Called Out, Called In: Maggie Harrison's Loving Challenge

There is a prophet in our midst, and her name is Maggie Harrison. Rousing many like fire, making my skin itch at being possibly excluded from this club that I don't even belong to, really (when asked if I am a Quaker, I always respond, 'Not yet.'), but want to think I can put on and off like so much-- clothing?

And, nakedness. Taking off the mantle of Religious Identity, making space for the un-knowingness of living INTO something, removing armor and scaffold and hard won (or not so hard won) perks and privileges, what would be left of us, after all? Maybe the fire of God(ess)’s fingers in our soup. Maybe the vulnerability and possibility, the kin-dom, the family I never had. Maybe more.

I come to this perspective after days of sitting on the consternation and judgment of thinking Maggie’s words—ironical, creative, or not—were childish and harkening back to some imagined and impossible to recreate period in mythic Quaker history. Origin myths are the most compelling, and from some of my studies, I remember the sociologist’s claim that all new religious movements appeal either to new authority, or claiming the authority of the TRUE authentic past. I was pissed, and I can rationalize and remember the right facts and theories to belittle, bemoan, and generally think-under-the-table any ideas I don’t agree with.

I was called out, in short. This phrase means a lot to me in anti-racist work I’ve been lucky and brave enough to actually try to do. Imperfectly approaching the muck and depth of my whiteness, looking hard at the intersection of myself with the world and all the little tricks I do to convince myself that I earned everything I have—being willing to make those blasted mistakes that lead to being called out—called to account, held responsible for how my self-perception and my actions do not mesh.

And how do I handle being called out? Not too well, it seems, given the number of days I dismissed this challenge, this clear call to be more than what my un-committed commitment to seeking has led me to be. But I’m writing this, after all, so maybe there’s some hope yet.

Because now I think that this being called out is really more about being called in. And no, I am not skipping my discomfort. I am still uncomfortable, as if my spiritual slip were showing, but I’ve long learned that this discomfort is something to expect when coming up against an authentic love. It jars, and it makes for a lot of defensiveness, at least for me. Confronting the truth of my incompleteness, and the possibility of a greater union, a greater meaning than what I have come to expect from my varied spiritual and religious practices, is actually about believing that I am worthy of something more than the frantic fumblings of my muddy mind in Meeting, the pseudo-nirvana of communing with trees after days of zen silence, the trance and encounter of earth energy in pagan circles, the rush and dazzle of taking over a city street with 15,000 others—because all of these are dependent on liminality and the very transportation that keeps the rest of life separate from what we are called to—fullness of life, seeking unity in the midst of the mess and jumble of the day. Spirit as drug is no spirit at all. And, as prophet Maggie says, there is more.

What is this more? I don’t know. I farm for what I hope is my living, and also share the work of the farm and lessons about sustainability with young people. I have come to farming as a ministry, as a way of healing myself and others, as a way to really do something that has a daily-ness to it. I still run from it, and there’s plenty in my paid work to keep me from the daily work of the farm. But when I can be faithful to the land, I think maybe I am learning something. If I can listen close enough, to Maggie, to the land, to other loving challenges calling me out of myself as I think I am, I begin to believe I am worth the bigness that maybe original Friends had, I don’t honestly care too much about that. Thank you, Maggie, for believing in who we can be, even if we have no idea who that is. 

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Comment by Stephen Nakao on 2nd mo. 16, 2012 at 2:00pm

Thank you, this was a wonderful, thoughtful post.  I especially love the title--what a wonderful phrase.


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