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November Forum

Viewpoint: An Ocean of Light

George Fox had visions that led him in very personal, direct ways. He reported one as follows: “I saw the infinite love of God. I also saw that there was an ocean of darkness and death; and an infinite ocean of light and love, which flowed over the ocean of darkness. In that also I saw the infinite ocean of God.” From this vision came the simplicity of the Quaker message that is still true today, that the Light overcomes the darkness.

As a Quaker who has been enjoying retirement for the past five years, I now have time to observe and contemplate such natural wonders as the moon, the stars, the sky and other heavenly occurrences. I had a vision, too. Besides the appearance of the full moon on August 2 and the “blue moon” on August 31, I was surprised to find a breathtaking picture on the cover of the August issue of Friends Journal of the moon reflecting its light across the ocean. The picture of the moon on the horizon—with its light reflecting from the sun and shining the ripples of the moonbeam into the eyes of the beholder—opened a vision to me. I could “see” Quakers from all over the world holding hands as we stood on the shoreline facing the ebb and flow of life together. In front of us was the ocean of life with the light of the moon shining brightly upon us. As we gazed upon the light, the revelation came to me that each friend, as we stood side by side facing the moon, received his or her own beam of light from the true source of light. It was as if God, our source of Light, was telling us that He loves each one of us as though we are the only ones. At the same time, as we were holding each other in the Light, our personal moonbeams revealed to us that our pathway of light brings us together in unity with the Greater Light.

Just as the sunlight brings energy and movement to all life on earth, the Inner Light brings the motion and energy of love into our hearts and minds. These beams of light and love inspire and guide us to reach out into the world of darkness and find ways, as Friends, to let our light shine in helping those who are suffering. As Thomas Kelly wrote in “Children of the Light,” “It is a great message which is given to us—good news indeed—that the Light overcomes the darkness. But to give the message we must also be the message.”

Peter Lang,
Morris Plains, N.J.

 

The personal holiness trap

I was thankful for Georgana Foster‘s perspective in the August 2012 Friends Journal on the limitations of a grow-and-buy-local approach to food. While we might disagree on the long-term viability of an agri-business model for feeding the world, I join in her discontent.

Yet a focus on cleaning up our act as consumers puts us in danger of falling into the personal holiness trap. If it becomes a feel-good activity, or one that sets those who consume more ethically above those who don’t, then it may actually keep us from arriving at right relationship.

Our goal cannot be completion, arriving at the virtuous side of a moral dilemma and basking in the glow of a job well done. Such a goal involves closure, the ultimate cleansing of ourselves or our community from the evils of the outside world—and pursuit of such a goal brings with it soul-damaging separation. Furthermore, it can’t logically be achieved. If we ate only local vegetables and sourced all our coffee, chocolate and athletic shoes with attention to labor conditions, there would still be the rice, wheat, fruit, oil, sugar, and spices, as Georgana Foster points out. We would still have to face the fact that critical ingredients of the cell phones and computers we depend on are the subject of mineral wars, and any kind of participation in a fossil-fuel based economy is damaging to the earth.

I believe what will get us farther is being willing to step into the great common sea with a goal of opening ourselves to the complexity of our interconnectedness with our neighbors, with other people all over the world, and with the ecosphere that sustains us. Building our capacity for connection, with all the love and grief that accompany it, will put us on more solid ground as we contemplate our right relationship with food and hunger, with chocolate and slavery, with electronics and rare-mineral warfare, with consumer spending and the capacity of our earth.

Pamela Haines
Philadelphia, Pa.

Friend Foster’s reminder that few locavores abstain from faraway treats like coffee and sugar is well-taken. However, if I may try to read between the lines, I sense an assumption that local food production will never be enough and that some global government or charity should make sure the world gets fed.

I’m don’t know that ample backyard gardens are necessarily insufficient, even if they might not be able to locally grow every kind of food that’s currently available through worldwide trade. But I am convinced that humans are adaptable and resourceful enough to figure out how to provide for themselves locally, in equilibrium with nature, generally the way we did for millennia before the recent advent of fossil fuels which have radically destabilized the ecology—and societies too.

I am also wondering about feeding all the other species. While I don’t think we can take on all that responsibility either, I don’t quite see how they can feed themselves if we are so greedy as to take most of the food out of their mouths (or just eat them ourselves).

For almost a century now we have been revamping our food systems according to mechanical logic rather than bio-logic. I suspect doing things Nature’s way is easier and more secure, in the long run, than raising food the fossil fuel way. Neither way will ever be perfect, if perfection means no creature will ever again starve. Even Jesus never hinted at such a guarantee.

Muriel Strand
Sacramento, Calif.

 

Seeing with eyes unclouded

Thank you for printing the article, “Where We Are Changed” by Noah Baker Merrill (FJ, Sept.). In a gentle way, Noah affirms the basis of transformation to come closer to the people God invites us to be: that transformation comes when we can stand to see what the Light reveals. He affirms the struggle by asking, “Are we willing to come into the Presence with all of our vulnerability and brokenness?” I hear echoes of Fox, Fell and Woolman in this kind and compassionate call to us as Friends to find our faith not in beliefs and forms, but in “being helped to see with eyes unclouded, through our hearts breaking open, that transformation happens.” That transformation opens us to “Love’s availability and liberating grace in every heart.” Thanks, Noah, for reminding us that we need the still small voice to guide us, but the more we look around, the more we will see each other listening to that voice, seeking along the same way.

Karie Firoozmand
Timonium, Md.

 

Responses to the FJ Book Club selection, Susan Cain’s Quiet

I just got the new Friends Journal and read the interview with Susan Cain right away (“Book Club Interview with Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking”, FJ, Sept.). I was always told that I was too sensitive, which hurt my feelings until I read two books in the late 1990s early 2000s. One was The Highly Sensitive Person and the other The Introvert Advantage. I think what I found in The Introvert Advantage must be similar to Quiet—the positive qualities of an introvert, someone who recharges by being alone or with a couple of other people. What a breakthrough to be able to see who I was in a more positive light. I haven’t looked back and now revel in the introvert qualities.

Kay Branch
Anchorage, Alaska

This discussion brings to mind the concept of class participation. I remember being graded in college on this part of class. I often felt compelled to speak, even when I really didn’t have a comment at the moment. I imagine that more introverted students struggled even more than I did. Is it fair to require regular verbal comments? I’m wondering after I read this.

Christine Suplick
Havertown, Pa.

I recently graduated college, but revelled in class participation all through school. Personally I loved being able to share ideas in the classroom, but also, I often had to recover over weekends and nonacademic/nonsocial times hiding away in my room. I appreciate what was said in this article about encouraging the already existing qualities in children and people. It is also interesting to me how people can develop a self monitored internet persona in this day and age.

Maggie Hess
Bristol, Tenn.

The idea that an introvert who modifies their behavior in a social situation is “faking extroversion” doesn’t sit right with me. Introversion and extroversion are not actually “opposites” in the sense that the presence of one implies the absence of the other. Instead, they are two distinct personality qualities; typically a person will favor one over the other, but people do generally have both introverted and extroverted behaviors and qualities. I identify strongly as an introvert—but what that means for me is that I do the things I need as an introvert (alone time, meditating, writing, intrapersonal check-in) in order to be able to do extroverted activities and fully enjoy them. I’m not “faking” extroversion when I go to a party or hang out with my friends! I often really enjoy being around other people and seek out opportunities to do so, and while it may be a little more of a challenge for me to “learn” or “figure out” how to behave in those situations than it is for a more naturally extroverted person, I certainly don’t feel that I’m behaving in a way that is “fake” or even contradictory to my nature. (And if I start to feel that way, it’s probably time for me to leave, and/or find some different friends!)

Oliver Danni Green
Norristown, Pa.

Concerning introversion and leadership, I would like to commend to you the wisdom of John Macmurray, the Quaker philosopher:

When there is a [community] which knows what must be done, leadership is never a difficulty, because the leader is then merely the agent or the servant of the purpose which he[/she] shares and which he[/she] is responsible for carrying out. Only within a body of people who are united…can the understanding of what must be done arise. And this understanding must arise in them. It cannot be given to them from outside. They must first discover the action which they have to take in the social and political field; then they can commit the carrying out of this defined common purpose to agents of their own choosing. The whole principle of democracy involves this.

For me, leader is just another name for priest or minister. We are all leaders: leadership is merely a set of skills in persons that can be called upon to get a particular job done effectively. It is imperative in our age that we eschew the cult of personality and focus on character.

Gordon Ferguson
Sheffield, United Kingdom

Eds: Join the readers’ book club discussion about Susan Cain’s book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking at www​.friendsjournal​.org/​t​a​g​/​s​u​s​a​n​-​c​ain

 

Arms sales and the spirit of mediation

The nonpartisan Congressional Research Service recently reported that U.S. arms sales tripled in 2011 to $66.3 billion, which is 78 percent of the global market (this, despite a worldwide economic decline).

This seems such a contrast to Erik Cleven’s September article, “The Spirit of Mediation: Conflict Transformation in Divided Societies.” Cleven writes “When we become problem-solvers, we undermine real peace.” Nations that look inwardly can make progress toward peace; outsiders tend to impose their views. If we are equipping nations with billions of dollars in weapons systems, there is not even the spirit of mediation.

Some of the reasoning for these sales is “defense,” to enable “allies” to defend themselves. Our country has a long history of providing arms to “friendly” nations, some of which was to enable corporations to profit. Some of those arms were later used against us. Let’s each talk about this after re-reading Cleven’s fine article which provides examples of God’s work.

Leroy Haverlah
Austin, Texas

 

The Forum is Friends Journal’s letters section. You can submit something by using this online form or by leaving a comment on any of our online articles.


Posted in: November 2012: Quaker Books, Writing, and Poetry
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