By John Calvi. True Quaker Press, 2013. 222 pages. $14.95/paperback, available from Quakerbooks of FGC and Amazon.com.
Reviewed by Eileen Flanagan
In The Dance Between Hope & Fear, Putney (Vt.) Meeting member John Calvi shares his journey through 30 years as a healer with a special gift of “recognizing and releasing the pain that follows trauma.” While this book will particularly interest those concerned with healing, Calvi’s story is more broadly about faithfulness to a leading. It is about one man discovering his unique gifts, trusting his intuition, and keeping his compassion in the face of overwhelming need, financial insecurity, and sometimes burnout. As a result, it’s a story that many Friends can learn from.
Early in the spread of AIDS, Calvi decided to offer massages to anyone with the disease, whether or not they could pay. In that climate of fear, his decision meant that he couldn’t get massage work at spas that would pay well, and so he became dependent on financial gifts to support his ministry, relying on his community in a way we generally associate with Friends of earlier eras. Through the years, Calvi had periods when his own energy was depleted—another problem faced by many who follow a long-term leading—and adopted different strategies to replenish himself, from praying to his guardian angels to spending a term at the Pendle Hill conference center to rest from his demanding work.
Much of Calvi’s work involves helping people to release emotional wounds that are held in their bodies. A gay man rejected by his dysfunctional and sometimes violent family, Calvi shares some of his own wounds and how facing them has helped him to help others. He also shares the miraculous joy of finding a soul mate in his husband, Marshall, and the heartbreak of losing one friend after another to AIDS. Calvi’s willingness to keep showing up to heartbreaking situations was the thing I ultimately found most inspiring in his story. He made me want to be more faithful to my own leadings, even when they are scary or exhausting.
As a writer, I have to say I was disappointed in the book’s structure. It is a compilation of pieces written at different times and for different audiences, including Friends General Conference talks, songs, letters, articles, and other reflections composed over many years. I wish Calvi or his editor had shaped them into one cohesive narrative, though once I sunk into the heart of his sharing, I remembered why I had been moved by hearing him read a bit of his writing at a FGC Gathering several years ago.
While reading The Dance Between Hope & Fear, I found myself jotting down some of Calvi’s insights to use in the Discerning Our Calls class I teach at Pendle Hill. A few examples: our callings are not so much about changing the world as changing ourselves and growing closer to the Divine; a little fear is a good thing in a calling, but you have to pay attention to how much fear you can handle; “no love is ever wasted,” even if the patient dies, or gets deported back to the country where he was tortured; you know your ministry is mature when you can serve with compassion the fool in your meeting “who just fries your butt.” Many of his wisdoms are simple points that resonate deeply.
At the core of Calvi’s story is a deep trust that he’ll be given what he needs when he needs it. Like the journals of early Friends who lived in radical obedience to divine guidance, this book can encourage contemporary Friends in our struggles to do the same.