Over the weekend we attended a wedding at the edge of a large rock outcropping on Cleary Summit, about an hour outside of Fairbanks. We were surrounded on all sides with spectacular views, including a lightening strike across the valley. Lynn served as marriage commissioner (in Alaska anyone can serve in this role once a year). As the young man is from a Quaker family and considers that his spiritual home, if any, they had approached us earlier this year to talk about the possibility of a Quaker wedding. The young woman is Jewish and wanted some element from her tradition included as well. After much discussion they settled on a ceremony that included a brief period of silence (a nod to Quakerism) and a reading of the Seven Blessings for marriage from the Jewish tradition.
During the ceremony, Lynn said, “We’ll start with a reading of seven blessings from the Jewish tradition, blessings that offer joy, prosperity and harmony to this unique relationship. A wonderful thing about a blessing is that it’s always given with the best intent. It’s for when you truly wish for another’s happiness. A blessing is always and necessarily an act of love. “
Today I’ve been pondering the meaning of “blessing.” I frequently sign off on a letter or a message with “Blessings.” Some people may be offended by this closing term, associating it with what a priest might say and do. While one meaning of the word is to “sanctify, or make sacred,” in my world, anyone can offer a blessing to another, and I agree with my husband’s definition. So I offer blessings to anyone reading this.
There has been much talk this past week about President Obama’s refusal to use the term “radical Islam” in describing the motives of the person who opened fire in a gay bar in Orlando. Why is this such an issue? In today’s op-ed piece, E.J. Dionne, Jr. cites the authors of “The Politics of Unreason,” who say that “right-wing extremists have always highlighted the magical power of the word. Just saying the right thing, believing the right thing, is the substance of victory and remedy.”
I agree with the President’s decision to avoid using the term “radical” in the way right-wing politicians want, because it can fuel the flames of Islamophobia in this country, but I have been pondering how the word “radical” has come to imply violent extremism, when it means, according to my dictionary, “arising from or going to a root or source.” Its Latin origin is radicalis, having roots. (Think of radishes, a root vegetable.)
Quaker faith is often called radical, meaning that it is a return to the source, the root, the direct experience of the Divine. “Radical Quakerism: From Roots to Shoots to Fruits” is a program that has been offered at Ben Lomond Quaker Center and elsewhere in the West. In historical reviews of Quakerism, the early acceptance of ministry from women was considered radical. Is that because it was beyond the norm of the day or because it reflected a basic belief that all people have direct access to God?
It is interesting that the words “radical” and “extremist” are often used interchangeably, or even simultaneously, but isn’t “radical extremist” an oxymoron? “Extreme” means “away from” or “outermost.” Not close to the root, in other words.
I believe we are called to be rooted and grounded in love, and that our actions, the shoots (the garden variety), come from that source.
My name is Charley and I am addicted to word games and puzzles. Playing Words with Friends on my computer or solving the Cryptoquote puzzle in the newspaper is mostly a fun way to be by myself for a few moments and avoid doing other things. Occasionally the cryptoquote inspires me or at least gets me to think about what it says. The other day I encountered one by Audre Lorde: “When I dare to be powerful, to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.”
For some reason, this spoke to me. I have been aware lately of feeling less than powerful. What holds me back? Is it fear? If so, what am I afraid of? As a woman,I know the barriers well. Historically, strong women have been burned at the stake, drowned as witches, locked up in mental institutions. I could be a strong, angry feminist. But I’m not. I’m a Quaker. That means that I recognize the source of power and strength. If I do things on my own without a sense of spiritual guidance, I will fail. I need to use my power and strength in the service of my vision, but that vision needs come from a deeply grounded place.
There’s a line in a Sacred Harp song alluding to the Psalmist hanging his harp on the willows, weeping in the midst of Israel’s captivity in Babylon: “With all the power and skill I have, I’ll gently touch each string; If I can reach the charming sound, I’ll tune my harp again.” I’ve always loved that image of reconnecting with the Divine within, finding that sweet chord of inner harmony.
A beloved member of our Quaker Meeting, long since passed, was known to offer pithy, down-to-earth vocal ministry that got right to the heart of things. This time of year she often drew her messages from her gardening experience. One particular metaphor that has stuck with me over the years was how necessary it was to turn the compost from time to time, going deep and getting dirty in the process. I’ve been thinking about that image today as I have been doing some spiritual digging and turning things over. It’s not pretty, it’s not fun, but it’s a process that’s needed if there is to be new life and growth.