Overworked caregivers can also use support
I also have seen many, many people die, but from the other side of the bed (“A Quaker Approach to Living with Dying” by Katherine Jaramillo, FJ Aug. online). For the past 20 years, I have worked as a registered nurse. I grew up a Quaker, and my mother was a recorded Quaker minister. This past autumn, she slowly declined after breast cancer cells that were resistant to chemotherapy took off through her body like a drug-resistant organism, taking over her liver and bones. In December, she died with her husband and me at her side.
For 20 years, I have worked with the other nurses and aids who turn, reposition, clean, medicate, and attend to the bodily needs of the dying. Those caregivers suffer spiritually and immensely. They usually do not have the freedom or energy to attend church, and they become very disillusioned with many forms of religion. As I helped my own mother go through the dying process, I felt frustrated with the lack of integration between those attending to her spiritual needs and those attending to her physical needs. She was a very involved person so there was a bit of overkill from the spiritual community, while my niece and I—and sometimes my brother and two aunts for short periods of time—attended to her physical needs in an intense and demanding sharing of shift work. I became quietly sick and disgusted with all of the ministers and friends coming to pray with her by the end. I smiled at everyone and hugged people, but inside the frustration with it was building.
I’ve only brought myself to go to my Friends meeting twice since she died, and it has been fulfilling when I went. But I can’t deal with the belly fuzz picking, and I probably will not be able to for a very long time, if ever. There is just too much to do, and not enough people doing it. I’d like for everyone to receive the care my mother received at home as she died. But I know that most Quakers will not be able to do that. I know that my own family will not. I know that a minister might give me a little comfort, but when I am dying, please give me plenty of pillows, and keep me clean and dry. And buy me a frozen mocha latte from McDonald’s every day.
Minding our own Light?
Too many times have I seen the Spirit curtailed by “that’s not the Quaker process” when the Spirit is in full display (“What We Cannot Do Alone” by Noah Merrill, FJ June/July). Instead of being nurtured, the person who is charged by the Spirit feels it placed back within. “That’s not the Quaker process” is a power statement. It is a hurdle that takes a person time to understand. It takes courage for someone new to stand in this area of confusion and to overcome it. Most will feel abandoned.
When I began weaning myself off all occasion for war (reducing my waste, driving an old diesel on vegetable oil, and restoring honor for our local Native American tribe), I was told that I didn’t get “the sense of the meeting.” Then I was told that seasoned members are to give more money. Then I was accused of being in debt to the elders that I helped stop driving. Conveniently, 15 years later the annex and historic meetinghouse are LEED certified, and the tribe has codified state recognition. No one seems to remember being opposed to “going green” and “living locally.” John Woolman talked about going through things like this. I might be getting weary in my old age, but it seems that the young folks are getting it right. I recently saw a T-shirt that said “Stay Calm and Mind YOUR Own Light.”
Lenapehokink, Turtle Island
Further thoughts on Quaker Spring
Subsequent to the publication of my article on the 2016 Quaker Spring gathering (“Ohio Yearly Meeting Gathering and Quaker Spring,” FJ Feb. and “Traversing a State of Truth,” FJ May), I attended the 2017 gathering at Oakwood Friends School in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. At that event, the organizing committee revealed that there had been a racial incident in 2014 involving a white member of the organizing committee and an African American participant. As a result, many Friends of color and their allies have been boycotting Quaker Spring for the past three years, up to and including this year, while waiting for some action to be taken to address this matter. Although I attended Quaker Spring in 2014 and 2016, I was unaware of this situation. When I learned of it, I was uncomfortable participating in Quaker Spring and left the gathering the following day.
I am not sure if I would have written my article had I been aware of the situation, but I know I would have written it differently. I would have acknowledged this issue and not been as enthusiastic in encouraging Friends to attend until it had been resolved. For that oversight, I apologize to Friends of color and any others concerned about this situation.
I have found Quaker Spring an inspiring event and have benefited greatly from the people I have met there, particularly those from Ohio Yearly Meeting. Before I left, the organizing committee stated it would hold a special retreat on racism in 2018 and take some other actions; whether this was the final decision of the gathering, I do not know. I hope the matter will be resolved and ask you to join me in holding all parties in the Light as they move forward.
John Andrew Gallery, firstname.lastname@example.org
More time listening, less time explaining
I suffered a similar trauma in my unprogrammed meeting a few years ago (“It Breaks My Heart” by Kate Pruitt, FJ June/July online). Pruitt describes some unprogrammed meetings as having “taken a path totally eliminating Christ in favor of political activism.” That characterized my meeting perfectly. There was no discernible spiritual life in that meeting, only political activism. After many years of working very hard for my meeting, I finally gave up.
Since then I have given this situation a great deal of thought. I have concluded that very few people who attend Quaker meetings these days have a clue what being a Friend is all about. Even worse, they seem to be not particularly interested in learning.
It has been my experience that people who want to grow spiritually are probably better off not belonging to any religion. The vast majority of people who attend religious services do so for purely social and egocentric reasons: they are there to find comfort and support among people whose beliefs are similar to theirs. They exhibit little knowledge of or curiosity about their chosen religion. They are not looking for spiritual truth, nor are they interested in becoming more compassionate and less self-centered. These people hinder spiritual growth.
Not all Friends are found in Quaker meetings. You’re better off without your meeting. You’re strong; you don’t need it.
I was raised a Lutheran; attended for many years the churches of Christ; and for the last three years, have been a convinced Quaker. Unprogrammed Christian meetings still exist. I belong to Chesterfield (Ohio) Meeting. Friends at this meeting have done much to nurture my walk along the path blazed by the early Quakers you mention in your article. I too am saddened that some Quakers have taken alternative routes to their worship; we need to let them follow their spiritual journey as we do our evangelical friends and neighbors. May the Light guide you to the right place.
Apparently Pruitt’s meeting is adopting a more “evangelical” approach. Pure Quakerism is Fox’s revelation: that “there is one, even Christ Jesus, who can speak to thy condition.” It is not the Bible, nor the priest, but the direct experience of a voice which we can identify as Christ, but which is finally just a name; it is the inspiration that counts. After all, Fox lived in seventeenth-century England and would not have understood anything but Christ Jesus. It was the experience of the voice that changed his life.
Today we know that whatever it is that speaks to our condition can be found in many spiritual traditions—not just in Christianity. All these traditions are human inventions, including Quakerism. But there is something which can “speak to our condition,” however we describe and define that experience. What counts is the experience, and the transformation that we receive from it. What we call it are just words: definitions that spring from our particular cultures. Allah speaks to the condition of Muslims, and many other names speak to other cultures.
Listen to the Voice, and follow where you are led.
It seems as if one of the requirements for letting the Almighty be operative within one is brokenheartedness. There seem to be many reasons why the organizations of our faith grow more important than the spirit that spawned them. There is some great hope that this sacrificial hope within us may outlast our need to have our own practices that do not allow hope to grow and thrive.
Faye M. Chapman
Blue Grass, Va.