Jnana's Red Barn

A Space for Work and Reflection

Tag: Quaker


The question about being “careful for the reputation of others” raised special concerns about our actions in our workplace perhaps our most unguarded location. One mentioned how, in staff meetings at his clinic, it becomes commonplace to speak of the clients in a derogatory manner, to which another noted how it then becomes “us” versus “them” in ways that allow “us” to glorify ourselves while denigrating “them.” That is not the way of loving our neighbor as ourselves, obviously. Nor does anyone ask “them” if they want to be excluded. We’re back to the old log in our own eye while we complain about the splinter in the other guy’s.


For more Seasons of the Spirit, click here.


I might note that twice within one year, in two different Meetings, I saw Friends on the facing benches rise to break off vocal messages that were not “conducive to meditation and communion with God.” One was essentially a review of a political movie, and the other the rantings of a mentally unbalanced attender who apparently found in the action (and the followup) a firm loving; in the latter instance there were some difficulties within the worship community afterward, especially among those who initially perceived the action as “authoritarian” (that is, male domination) in what they had thought was a do-your-own-thing kind of religion in the understanding that has developed since, however, has come a clearer sense of what Friends are about and the functioning of Good Order.


For more Seasons of the Spirit, click here.


Once in Small Group, we responded to the first two OYM queries. Fascinating to try that in a body drawn from diverse religious practices, especially when trying to explain “free gospel ministry” and “a waiting spiritual worship” to an ex-nun; that is, until she and her husband (both members of Wider Quaker Fellowship) reported that the silence they introduced to their congregation’s liturgy for Lent last year remains a part of the worship and is well received, and then she opened up about her experience preaching at St. John’s that morning. I was reminded that we Friends need to be especially vigilant that our worship not be from custom or habit but rather a real desire to be in the Lord’s presence and that sometimes the best worship He can have is that fact that we have come, period. (Rising in time, getting the kids in the car, etc., can be a powerful offering in their own way.)


For more Seasons of the Spirit, click here.


with a year of composition and retreat
free of alcohol
without the pleasure
of coworkers

the strength saying no
to myself

*   *   *

as a transition out of selling, this repose
wonderful, wonderful and thanks, hoping

*   *   *

during my year of isolation
I abstained


according to mission

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


As I related at the time:

Our Meeting has been undergoing some fascinating growth, both spiritually and in numbers. At the moment, the meetinghouse (1768) is about ten feet in the air, jacked up for another two or three weeks while a new foundation is excavated and poured, to make room for religious education classes and to permit us to use both sides of upstairs for worship. (It’s been getting crowded.)

The resistance I originally encountered to Biblically-based messages has vanished, and these days it’s not uncommon to find two or three members reading quietly from their Bibles at some point during the Meeting, while references to Christ or to Scripture are now heard in a third to half of the vocal messages. That’s encouraging. And now a committee has been appointed to arrange for regular Bible study; though I would prefer we simply work our way through a book at a time (starting with Jonah, then the Gospel of John, one of Paul’s epistles, and the opening chapters of Genesis), there’s some interest in using Mary Morrison’s Pendle Hill pamphlet as the base, while others are leaning toward Sondra Cronk’s Tract Assn. peace booklet. Will be interesting to see what emerges.


For more Seasons of the Spirit, click here.


We, who consider ourselves free spirits, despite any penchant for obligations, still yearn for a steady circle where attendance at worship is less of an option within many alternatives. Let the worship itself have an urgency and regularity, may it be a priority in the weekly schedule, free it to be focused on the One and empowering.

To be one!

Don’t ask me if prayer works. Anymore than singing, birds answer on a May morning.

Our struggle is magnified by our degree of selfless service.

We turn, instead, to free-spirits, where we give fairly selflessly of ourselves.

Only problem is, unlike the Old Order or monastic setting, we’re not surrounded by and bathed in the selfless gifting of everyone else.

They just aren’t reliable, no matter how fine their intentions. Ergo, burnout! (You and I always wind up holding the bag when they default or go off to boogie.)


For more Seasons of the Spirit, click here.


Where I live, seasons differ in their degree of light, not just temperature. Winter has long nights and short days – you can enter the workplace before sunrise, work a normal shift, and still leave after sunset. Summer, of course, reverses the pattern, so that you can go to bed before sunset and get up after sunrise and still have a full night’s sleep.

Here, we also have the ocean, warming and chilling on its own cycle, and, if you’re close enough, reflect light back into the air.

Sailing on the ocean, you try to stay with the compass direction, while the wind twists the boat in one direction and the current, in another. You fear being blown over or far from your destination. “Don’t worry,” you’re told. “If the boat is blown too far to the side, the sails will empty” – and the boat will right itself.

Remember, my awareness of ocean comes principally from my last quarter-century of experience. It’s far from the Midwestern farming cycles imprinted in my soul; even though we lived in a medium-sized city, where our house was a half-block away from a working dairy, and after college I did live on a neglected farm and then the ashram, itself a former farm. Somehow, the changing tides add to my sense of seasons and constant change.

The seasons, in their many forms, become a pulse of life itself, including all of the invisible influences and realities.


For more Seasons of the Spirit, click here.


These Spirit-based reflections each Friday may seem a world apart from my online postings at Jnana’s Red Barn during the 2016 presidential campaign. One, often outraged, passionate, partisan – the other, an overriding sense of calm good order, even holy desire. They’re not really all that disparate. Rather, they form the flip side of the equation – with hope overcoming despair, no matter any present social malaise. It’s a theme that runs through much of the Bible, besides – just think of the times of exile and return.


For more Seasons of the Spirit, click here.



One of my ongoing questions about Quaker practice is just how early Friends came to discover – or rediscover – a form of meditative practice while so far removed from Asian spiritual traditions.

Early Quaker worship, let’s be certain, was often quite different from the silence-based hour many contemporary Friends claim. Women and children, especially, often released emotional torrents in the gathered assembly – and a decade or two later, in response and en route to something more respectable, many hours of worship were filled by a recognized minister filling most of the time with his own message. (Or, possibly, her.) As Douglas Gwyn remarks in Seekers Found: Atonement in Early Quaker Experience: “These ministers then proceeded to speak almost the length of the meeting …” Even the controversial Elias Hicks, in the early 1800s, could be counted on to deliver vocal ministry lasting 20 to 30 minutes, a detail that would shock many today who insist, as many of the Hicksites would, that a vocal message be brief and pithy.

And so I was startled to hear Douglas Gwyn note another possibility for our traditional silence or open worship:

On another level, it is also intriguing to speculate whether the Quaker movement represented a resurgence of the old Celtic Christian tradition in the North. Celtic Christian emphases upon the indwelling of Christ, the inclusion of all creation in God’s redemptive work, the spiritual authority of women, and the cross as real personal triumph through suffering – all these themes found conspicuous expression in the Quaker movement. Although they were filtered through the thought-forms of Reformation, they still constituted a strong counterpoint to the dominant Puritan message. … in the backwater of the English Reformation, this very old, isolated stream of Western Christianity would have continued as an undercurrent in the faith of country folk. … As he [George Fox] moved westward into Westmorland, Cumberland, and northern Lancashire, where the movement exploded in 1652, he entered the largest area of vestigial Celtic tradition in England.

Hints of the dimensions of the earlier Celtic Christianity can be found in Thomas Cahill’s epic 1995 How the Irish Saved Civilization: The Untold Story of Ireland’s Heroic Role From the Fall of Rome to the Rise of Medieval Europe, where he follows a strand of Christianity that was suppressed after the historic confrontations with Roman authorities in the late 600s on the English holy island of Lindisfarne in Northumberland. Quite simply, Roman Catholicism might have taken a much different direction than it has.

Did Celtic Christianity include meditative practices like those we find in yoga or Zen Buddhism? We can only speculate.

Still, as Gwyn remarks of the early Quaker movement nearly a millennium after the Lindisfarne controversies, it was while traveling through Cumberland that John

Burnyeat observes that they still did not know “true striving,” which is “out of self,” “standing still out of our own thoughts, willings, and runnings.” But other Quaker ministers came through the area and guided them “in what to wait, and how to stand still.” Evidently, there was some degree of technique to early Quaker spirituality, or at least some kind of guidance that helped refocus spiritual energies from ego-centered striving to true surrender. Slowly, “a hope began to appear in us, and we met together often, and waited to see the Salvation of God.”

That degree of technique may still be needed for many who come to Friends meetings, not knowing how to center into the silence, especially in today’s media-saturated overload.

Were these Quaker ministers thus reviving something that was already in the peoples’ bones? It makes for some interesting speculation.  The fact is that in today’s society, many of us need some help learning to sit still and enter a holy silence.


More of my own reflections on alternative Christianity are found at Religion Turned Upside Down. Feel free to take a look.



the tension
of the harp
and bow-string

in the poet-king’s hand

taking flight
in the air

*   *   *

how many Psalms
expressed the same anguish
and trial

in the glorious regime

*   *   *

how brief the interludes
between exile


the Psalms are poems
or the Psalms are prayers

as if I could define either

*   *   *

prayer is not what I speak
but what my Deeper Self would utter
despite me

*   *   *

raise my shield, O Lord,
regardless of the outcome, and lift me

there’s nothing easy about love


New Zion

originally, Bible stories were chanted
rather than read and dissected in the rabbinical twist

hardened into bronze

even in daily devotion

in this quest of salvation
facing Jerusalem
tiring of the routine exile

where’s my power in this place?
my heart, ever so uneasy

*   *   *

patriots say Peace but mean Victory:
which is hardly the same outcome
or means

festering and darkening
drumbeats summoned
into crowds cheering
or invoking the Holy One
the Prince of Peace
to their cause

*   *   *

even communion tokens
from Colonial-era steeplehouses
witness the contrast to our free-Gospel ministry

with their families, subscribing to box seats
squirming in this theater of pipes

so who exchanged coins
for their purity?

truly, how do you pay
with the psalter?

holy, holy, holy

in a constant delving for treasures
where others see nothing of value

from whom all blessings flow
over each stretch of turmoil

*   *   *

how many strands of history
and sojourn
converge on me
as I’m walking in prayer
and softly humming
a funeral hymn for comfort

some October night
shivery petals shall upend
a row of headstones, too

called to the cause of justice


counterpoint originates
in the descant over the cantus firmus

or maybe drumming
or the sound of feet dancing

or even droning under the chant

in the conflicted lines
of desire and pain

in the hideous bleeding wrists
and ankles

*   *   *

O Holy One
contrary to the ancient discipline
I country dance
and sing harmony

to once again crack the thick shell
I build around me

“in the gift of life is also the gift of time”

time, as a signature
for music
for the dance

O Holy One
bless the Singers’ Table
with its poets and musicians

free in the present
free in unity with the Holy Spirit
free in the disciplines we embrace

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