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Back to Basics

When I was a child my Quaker neighbor kept a large organic garden and several hen houses where he grew produce for sale. Sometimes he let me help to “candle” eggs before they were packed for the market. My grandmother could—and did—sew just about anything. She and my grandfather also kept a large garden and several fruit trees, and my grandmother canned plenty of fruits and vegetables. I’ve never been a person who lived on the fruit of my own hands—but I’ve been close to those who have. There are feather pillows in my home with ticking stitched by my grandmother and filled with feathers she salvaged during the years she kept chickens for her family’s needs. So it was easy for me to relate to Rebecca Payne’s story of her mother emptying her feather pillows and connecting with a lifetime of memories in “The Fruit of Her Hands.” I hope others might find that same sense of connecting upon reading it.

As I look at the articles listed on the facing page, I’m struck by the theme of authenticity—and their invitation to us to simplify our lives and connect more directly with each other and the sources of our being. Our increasingly high tech and commercialized world can pull us into realms of unreality, out of touch with nature, with human needs, with appropriate technology and scale. It’s remarkably easy to lose oneself in a maze of websites on the Internet, or to get drawn into the latest news hype in the media.
But in this issue we are given an opportunity to explore other realms: to consider the sources of our daily existence—our food, clothes, and household goods; to pursue faithfulness in listening for God through the expression of others; to encounter Quakerism vibrant and warmly welcoming in a culture far more basic and simple in Bolivia. When I spoke with Newton Garver about his articles, “Quakers in Bolivia” (p. 10) and “Quaker Bolivia Link” (p. 19), he noted that, despite living with intense material poverty, Bolivian Friends are remarkably full of good cheer. On reflection, I wonder if Bolivian Friends have had better opportunity than we to stay focused on that which really matters. Living amidst a surfeit of material abundance can carry a heavy spiritual price tag. While it would be wrong to romanticize the suffering imposed by poverty, I’m aware that my parents, grandparents, and others who lived through the Great Depression—or any other time of great material scarcity—learned to depend more directly upon their inner creativity and spiritual resources to live their lives than many of us in younger generations have learned to do. Surely there is a positive lesson for all of us in this.

Our modern challenge as we strive to “live in the world, but not of it,” is to stay aware—as Sally Miller reminds us, in “Friends and Other Quakers” (p. 9)—that “our legacy is to know God’s Spirit alive as a flame in our hearts. Our legacy is to be so transformed that the practices of every day are translucent, the love of God shining through.” This image is captivating, a true definition of love in a month that commercializes, and trivializes, this all‐important aspect of our lives. It is our challenge, too, to share this legacy of the living Spirit, as Kathy Hersh urges us in “Outreach Is Just Another Word for Sharing” (p.14), so that others might be transformed by the flame of the Spirit in their hearts as well.

Posted in: Features, February 2001

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