Friday, September 26, 2014

Lessons from Chuck the Cat

Lessons from Chuck the Cat

Quakers have a strong belief in community. Our Meetings are not just a place to seek God and strengthen our own spiritual journeys, but also a place to nurture one another with loving care. In doing so, the world can see our communal witness of God working through us.
This week the passing of a special community cat reminded me that simple things, like a cat, can bind us and remind us that despite our differences, unconditional love can help us come together as a community.
Everybody in the small community where I taught loved Chuck, and Chuck never met a stranger. He roamed the school, church, Boy Scout meetings, and neighborhood homes. He demanded nothing but admittance to our presence. He plopped himself into the middle of parent teacher conferences as if he were a participant. He was able to calm children who just needed some love. How could we be upset with such a calm and gentle presence among us?
Chuck was a loving presence and everyone who knew him mourned his passing. His ability to bring together a whole community in love leaves a big void.
As his community mourned, I began to think about the importance of community. I began looking for words of wisdom on community. I particularly liked Mitch Albom's words: “The way you get meaning into your life is to devote yourself to loving others, devote yourself to your community around you, and devote yourself to creating something that gives you purpose and meaning.” Caring for others and unconditional love are a legacy.
So, thanks, Chuck, for reminding me that when we devote ourselves to others, we let God into our presence, and we are bound by His unconditional love. We are more open to seeing that Light of God in those around us. This simple act of letting God's presence in, and letting it work in our community, gives purpose and meaning to our lives. The Light shines as we treat others with that same love that we are given.
And, also for providing a reminder that that inspiration can come in simple places if we are open to seeking. Your legacy will be remembered for a long time.

Karen W.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

You're a Quaker? – So What Do Ya'll Believe? You're Pacifists, Aren't You?

In the World, Of the World

I have a part-time job with a literacy group. A year or so ago I approached some of our state legislators about getting a small grant for materials. That is a pretty easy sell, so one of our state senators and I quickly settled into a get-acquainted conversation. I didn't know he was an ordained minister, and when I mentioned I'm a Quaker, he perked right up – asking the question that titles this piece.

I stumbled rather badly. I'm not used to talking about it, I didn't yet have an “elevator speech,” so I mumbled in an ineloquent and distressed way through the “SPICE” list of Quaker testimonies (Simplicity, Peace, Integrity, Community, Equality). I was evading, of course, and soon enough admitted that, while that is what most people think when they hear “Quaker,” I do not meet the ideal.

I don't consider myself a pacifist. I grew up in a Methodist family, which makes me a convinced Quaker, not “birthright.” While no one in my family was enthused about war, we didn't have that tradition of pacifism. And since it is so strongly associated with Friends, I find I need to look at this.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Charleston Friends Queries - On the Life of Jesus

Charleston Friends Queries - On the Life of Jesus

Many Quaker Meetings practice corporate reflection on queries, using a variety of processes including worship-sharing, written responses, and in spiritual friendships.

Charleston Friends posted three queries for the month of August 2014, titled "On the Life of Jesus."
Here are a few of my thoughts on each query -- thank you, Charleston Friends, for posting these!

Do you find inspiration in the life and teachings of Jesus?

Yes, often, and in many ways.  I find myself inspired by the gentle way some Friends speak truth in love in difficult situations, modeled surely on Jesus' life and teachings.  Jesus' words sometimes pop into my head unexpectedly, e.g. "Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's" or "go, and sin no more" or "Suffer the little children to come unto me."

Reading the "annunciation" passage in Luke's gospel (1:26ff) this past week, about Jesus's mother Mary and her pregnancy,  reminded me of motherhood, the sense of joyful anticipation a mother may feel, and the sense of being loved and encouraged that, ideally, the mother imparts to her child.  The very word "inspired" is cognate to "Spirit" and I can feel the Spirit in me, and in Mary, and in the mother-ness and child-ness of my life in the Spirit.

And don't even get me started on the several stories about Jesus feeding and healing so very many crowds, and individuals!  I am fed, I am healed, I am called to community in which we are to feed and be fed, to heal and be healed.

Are you learning from his life the reality and cost of obedience to God?

Hmmm... the reality and cost of obedience to God.  What first comes to mind is Jesus' admonition to "take up your cross and follow me" (Matt. 10:38,  16:24; Mark 8:34; Luke 9:23,14:27).  The plain sense of these repeated reminders teaches me, again and again, that following divine leading may well bring me to suffering or embarrassment or fear or disappointment: a pretty high cost!

On the other hand, Jesus' life went on after the crucifixion, and indeed he lives on, in and among us.  I take seriously the free gift of life, both outward/biological and inward/spiritual. Jesus also said "My yoke is easy, and my burden is light" (Matt. 11:30).

The Presence in the Midst
As I sit in Quaker worship I often picture the beloved old painting of our spiritual ancestors, "The Presence in the Midst" and I give thanks for our spiritual freedom, waiting and listening for Jesus together.

How does his relationship with God challenge and inspire you?

The verse that comes to my mind is Jesus saying "I am the Way and the Truth and the Life" -- and Jesus' special father-son relationship with the divine.  I often feel challenged to acknowledge the blessing and responsibility of being a child of God.

I find it amazing and inspiring to have an open invitation to pray with Jesus, "Our Father, who art in heaven..."  But later on in the prayer, the idea of truly asking for forgiveness of debts or trespasses "as I myself have forgiven" is pretty humbling.  I'm actually counting on God to forgive me much more than I've managed to forgive...

John's gospel is especially rich in images of God as Jesus' father, and I take encouragement from John 8:19, where Jesus says "If you knew me, you would know my Father also."

I like to think of us sitting in Quaker worship, waiting -- though each of us may use different language or no language for the precise nature of the waiting -- and the "knowing" that we breathe in and out, the listening for the still small voice, the grace and peace and love and joy that manifests in our midst.

Thank you, Friends!

Susan J.

Monday, September 1, 2014

The speck in your eye, the log in my own

Jesus said something like “Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but not the log in your own eye?  First remove the log from your eye, then you can help your brother with the speck in his eye” (Matt 7:1-5, Luke 6:39-42).

Most of the time I think of these sayings in connection with hypocrisy: I hear teenagers mocking a bossy or know-it-all friend, saying “You think you’re so smart, clean up your own act before you start picking on Joe.”

But this morning I’m reminded of the simple fact that it really is easier to see the problems of other people, even very small problems, than to assess my own.  I often don’t even realize I’m tense, or upset, or tired, or angry, until someone close to me asks me “Are you OK?”  I don’t know there’s mustard on my chin, or or spinach in my teeth, until my friend across the table tells me.

I think of myself as seeking truth, wanting to see things (and people) clearly, as they (we) really are. I really do need other people to help me see things despite my blind spots.

Thank you F/friends, for helping me get some of that pesky debris out of my eyes!   I know I often strain at a gnat while swallowing a camel, to borrow another of colorful phrase from Jesus (Matt.23:24).

Grace and peace and love and joy to all who read this post!

Susan J.