yes, though remembered for its bloody battle in American history and the stirrings of Texas' independence, it was first built as a Spanish Catholic Mission – a sacred spot. Many consider it hallowed ground for the violent sacrifices that occurred. I stumbled in as an official gathering was happening and was encouraged to stay. It was an invitation I'll never forget: the presentation of Segways to American veterans of Afghanistan now rendered immobile ... as in missing or non-functioning legs, mostly. At its conclusion, I found myself third in line shaking each soldier's hand, looking him/her square in the eye and saying thank you. Some hung on, most thanked me and a few found the direct contact unsettling. I was just the vessel: a peace-loving, anti-war, gun-shy Quaker thanking soldiers.
That experience has opened me. Forever, I hope.
To new encounters, new leadings, new openings, new friends, new understanding, new compassion.
Is this the New Kingdom of which Jesus speaks? I want to hope that it is, Heaven on Earth. Early Quakers believed it was in the here and now.
So odd for me to use that language. I'm typically more inclusive, yet it is what's on my heart.
My heart is so full right now – with only good, about to crowd out the doubt and worry fed by an attachment to the secular world.*
Thursday, I went to an interview with a wonderful BIG arts organization to see if my at-risk kids' arts exploration, Artsy Fartsy , was a match. Normally, I would have over-prepped and stressed. I wasn't nervous. I did my homework the day before (because that's all the time I had) and waltzed in joyful to find the interviewer easy. It was just a conversation. One in which I was affirmed in this work and encouraged to apply for a grant next month. I even expressed my philosophy that this project is about depth, not breadth and he agreed that was the right path.
Wow, I'm still pinching myself. I may get some new programming funded. Of course, I am still battling the idea that I can't yet fund myself ... but I am learning to trust that will come, just as everything else has aligned.
Today, I felt compelled to return a long overdue call ... I am almost ashamed to admit it took me so long because it was a reminder that something awaited me. Just before that life-altering trip to San Antonio, someone I respect from our days together mending the local racial divide said she had a bunch of stuff left over from the local Obama headquarters for Artsy Fartsy (AF) if I wanted it. "Yes," I said sight unseen.
Well out of sight and mind, I had forgotten until her gentle reminder call. So, today, I toddled on over the hill to her wonderful home and came back loaded with six boxes of binder clips, paper clips, pens, markers, highlighters, flashlights, hand warmers, hand sanitizer, paper towels, napkins, plastic cups, paper plates, sticky tack, tacks, clipboards, paint sponges, post-its, staplers, staples, staple-removers, giant flip charts, balloons and reams of printer paper. Unpacking it all was better than Christmas morning. All the ideas of how AF can use these flowed through my head. Can't you just imagine using twine and binder clips to hang a show of the kids' work? Let them create shadows with the flashlights ... maybe give them a ghost tour of Milford Main? Load them with school supplies when they run low or can't afford them? Make them feel important writing on clip boards?
And then I came across a plain, unmarked box. I gingerly lifted the lid to discover a stash of manilla file folders. Exactly what I had needed to get all of my forms, lesson plans, agendas, meeting notes and locker assignments organized. I'd been too busy and, perhaps, too cheap to purchase a box. God really had taken care of my needs! The room, especially the car, looked like Staples had exploded.
I am so thrilled that one AF kid's family for whom I am collecting to purchase a computer, printer and, hopefully, internet, has an almost-eternal supply of paper!!!
Christmas has come early and I hope its spirit stays forever ... in my heart and being.
• What happens when I let Spirit in?
• How does it alter my thinking?
• My way of being in the world?
• How am I opened?
• How do I express that opening?
wafting in and out
on this wave
a new vision,
a new order
* I wrote this Friday, turning off the radio when I heard there was going to be bad news and not yet knowing what it was. I was better able to handle it Saturday and Sunday, with my faith community.
You can read more about my experience at the Alamo:
Listen to post:
This week we heard from Lynn Holt on a "Labor of Love," focused on Luke 2:1-7.
I was wired in Meeting for Worship Sunday from the wonderfully wild drumming of the day before with my Artsy Fartsy kids. I tried to settle in, but it just wasn't happening. I was fully attentive to the minister's message on giving. She and I had had a conversation a few days earlier on the subject. I mentioned I was tired of an idea I had that kept meeting with conditions and restrictions. So I decided to sit with it awhile. My choice.
I couldn't handle it Sunday, especially after her message. I fought it, pushed it out of my head and heart. Re-focused, yet it kept returning, making my heart churn faster and faster. In the Quaker tradition that usually means you have a vocal message you're meant to share in worship. So, up I stood. Struggling, even telling other worshippers I didn't want to do this.
I talked about Dorrian's family of seven. Mom, dad and five kids ages four to 6th grade. They live in a teeny house between a church and my best friend, just down the block from me. The kids are always outside playing ... no room inside, it seems. Lately, I've been seeing Dorrian and his younger brother on bikes all over the neighborhood probably getting off on their own. Often dad's with the younger ones. He's the caregiver.
I'd never seen mom until last Thursday, when I made a personal visit to ensure Dorrian got to Artsy Fartsy Saturday. There was a mix up last month and he'd forgotten. Mom opened the door and warmly welcomed me inside. She hugged me and thanked me for taking an interest in her oldest. "He forgot and went off to play last month," she confessed. "When he got back, he cried because he'd missed it. You know he has such beautiful writing, this will be so good for him. So does my son Dalton." Dalton pretends to be mad at me when I see him with Dorrian. It's because he's too young for Artsy Fartsy and keeps trying to charm his way in. I tell him he has to wait, but each smile he flashes chips away at my resolve.
Then mom pointed to another son, playing games and confided that he's on an IEP (individualized-education plan) at school for learning disabilities. She's battled leukemia for 13 years and through all the pregnancies. The only one she struggled with was his. I think she blames the chemo. She whispered so as not to get his attention. Then she looked me square in the eye, though her tone was conversational and casual, and said "we really need a computer. It would make such a difference for him."
I immediately recognized this as God speaking to me through this woman. Getting this family a computer has been on my heart two years. It gained momentum when I reconnected through Dorrian, a great kid with loads of potential.
I'd recommended this family to my Quaker Meeting as needing financial help this Christmas, though I really wanted to get them a computer. Over the years, when I have vocalized this concern, I am often kindly reminded that refurbished or used computers are easy to find.
My hearts silently screams: "But why can't they have new, like everybody else? Why does this family with very little and only what the mother's assistance check can supply, have to get castoffs?
All weekend, I plotted in my head what I wanted for them: a new iMac, two years of internet (because, frankly, what's the use of a computer these days without it?), printer, cache of ink and technical assistance. About three grand, I figured.
I didn't share my financial noodling with my Meeting when I spoke. I wasn't asking for anything, just releasing what had a tight grip on me and requesting prayer. Unlike anything I have ever experienced in Quaker worship before, someone tossed cash in the collection plate and it made the rounds, landing at me. I could barely bring myself to touch the wooden bowl overflowing with money ... let alone count it. Someone else did and, in a matter of minutes, about 20-some people donated $500. Noting short of amazing.
Yesterday, a neighbor brought me a $100 Best Buy gift card. There's a printer, I thought.
Just as I wanted others to release their idea of used goods for this family, I am releasing mine of the perfect scenario. I have a feeling I will know when the collecting is finished (I'm not putting a Christmas deadline on it) and am confident there will be enough to purchase whatever this family is supposed to have.
Spirit is moving and I best get myself out of the way!
• When has Spirit pushed me to speak or act?
• What happened when I resisted?
• When I surrendered?
• How was the result better than I ever could have imagined?
• What have I learned as a result?
Listen to post:
The second Thursday, late afternoon, of every month is reserved. Without question. Not even marked on my calendar. That's when I dutifully pull out my log of Artsy Fartsy kids' names and phone numbers and begin the round of reminder calls.
The first time, I was a bit nervous. I hadn't yet met many of these parents. What if they have no idea what I am calling about? What if they hang up on me? Yell at me? Don't answer?
Get a grip, I told myself then. You were, afterall, a reporter and called strangers ALL of the time. Not just strangers, but important, intimidating people and you always more than ambled through those calls. You often had friendly conversations. Remember when your husband overheard once and asked how long you'd known the person on the other end? A half hour, you replied. Instant phone rapport: one of your gifts. Why should this be any different? Because this matters more; this isn't a job, it's a calling. So get CALLING!
That's pretty much how it began. It never hurts that I start in the order in which the kids came to Artsy Fartsy. Always, Layla and Justice, sisters, first. I remember the drive up the hill from my house, into the Oakbrook parking lot. How I pulled out the beautifully printed yard signs announcing this new program and art-filled afternoon of registration. Layla was right there, reading the sign, bobbing up and down with excitement. "When? When? When?" she asked.
She, her dad, and sister, were the FIRST in line (as if there were a line, more of a slow trickle throughout the afternoon), Right on the dot at one o'clock.
So I start with Brandon first. I consistently catch him live on the phone. "Oh, yes, they will be there!" He's one caring dad, ensuring his girls make the most of their opportunities. He never fails to thank me for the program. Even wished out loud that he could volunteer to drive, but, at the time, his car wasn't running and he couldn't afford to get it fixed.
This week, I didn't catch Marilyn, Emijah's grandmother. We had quite a talk, getting acquainted over two of her granddaughters on that August registration afternoon. She's called me just to chat and I've bumped into her at Kroger's. Or Anjela's mom. A recording said the phone was no longer in use. This has happened before when parents can not afford the minutes. So, I asked another mom to check for me, though I may have to see for myself.
A few hours after I made my calls, this time disappointed to reach mostly voice mail, I answer my vibrating phone, unable to quickly recollect the familiar voice. "Did you call this number? she asks. "Oh, I made a bunch of calls for Artsy Fartsy a few hours ago and I'm sure I called you. "Oh, Miss Cathy, is that you?" "Yes, Nia, just reminding you about Saturday. You know your daughter was sassy this last time. I mean sassy as in fun. She's not so shy anymore." "Yeah, it takes her awhile to open up. And, yes, she knows it's this week."
I understand it's hard for the kids that it's once a month. It can seem like an eternity, even to me. That's one reason, midway through, I write them each a personal postcard. Parents usually mention on the reminder calls that the sons and daughters loved getting the mail. I feel it's a good way of nurturing the child by remarking on the exceptional project they completed last time, the way they helped another child or how much I enjoy their energy. When I have made similar comments to the parents about their child, I see that it buoys them as well.
This chore has really become prayerful and so filling for me. Plus, it builds the anticipation in my heart as I look forward to seeing these amazing creatures in two days. Sometimes I can hardly stand it ... waiting. Fortunately, there are a myriad of tasks to complete before they bounce off the van, up the stairs and into Artsy Fartsy every second Saturday afternoon.
But, always, two days before, the date – Thursday, late afternoon – is permanently etched on my heart's calendar.
• When has an ordinary task taken on a prayerful dimension?
• How have I witnessed that transformation?
• How does that influence other areas of my life?
• How do I own it?
• How does it connect me more deeply to others and also Spirit?
not even a
a device between
me and the other
at times, I
leave a message
is when I reach
a live heart
as a reminder
Listen to post:
Last week, I wrote about serendipitously meeting Rebecca at Whole Foods. Today, I believe that wave of Spirit put me in the path of Amanda and Scott, again, two strangers I encountered while having tea.
I'd taken my younger daughter to Starbucks enroute to picking up her sister from band practice. I had to be fair, not necessarily by my accounting, since I'd schlepped the older one out earlier in the week for refreshment.
Hadn't but just sat down, when, the man sitting across from me noticed my keycard was the same as his wife's. He wondered if we worked at the same place. No, we just had the same brand of key cards. The conversation got deep very fast as I learned they have 5 sons, one of whom died in his mother's arms, was revived and, later, survived a heart surgery. There were two miscarriages. Amanda, who was also present,though more quietly so, was a stay-at-home mom until Scott found himself out of work. Their roles are reversed. They used to live close to me in Milford, but moved six years ago when busing was cut and they could no longer afford it here.
Once again, death entered the equation. But so did religion, spirituality and faith. We talked about so much distraction in the world when I mentioned I was Quaker and, for the most part, we wait in silence listening for God. That captivated Scott. He is an informal student of religion and open to new ideas. Scott and Amanda actually met at church. He spotted her all in black, beautifully playing the trumpet, when they were both pretty young.
It was a very even exchange of listening and being listened to: a rare gift, especially in the care of complete strangers. But then, were they – really? Scott didn't think so. Upon parting, which we were disinclined to do, he said he had felt not only blessed by the encounter, but certain we were supposed to meet. "Usually, we just get our coffee and go," he said. "But something told me to comment on your keycard; not what I'd normally do."
They both looked me back straight in the eye, which I liked. I think you get soul-to-soul that way. In the same manner I'd get naked-to-naked, skin-to-skin with my kids when they were babies. It's a way I like to connect and the manner in which I recently greeted wounded American soldiers back from Afghanistan. Mostly amputees and those with limited mobility that I think rarely get seen as whole. (link) Looking someone square in the eyes helps me witness their essence, their wholeness.
Scott's eyes told me more than his words. At some point in the conversation, I mentioned how wise they seemed for their ages, mid 30s. That blew Scott away. "Just today, I was praying for wisdom and right here, right now, you just gave me my answer."
How often do we experience this? Perhaps more than we recognize.
Well, they had to be on their way and we soon had to be on ours. We vowed to meet again at Starbucks because we just knew we would. They left ahead of us and as I was packing up, I used the last $10 in my wallet to buy a gift card for them next time they visited. A random act of kindness? A thank you for such instantly deep community? A desire to see them again? Who knows? Only Spirit.
• When have I felt on a wave of Spirit?
• What was it like?
• What were my experiences?
• Who or what came into my path?
• How did I express gratitude?
the older one
from band practice
about to settle
in on a nice,
when an energetic
me a question
the answer leads
and a knowingness
by both parties
that we were not
I return to my drink
... and it is still hot*
*homage to my favorite book, the last line, from Maurice Sendak's "Where the Wild Things Are"
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She's still out there, somewhere, on her own, tending to her mother's death, trying to find like-minded community for the few weeks she's visiting. She's still tugging at my heart though.
I met Rebecca earlier this week as I was writing the last post, as a matter of fact. My oldest had been off sick and I gathered her up mid afternoon and took her for tea and a homework session at Whole Foods. I had some supplements to purchase and a blog to write. I like the energy in the communal cafe.
Funny thing is I was writing about feeling disconnected from meaningful community as I overheard a conversation happening next to me. One sided, clearly a woman was finalizing insurance and cremation details after her mother's death. She was so matter of fact and clear. Unlike someone lost or stumbling. Nevertheless, I felt compelled to say something.
"Not that I was really eavesdropping, but I happened to hear that your mother just died. I am sorry," fell from my lips almost before I could really think too much and shut off my heart.
Unsure as to what the response would be, I braced myself a bit. The brown eyes penetrated mine and she said something like "Thank you. Yes, she did and I'm the only one left and have to handle everything."
All else melted away and we merged into a very engaging connection that covered diverse topics from her reiki work to my fibromyalgia, her home in Hawaii and schooling at SCPA*, my amazing shaman and how she's been her mother's therapist since she was two and that this death, welcomed by her mother, was, somehow, freeing, for Rebecca.
She admitted that she doesn't connect easily and was struggling to find some deep community in Cincinnati while she's here for three weeks. As we parted, she thanked me for reaching out.
I went back to my daughter and blogging, but I wasn't finished with her. As she was packing up, I stopped her and hastily jotted down my phone number. I selfishly prefaced it, handing it to her with "I'm not always so available with kids and all, but if you'd need to call me or need someone here's my number."
I'm not very proud that I didn't do this right off and that I had to set some boundary. That may be experience speaking. I have the kind of face that complete strangers spill their life story to, entangling me in something before I even realize. She had mentioned that she didn't have a car and if I was going to see the shaman, maybe I could give her a ride. I knew I wasn't while she was in town, so I didn't offer. Besides, how inconvenient would it be to drive from Milford to Hyde Park to take her to Goshen and then get her back -- all when I didn't even have a shamanic session scheduled?
How utterly selfish. I am kicking myself a bit and secretly hoping she'll call.
She's not like that, I believe now. And I also understand that I did act on some spiritual leading and now I have to let the rest go. I did give her an opening; albeit a narrow one, but an opening nonetheless.
• When have I unexpectedly encountered a stranger?
• How did I open myself?
• Did I fully trust Spirit's leading?
• How do I let go of my response and not judge it?
• What has a Rebecca-like experience tapped in me?
immersed in words,
yet grooving on
the peopled energy
writing on one
I can no
longer contain it
and I act
Spirit would have it
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The Advent season begins! Perhaps it's un-Quakerly to "celebrate" Advent, but it is helpful in the busy holiday season to focus on anticipation and waiting, expectancy, in our worship times together. This week, Andy Henry shared on the topic "Becoming God-bearers," using Luke 1:26-38 as his text.
After experiencing the intensity of a gathering of caricature artists secondhand during my husband's recent convention, I returned home a little deflated. Jealous even. Missing something. Not feeling connected. To the point of posting so on Facebook.
The first response came from a young adult, whose wisdom I have learned to trust. Remember "awesome Quakerness," she responded. Oh, yeah, my Quaker Meeting, the one I have attended regularly for 14 years, served on numerous committees, loved and been annoyed with, but mostly loved. The place I feel accepted for who I am, but, sometimes, also unseen. The one I've disengaged from a bit to go out into the real world and complete the work to which God calls. That one.
So I journeyed there Sunday with those thoughts in my head and heart. I wanted someone to reach out to me. Little did I know it would start with my 15-year-old being tempted to worship with a bookstore trip after. As I headed into worship, I left her and my younger daughter behind to debate whether to attend First Day School or hang, silently, with the adults. The younger went one way and the older, another. When she brushed up against me on the pew, my being fluttered. It took me Somewhere Else. To the first time I held her hand, we pushed through the glass-and-wood doors and took our seats on the satiny benches polished by 50 years of phantom fannies. She was a toddler and I, a young(er) mother seeking relief from the pain of an auto accident. When my favorite song, the Shaker "Simple Gifts," lulled out of the piano, I knew I was home. Before any worship had officially begun.
How many stories had I heard of people seeking the right faith community for, well, years? I merely went where my mother and daughter told me to. My mom had known I was struggling and searching and encouraged me to try the Quakers. "I think you'll like the simplicity," she said. Didn't hurt that my favorite Methodist pastor from childhood was the interim. Shortly before that, one morning my daughter greeted me, unprompted, with "Mommy, I know Jesus." Yes you do, I thought, and it's time to find a spiritual home.
That home has been Cincinnati Friends Meeting, through thick and thin. Sunday, the minister's message focused on getting young Quakers back to meeting. Like Autumn and baby Carter, who came with his dad (the first person to ever give Autumn, gum and I reminded him) and mom, granddad, who grew up in the meeting, and great-grandparents. They have been rocks of this meeting. In fact, Papa Paul was the first to speak to me that initial visit with Autumn. We bonded over his Cincinnati Mortuary School shirt because I had worked in the funeral industry.
After a few months, back when Autumn and I first attended and when a permanent minister was hired, Quakers asked if I would leave as well. No way, I invariably answered because I remembered Paul and his kindness to a stranger. He reminisced about how he'd get down on the playroom floor with both of my girls, just like he now does with Carter.
It all was a warm reminder that I do, indeed, have more than pockets of community.
• Where do I experience community?
• How do I experience it?
• What's my role in building that community?
• When it seems lacking, how do I fill that need?
• How has Spirit filled it for me?
after witnessing this
intense crush of
I was, no doubt,
envious that I
I felt I
by a young
was no farther
my faith community,
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