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.
"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.
I bring to meeting for worship the intention that God will speak to me. In the silence I ask for it. And I wait in trepidation for an answer. I am aware that even though it is my greatest wish to receive a message from a burning bush in the manner of Moses -- this is unlikely to happen.
While there is some disappointment in the experience of never having had a "burning bush moment" I think I am blessed to 'hear' the voice of God in other unexpected ways.
Let me explain.
Humans, unlike all other creatures (that we are aware of -- and I hope to be proved wrong in this) have capacities that make us uniquely able to connect with the Almighty. We are self-aware, reflective, and have a conscience. Of these three, the last may be our most valuable asset in connecting with the divine. If listened to it is the perfect internal compass. Among Quakers, we speak about listening to that small voice inside.
Interestingly, all religious traditions have the notion of honoring one's conscience and following one's deeply held beliefs. Is it such a far stretch to acknowledge that this impulse might be the voice of the divine calling upon us? Our very own burning bush!
I think not, but do we bother to listen?
Messages can be VERY INCONVENIENT TRUTHS. Circling back to Moses, it took forty years of wandering in the desert after the Exodus to receive the tablets on Mt. Sinai. OMG!!
To be sure, it is far easier to listen to and walk a path that the media, or the government, or your parents, or your friends have laid out before you. That path is well worn and will cause very little friction in your life. The problem is that THAT PATH is about as authentic as fake fruit (looks good, but does not satisfy).
The queries that pique my conscience today are:
Report on Old Chatham Quaker Meeting’s Exhibit of a Solitary Housing Unit at the Columbia County Fair
From August 29 through September 3, 2017 members from four monthly meetings plus additional volunteers staffed a booth exhibiting a replica of a solitary housing unit at the Columbia County Fair for a total of 65 hours with 26 people participating. The replica was built by Doug Van Zandt who has taken the replica all around NY State.
The exhibit was funded by a grant from NYYM’s Outreach Initiatives Support Fund, an allocation from OCQM’s Bob Bacon Fund Bacon Fund for Peace & Justice and with additional support from OCQM’s Special Projects Budget. Our meeting is very grateful for the financial support it received to present this exhibit again this year.
Our goals were to advocate for passage in the NY State Senate of the Humane Alternatives to Long Term Incarceration (HALT) Act, (the NYS Assembly passed the HALT Act in June), to educate about the problem of mass incarceration in the United States and to raise the profile of our meeting in the community. We conducted training within our meeting about the HALT act and how to listen carefully to opposing views. We put up all the materials available at the fair on our website. We obtained 360 signatures for the HALT petition which we sent to Victor Pate at the Office of The Correctional Association of NY. Didi Barret, NYS Assembly member for District 106, stopped by as did Tistrya Houghtling who is running for NYS Assembly District 107. They were both very supportive.
We kept a diary in the SHU which received many entries, some unsympathetic, but most expressing compassion and understanding. We were interviewed by Corrine Carey, a volunteer from radio station WOOC , who made six visits to our exhibit, to tape fairgoers’ reactions to it and to talk with our volunteers. We distributed a lot of material on the HALT act and on mass incarceration as well as brochures on our meeting and wallet sized cards with our website and phone number. We displayed copies for sale of Ellen Condlief Lagemann’s Liberating Minds: The Case for College in Prison and discussed the book with several people. We had scores of lengthy conversations with prison guards, ex prison guards, families with current or former prisoners, and the general public, some of them very emotionally moving. Several people remembered our exhibit from last year. It was an excellent outreach project for our meeting.
Challenges this year were soliciting volunteers for the shifts, enduring the heat at the fair exhibit, keeping the committee on track with regard to fulfilling their responsibilities timely as they are all very busy and not having the time for following up those who indicated on the petitions they wanted additional information.
I staffed the SHU (Solitary Housing Unit) exhibit on Saturday evening. The Old Chatham Quakers displayed a replica of a SHU at the Columbia County Fair to raise awareness among voters to institute a law that governs how people are held in solitary confinement (HALT Legislation - Humane Alternatives to Long Term incarceration).
What I did not expect was that an eleven-year-old girl would move me to tears.
As I sat there during a lull in activity a young girl of mixed race walked up to the SHU replica and looked it over.
"Do you want to go in?" I said. "
"What is it?" she replied.
"Check it out and I'll tell you after."
A few minutes went by ... and then a few more ... and the girl emerged somewhat different than when she walked in.
"What was your experience like in there?" I said.
"How can they do that to people, I'd lose my mind," she said.
There are times when after all the discussion and wrangling over an issue something gets said that rings out like a clear bell. This was it. Out of the mouths of children, we hear the truth.
It reminded me of that scripture in Mathew 18:3 "you must be as a child to enter the kingdom of heaven." Maybe this is true because children have a closer relationship to the divine not having been jaded by things of the world or maybe it is because they just express what is right there in front of them without the need to censor themselves. Either way this scripture has power in its simplicity.
What rang true for me was that this eleven-year-old girl was connected to compassion and empathy for another human being through her own experience. She was able to map what she felt inside herself onto how another human being might feel. These emotions of empathy and compassion is what Christ was likely referring to when he admonished us to "be like children."
Today we need more of this "child-like" energy. Perhaps it is a sign of the times that the US government is destroying this child-like innocence by detaining (let's be honest with our language -- jailing) children. Many of these children are probably feeling the despair and desolation that people feel in solitary confinement. And without putting too fine a point on it -- THIS POLICY IS WRONG!
There are over 500 children still separated from their mothers and fathers and this is a crime of monumental proportions according to our faith. Christ said: "If anyone causes one of these little ones--those who believe in me--to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea."
This is very strong language and something our alleged leaders might wish to take note of.
What this eleven-year-old girl taught me was that it is never too late to become as a child. To open our eyes and see like a child. To cut through all the arguments and words and just be able to simply have an experience that moves us.
I would be interested in learning from the people who “sat” at the SHU exhibit at the Chatham Fair. Just a short collection of thoughts from you with, perhaps, a view toward gathering the thoughts together in some way and perhaps publishing them in SPARK or something.
Here is what I have been thinking during my shift at the SHU.
...I have spent a part of my life wondering how it would be to be someone else? What would they be thinking, etc.?
And so I think about what it would be like to be sent to prison for a long or even short time.
On arrival I would first notice and HATE the noise! Then the smell of so many humans gathered in one place, maybe not having bathed in a while. And then, of course, the “vibrations” from so many people being in a place not of their choosing.
Then I would start thinking that I do not have ANY control over any part of my life. My existence relies on the “good will” of a number of someones who don’t know me at all, who have no reason to like or dislike me. My existence relies partly on whether they enjoyed their breakfast for example.
I have absolutely no control over any part of my life and nobody cares about me. AT ALL.
In some ways it would be a relief to be sent to Solitary Confinement and be separated from the rest of those incarcerated. Of course, I still wouldn’t have any protection from the persons who have entire control over my life for their eight hour shift.
This week I have been drawn quite strongly to my garden. While there I am either weeding, transplanting, or laying down mulch; and as I'm weeding I'm thinking to myself "how on earth do these marvelous plants make food for us and energy for themselves?"
Slowly, biology classes from college freshman days trickle back from the recesses of memory and I recall the dark phase of photosynthesis.
YES!! That's it. EUREKA. There is a value and a purpose to the dark side after all.
It turns out that during the light phase of photosynthesis the plants turn C02 and Water into carbohydrates and oxygen and in the dark phase they form energy molecules (ATP and NADPH) to drive the daytime reactions.
Light and Dark. Two forces at work in opposite areas. One goal.
I began to wonder about humans. Could we be like plants. Maybe we too have a dark and a light side to our "reactions." And maybe in the long run -- in the long arc of history -- these forces are all working toward a common goal.
This period we are in, this dark and divisive period, might just be a "dark phase reaction" and it is needed to bring the required energy molecules into being to create a more perfect union.
I pull a weed. I imagine that if I get rid of this weed and its companions my potatoes will grow better. Is that true? I don't know. I look in nature and I see all kinds of species sharing common ground, common light, common nutrients -- they seem to be getting along.
Going forward ... I'm going to embrace the "dark side" and see if I can find the energy molecules that are moving me forward ... that may be moving all of us forward.
How about you?
Here are my queries for today:
"But Jesus said, Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven."
~ Matthew 19:14
There comes a time when the actions of government become so odious as to bring about a general rebuke by the nation. That time is now. A majority of Americans and leaders from many nations have been horrified by what is going on here in the US.
This message is a call to action for Quakers not only in Old Chatham Monthly Meeting and New York Yearly Meeting, but a call for people of faith worldwide to examine their conscience and speak out loudly and resolutely about the suffering of children and families at the US Border.
In the book of Mathew, it is written: "Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me." These children held in cages and taken from their mothers and fathers are not some faceless "others." THEY ARE US.
Our theology, if we even have one clearly articulated, can be embodied in one sentence: I recognize the light of God in you. As a corporate body of believers, we must roundly condemn what can only be characterized as the banality of evil and draw a stark line between what is acceptable and unacceptable in terms of human rights.
If this blog seems a departure from previous writings that were more spiritual in nature then the reader is paying attention. Faith devoid of works is dead. We must act on this. Our faith demands it of us.
Queries regarding child separation by ICE (Immigration & Customs Enforcement)
Over 25 years ago, while in Graduate School at Tufts University, I saw a sign that said "All Are Welcome." The sign also said something about a Religion of "Friends", which simultaneously sounded both strange and quite lovely. Clearly intrigued, but extremely busy, I mentally filed the info for later use.
Three years ago, after a long & winding spiritual path, I was finally overcome by curiosity and I went to my first Quaker Meeting. Greeted warmly by Merry & Don, I felt immediately comfortable, perhaps even at home, and proceeded inside.
Having been raised Christian, attending Methodist & Catholic churches with my grandmothers, Sunday school and Christian summer camp, something felt familiar. Yet, at the same time, Quaker Meeting for Worship was so completely different than anything I had ever experienced in those Christian gatherings.
In fact, I'd have to say, my experience of Quaker Meeting for Worship intriguingly felt more like my Wiccan (Pagan) Spirituality community experiences, minus the ritualized enactments. That's due to the direct communion with Spirit that has always occurred for me since day one of both my Wiccan and Quaker community worship, something which really never happened for me in the other Christian gatherings I attended.
I am a bisexual/queer, currently female, Goddess-worshipping, Jesus-loving, Bodhisattva-pathing Spiritual Being and a proudly progressive, politically- informed Spiritual Activist.
Sometimes, I call myself Priestess; always, I call myself Healer. In the past, I served several different women's communities across the country by crafting and facilitating rituals, rites of passage, and personal & communal healing. Today, I serve my community as a Reiki Master Healer & Teacher, by empowering women and men to be whole, embodied, passionate and fully alive spiritual, emotional, mental and physical beings.
I also regularly attend my local Quaker Meeting for Worship, faithfully serve on our Outreach, Peace & Justice Committee, contribute a small monthly tithe to my local meeting, and participate in other Quaker community events as I am so moved.
However, I am not a Member of our Meeting, nor do I currently have any intention of becoming a Member. Despite my very active participation, I do not actually identify as a Quaker. I am Almost Quaker.
I know I am part of the spiritual-but-not-religious movement. I know that I have been called to this movement and community for a reason. I know, that if I were to honor only one of the many traditions that inform my spiritual experience by calling it "my religion", I would do dishonor to all of them.
Through my 20's and 30's, my spiritual journey led me to deeply explore my experience as a woman. I clearly remember my first women's ritual, a circle of women gathered around a fire out in the woods, speaking our truths while honoring the power of the moon above our heads.
I devoured whatever books I could find on Goddess Spirituality and gathered women together wherever I lived-- to celebrate the changing cycles of the moon as well as our lives, and to honor the natural, seasonal cycles of the Earth. I studied Goddess Spirituality extensively, which culminated in completing a 4-year formal group training in the Dianic (women-only) Wiccan tradition.
However, when it came to ordination, something I had completely planned on seeking the whole time, I did not make a formal request to be ordained. Though shocking at the time, in retrospect, it became obvious I was not called to follow or practice only one spiritual tradition, or religion, or body of belief. Though this is probably not the case for everyone, if I had been formally ordained as a Dianic Wiccan Priestess, it would have limited my interest in and ability to connect with other religious and spiritual traditions. I know this in every cell of my being.
In addition to my early Christian and later Wiccan experiences, I've also been deeply influenced by various Buddhist beliefs and practices for at least 20 years. Though I have no formal training and minimal participation in Buddhist community rituals, I have read and been led by several Buddhist authors and leaders. I particularly relate to and appreciate the Buddhist belief in life, death and re-birth (reincarnation), various Buddhist-sourced mindfulness practices, and the Bodhissatva Healer-path.
To complete the circle, about 5 years ago, I was guided by Spirit into a deep, profound, personal connection and relationship with Jesus, the man and Master Healer-- as well as with Magdalene, as his Sacred Lover and Partner. To say I was surprised by this turn in my journey would be a gross understatement. In fact, if I were to tell my women friends from long ago of this development, they would probably say, "who are you and what did you do with Phoenix?"
Even given this profound and transformative connection with Jesus, I do not call myself Christian, and never really have. I also do not call myself Buddhist. And, I no longer really call myself Wiccan or Pagan, even though those are the only religious identifications I ever truly adopted.
I believe the only way we will truly move forward together Spiritually, as one human family, is not by unifying under one religion-- but rather, by unifying in Love. So, when people ask me what my religion is, first I say I do not identify myself with one; and then I say, if I had to choose one, my religion would be "Love."
Serving on our Outreach Committee, while not being a Member of our Meeting, has me keenly aware that there must be SO many Almost Quakers like me (with their own unique spiritual journeys) to whom we could reach out and provide a comfortable, powerful spiritual home-- whether that's a one-time visit, occasional participation, or regular attendance. At the same time, there must be SO many others like me that Quaker communities could be deeply blessed and nourished by meeting, getting to know and welcoming to Meeting.
We (those who are already members or attenders of Quaker Meetings) are not the only ones with something to offer. Perhaps the question to ask is not just "what can we offer others?", but also "what unique beauty and brilliance might each person we meet contribute as a gift to our community?"
Given my personal experience, I very clearly see the emergence of this Almost Quaker Community as both a huge opportunity for outreach and the sign of a new kind of Quaker identity. As such, I invite the larger Quaker community to indeed champion the emergence-- and the physical, emotional, spiritual & vocal presence-- of Almost Quakers. Greet us all warmly, each and every one, welcome us in, and be open to what we have to offer you, too. You never know... you may be moved by new possibilities for Quaker identity and expression for yourself!
As the sign by the drive to our Meetinghouse says, "All Are Welcome." When we live true to that principle, by opening our hearts and our arms to others of whatever religion or spiritual beliefs, we make possible living as one human family in Love.
Whether Quaker, Almost Quaker or not-at-all Quaker, no matter. It's what's in the Heart that truly matters. May what fills our Hearts be Love, may we Love one and all, and may All Be Welcome in our Hearts... and Meetings.
Blessed Be and Amen!
Every day we are faced with literally hundreds of things to make up our minds about. Some are simple: "should I buy the store brand or upgrade to a name brand item?" Some are more challenging: "Am I going to accept the status quo or break the law to honor my deeply held beliefs?"
How do we make up our minds?
For a long time, I used the words choices and decisions interchangeably until I began to see that they differ in some very important ways. A decision is generally based on a calculus of pros and cons. If the calculus seems beneficial we take the action. If not, we pass. A choice is based on something deeper, grounded in values, ethics, and beliefs.
You don't march across a bridge in Selma and get beaten half to death by the Alabama State Police because of a decision. The pros definitely do not add up. No, that's a stand you take based on something you believe in.
Recently, I was led to read Tolstoy's short story The Three Questions.
A king ponders these questions:
Without being a spoiler (read the story link above) I'll just say that the king discovers the answers to these questions within his own experience rather than outside himself.
As our cultural fabric seems to unravel before our eyes, it is more important than ever to consider our actions based on our values and not on what seems like a best guess of pros and cons, what is expedient or the societal norms of the day.
Following societal norms is what led many good Germans to follow the program of the National Socialist Party. It also led we Americans down a path of racism we still have not recovered from after 300+ years.
Tolstoy offers a simple prescription for making choices -- DO GOOD. It may not always be the easy path. In fact, doing good will likely take more effort and consideration, but do it anyway because DOING GOOD has a multiplicative effect. It brings about a world that actually works.
Some of the queries I'm considering today are:
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