A Natural Unfolding
Reviewed by Philip Favero
Life provides us, author Donna Eder observes, with “turning points”: moments in time when we sense fundamental shifts in our being and realize that life will never be the same. Turning points might include, for example, the birth of a child, diagnosis of a serious illness, loss of a job, or saying “I do” at your wedding. For Eder, a turning point occurred when her mother struggled, during her final months of life, with ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis).
Eder gives her personal narrative in this pamphlet. Her mother became the author’s spiritual guide; a walk in the woods provided a mystical experience. Eder used various means to continue developing a contemplative relationship with the Divine, and the results improved and enhanced relationships within her family, at her work as a university instructor, and in her Quaker faith community.
Most of the contemplative practices described by the author are commonly used by Friends: listening carefully to vocal ministry during meeting for worship, journaling, consulting with elders, and convening a clearness committee. The author also uses dream analysis as a means to discern leadings. A Natural Unfolding concludes with seven questions, which enhance the pamphlet’s use for group discussions.
I recently experienced a turning point with the diagnosis of a serious personal illness and have found A Natural Unfolding to be a useful guide for coping with and making meaning of the experience. I recommend the pamphlet as both inspirational and practical for Friends who are responding to turning-point moments. But there is more to the process that Eder offers than first meets the eye.
Eder’s concept of a turning point followed by contemplation of and responses to divine leading provides a useful method for transitions that occur not only for the individual but also in social relationships. With the onset of species’ extinction and rapidly worsening climate change, where are we, as humans, if not at a social turning point? Can we Friends open ourselves to spiritual leadings about how to respond to these tragedies and turn individually and collectively to respond to this moment? Are we at the point where the common Quaker belief that there is the Divine in everyone can be extended to the belief that there is that of the Divine in everything, and thereby shift our foundational relationship with nature from use of to care for?
Regarding our current relationship with the earth, the evidence suggests humans urgently need to realize we are at a social turning point and in need of effective responses. Eder provides a uniquely Quaker method for sensing leadings in response to personal turning points, but her method is applicable and useful, too, for social turning points.