Finding special mountaintops
I greatly appreciated Friends Journal devoting the whole January issue to the urgent issue of climate change. I especially enjoyed Shelley Tannenbaum’s use of a braided river in Alaska as a metaphor for her three-part spiritual journey to Quaker Earthcare Witness (“Braided Journey”).
It made me think of the idea of a Quaker workshop where each person is searching, hopefully finding his or her earth metaphor, like Shelley’s “braided river,” as a way to construct one’s spiritual/political/ecological journey. I think earthcare needs a person to be grounded in a “love spot” in nature, and use that to inspire a witness toward saving the earth as a whole. For me, it would be Jenny Lake in the Grand Tetons, Wyoming, and the Grand Tetons themselves—papa, mama, and baby Tetons—for the trilogy. Maybe this could help reach those climate doubters, like that West Virginia coal miner who said: “To me a mountain top, is a just a mountain top. We have lots of them.” We need to get him to find that special mountaintop, and then he might care about destroying one in West Virginia looking for coal.
Thank you for your recent issue on climate change. That life on Earth is changing is obvious. The scientific community with its case for global warming and the accelerated extinctions of plant and animal species has finally gotten into the public arena.
Already we Floridians are experiencing the effects of sea level rise. As I write, I look out at a tall pine, which is dying from salt-water intrusion. A quarter mile away, the waters of the Gulf of Mexico have infiltrated the aquifer of fresh water, which underlies the Florida peninsula. These venerable old trees cannot tolerate salt.
There are those who still cling to the old ways. In the interests of development, my county commissioners and Rick Scott, the governor, continue to remove protections for the environment which were put in place decades ago.
There are hundreds of things—large and small—which we can do. First on the list might be to notice that “a hundred million miracles are happening every day.” If we can see a bit of green or a patch of blue out the window, we can appreciate it as one of those miracles.
Over the years I have come to recognize that the dragonfly alighting on a nearby twig is an individual just as I am and deserving of love and honor just as much as the people in my life.
Let us strive toward what Edward O. Wilson, the renowned biologist, has called biophilia, the concept that all living things—large and small—are complex organisms vital to the scheme of things. (He is one of the creators of the Encyclopedia of Life, an online database.)
We are all one. Moving away from anthropomorphism and placing humans within the fabric of the Creation is a giant step in preserving this beautiful planet.
Helping us articulate Quakerism?
Since college most of my friends who were evangelicals have been baptized into the Catholic Church, largely because, like John Pitts Corry (“What Quakers and Catholics Might Learn from One Another,” FJ May), they felt called by God, and also because of the contemplative and social justice traditions of the Church which had been absent in their experiences of evangelicalism.
Growing up an Evangelical Quaker, I never felt the same pull they did, probably because contemplation and social justice were already a part of my Christian experience. But I’ve learned a great deal from my Catholic friends; at this point in my journey, it’s hard to imagine my faith without Catholicism, and I am always happy to sit in on a mass.
What Corry suggests Quakers can learn from Catholics is spot on, I think. Extending his point about tradition, Friends could also be more open to the relationship between faith and reason, or faith and the intellectual life, that Catholicism embodies so well. The Quaker impulse to action, or Quaker reticence to put God in a box, can often be a form of anti-intellectualism that protects us from having to reflect about important theological, historical, and doctrinal questions. I think we could do more of this without compromising our conviction that the Christian life is not only a matter of thinking, but of living as well. And it might help us to better articulate Quakerism to others.
I was drawn to read this article as a Catholic who is involved in the the charismatic renewal movement and drawn to contemplative prayer and life. Having gone to Evangelical worship, I feel something missing.
I have been curious about Quakers and your meetings. In one of his books, Thomas Merton writes that monks are not allowed to take anything with them into the chapel when they go in to pray. Since the monk has nothing else to do, he might as well pray!
Modes of Quaker worship
Thank you for Meagan Fischer’s “Allow Me to Introduce You, Witches and Friends” (FJ, May)! I was raised in the independent unprogrammed Quaker tradition and found my meeting to be rather averse to Christocentric language and ministry. I had no exposure to the Bible in a Quaker setting before I attended the FWCC Quaker Youth Pilgrimage at age 17! There I learned that many Quakers (both within “my” branch of Quakerism and without) rely strongly upon its wisdom (and other works as well). On the pilgrimage I also learned about a useful listening device that we called “faith translation.” This tool helped me to hear the truth behind the ministry of other Friends. Language that would have once made me uncomfortable became deeply powerful. I have employed this technique a great deal since that trip!
For the past year I have been thinking a lot about corporate worship: how we do it, and what makes for a “covered” meeting. At the Pacific Yearly Meeting Young Adult Friends plenary last summer, we seeded our silent worship with singing and the powerful testimony of several Friends. One spoke of seeing angels, another of “walking with Jesus,” and another about a personal leading. Between the singing and the vocal testimony from these Friends, and later the silence and vocal ministry from others in the room, I found myself in a deeply covered worshipful space. I felt connected to the Light, Spirit, God, Source, and left the plenary craving more of that sweet energy. This semi-programmed service was new for me—an intentional combination of singing, ministry, and silence—and I haven’t stopped thinking about it since. I am recognizing more and more that while I love and respect the independent unprogrammed Quaker tradition in which I was raised, I am excited to explore other modes of Friendly worship!
Meagan Fischer says that an intersection of the two spiritual paths would be the focus on orthopraxy over orthodoxy, but her example of cooperation in her Reclaiming community was designing a ritual, which is very much at odds with expectant worship. She drew another contrast with the wildness of the witch retreat with Friends’ plainness, and again with “you are your own spiritual authority.” I don’t think she answered any of these contradictions at all.
Which core values do the two traditions share? Direct access to the Divine? I think most (if not all) Protestant denominations also believe they have direct access to the Divine. Social justice issues? Again, most religions have social justice-minded groups in them.
San Diego, Calif.
The purposes of a religious community
I consider religion to be the set of rules that determines who can be a member of a “religious” community (“Viewpoint: Religion and Spirituality,” by Sam Cypressi, FJ Mar.).
Religion is what you must profess and who you must obey. Community is what it sounds like: a group of people who commune together. Spirituality is the relationship between God and the individual.
A religious community can support a person in developing their relationship to God, or it can cover up child abuse. I think that is why we try to avoid “leaders” among Friends. We hope (I hope) that the lack of hierarchy and the lack of a catechism allows us to support a wide range of seekers, and reduces the chances that powerful people can misuse their power.
Neither religion nor community define personal spirituality, but a community can provide a safe place for people to reach out further than they could on their own.
I think the author’s children may have found their spiritual community. I know that although my kids don’t profess any religion, they still act like Quakers. I think they may come to a relationship with God in their own time. In the meantime, my plan is to be as good an example as I can.
Judgement and interrogation over chosen poverty?
I remain uncomfortable with the forum letters that appeared in the February issue in response to Seres Kyrie’s “Choice Poverty” (FJ Dec. 2014). The fact that the article provoked such letters causes me to say: go back and read the article again, and see if you can find answers to your questions about how Seres and her husband will care for their children, and how they find it acceptable to work under the table. The questions and objections sounded to me like a rush to judgement and an interrogation; they did not sound like they proceeded from a desire to understand what the article was really about. Read it again—there is much in it to assuage your fears and indignation. “The map of asceticism with children in tow is unclear,” Seres writes. Let’s have faith that her practice will allow clearness and guidance to come. Things in life always change, and as a mother, Seres might well be open to the needs of her children driving some changes in their family. And in the spirit of querying, let us remember not to ask questions in an attempt to reveal how wrong the other person is. Let us keep the pages of Friends Journal a safe space for the sharing of our journeys on the paths of faith, and maybe Seres will write again, sharing her journey.
The author responds:
Comfort can bring with it gratitude, but it also has the risk of bringing complacency. In choosing a life “impoverished” (again, a loose definition because really, our family does not want for much), we are keeping our comrades in need close to our mind and heart. I might even liken this to what the Buddhist nun Pema Chodron calls “tonglen,” the practice of using our own suffering as a way to bring awareness and compassion of the greater humanity. In any case, not everyone will choose this path. We will all (hopefully) walk accordingly. Some, we can be grateful for their philanthropy, others, their ability to travel the world in assistance, still others, living very small and quietly so as not to cause much harm.
Defending nuclear war
It is heartening to see the Student Voices articles by young Friends (FJ Apr.). Friends schools need to provide context in teaching about war. One student wrote, “Americans dropped an atomic bomb on two Japanese towns as revenge.” This is a mistaken belief. The United States dropped the atom bombs on Hiroshima (August 6) and Nagasaki (August 9) to end the war. On August 1 (despite an attempted coup by Japanese miller wishing to continue the war), Japan surrendered.
The total of 246,000 people killed by the atom bomb was less than the estimated 2 million Japanese and Americans who would have died in an invasion.
Those living in safety may ignore the lives to be lost had the war continued for another six weeks, six months, or longer. But those with brothers, fathers, and cousins in the Allied military intensely yearned for the war to end as soon as possible.
The Hiroshima-Nagasaki victims were just part of 60 to 85 million (mainly civilians) killed by both sides in World War II. Japan slaughtered 300,000 Chinese during the 1937 Rape of Nanking. Germany killed six million Jews and others in death camps. The German blitz killed 40,553 civilians in England, while “conventional” Allied bombing killed tens of thousands of German and Japanese civilians. Warring nations on whatever side do not have clean hands regarding civilian casualties.
It is not sufficient to rail against the horrors of war. Teaching about peace should show how war can be prevented. William Penn’s proposal for a United Europe has become partly realized in the European Union. Diplomacy has brought peace to Northern Ireland. Costa Rica can be studied as an example of a nation without an army.
Dartmouth, Nova Scotia
John Graham-Pole’s story hit very deeply in my heart (“Cell Shed,” FJ Feb.). I’ve needed to take breaks in reading it. Over 15 years ago, for about a week, this individual went through a similar circumstance with his wife, Sandi. Keeping the promise to let her live without use of a respirator or feeding tube was difficult. Our sons would never have their mother let go, despite a AVM the size of a handball in the middle of her brain. She had lived 26 years beyond the prognosis her parents had been given by physicians in the 1970s.
My current partner in life, Bev, lost her spouse in 2005 because of U.S. military use of Agent Orange in Vietnam and also lost her daughter. Being there for her death, after losing their home to a fire, still hits her very hard.
Thank you, Friend John, to show the real depth of feeling to be reached in genuinely serving people in need of help, mentally, physically, and spiritually.
The author responds:
Thank you, Friend Chester, for these heartfelt and thoughtful words, and for sharing so much of the personal happenings in your life over the past several years. When I was a medical student and younger doctor in London (UK) in the 1960s and ’70s, the culture was one of silence. And it was from my own mother’s death from cancer when I was 12 (the other grown-ups in my family didn’t tell me of her death until some days after it happened) that my desire to become a doctor, then an oncologist, and subsequently a hospice director, was first born.
We doctors all need to learn and to practice constantly the art of being present with our patients. There are certainly times when silence is the best and most healing form of communication. With that of God in each other.
Antigonish, Nova Scotia
Disorganized and uncodified
Karie Firoozmand’s review of Nicholson Baker’s novel Traveling Sprinkler (“Books,” FJ Feb.) asked about the meeting’s collection basket. I can assure her that the author’s inspiration sits on a small table near the entry of our meetinghouse, just on the other side of the dividing shutter. The basket is not passed around.
As for Baker’s description of Quakerism, “disorganized and uncodified” fits much of what a casual observer typically encounters. It’s something some of us are trying to rectify.