Thursday, October 5, 2017

What gives me strength in times of stress?

Yesterday was a *very* stressful day for me.  So much to do, gorgeous weather now but you know winter will be here soon, lots of competing demands and desires and commitments and claims on "my" time.


Feeling desperate, I cast about for what to do to re-center, get some perspective, find relief.


I picked up the schedule for the WV Friends Gathering, scheduled for this weekend, and glanced through, picturing what the Gathering would be like, trying to see myself settling in and renewing friendships and sense of spiritual community.


Pretty quickly I was drawn to the Queries listed for Saturday afternoon Worship Sharing.  I've always loved Queries, a little bit of Quaker process that enacts Scripture, a word from God articulated by and for upbuilding of Friends and community.


I only got to the first Query, which spoke to my condition so loudly I just stopped and thought and prayed and waited for divine guidance:


"What gives me strength in times of stress?"


The rest of the day, while running errands and working on the vehicles and eating lunch and watching Gunsmoke on TV and taking my nap and everything else, the whole rest of the day, I sat with this question and enacted my experience of that which gives me strength in times of stress.


The obvious answer, in a word, is God.  I cry out help me help me help me, and God gives me strength, or if not strength than at least enough strength to keep crying out help me help me help me.


But when a question starts off with "what" and expects a noun as the answer, there is always a process, an experience involved. 


How do I seek strength in times of stress?
What happens when I find strength in times of stress?
How does God give me strength in time of stress?


What came to me yesterday, and continues to play out today, is that in stress as in all other times, God is calling me back to Center, to God, to that which is central and key. 


Practically, this means rediscovering and renewing my commitment to whatever is centrally important in the mess of confusion and botheration.  Often it means letting go of things I thought I'd do, in order to do more central things.  So often my cup is so overflowing I can't even take a sip.  Often it means letting go of believing I have to control outcomes;  all I have to do is my own next step, if I even have a next step in a particular situation.


Long story short, I got clear that I need to cancel out of a couple of appointments and things I'd signed up for, some ongoing commitments from which I need to take a break.  I need to focus on the few things I'm sure God wants me working on this month.  I need to focus on what's happening right in front of me, right now, rather than fretting about the many things that are not happening right now, that I might or might not even be called to at all.


Today is much better, in the stress department.  I felt led to write this blog entry, and I'm working on the very short list of projects / tasks that the Lord showed me are central, right now this week, this month.  I remember how stressed I felt yesterday, but it's more like a memory of having been ill than the illness itself.


Thank you, West Virginia Friends, for these fine Queries, one of which opened me up to the strength I needed in my time of stress yesterday!  Grace and peace to all of you attending the Gathering this weekend!


Susan J

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Fanatics? Or Fitting for the Times?



I was at a meeting of regional Monthly Meeting representatives a couple of weekends ago. We always start with a period of silence to settle in before business meetings, and our clerk likes to pick a short reading beforehand. I was really struck with how his choice captured the essence of Quakers and the unique genesis of our practice.
Flogging on the way to the stocks
      The Religious Society of Friends came into being in the middle of the seventeenth century. Though George Fox was the leader of those “persons called Quakers” (so named because some trembled or “quaked” when overflowing with the Spirit within), he cannot be said to have founded the Society of Friends. Rather it formed itself almost spontaneously as more and more people accepted the professions and practices of George Fox, having discovered in them the means by which they could bring their lives into closer accord with God.
     Nor did George Fox himself have any idea of “founding” a church. A church, to his mind, was simply a group of people whose common purpose it was to relate themselves in love to God and with each other. Such a group cannot be founded. But such a group can begin and grow and its members can develop characteristics sufficiently alike to justify their being called by a like name.
     The birth and rapid growth of the Religious Society of Friends in the mid-part of the seventeenth-century hinged: first of all, upon the God-hungriness of the seventeenth-century individual; upon the conviction that to have missed in life a right relationship with God was to have missed what was most important in life. It is almost impossible for a twentieth -century world to understand the passionate seriousness with which the seventeenth-century people addressed themselves to this hunt for God. The books they read, the preachers they listened to, the controversies they entered and they prayers the made: all were done with one purpose – to know God. [Jessamyn West, Introduction to The Quaker Reader]
Friends in those first fifty or so years were a fiery bunch. Undoubtedly, we would call them fanatics in our times. They spoke out loudly at markets, interrupted Church of England services to scold the orthodox, flaunted their equality before their aristocratic overlords, and paid for all of it with treasure, bruises, lives, and broken health. While twenty-first century Friends do not need to endure those trials, we also live for that purpose, coming to terms with ourselves and working to understand that ineffable Spirit.


Thursday, March 3, 2016

"He came to himself"

Last evening at Quaker Bible Study we read the story of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32), and toward the end I had a disturbing thought. 

I was reflecting on the younger son, miserable and starving among the swine, regretting that he squandered his inheritance, but then he "comes to himself" (v. 17) and realizes he can go home and beg his father to take him in. He does go back, and his father welcomes him back with great joy.

Good for him.

But then I flashed on all the people growing old with regrets, feeling they'd squandered their lives, but with no home to go back to, no loving family to welcome them back.  Or if not regrets, at least sadness that former joys are no more, miserable and starving spiritually / interpersonally.

I read recently that some huge percentage of people in nursing homes have never a single visitor. 

Or, less dramatically, all of us have our gloomier moments, not necessarily "repenting" in the sense of blaming ourselves or feeling that we'd squandered anything, but still feeling sad and rained on; being miserable among the swine, so to speak.  

Eventually, I "came to myself" and realized that there's a metaphorical opportunity to "return home to the loving parent" to be had in the story, returning to the spiritual center, to the benevolence of the universe, to inward peace - depending on what words one uses to describe "what it's all about" in life...

Quakers traditionally read Scripture as pointing to the Truth within:  the Light, the Way, the Reality beyond words.  Today I'm filled with the experience of the loving father, always waiting for me to return home, to the Center, always welcoming.  All I have to do is wake up, come to myself, remember who I am and whose I am.

I'm not sure how to connect this to the plight of a lonely person nearing death without family around... but I'll continue to keep reflecting on it...

----

"The purpose of God in the life of the world is a web of purposes which
has a single centre, from which all the threads go out and to which they
all return. Only from the centre can we begin to trace the plan of it. From
any other point it will seem a meaningless tangle."
                                                                             John MacMurray
http://johnmacmurray.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/10/YE-ARE-MY-FRIENDS.pdf

Grace and peace and love and joy to anyone who reads this --

Susan J.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Paying It Forward

I truly believe in the motto of the Pay It Forward movement: “Together we can change the world, one good deed at a time.”  Most of us are moved by inspirational stories of good deeds that mushroomed. In an earlier blog, I wrote about the Bolivian Quaker Education Fund (BQEF) (www.bqef.org/) and how it is helping poor indigenous students in Bolivia continue their education. Many of the recipients of this program have gone on to make a difference in their country.

After reading a book about street children in Bolivia, I began to truly realize the level of poverty and violence in Bolivia. Part of the training the BQEF students can get is the Alternatives to Violence program (https://avp.international/), a  training program enabling participants to deal with potentially violent situations in new and creative ways. The young people then take their training to prisons and communities in their country.

The BQEF is one of the ways  my husband and I have chosen to Pay Forward the blessings we have received in our lives. For several years, we have enjoyed supporting a college student and communicating with her, trying to encourage her as she struggled to complete her degree while facing family problems. The support from her Quaker community was one thing that kept her going.  As we anticipate getting another student, since she has graduated, we keep in mind the ways her success will impact those around her.  Following is a story about another BQEF scholarship recipient who has done great things.  I hope you find inspiration and consider paying forward your good fortune.

Scholarships Change Many Lives
by Barbara Flynn, Redwood Forest Friends Meeting
published in “The Friendly Word” January 2016

When she arrived in Ireland near midsummer in 2014, Magaly Quispe Yujra was astounded by the remarkable length of daylight. Coming from the tropical latitude of Bolivia, she had only known days with nearly equal hours of daylight and darkness year around and she found the long days amazing. She was in County Kildare to attend the triennial International Gathering of the Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) in Maynooth. She had been elected by fellow facilitators at the previous Gathering in Guatemala in 2011 to represent their region of Latin America on the planning committee for the 2014 International Gathering. In conjunction with her trip to Ireland for AVP, Magaly visited several Quaker projects and two prisons. She also made presentations on behalf of Bolivian Quaker Education Fund (BQEF) to meetings in Ireland, England, and Wales.

 Magaly was trained as an AVP facilitator through a project of the Bolivian Quaker Education Fund in La Paz, Bolivia. As a BQEF scholarship student in sociology, Magaly chose to study the culture of the infamous San Pedro prison in La Paz for her thesis project. She quickly realized how much AVP was needed there and set about establishing workshops and recruiting and training other volunteers. She expanded the program to 5 prisons, including the women’s prison and the maximum security facility.

For the past year she directed a continuing education project in El Alto the suburb of La Paz that is the center of urban migration. It now has a population of about a million indigenous Aymara, with nearly 80% living in poverty. The government has established 80 early childhood education centers to provide a healthy environment for young children of needy families. The project Magaly headed, funded through the World Bank, developed a curriculum and methodology for better meeting the needs of young children. She trained leaders in health, science, psychology and education to be facilitators of the curriculum for teachers, administrators and parents. She incorporated conflict resolution skills and other activities from AVP in the trainings.

Magaly managed to continue AVP volunteer work on a smaller scale at the same time. She is now giving a few months of full­time effort to expanding the reach of AVP in prisons and community workshops in Bolivia and beyond. With other dedicated AVP facilitators that she met at International Gatherings, she is now helping organize an AVP Caravan to travel through Bolivia, Brazil, and Ecuador holding workshops and training facilitators in cities as they go.

Sponsoring a university scholarship for a young Friend in Bolivia may seem like dropping a small stone in a large pond, but in Magaly's case and many others, the ripples that result from the education continue to spread and bring waves of blessings to ever-widening circles.




Thursday, February 4, 2016

Connecting the Dots

I love the metaphor of connecting the dots, and I love it that Carolyn and Lily-Anne are making their own dot-to-dots.  Of course the trouble in so-called real life is that there are way too many dots and hardly any numbers.  Lots of different pictures emerge, or none at all, and some are pretty scary.

The famous Moynihan quote, "Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts" just complicates things, since nowadays we get our "facts" (the dots) from virtual universes constructed in the image of what we want to hear, which pictures we've already formed, which meet our needs for comfort, hope, scapegoats, coherence.

Part of my morning routine, most days, is to ponder the dots floating around in my awareness, and try to tune in to which ones the Lord might want me to look at more closely.  The two that seemed extra vivid an hour ago were "Thy will be done" in the Lord's prayer, and an interview with one of my favorite writers who has a new book that in part explores the factors that helped determine which groups of European Jews managed to survive the Holocaust:  who was saved and who was not.

Surely it is God's will that all of humanity be saved.  Caring people wish we could save all the people in the world from every bad thing.  Day to day we try to do what we can, we do what little we can to give the children of the world the daily bread and love and peace and hope that we know in our hearts must be God's will.  No matter how hard we try, the needs far exceed the provision.

Luke 11:2-13 (KJV)  And he said unto them, When ye pray, say, 

Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, as in heaven, so in earth. Give us day by day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins; for we also forgive every one that is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil. 

And he said unto them, Which of you shall have a friend, and shall go unto him at midnight, and say unto him, Friend, lend me three loaves; For a friend of mine in his journey is come to me, and I have nothing to set before him? And he from within shall answer and say, Trouble me not: the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot rise and give thee. I say unto you, Though he will not rise and give him, because he is his friend, yet because of his importunity he will rise and give him as many as he needeth.  

And I say unto you, Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. If a son shall ask bread of any of you that is a father, will he give him a stone? or if he ask a fish, will he for a fish give him a serpent?  Or if he shall ask an egg, will he offer him a scorpion?  If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him? 

Amen, and amen.


Monday, November 9, 2015

What are Friends for?

The other day in a discussion about Quakers, I commented that perhaps our numbers are gradually declining because many of our fundamental principles have been adopted and internalized by many other groups, and by large segments of the public at large.  Many people believe in and experience unmediated access to the divine, the power of church hierarchy is surely in decline, lots of Christians live out of a desire for Peace, Simplicity, Integrity, etc, whether or not they have an explicit list of what Friends nowadays call "testimonies."

In other words, as with the commandment in Genesis to "be fruitful and multiply" maybe we're done now.

On further reflection, I don't think so.  Here are some things that strike me as pieces of "What Friends Are (still) For" - in the sense of what our calling has been and still is, what we're supposed to be doing during our time here on earth, and also what we're "for" as opposed to what we're against.

Please do jump in - I'd love for this blog to be more of a discussion -

Susan J

Some thoughts on "What Friends Are For":

1) peace, integrity, simplicity and the other Testimonies - there are a couple of other blog posts about these.

2) waiting on the Lord (see Isaiah 40:31) in the sense of spiritual openness as well as our traditional form of worship, where we wait in expectant silence.

3) being friends, being friendly, being community among ourselves and in the larger world.

4) walking cheerfully over the earth, speaking to that of God in every person.

5) listening and watching for that of God in every person.

What say ye?  What are Friends for?

Monday, October 26, 2015

Growing New Quakers; Re-energizing Old Ones



Nearly all spiritual denominations wrestle with the questions of gaining and retaining followers.  Our small group, like many, must deal with attrition due to personality or theology conflicts, health issues, or simply people moving away.

What about us Quakers? How do we encourage others to embrace, or simply sample, our way of worshiping? One idea is have Quaker Meeting occasionally at a college or university, with the idea of attracting students.  Perhaps a pithy ‘elevator’ speech on Quakerism, initiating a discussion about living simply or speaking about our own inward spiritual journey would intrigue someone enough to find out more about Quakers.  Another aspect of outreach would be making more use of social media, such as Facebook or press releases of our activities in the community.

What about those who do come to our Meeting?  How do we nurture and encourage them spiritually? One way to do this might be to periodically have a potluck lunch after Meeting for Worship – once a month, perhaps?  Words, ideas, and fellowship often flow more easily over food. Our Meeting has regular discussions and readings about Quaker individuals whose lives have had an impact. We discuss what those Quakers taught and wrote.  We also have out-of-Meeting gatherings such as book discussions, potlucks, and Bible study. 

The activities above are crucial, though perhaps carrying friendships outside of Meeting events and into the social realm are even more important. How often do we invite a new attender out to lunch or coffee?  These invitations are powerful gestures to those seeking a spiritual home and show a genuine interest in the seeker as a person worth knowing more deeply, not just as a ‘recruit’.

Early Quakers were often good at sensing the spiritual condition of those they encountered and speaking to that condition.  Can contemporary Quakers hone this skill?   A life spiritually lived can be a beautiful statement of our beliefs on its own. Is this enough? In many instances, Quakers today, tend to be introverts, shying away from discussing their faith and beliefs unless asked directly. 

There is one important point to remember. Sometimes, people are impacted by Friends outreach and testimony in ways we’ll never know, in times and places we are not privileged to see.

Susan W, Charleston Friends Meeting

(This post focuses on ideas gleaned from a discussion of “Outreach” in Charleston Friends Meeting.)