Roads of Faithfulness

2014 mural homage to the Civil Rights Movement, based on the “I Am a Man” march that took place on South Main Street, Memphis, Tenn. Painted by Marcellous (with BLK75) Lovelace. Photo © Joshua J. Cotten/Unsplash.

Welcome to the September issue of Friends Journal. This is the first un-themed issue we’ve produced since the world became topsy-turvy with coronavirus lockdowns. In the past six months we’ve almost become used to producing the magazine you know and love without ever stepping foot in the same room. 

We also spent the summer coming up with the next slate of themes. Because world events are changing our lives so quickly, we’re changing the mix—more of these general-interest, un-themed issues—but we do have some juicy topics coming up—“Language of Faith,” “Quaker Utopias,” and “Lockdown at One Year” for example. You can see the full list at Friendsjournal.org/submissions.

In this issue, Ruth Brelsford tells the story of what happened after a scheduled visit to a friend in prison was canceled at the last moment. Five miles from her husband worshiping in the nearby meetinghouse, she set off walking down the highway—and right into an unexpected encounter that challenged one assumption after another and ended up requiring all her capacity for prayer. Friends call these moments of spontaneous prayer and faithful service “opportunities,” and they can be our most important witness. Brelsford compared her opportunity to that of the disciples walking the road to Emmaus in the final chapter of Luke. 

Two of Jesus’s disciples were walking from Jerusalem to Emmaus, sad and despondent, going over and over the events of the crucifixion. They were so absorbed in the world, with hearts full of doubts, that they didn’t recognize Jesus when he approached and began walking with them. For miles they journeyed together as this stranger explained that all of the suffering had a purpose. As nightfall neared, this unlikely group approached a village. The still-unrecognized Jesus said his goodbyes, but the disciples showed the stranger kindness, asking him to stay with them and eat together. It wasn’t until the breaking of bread at the meal that they suddenly recognized him as Jesus. Only in retrospect did the disciples realize their hearts had been burning while walking with him.

It’s easy to identify with those walking disciples these days. It’s easy to feel sad and despondent scrolling through the news and social media. False information, preventable coronavirus deaths, our blind eye to economic injustices, growing realization of the racism built into our institutions, rising carbon levels, and most recently the politicalization of practically everything. It’d be easy for us to not recognize the hope that travels alongside us.

And yet in great turmoil comes opportunity. In “The Fiery Forge of Polarization,” George Lakey shares how his dismay at our political polarization gave way to optimism when he began researching the twentieth-century histories of Scandinavian countries. They were poor, with few democratic institutions, and polarized by the politics of the 1920s and ’30s. But it was in this very crucible that these countries began forging democratic institutions that underlie today’s economically successful democracies. Fundamental societal change often happens in these darkest of times.

Our darkest days may be near at hand. Second-wave COVID-19 and the most unpredictable U.S. election in modern history will try our strength and challenge our optimism in the coming months. My prayer is that we find the inward guidance to stay faithful, strong, and grounded in our visions of a better world. Let us recognize spontaneous opportunities for faithfulness and share the disciples’ kindness to unexpected strangers. We’re building our future as we walk.

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