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Quakers Doing Lent?

According to the Upper Room, a global ministry dedicated to supporting the spiritual formation of Christians, Lent is “a season of the Christian Year where Christians focus on simple living, prayer, and fasting in order to grow closer to God.” While the Lenten practice may not be a part of what many Quakers do, there is value in mindfully engaging in rituals that help us practice what we value. In this time of Lent, I have become increasingly conscious about the role and power of rituals in our lives. We all have rituals—whether religious or not—and many of us follow them in a semiconscious state, often never thinking of them as rituals. But when we do something regularly and habitually, it becomes a ritual; and the more intentionality we bring to that habitual thing, the more we can grow into and deepen our beliefs.

A few years ago, I cut short a trip to Pine Ridge, S.D., so that I could lead a workshop at Baltimore Yearly Meeting annual sessions. The Pine Ridge trip was for William Penn House’s Quaker Workcamp Program that takes place every July: two‐weeks of activities related to building for the future and honoring sacred traditions, including preparing for and participating in a Sun Dance ceremony. The workshop that I came back east to lead was about connecting what many of us consider to be our core truth in Quakerism—that there is that of God or the Divine or goodness in all—with our actions. I had come to appreciate that to form a strong link between our beliefs and actions, we sometimes have to step away from our often‐partisan advocacy or divisive stances on issues and take time to intentionally practice celebrating the goodness and truth of others.

As I sat in comfortable, air‐conditioned rooms while leading this workshop, my mind frequently wandered back to Pine Ridge where, those very same days, people were gathering on a sacred plot of land with no plumbing or permanent structures for four days of sweating, fasting, dancing, praying, serving and supporting each other, and braving the elements of heat, sun, and storms. I was deeply missing it. What I had learned to appreciate was that, for the Lakota people, a Sioux tribe of the Great Plains, the Sun Dance ceremony is an essential annual ritual carried out to ensure the continuation of natural cycles of the year. For me, the trip to Pine Ridge had also become a part of my own annual ritual of faith—to go as way opens, to experience discomfort, to learn to become more prayerful in my daily life and actions well beyond my time there. I’ve heard similar sentiments from participants, some of whom years later still talk about having had transformative experiences.

It was this juxtaposition of experiences—leaving an annual ritual of faith that consisted of discomfort, sacrifice, and grace to attend another annual ritual that consisted of sitting in air‐conditioned rooms, often focusing on ourselves and rarely experiencing discomfort other than the occasional boredom—that led me to consider the transformational power of certain rituals. Tangentially, I was also conscious of how William Penn set out to create the Peaceable Kingdom. The Pine Ridge workcamp very much reflects how that work is incomplete and on‐going, and I personally prefer to be out in the field prayerfully doing things rather than in meetings prayerfully talking about them.

Intention has become a central aspect of how William Penn House approaches these Quaker workcamps—they are as much about addressing social justice issues as they are taking time to more mindfully practice what we preach so that we can be better practitioners from then on. And if we take time to do this annually, there is great potential to become even better practitioners throughout each subsequent year.

During this Lenten season, and in recognition of how ritual can be transformative, William Penn House has been sharing a “40 Days with Peacemakers” series online. The series started on Ash Wednesday, February 18, and runs through Sunday, March 29. Many Friends may not be comfortable with the outward ritual of Lent, but our intention is internal: to practice, for 40 days, taking time to reflect on a peacemaker—his/her journey, struggles, service, sacrifice, and wisdom—in a way that moves us closer to our faith. These are not the top tier names of peacemakers—Tom Fox, James Nayler, Wangari Mathai, Elise Boulding, and Arundhati Roy are among those who have been featured so far (see full list below)—and many are in our midst (including some who greatly influence our current work at William Penn House). We tend to move toward that which we envision, so let’s take some time to integrate these people and their values in that vision.

Full list of individuals and groups featured in the 40 Days with Peacemakers series (click on each link to read a quote from that peacemaker for reflection and inspiration):

  • Day 1: Tom Fox (1951–2006) — an American Quaker peace activist, affiliated with Christian Peacemaker Teams in Iraq. In 2005 he was kidnapped in Baghdad along with three other CPT activists.
  • Day 2: Widad Akrawi — born into a secular family in the Kurdistan region of Iraq in 1969. In 1988, she was secretly involved in documenting torture and other violations of human rights throughout Iraq. This has led her on a path committed to the global struggle for human rights, peace, social justice, democratic governance, and ethnic reconciliation.
  • Day 3: Leo Tolstoy — a Russian writer, philosopher and political thinker. His ideas on nonviolent resistance, expressed in such works as The Kingdom of God Is Within You, were to have a profound impact on such pivotal twentieth‐century figures as Mohandas Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., and James Bevel.
  • Day 4: Jane Addams (1860–1935) — a pioneer settlement social worker, public philosopher, sociologist, author, and leader in women’s suffrage and world peace. In 1931 she became the first American woman to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, and is recognized as the founder of the social work profession in the United States.
  • Day 5: RonDell Pooler — an inspiring man with a powerful story of redemption and service. As a youth, he got into a lot of trouble that ultimately led him to serve six years in prison. Upon leaving prison, he started looking for work and ended up enrolled in a Green Job Corps program, learning about environmental stewardship through Washington Parks and People. He eventually worked his way up to volunteer coördinator and now oversees the Green Jobs program.
  • Day 6: James Nayler (1616–1660) — among the early Quaker leaders. At the peak of his career, he preached against enclosure of lands (that led to the creation of an ownership class) and the slave trade. He gained notoriety when he re‐enacted Christ’s entry into Jerusalem by entering Bristol, England on a donkey.
  • Day 7: Sheikh Abdul Aziz Bukhari — a Sufi leader who devoted his life to peace in the Middle East. His funeral in Jerusalem in 2010 was attended by Rabbis, Muslim and Druze sheiks, Christian clerics, and lay people of diverse faiths as a testament to his ability to reach across divides. He was the head of the mystical Naqshabandi Holy Land Sufi Order and Uzbek Community.
  • Day 8: Wangari Mathai — a Kenyan environmentalist and political activist. In the 1970s, she founded the Green Belt Movement, an environmental NGO focused on the planting of trees, environmental conservation, and women’s rights. For her work, she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004.
  • Day 9: Elise Boulding — a Quaker sociologist and author credited as a major contributor to creating the academic discipline of Peace and Conflict Studies. She wrote extensively on topics ranging from family as a foundation for peace to Quaker spirituality to reinventing the international “global culture.” She viewed listening as the key to advancing world peace and nonviolence.
  • Day 10: Chief Seattle (1780–1866) — chief of the Suquamish and other Indian tribes around Washington’s Puget Sound, delivered what is considered to be one of the most beautiful and profound statements ever made. This speech, given in 1854, was made in response to a proposed treaty under which the Indians were persuaded to sell two million acres of land for $150,000.
  • Day 11: Dietrich Bonhoeffer — a Lutheran theologian, writer, poet, musician, and educator. Raised in Germany, he was safe in London at the outbreak of WWII. Instead of staying there, he returned to Germany to join the resistance movements and to advocate on behalf of the Jews, including being involved in Operation 7, a rescue mission that helped a small group of Jews escape to Switzerland.
  • Day 12: Charles de Foucauld — a French “missionary‐monk” born into a wealthy French family in 1858. He lost his faith and his bearings at an early age. It took him many years and wanderings before he met the one whom he called “his beloved brother and Lord, Jesus.” The more his prayer became a mystical experience, the more he was drawn to seek Jesus in others, which became a unifying and healing factor in his life.
  • Day 13: Jean Vanier — a Canadian Catholic philosopher turned theologian and humanitarian. In 1971 he co‐founded “Faith and Light”, an international movement of forums for people with developmental disabilities, their family and friends.
  • Day 14: Arundhati Roy — an Indian author and political activist best known for her novel “The God of Small Things” (2007) and for her involvement in human rights and environmental causes.
  • Day 15: Phan Thi Kim Phuc — born in 1963 in Trang Bang, South Vietnam, best known for the iconic photograph taken by photographer Nick Ut of her at age nine running naked down the road after a napalm attack struck her village during the Vietnam War.
  • Day 16: Hazrat Inayat Khan (1882–1927) — grew up in a musical Muslim home often visited by poets, mystics, musicians and philosophers.
  • Day 17: The Sultan and the Saint — St. Francis of Assisi is well‐known for inspiring millions of people over nearly a millenium, but it was his meeting with Muslim sultan al‐Malik al‐Kamil during the Crusades that showed the promise of radical nonviolence as well as the challenges.
  • Day 18: Chief Joseph — the leader of a people who suffered great injustice, and is a constant reminder of how vigilant we must be in trying to break the cycles of violence.
  • Day 19: Bertha Von Suttner (1843–1921) — an Austrian pacifist and novelist. In 1905 she was the first woman to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize (and the second female Nobel laureate after Marie Curie’s 1903 award).
  • Day 20: Rob Farley — inspires those at William Penn House every time they participate in the daily breakfast he organizes.
  • Day 21: Averroes (Latinized form of Ibn Rushd) — lived from 1126–1198. He was a Muslim polymath who wrote on logic, philosophy, theology, Islamic jurisprudence, psychology, political and Adalusian classical music theory, geography, mathematics, medicine, physics and astronomy.
  • Day 22: Aung San Suu Kyi — born in 1945, the daughter of Aung San, the founding father of the Burmese national army and the negotiator of Burma’s independence from Britain. She has remained faithful to the achievement of her goals by peaceful means in the face of other violent democratic movements, and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991.
  • Day 23: Henry Cadbury (1883–1974) — born to a prominent Quaker family in Philadelphia, he was a biblical scholar, Quaker historian, writer, and nonprofit administrator. He was a founding member of the American Friends Service Committee in 1917 and its chairman from 1928–34 and again from 1944–60.
  • Day 24: Janie Boyd — born in 1930 in Charleston, S.C., to a family that preached love for others. After moving to Washington, D.C., with her husband in the early 1950s, Janie continued to serve others by bringing comfort to the discomforted in the form of food, clothing, and other necessities. Those at William Penn House are blessed to consider a friend, inspiration, and co‐worker.
  • Day 25: Dr. Rick Hodes (b. 1953) — an American doctor specializing in cancer, heart disease, and spinal conditions. Dr. Hodes has worked in Ethiopia since 1984, first as a relief worker during the famine, then as the advisor to the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee.
  • Day 26: Hanan Ashrawi (b. 1946) — a Palestinian Anglican. Her family was forced to flee to Jordan during the 1948 Palestine War. She became a leader after the first Intifada as a Palestinian Delegate to the Middle East Peace process. She has since become a leader of the Third Way party within the West Bank. In 2003 she was awarded the Sydney Peace Prize.
  • Day 27: David Richie (1908–2005) — came from a long line of Quaker families in the Philadelphia, Pa., and southern New Jersey areas. He was executive secretary of Friends Social Order Committee of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, a position he stayed in for 34 years. It was here that he founded Quaker Workcamps.
  • Day 28: Albert Reynolds — former Irish leader who made the biggest gamble of his political career when he and British Prime Minister John Major secured an IRA ceasefire in 1993. A one‐time promoter of country music gigs who later ran a pet food manufacturer, Reynolds pledged that peace in Northern Ireland would be his priority when he was elected taoiseach (government head) in 1993.
  • Day 29: The Evangelical Environmental Network — founded in 1993 as “a ministry dedicated to the care of God’s creation.” It is an organizations that seeks to equip, inspire, disciple, and mobilize God’s people in their effort to care for God’s creation.
  • Day 30: Andrew Marin — a young heterosexual who presented at a Pentecostal church in the suburbs of Chicago to a group of parishioners gathered for a workshop about ways the congregation can be a welcoming place for gays and lesbians.
  • Day 31: Ayya Khema (1923–1997) — born into a Jewish family in Berlin, Germany. She escaped Nazi persecution with 200 other children who were taken to Scotland while her parents fled to China. She learned and eventually began teaching meditation. These experiences led her to become a Buddhist nun, and she was given the name Khema, meaning safety and security. She also set up the International Buddhist Women’s Centre for Sri Lankan nuns, and was the spiritual director of Buddha‐Haus in Germany.
  • Day 32: Bayard Rustin (1912–1987) — an early leader of the Civil Rights Movement who often preferred to work from the shadows. Much of this was because he was also a gay man during a time when social stigma and the law had harsh consequences for gay people, and he did not want that to distract from the bigger cause of the movement. Rustin, a Quaker, was greatly influenced by the Quaker tenant of pacifism.
  • Day 33: Mike Gray — a Quaker who is a steadfast ally to many Native American, immigrant, and indigenous communities groups in the United States and Mexico. Like so many people in the 1960s and early ’70s, Mike’s life was heavily influenced by the turmoil of the times, but in his late 20s his life took on deeper meaning and purpose when he found Quakerism.
  • Day 34: Kenneth Boulding (1910–1993) — husband of Elise Boulding (Day 9), also very active in Quaker circles and the Peace movements of the 1960s and ’70s. A native of England, he was granted U.S. citizenship in 1948. Much of his career was in university academics as an economist and social scientist. He emphasized the interconnectedness of everything, and that to understand the results of our behavior—economic or otherwise—we needed to develop a scientific understanding of the ecodynamics of the general system and the global society.
  • Day 35: Oscar Romero — Mons. Romero (b. 1917) was a Catholic priest and was named the fourth Archbishop of San Salvador in 1977. He increasingly spoke out against poverty, social injustice, assassinations, and torture as civil war took place and a revolutionary government came to power. Romero’s increasing humanitarian efforts received international notice, but also made him a target. He was assassinated (on this day 35 years ago) while celebrating Mass at a hospital chapel.
  • Day 36: Lois Johnson — lost her oldest son, David Arnesan, to AIDS in 1995. During David’s illness, Lois and her family had to face not only his illness, but the fact that David was gay. Lois had long known this, but felt David would let her know in his own time. Once out, Lois worked with her church to make sure it was a place where her son was welcome. “I just can’t see how you cannot love your children” was a constant message. Her church became the first in conservative Wheaton to be “open and affirming” and later to perform same‐gender weddings.
  • Day 37: Mary Harris Jones (1837–1930) — born in Ireland and raised by poor parents. With the blighted potatoes causing the Great Hunger, she and her father were among the 200,000 people who left Ireland. Eventually ending up in Chicago, she worked sewing dresses for wealthy woman, and developed a strong dislike for the aristocrats who employed her because they ignored the plight of the jobless who wandered the street. Over the next four decades of her life, she channeled this into a tireless and fierce devotion for improving working conditions through organizing unions throughout the country. Her initial work was in the violent climate of mining, but extended to mills and factories, as she advocated for all workers regardless of gender, race, or age. To others, she was called the “Angel of Miners” or, more simply, “Mother Jones.”
  • Day 38: The Southeast White House — primarily flows from some folks with a deep evangelical/Trinitarian faith—not something that is very familiar or initially comforting to many of the secular/humanist/Universalist individuals and groups that come to William Penn House. But what is so moving and inspiring about the Southeast White House, for those of us who have the great fortune to spend time there, is what they practice. All are truly welcome, and the depth of faith allows for taking many leaps of faith—going as “way opens.”
  • Day 39: Marsha Timpson — co‐executive director of Big Creek People in Action (BCPIA). When you first arrive there, Marsha greets you with a hug as if you have known her your whole life. It is her way of reminding us that we are all connected, and while you are with Marsha, she is sharing her own connectedness to the place she grew up and is a part of her. McDowell County is where the Pocahantas coal fields are. It is a place that has suffered great exploitation from outsiders—first, the coal industry and robber barons, and in the 1990’s, the banking institutions.
  • Day 40: YOU — Aristotle said, “We are what we repeatedly do.” For the past 40 days, many of you have taken time to repeatedly reflect on peacemakers past and present and their words. May that repetition nurture peacemaking within you. Philosopher Robert Pirsig (author of “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”) wrote, “You look at where you are going and where you are, and it never makes sense, but then you look back at where you’ve been and a pattern seems to emerge. And if you can project from that pattern, then sometimes you can come up with something.”

Brad Ogilvie is the program coordinator at William Penn House in Washington, D.C.


Posted in: March 2015, Online Features

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