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.

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RUNNING ALONG THE WATER

Deep River, Sandy Springs, Holly Springs, Goose Creek, West Branch, Back River, Clearwater. These are a few of the names of Quaker Meetings taken from bodies of water. There’s even Gunpowder, named after a river in Maryland as it runs through a town named Sparks.

For me, Stillwater itself is a special place in the hills of southeast Ohio as well as I river we used to hike along in the western half of the state.

~*~

Stillwater 1

For my reasons and more, visit Thistle/Flinch editions.

ALONG WITH ADVENT

This time of year, many people’s thoughts turn to religion or at least hope and faith. While Quakers traditionally do not observe Advent, at least as a religious requirement, the essays of Stillwater carry reminders of aspiring to live daily in an awareness of the Divine and a circle of kindred souls. Many of these have previously appeared on the Red Barn before being collected here.

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For these collected essays and more, visit Thistle/Flinch editions.

WHY HAVE THE YOUTH GONE?

Quakers are not alone in this regard, but what we’ve been enduring is that no matter how much effort we put into raising our children within the faith community, they disappear somewhere in their junior high years. For decades, we’ve been hoping they’d reappear as they started raising their own families, but we’re seeing little of that, and again, we’re not alone.

It’s all too easy to blame competition with Sunday morning soccer leagues and the like, although we might also argue that the values the kids learn in their athletic competition more closely fit those of the larger, secular society than those they are taught in religious settings. Rabbi Michael Lerner makes an extended argument in his 2006 The Left Hand of God: Taking Back Our Country from the Religious Right, as he contends that too often our children see all too clearly the dichotomy between what we say we believe in faith and what we actually do in a dog-eat-dog marketplace. It’s a harsh criticism. No wonder religion is losing.

As I gaze around our mostly graying worshiping circle, I wonder just where the young adults are today – not just within religious communities, but just about everywhere I venture. Maybe they’re all hidden away working multiple 24/7 jobs trying to make ends meet. I don’t envy them the economic scene they’re contending with.

But I also wonder about the message they carry about faith itself. If the teaching among youths growing up “under the care” of Quaker Meeting has been to build a hopeful, optimistic foundation of values, how do we help them survive the brutal struggles they’ll encounter in the wider world? How do we instill an awareness of the importance of religious community and shared discipline in maintaining a drive toward a more loving and just society?

Perhaps we’ve been too comfortable in our safe, middle-class, largely professional upbringings and neighborhoods and expectation of college and career.

In my own thinking, I keep returning to the concept of the two seeds, one of Christ and the other, call it what you wish – the point is, we face not just “that of God within each person” and its potential, but also a counter element to challenge. It was a line of thinking at the time the Quaker movement erupted in Britain. Think of the parable of the wheat and the tares.

Contending with the two may be what’s been missing in our teaching and example.

~*~

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

SHALL WE GATHER AT THE RIVER?

In the Society of Friends (Quaker), many of the local meetings for worship are named after bodies of water. The awareness of natural streams rather than human development is telling. The Bible, after all, also flows with water imagery as it speaks for a desert people.

Stillwater can be seen as an allusion to Psalm 23 or to the old-style Quakers who clustered around Stillwater Meeting in rural Ohio.

These are reflections on living with a community of faith, its strengths and challenges, and the guidelines it offers.

~*~

Stillwater 1

For these essays and more, visit Thistle/Flinch editions.