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.