Work Weekend At Powell House
"The purpose of the work weekend is not to get work done, it's to build community"
~ Bob Houghton
Saturday started wet and rainy and in truth my motivation to participate was next to nil. As a matter of my word, I said I'd be there and I was there albeit just going through the motions. I had just started setting up the wood splitter when Jim came out to join me. Lending a hand he helped me set it up. That lightened my mood. And it slowly dawned on me that Bob's words were the truest thing I'd heard in a long time.
The solidarity of work is powerful. It binds us through a shared sense of purpose. And so we cut and split and stacked wood in the pouring rain ... and it was good. As the time passed Jim and I developed a synchronous rhythm of placing the logs and shaving off just enough to make them easy to handle for the person putting them in the fire sometime next year.
And then it happened. I lifted a log that was a little awkward and my back decided to twerk and twang. I dropped the log and was out of commission. And right behind me was Scott. He filled in for me while I went to do some yoga and sort my back out. The sweet thing about all of this is that even though I was super annoyed that I could no longer complete the task that I'd started the community filled in the missing man and it all worked out.
No amount of rugged individualism can substitute for community. There will come a time, young or old, strong or weak, when we need community support. The measure that we give of ourselves is rewarded back to us in unexpected ways. As I lay there on the floor of the Anna Curtis Center I was asked by many people if I was okay and each one totally supportive of restoring my well being.
After dinner, one of the young people said to me "if I want to introduce a friend to the Quakers, I don't say a word to them. I just bring them to a work weekend. They really get it after that."
On Sunday morning I hobbled into the Anna Curtis Center to support the remaining projects as best I could and Elise came to me and said that she was a massage therapist and would I like her to work on me. And there it was -- the unexpected gift showing up in the space of solidarity we all created together. I gratefully gave myself to her able hands and after an hour of stretching my piriformis, psoas, and lumbar muscles I began to feel normal again. The twinge was gone. I could bend and stand up straight again.
The weekend is now over. The wood is stacked into neat piles. There is a new compost bin. The library books are sorted. The sewing work is done. The laughter lingers and there will be stories to tell at future work weekends as friendships deepen and we remember what we are grateful for.
Late on Sunday afternoon, Bob's words landed like a home run with bases loaded. I did not really 'get' what work weekends were about until this past weekend. Thanks Bob!
This week I have been contemplating the life of Mary Dyer, a Quaker woman who was executed by the Puritans of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Fortunately, Johann Winsser wrote a book on the topic and gave a very enlightening lecture on the subject at the rise of meeting this past Sunday.
Her crime? Not heresy and not blasphemy. Her crime was civil disobedience.
Here's how it went for her. She was a Quaker who felt she had the same right to freedom of religion that the Puritans enjoyed in the New World. The problem was she was not part of the club. You see, the Massachusetts Bay Colony was a charter from the King of England. Essentially, a private club for Puritans who got to make the rules and -- yeah -- no Quakers allowed. They warned her once and banished her once and told her if she returned they'll hang her. And they did.
Puritans were the first Law and Order Types. Having another point of view disturbed the order they wished to impose. And civil disobedience was such a threat to that order that it had to be eliminated. But boy oh boy did they go too far. The backlash was swift and it wasn't too long before Charles II decreed an end to Puritan religious orthodoxy and opened the floodgates wide to other points of view in the fledgling colony.
Did everything go to Hell? No, far from it. There is a lesson there.
Which brings us to Jamal Khashoggi. He wrote about a more open Saudi society. And for that he was murdered and hacked to pieces by 14 thugs hired by the Crown Prince Salman of Saudi Arabia. It makes me think that we are back in 1660 again. And in some sense we are because the man sitting in the oval office has more interest in an arms deal worth 100 million dollars than upholding justice.
As I contemplated these strikingly similar situations and shared them with a friend she said to me: "...Mary Dyer was a brave, strong, forward-looking woman and her story demonstrates one of my problems with God...he didn't do anything to save her from hanging..."
The message that is coming through to me is loud and clear. Mary's story seems terrible, but her act of civil disobedience led to the downfall of Puritan rule in the Massachusetts Colony and an edict by the Crown to end the persecution of Quakers (and other religious groups)
If Quakers have a theology it would be to "proceed as the way opens." Mary felt deeply convicted by her faith. That she have religious freedom. She chose it, not God. She was asked to recant. She declined knowing full well that her refusal may end her life.
This of course brings us the notion of a merciful God. Why would a merciful God allow bad things to happen? The answer that I have come to understand is that we are not automatons. Humans have agency. We get to choose. To choose love over hate, good over evil, compassion over indifference, kindness over cruelty, courage over fear.
If God were to step in every time there was an injustice the human faculty of conscience would be blunted so badly it would cease to function.
If we look at the centuries between Dyer and Khashoggi , what Dr King called The Long Arc of Justice, Mary Dyer, Ghandi, Mandela, and King or any other person who walked a path of conscience -- their courage gives light to others. In fact, more may have been gained for the cause of justice by their death ... and they likely knew this on a spiritual level.
Queries on the lives of Mary Dyer and Jamal Khashoggi:
Out of Diversity, Unity.
There is a similar statement on the dollar bill. e pluribus unum. Out of many, one.
As I walked up to the Meeting House today I saw three monarch butterflies alight on a bush with many flowers. They worked their way around the flowers sticking their very fine proboscis into each one gathering up the succulent nectar. The flower gives its nectar away and for the price of this transaction its DNA gets a free ride to another plant (hopefully similar plant) somewhere else.
I marveled at this symbiotic union.
The plant is fixed to the earth. The butterfly has wings and can take to the air. Not only are they vastly dissimilar in mobility but they come from completely different kingdoms. Animalia and Plantae. And yet they cohabitate, they support one another, they actually help one another survive. Maybe it is the biologist in me, but WOW -- that's pretty darn cool.
As I reflect on the political division America presently finds itself in, I am drawn to nature to figure these things out. I'm told by biologists far more informed that I that in nature there is more cooperation than division. The butterfly and the flower prove this.
The queries that I am considering this morning are:
I suspect that many thousands of years of evolution produced the symbiosis between the butterfly and the flower. But you know what? We don't have that long. We need to figure this out ... and soon. And from a biological and political standpoint it makes sense that as a species we'll get farther together than divided.
Here Comes The Sun
"We have this hope as an anchor for our lives. It is safe and sure, and goes through the curtain of the heavenly temple into the inner sanctuary."
~ Hebrews 6:19
As I sat in silence in the field behind the meeting house the sky was dim and the air was cold. Our annual sunrise service starts at 7:00 am and very often it's a bit chilly. I wrapped myself in a blanket and settled into the silence.
What became immediately apparent as the time passed is that the dimness gave way to the light. Shadows and fuzzy outlines slowly became replaced with the bright outlines of trees and blades of grass as the sun filled the morning sky.
And then it happened ...
The sun broke through the horizon and showered the gathered in warm rays of sunlight. I could feel my cold ears and cheeks suddenly come alive and witnessed smiles come across the faces of those in attendance. One at a time the sun reached them as the rays crept over the treeline.
It is hard not to feel hope when witnessing the bounty of nature. And even though nature is ever changing the constancy of the sun is always with us. We don't give it a thought. We know the sun will rise in the morning and set in the evening.
Spirit. Christ. God. Or however you relate to the divine is a lot like that. Ever present even though we might take it for granted and not notice it in the background. Ever present.
Stillness is an opportunity to allow the great hope of spirit to penetrate the deepest parts of ourselves; including the parts that have been covered over by cynicism, anger and resignation. That's spirit penetrating the veil and entering the inner sanctuary of our hearts! There is no special ceremony or ritual required -- just a willingness, an openness, and an allowing.
Once the sun was fully up it was astonishing to witness the clarity of everything from the dew on the grass to the vibrant colors in the trees. A pair of crows caw cawed as they passed overhead and moved into the day with the sun on their wings.
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