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 […]

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.

YET, I’VE NEVER RETURNED

Another factor is that I’ve never even returned to Washington State

Or other situations I’ve loved too much

It’s not that I haven’t had familiar places of return, but rather that they are now rooted in my heart, more than my eye. In how many intense experiences, maybe she, too, confesses of some desire to return to familiar spaces — especially those we shared before parting? Whoever she is anymore. My quest for the spirit or soul leads, indeed, to somewhere in the mud or dust.

~*~

I, who am usually quite restless, now admit, somewhat reluctantly, to having entered a settling. What happened to the desire to travel and explore? Now, come the weekend or a vacation, I prefer to stay close to home. Perhaps some of this can be attributed to the long daily commute, or even to those two years spent largely on the road covering fourteen states as a sales representative. Perhaps some of this also reflects the fact that I’ve had twenty-four addresses in eight states over the course of my life. Once, in the span of a single year, there were four addresses in three states. Maybe I simply want to feel rooted.

Even if I had the time and the money to travel, I feel a greater need to write or to work on projects around the house. Being a homeowner, after so many years of renting, also shifts my focus: a tour around the garden, observing its detailed changes, rather than a trek up a mountain.

I think of places I’ve dwelled in and experienced intensely, though it’s now unlikely I’ll ever return, except in memory. From satellite photos, I finds that many, including the ashram, no longer exist.

Other places I’ve visited intensely, if only once or twice, like the Olympics or cross-country spurts in a rented truck, may be savored a lifetime.

I live in a rich environment, one many consider a travel destination. I reside within a half hour of Maine beaches, sparkling lakes or forest trails, and slightly more than an hour from Boston. Even in my own small city, I sometimes catch a glimpse of the fantasy — a movie on a screen or a postcard. What am I doing driving or even singing in a chorus along the Charles River or the Public Garden of Boston? What am I doing beside a waterfall in the mountains? How is it that I am worshipping in a Colonial-era meetinghouse? To be in places of dreams, then, or the pages of a travel magazine. How seldom do I find a moment to enjoy this or to explore a bit more? Obligations press. Even so, maybe I’ve arrived in my destination.

Time, then, becomes part of the journey. And who can reenter time once it’s passed?

For more insights from the American Far West and Kokopelli, click here.

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.

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.

RETURNING TO THE TREES

For me, the act of walking is a way of slowing down, to live at a more manageable pace. I’ve had good friends who have used running as their way of release from daily tensions, but I felt myself already speeding over too many details. I forget too much; exactly what did she say, much less mean? Write me a note so I’ll remember. Walking, then, becomes a time for observing and recollection. (So I often carry a small notebook when I go. Stop, scribble a word or phrase, and move on.)

How much of this grows out of my Boy Scout experiences? I was a member of a troop that prided itself in monthly long hikes and primitive camping. Looking back, I realize how many of those hikes began at their church in the city and wound out along railroad tracks or river levees; how many, too, wound up at the end of city bus lines. Not exactly high wilderness, but enough to instill a flavor, even close to home. Today, though, none of those hikes would get beyond suburban sprawl. I could contrast it, of course, against the week of backpacking on the Appalachian Trail or compass courses through the forest around Lake Vesuvius or in the bluegrass country of Daniel Boone settlement. Our scoutmaster, a toolmaker of mangled grammar and childlike sentimentality, conveyed his love of birds and trees and the land. How could one forget the outing that began with a field trip where a coal company proudly demonstrated how it leveled forest for strip mining and how its Big Bertha shovel filled a truck with each bite into the earth, only to be countered later in the day by time planting seedling pine in the pavement-like clay left behind, hoping that in another century, true forest might reappear, though never in a state approaching what had been destroyed. I carry that lesson whenever I enter forest.

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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.

~*~

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