The poem below, written in Spanish with an explanatory English translation, describes a “mystical experience” that I had some forty years ago. The event in question—a hiking trip in Big Bend National Park—was not as dramatic as the poem; but it did change my life. I became a spiritual seeker and eventually ended up with the Quakers, eventually here in Old Chatham Monthly Meeting.
Subía in el guijarro del sendero
I climbed over the trail gravel
mientras el sudor corría por la nariz
while sweat ran down my nose
Y saltaba a la boca salada.
and sprang into my salty mouth.
Oía los zumbidos explosivos
I heard sudden explosions of sound
cuando los bichos volaban cerca del oído
when insects hummed and flew near my ear
Y sentía el ritmo de la cantimplora
and I felt the rhythm of the canteen
meciéndose a mi lado.
swinging at my side.
A veces me paraba para recobrar el aliento
Sometimes I stopped to catch my breath
pero seguía trepando a paso lento
but I kept climbing slowly
Y por fin llegué a la cima de los Chisos.
and arrived at last on the Chisos summit.
Un viento me azotaba y me hipnotizaba
A wind whipped and hypnotized me
con su música celestial.
with its celestial music.
De mi risco alto las montañas se marchaban
From my place on high the mountains marched away
en fila parda
in khaki files
Y las nubes ensombrecían la tierra
And clouds shadowed the earth
con manchas de azul.
with splotches of blue.
Un halcón solitario giraba,
A solitary hawk circled
Y me invadía la paz profunda,
And a profound peace subdued me--
inesperada, tan deseada.
a peace hoped for, a peace desired.
Hubo silencio y gozo.
There was silence and joy.
Hubo tranquilidad y luz.
There was calm and light.
El cuerpo se esfumó.
My body vanished like smoke.
El peso se levantó.
Its weight lifted away.
No hubo pecado.
There was no sin.
No hubo culpa.
There was no blame.
No hubo ansiedad.
There was no fear.
Y todo nada,
And all nothing,
Y yo todo,
And all me,
Y yo nada,
And me nothing,
Y yo todo nada,
And me all nothing,
Y todo uno,
And all one,
Todo el océano de luz.
All the ocean of light.
De repente el ave zambullió
Suddenly the bird dove
en busca de su presa.
in search of its prey.
Mientras se caía, una ráfaga del viento
While it fell, a gust of wind
me apuñaló violento.
violently knifed through me.
Me desperté y regresé.
I woke up and returned.
Acepté el peso del cuerpo.
I accepted the weight of the body.
Abracé el dolor del alma.
I embraced the pain of the soul.
Mareado, descansé un rato.
Dizzy, I rested a little.
Rendido, empecé el descenso,
Exhausted, I began the descent,
el retorno terrenal.
the return to earth.
Tarde llegué al pie de los Chisos
I arrived late at the foot of the Chisos,
Que tenían los picos iluminados
peaks shining bright
por los rayos del sol.
in the rays of the sun.
Y la tranquilidad del la naturaleza
And nature’s tranquility
Me llenaba y me pacificó.
filled me and won my soul.
That’s the title of a book of jokes by Chuck Fager. While the jokes are all ostensibly about Quakers, many of them are generic. Often the word “Quaker” could easily be replaced by “Baptist,” “Catholic,” or some non-religious identifier. Still, most of the humor does depend upon a specifically Quaker context.
The book is not really “hilarious,” however. The humor is very gentle, usually ironic or satiric. If you want belly laughs, this is not the book for you. In fact, I originally intended to make this a negative review; but, as I re-read the book after initially skimming the material, I found myself rather enjoying it.
The text is divided into nine chapters as follows:
Meeting for Worship, Business, and Other Friendly Amusement
Commerce, Politics, and Suchlike Worldly Distractions
Inner Faith and Interfaith
Testimonies, Old and New, Real, and Imaginary
Quaker Children, and Other Peculiar People
A Friends’ Miscellany Including Some Verse
Golden Oldies—The Top 30 (Or So) Classic Quaker Chuckles
Quakers, Sex, and Marriage: The Naked Truth?
Here are two entries somewhat representative of the humor:
Hast thee heard about the new Twelve-Step group for Friends who talk too much and too often in Meeting for worship? It’s called On-Anon. And on. And on.
(A Wilburite Friend argued) …with a Quaker pastor over the merits of programmed versus unprogrammed worship, but to no avail. When both had talked themselves out, the Wilburite concluded in a tolerant tone, “Well, Friend, I guess we are both trying to worship the Lord—thee in thy way, and I in His.”
The book costs $9.95 in paperback or $4.99 at Amazon’s Kindle bookstore.
The “Look Inside” feature at the link above contains almost 15% of the whole
and should be the deciding factor as to whether one wants to buy the other 85%.
Many in Old Chatham Meeting are probably already familiar with Friendly Persuasion, a 1956 movie based on Jessamyn West’s book of (almost) the same name. Starring Gary Cooper, Dorothy McGuire, and Anthony Perkins, the film was nominated for six Academy Awards. Nevertheless, Friendly Persuasion is no great work of art, suffering from melodrama and a broad humor that sometimes verges on slapstick.
That’s not to say that the movie isn’t entertaining; and it’s especially interesting for Friends who are curious about the lifestyle of rural, 19th Century Quakers. Set in the lush countryside of Indiana (the San Fernando Valley), this picturesque film is complemented by Dmitri Tiomkin’s musical score and the song “Thee I Love.” And while the film is syrupy sweet and overemotional, I admit that I personally enjoyed those qualities. Relevant enough to hold the attention of adults, Persuasion is also an ideal children’s film. Kids will enjoy Little Jess’s battle with Samantha the Goose and his rivalry with an older sister. Teens who are not jaded by our consumer culture will be charmed by the tender romance between Mattie and a dashing cavalry officer.
The main motif of the film deals with Quaker pacifism in the time of the Civil War, when Rebel raiders were attacking peaceful Indiana farmers. Will Jess the father or Josh the elder son defend the family with arms? Will the mother, Eliza, remain uncorrupted by the violence erupting around her? Will principle or expediency prevail? And what role will love play in all this chaos?
Whatever its shortcomings, I highly recommend Friendly Persuasion, which is rated a respectable 7.3 by IMDb. The film may be rented from Amazon Prime for a mere $2.99.
“There’s always hope.” That was the phrase I said repeatedly during interminable phone conversations with “Gwyn.” Gwyn hesitated to even leave her house and could barely move from room to room because of overweight, bad knees, and the physical lethargy of depression. Three times she went to a hospital emergency room because she couldn’t stop crying. Suicide was always discussed when we talked on the phone.
In years past, antidepressants had given her some relief, but they no longer worked. I suggested electroconvulsive (“shock”) therapy, but Gwyn was afraid of the possible memory loss. As I’m mildly addicted to surfing the internet, I had read about a novel treatment for severe depression. Infusions of ketamine, a common anesthetic, have provided partial or complete relief of treatment-resistant depression in 60 to 70 per cent of patients. Gwyn tried ketamine. It worked. Literally within hours of her first infusion, people noticed a more normal tone of voice as she talked with them. Today, she is completely free of depression, has lost 120 pounds, and is active in a local church. She does receive a maintenance dose of ketamine every six weeks, but that’s a small inconvenience for a remarkable recovery.
I also trotted out my “always hope” phrase with “Rose,” an elderly friend who had been diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer. Radiation and hormonal treatment led to a remission of the cancer, but Rose’s sister and I noticed a slurring of her speech as she underwent the cancer treatment. At first, we attributed the speech problem to her pain medication. We were distressed to learn that the indistinct articulation was a first symptom of ALS, Lou Gehrig’s Disease. This neuromuscular disorder results in complete paralysis and subsequent death. In about a year, Rose was skin and bone, covered with ugly lumps of muscle that looked like jellyfish sending tentacles all over her body. Suddenly she was gone. Realistically, there had never been any hope.
In the real world, people get sick and die. In the real world, people fail to realize their personal potential. In the real world, love is often displaced by indifference or hate. In the real world of contingency, it’s simply not true that “there’s always hope.”
Jesus once admonished His disciples not to be anxious about food, drink, or clothing. God, he said, would take care of them just as he took care of the birds of the air and the flowers of the field. Such a naïve hope is literally untrue, but there is a spiritual sense in which there’s always hope. This Inner Hope is based on faith, is—in fact—the same thing as faith.
We may suffer from a wave of despair that hides God and destroys hopeful feelings; but God is always there, always ready to appear as Grace, always ready to restore Inner Hope. The apostle Paul tells us that nothing in all creation can separate us from God’s love, and sometimes we experience a mystical epiphany of that love. In Quaker terms, we become aware of an Inner Light, sometimes faint, sometimes blinding, always leading us through our soul’s dark night.
Yes, faith may be eclipsed by circumstances. We may sometimes feel hopeless; but because our hope is God, because God IS, that hope returns to us in feelings of faith and joy. Admittedly, we do have to be open to God’s grace if we are to experience this return; and there are individuals who, for whatever reason, do not feel God’s Presence. I do believe that non-theistic Friends, despite their religious skepticism, can feel that Presence. They may not use “God” or any of the circumlocutions for God, but they may nevertheless experience the Inner Light and the hopefulness that it reveals.
Isaac Penington says as much. He tells us that we may come to believe in a principle of life by “…feeling its nature, in waiting to feel somewhat begotten by it, in this its light springs, its life springs, its love springs, its hidden power appears….” Adversity and suffering are ripples, sometimes great waves in life, but those waves happen on the surface of the Eternal. Deep within the Deep we encounter an Inner Hope impervious to the storm.
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