September 2012 Forum

Viewpoint: Listening in Meeting

What we hear in meeting for worship is as individual as each of us, but the most important thing is to listen. It is easy to think that we should be good at listening, but learning to hear the “still, small voice” is more like learning to walk: it is incremental, sometimes frustratingly slow to develop. It comes with successes when we feel really tuned in, or failures when we think we hear only distractions. We often wonder why we’re sitting there at all. Yet the messages, the silence, and the distractions can all speak to us. I’ve found a wide variety of tools that make it easier to listen.

Use of queries: Almost anything can be framed as a question. Did your two-year-old drive you nuts asking “why?” Well, why? Similar to using biofeedback to lower anxiety, try to recognize those times in your life when you felt in the Light or presence of The Divine, and those times when you didn’t. What was different during those times? Like riding a bicycle on a sun-dappled path, you can learn to actively spend more time in the sunny spots.

Active seeking: Ask The Divine to open to you the attributes you would like to gain or hone, such as wisdom, patience, listening. Then follow what you think or hear as though you were following a ball of yarn strung around your back yard by the two-year-old. At some point, you’ll start getting answers that come from outside you. It’s sort of like rain changing to snow. It’s definitely rain at the start, and definitely snow at the end. But we’re not really sure what it is in the middle.

Meditation. Meditation is a little different than Quaker worship, but it can be a tool to get us in touch with our inner Light. There are many different ways to meditate. Reading is productive for some; we can try reading a journal or other spiritual writing and using a query, asking how this speaks to or affects us. Breathing works, too: choosing a word or phrase and inhaling on one syllable/word/phrase and exhaling on another can reveal (“open” in Quaker-speak) meanings different than we’d thought of before. (I’ve always found that the Lord’s Prayer is a good one to try, or a word such as “peace.”)

When I went to Sandy Spring (Md.) Meeting as a teenager, I spent a lot of time thinking of God as nature, but it was just an intellectual activity. The only thing I heard was the old regulator clock on the wall with its loud tick-tock. More than 25 years later, I visited that meeting. I came in and sat down a little early. There was plenty of bustling and noise as Friends settled into worship, and the clock couldn’t be heard at all. As meeting settled, the tick-tock became barely audible, then louder as the background noise decreased. When I spoke that day, I said that the clock was like our still, small voice. The background noise was the busyness of our lives.

Unless we take active steps to reduce the background noise in our lives, we may never hear that small voice calling us to its ways. Worship is one of those steps. Reducing the clutter and busyness of our lives is another.

Martin Melville,
State College (Pa.) Meeting


Make marriage easier

I always feel bemused by the gay marriage issue, partly because not long ago feminists such as myself saw traditional marriage as suspect, and sometimes a protection racket.

But what is marriage for?  Romance? An economic institution?  Actually, both are inevitable and desirable, though tricky to reconcile.

So let’s make it easier on ourselves by separating that awkward combination and creating two legal institutions. Let the “couple institution” carry the excitement and romance and let the “family institution” carry the commitment and household welfare. The rights and responsibilities of the family institution would focus on the welfare of its members, particularly children. And every child would have the right to a family, whether one parent or more.

Thus, a family could contain any number of adults, which would address the problem that the nuclear family is just too small (unless you’re rich) to do everything everyone (especially the religious right) wants it to do. Expecting straight sex to provide a strong foundation for all of society is a red herring that distracts us from actually constructing such a foundation.

As for sex, let’s take Miss Manners’ wise advice and respect others’ privacy. Most people are oriented towards affection and sex, and I know no one who would benefit more by examining the speck in his neighbor’s eye rather than the beam in his own.

The Bible says many things, and while it was doubtless spiritually inspired, it was also transmitted, translated, interpreted and selected by fallible humans. Personally, I take spiritual truth wherever I can find it.

Lastly, most dictionaries include a definition of marriage as a combination of almost anything, such as “elms and vines” or “words and music,” with Oxford English Dictionary citations dating back centuries. So why now can it only be a man and a woman?

Muriel Strand
Sacramento, Calif.



The Journal‘s evolving into a periodical that can serve all Friends, not just those in Philadelphia or those in Friends General Conference. It’s a joy to watch. As you know, that was my goal for the book review section for the eight years I edited it. Now, watching the Journal as a whole moving in that direction, I have been in tears as I finish each issue.  I am totally loving the content. The story by Doug Bennett (“Homosexuality: A Plea to Read the Bible Together,” FJ, June/July) was one that will reverberate throughout the Religous Society of Friends all year.

Ellen Michaud
South Starksboro, Vt.


Education is the key

Sometimes we encounter others that open their mouths and speak our hearts, yet leave out a piece so precious. I found this with Mark Greenleaf Schlotterbeck’s “Waiting with the Outcasts and Strangers” (FJ, April).

To interpret Scripture “carnally” or to be read as “dead letter” literal history, has been a problem since its creation. George Fox wrote of how his accusers misinterpreted the mountains written about in Scripture—they interpreted them as being without, when they really were within. His point was that the Scriptures are allegories woven around history, legend, or myth, stories in the physical world that are symbolic of the workings of the spiritual world within.

George Fox envisioned Quakers being a mass to go forth and help others find Christ, the teacher within. I think Quakers need to realize that this hinges on being able to unite themselves. The way Jesus did it wasn’t just by waiting on the Lord. He used stories that were to be taken spiritually, about the spiritual world, not the flesh. The Apostles wrote similar allegories, but with Jesus in them. The many contradictions found in critical Bible studies are just signs these stories aren’t literal or meant to be taken that way.

I believe education is the key: not just for the Quaker family we hope to unite, but for the world.

Dirk Davenport
Salem, Oreg.


Thanks for focusing on crime and punishment

As a prison inmate, I greatly appreciate your fine articles, thought-provoking subjects, and excellent writing. Thank you for extending my subscription without cost. I especially enjoyed your March 2012 issue addressing some of the issues we [inmates] deal with. I can confirm that kindness, understanding, and support do more to transform lives than any amount of punishment can. Samuel Lewis, a former director of the Arizona Department of Corrections, is justifying cutting back programs by publicly stating that the Department’s policy is to punish rather than rehabilitate. Sentences here are mandatory and some of the longest in the country.

I have been incarcerated since 1988. As a felon and sex offender, there have been times in which I have felt sorry for myself despite my best efforts not to. I ache for the pain I have caused others, and I do not resent paying the penalty. I know God is in control. Prison is a tough experience, but for me, it has been a valuable one. I marvel at how God has seen fit to bless me, through no merit of my own. I will list only a few of these blessings.

I no longer live a lie or lead a double life. Before my arrest, I hid my same-gender attraction from family and friends, convinced they would abandon me if they knew what I was really like. I acted out in secret while pretending to be a dependable, church-going family man. With my arrest, my darkest secrets were out. I did lose my wife of ten years and my daughter, as well as a couple of friends, but most, though hurt, stuck by me and continue to write and visit when they can (as the distance is difficult).

I have rediscovered and committed to my faith. One thing we have in abundance here is time. I have used it, in part, to delve into religion. I grew up in a Mormon family and community. Because I was born into it, my struggle to accept it was intensified. I didn’t want to have faith in something just because my family and friends did.

In prison, I have been exposed to countless lifestyles and cultures. This has broadened my understanding of people. Though prisons can be barbaric, the prison system can be beyond understanding, and the justice system can seem to be more about attorney win-loss records than real justice, I have learned that any environment can be worthwhile. All human beings have crosses to bear. I trust that mine was designed by a loving God. How can I help but rejoice!

David Borg
Arizona State Prison Complex—Eyman
Florence, Ariz.


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