COMMEMORATING 250 YEARS IN THE QUAKER MEETINGHOUSE

Dover Friends Meeting where I worship is the fifth oldest congregation in the state – and the first that was not part of the governmentally sponsored parishes that are now affiliated with today’s United Church of Christ.

Our meetinghouse – the third we’ve had, in fact – is the oldest house of worship in the city, and this year marks the 250th anniversary of its construction.

It went up on a single day in 1768, much like an Amish barn raising in our own time. There were likely 150 men and boys at work on the construction itself, plus an equal number of women and girls preparing food and the like.

To commemorate the occasion, we’re holding an open house at 2 p.m. There will be tours, a reading of John Greenleaf Whittier’s “How the Quaker Women Came to Dover” (his parents were married in the meetinghouse), presentations of activities we’re involved in, light refreshments and conversation, and a closing concert by musically talented members and the audience.

All are welcome.

TAKE A SELFIE WITH WILLIAM PENN

If the weather is fair, Dover’s annual Apple Harvest Day today will attract a crowd twice the size of the city’s population to the downtown.

Since there are no commercial orchards within the city limits, I’ve always been baffled by the festival’s name, but it does come a week ahead of the Columbus Day holiday, when most of the other communities in the state host end-of-the-season blowouts. It’s nice to beat the competition.

For several years now, Dover Friends Meeting has been among the nonprofit organizations that have participated. Our canopied booth offers a meet-and-greet opportunity to let people know that Quakers do indeed still exist and to invite folks to join us in reflective worship on Sunday mornings.

We’ve heard that as a nonprofit, we need to make 17 positive impressions, on average, before anyone responds, so we’re not discouraged if people don’t show up in our meetinghouse later.

It’s a two-way street, frankly. Answering questions can be a big way of getting a clearer view of the way others see us.

I was startled, for example, when one woman asked if you have to be a protester to be a Quaker. (Answer: No!)

And when some confuse us with the celibate Shakers, we now respond, “Shakers made beautiful furniture. Quakers make trouble.”

And last year, many folks told us how much they appreciate our “Love Thy Neighbor, No Exceptions” banner across the front of our building.

This year we’re setting out to have fun. Period.

You know, take a selfie of yourself standing with William Penn. Well, someone dressed as a not-too-accurate impersonator. Or you can make your own real Quaker rolled oats using one grain, a hammer, and an anvil. (Watch your thumb, please!)

Or here, have an oatmeal cookie or take a recipe for granola.

That sort of thing.

We’ll still have a bowl of water out for passing dogs and, as a new touch, a small changing station for parents or grandparents with infants.

It’s still a work in progress. Will probably always be, I hope.

CLOCKING THE FORECAST

YES, EVERYBODY TALKS about the weather. I’m no exception, and I usually enjoy the exchange. But I also listen with a grain of salt. To take a longer view and talk about the seasons, however, is another matter – one heightened in recent years by concerns about climatic upheaval and global warming. Living as I have in various locales in a band across the northern half of the United States, I’ve come to appreciate a wide seasonal ebb and flow. Deep snowfall and subzero spells, crackling and booming thunderstorms, an extended spring – I’m not one for the monotonous sunshine of Florida or southern California. I want to be jolted and moved, with all the accompanying influence on my emotions and thinking. There are seasons for curling up late at night with a book; others for reading on the beach or under the trees. Times for shoveling snow or cross-country skiing; times for raking leaves and mulching. Each new place has meant adjusting my expectations and observing fine differences from what I had previously encountered. All this, before dealing directly with the variations from one year to another within a specific place.

Over the years, the repetition adds up to knowledge and expectation. As the winter solstice observations of Christmas and New Year’s, there’s anticipation before ordering garden seeds in January and bringing the grow lights up from the cellar so you may start the seedlings. Having the cross country boots and skis ready. Keeping an eye on the pussy willows, to collect their sprigs. Planting, harvesting, cooking, sharing, and preserving. There’s the anticipation of the sequence of flowers or garden produce, each to be savored in its moment. From asparagus, snow peas, and strawberries through to potatoes, garlic, and leaks. From snow lilies, forsythia, and crocus through to asters and Jerusalem artichokes. Ordering firewood early, so it will season properly. Calling the chimney sweep and annual furnace checkup. Making room in the compost bins for October leaves. Trimming the hedges. And that’s just from a homeowner’s and urban gardener’s perspective. Normally, I wouldn’t be writing in July – my attic workspace simply becomes too stuffy, but this year’s an exception. There are other fronts. We’ve brewed ales in late autumn and lagers in deep winter, to take advantage of the favored requirements of each yeast. There’s also the seasonal flow of paying taxes and insurance, registering the car, taking a vacation, enjoying holidays. We also see academic years, baseball and football seasons, opera and symphony seasons, television seasons. There are many more, of course, as you start looking.

The challenge comes in not falling behind, but to instead preparing for the next stage. Here come the tomatoes, here comes the sweet corn. Pace yourself for the playoffs. Budget accordingly.

Continue reading “CLOCKING THE FORECAST”

APPREHENDING

gratitude
for minutia and large
flowing creation

and homing
family, mystery within walls
around our bedding

wealth beyond cash
and clutter
overabundance of opportunities
to engage

any strength generously

distinguishing between gifts
and hard-earned wealth
and everything seized from others

remembering greed
bondage and
warfare
gluttony all entangle
lust

yet if we love liberally
this sojourn
exposing each deception
in relentless light

reunion .  reconciliation
uttered utterly
forgives . accepts
corrects . and gives again

Poem copyright 2016 by Jnana Hodson
To see the full set, click here.

IN THE STARS, MEANING MOSTLY PLANETS

I used to get quite annoyed at those at the ashram who were so deeply into the astrology, into charting every minuscule bit of mathematics (and do they ever get into the calculations! hour after hour). And the following is all very tentative, superficial scratching especially when the serious astrologer is looking over our shoulders. But then they look to see what seems to fit and what doesn’t from their findings.

The idea of celestial influences on our lives can be seen in as a dimension of Seasons of Spirit. Sometimes conditions are more favorable than others. Sometimes things go more smoothly than others. The Biblical counsel, however, is to stay faithful in one’s practice. Make no excuses. Be ready.

Those of a more scientific bent can point instead to the precision of celestial calculations. The annual sequence of heavenly turning, the appearance of various meteor showers (with their own unpredictable volume and visibility), is complicated by the individual calculations for moons and planets.

From either perspective, we watch. Two or three planets approach in the evening sky, moving through the night, to reenact an ancient mythological tale.

~*~

For more Seasons of the Spirit, click here.

AND HAVE A GOOD DAY?

In the early days of Friends, they’d often greet each other with the question, “How does Truth prosper among you?” Not “How are you doing?” or even “Good morning.”

Strikes modern ears as puzzling, even problematic, beginning with that verb prosper, which we tend to consider along financial terms rather than thrive or even proliferate. Equally unfamiliar is the idea of Truth being active – alive – rather than static and unchanging.

To further thicken the plot, consider their linkage of Truth and Christ, so the question also asks, “How is Christ alive among you?”

How would you answer that!

~*~

For more along these lines, take a look at Religion Turned Upside Down.

 

REVELATION, BEGINNING WITH GROUNDHOG’S DAY

BEING SINGLE AND without children for much of my adult life, I could get around Christmas without getting caught up in many of its trappings. One year, getting my holiday greetings out late, I launched my annual letter with “A happy Ground Hog’s Day to thee.”

That’s particular calendar date had seemed so weird, until I discovered there are “solar seasons” as well as the ones our calendars show. In solar winter, for instance, the solstice comes at the middle of the season, rather than the beginning; so Christmas would be right around the middle of solar winter, even though it’s at the beginning of the calendar winter. Why does my brain ever go into these bizarre leaps? Oh well, as long as we’re at it: If my calculations are right, Ground Hog’s day comes at the end of solar winter. Follow that? In other words, as far as the amount of sunlight falling on the Earth is concerned, winter is over, even if we wind up getting another six weeks or so of cold and snowy weather, right up to the vernal equinox. So what I really began asking was whether Punxsutawney Phil, the official ground hog those Pennsylvanians in tuxedos and stovepipe hats bring out every year, is stuffed or live. He sure looks stuffed in the official portrait the wire services move, but what do I know? One of my coworkers, who has witnessed the event, claims it’s a living critter.

Awareness of solar seasons puts other events into perspective. Halloween, for instance, acknowledges the beginning of solar winter. May Day brings solar summer. The Midsummer’s Day or Night, ostensibly announcing the beginning of calendar summer, really does come at solar midsummer. The beginning of August is the invisible event in our awareness.

(Neo-Pagans, incidentally, put their own significance into this alternative alignment of seasons.)

Dwelling in northern New England, as I do, presents another awareness of seasons. They are not evenly divided across the year, as a calendar would do, but are instead of unequal duration. Winter, for instance, begins around Halloween and lingers until the beginning of April – five months, rather than three. Summer, on the other hand, opens around the Fourth of July and ends by mid-August – all of a month and a half. That leaves three months for spring and two-and-a-half months for autumn. Within that there are other divisions. Winter, for example, ends with Mud Season, Black-Fly Season, and Mosquito Season. Or some Mainers see the year as Freezin’ Season, Black-Fly Season, and Road Construction Season.

It’s easy to make the leap to the emotional dimension of the seasons. Skiers and ice fishermen can view deep winter with their own appreciation. I revel in the glorious mutations of October foliage, while another friend dreads its appearance, knowing all too well the gloom that will follow.

Some creatures, of course, will hibernate.

~*~

For more Seasons of the Spirit, click here.

MUTED WITNESS

best known for our anti-war witness
we could do much more
individually and together
to summon others
to transcendental worship

*   *   *

if we hesitate to strip naked or don sackcloth
to march brazenly into parking lots
and through malls
or the courthouse
or legislature
to proclaim Truth

to those who reach for a Budweiser
the first thing
1st-Day morning
or so passionately decry anything
smacking of religion or church

how else do we extend the welcome?
maybe we’re just getting old
or sedate
or muffling passion

this is more important
than placing a notice
in the paper or a line in the phone book
if anyone remembers

*   *   *

there’s no invitation
without an address
or sign
or billowing aromatic
celebration
made visible

Poem copyright 2016 by Jnana Hodson
To see the full set, click here.

UNCOVERING THE PLACE OF STRUGGLE

In his Pendle Hill pamphlet last year, Marking the Quaker Path: Seven Key Words Plus One, Robert Griswold opens with the term “condition,” which initially seems familiar enough. Quakers often remark to a comment, “This speaks to my condition,” or even “the Friend speaks my mind,” conveying a sense of unity and affirmation.

Griswold, though, gives the concept a darker twist, noting that a meaningful spiritual journey requires seeing ourselves in our places of failure and weakness rather than a state of “being in charge,” as we so often do. Think of Anne Lamott’s “three essential prayers” — Help, Thanks, and Wow — and admit a long personal list invoking the first.

I would extend that awareness of condition not just to ourselves individually but to our families and circles of faith and then the wider society. I’d say there’s great need everywhere.

This, then, leads to the subsequent steps where we turn to the Holy One and our kindred spirits for direction and growth.

Curiously, condition is not a word I find used widely in either Scripture or early Quaker literature – not directly, that is – but it does fit the situation of many people as they set out in faith as recorded in both.

Could it be that in many of our religious circles, we’ve been running away from this very difficult but essential challenge? We go to worship looking for rest and renewal, not more turmoil and suffering.

O, Lord, give us strength!

~*~

More of my own reflections on alternative Christianity are found at Religion Turned Upside Down.

WAITING BEYOND PASSIVITY

Another aspect of myself that’s just coming to light is a kind of passiveness that the Asian practice has encouraged – indeed, Yoga and Zen direct the practitioner to become invisible or transparent, egoless, etc. Put that together with my experience in employment, relationships, and so on, and it can become – as it has in my life – a reactive, rather than active, series of events: me as a passive victim rather than standing up on my own. Or when I’d stand up for something, it was to get cut down – again, becoming the victim. At least, that’s a quick overview of the openings at the moment. It’s not quite that severe: I’ve been a lot of places, done a lot of things. But there has been a kind of short-circuit that’s depleted too much energy and maybe even been self-destructive. A passive outlook leading to a victim mentality. Fun stuff. At least – and at last – I’m coming face to face with it. In seeing this, though, some interesting things are beginning to happen.

~*~

For more Seasons of the Spirit, click here.