TEN REASONS TO GO TO YEARLY MEETING

In Quaker organizational structure, the ultimate decision-making body is the Yearly Meeting – so named because of its annual sessions. While the central event is the convocation, the organization itself (also called the Yearly Meeting) has ongoing activities and committee meetings throughout the year. One of the purposes of the gathering is simply to coordinate and nurture these missions.

Unlike some denominations, we have no central headquarters. Our Yearly Meetings are rather distributed across the country and the globe, and these bodies work together through cooperative affiliations, shared projects, communication, and inter-visitation.

My local Friends Meeting is part of New England Yearly Meeting of Friends, the oldest such body in the world. In fact, when more than 800 people – representatives, their spouses, and children – assemble next month on the Castleton University campus in Vermont, it will be our 358th gathering. (Until 1905, we met in Newport, Rhode Island. Since then, we’ve moved around New England.)

Here are some reasons I attend, whenever possible.

  1. It’s inspiring. I’m reenergized and refreshed by the daily devotion of some very dedicated Friends I’ve come to treasure over the years. Some of them are deeply involved in peace and social justice work. For others, it’s environmental or economic. And still others, it’s radical theology. For all, it’s rooted in a shared faith.
  2. It’s challenging. My assumptions are tested from alternative perspectives and actions are questioned in rounds of profound introspection and spiritual direction – something that’s ultimately cleansing and refreshing.
  3. The Bible Half-Hour. Each year a respected Friend is invited to discuss selected Biblical texts and stories in the half-hour right after breakfast each morning. Last year we spent 2½ lively hours on a single sentence from Romans. It’s rarely anything you’d expect to hear from a pulpit but rather a personal journey that’s an eyeopener in more ways than one.
  4. We’re always eating. Or so it seems. Dorm food was never like this back when I was in college – it’s gotten so much better. The reality is that we’re usually lingering over animated conversations, sometimes at a table set aside for a specific topic or group focus.
  5. The clerking. Crucial to the success of Quaker business is the skill of our clerks. At Yearly Meeting, this means the presiding clerk, two recording clerks who are minuting our deliberations, and two reading clerks. Since we arrive at decisions without ever taking a vote and still face crowded agendas, clerking is a unique art. Time after time, what I observe is the best. Admittedly, though, sometimes it can be trying – very trying.
  6. Few of our Meetings include music as part of our worship, but Yearly Meeting has times that reveal the amazing voices and talents in our midst. These can be emotionally moving.
  7. Workshops and “opportunities.” Tucked into each day are short presentations, discussions, or even documentaries based on particular interests Friends carry. These can be anything from parenting and child care to Mideast peace to nomadic reindeer herders to new publications to theology or history. I hate it when three or four at the same time compete for my attention.
  8. Just good to get away. It’s a unique kind of vacation. Who could possibly complain about driving across New Hampshire and Vermont, for instance? Period.
  9. The contacts. This means reconnecting with incredible people and being introduced to more – individuals I’m likely to be working with somewhere in the future, and perhaps even in the past. I’m often surprised when someone I don’t recognize says, “I remember when you …” So far, it’s always been in a positive light.
  10. We’re building on a revolutionary foundation. The Quaker movement emerged in the upheavals of mid-1600s Britain, one of the most incredible periods in history when it comes to social, economic, political, and religious breakthroughs. Being part of a group central to that legacy and its continuing advances is both humbling and exciting, especially in the face of the difficulties of our own time.

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Is there a similar assembly – maybe a camp? – that you like to attend for similar reasons? What is it? And why?

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Continuing the poetry parade, see what’s new at THISTLE/FLINCH.

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ANOTHER YEAR OF NEW BOOKS

Here are the 12 books released by my Thistle/Flinch imprint in the year 2017. I think it’s an impressive list. Oh, my …

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

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.

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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 […]

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.

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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!

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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.

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For more Seasons of the Spirit, click here.