Monthly Archives: August 2016

Name-calling

I confess that I think twittering or tweeting is best left to the birds. OK, so I really don’t know how to do either one, but from the examples I’ve seen it looks like people are lobbing insults and catchwords back and forth across the net. Where that takes me today is musing about the hurtful words we use in talking to or about others. Calling people names is certainly part of many, but not all cultures. In some it is considered a game to see who can craft the sharpest epithet. In others, including some Alaska Native groups, children are taught not to call someone a name because it might come back to them. In my childhood, I remember coming home from elementary school one day crying because my friend had said I had yellow skin and walked like a chicken. The old “sticks and stones will break my bones, but names will never hurt me” didn’t work, because those words did hurt me. My mother tried to comfort me that day and taught me to say, “You can talk about me all you please; I’ll talk about you on my knees.”   Truth be told, that didn’t do much more for me than the sticks and stones ditty, but I recognized what my mother was trying to do. More recently I had an encounter with a friend who said some things that hurt deeply. I didn’t respond right away and have been considering my options.

Marshall Rosenberg, author of Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life, says that we have four options for responding to a negative message. One is to take it personally and blame ourselves. I often find myself going there. A second option is to blame the other person. A third option is to “shine the light of consciousness on our own feelings and needs,” and a fourth option is to “sense the other person’s feelings and needs as they are currently expressed.” When someone judges me, or when I judge someone or something, I can choose to see it as an “alienated expression of unmet needs.” In my recent encounter I think I experienced all four responses, not at the time but later as I reviewed what had been said. The most productive and healing were the latter two, when I considered my friend’s feelings and unmet needs as well as my own.

 

 

 

 

 

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Opening Spaces

Today I am musing about “offering spaces where Friends can encounter the Living Christ.” This phrase, spoken during the meeting of the School of the Spirit Board last weekend, was referring to the mission of the School of the Spirit Ministry.   I can understand how it applies to our programs, both the On Being a Spiritual Nurturer and the Contemplative Retreats, but the question I am pondering is how might it apply to my daily life. Do I live my life in a way that invites that encounter? Is it the same as answering that of God in others?

I grew up in a Christian church where witnessing to others (evangelism) was something you were always supposed to do. I remember as a young child sitting on the swings at the playground with my friend, who was Catholic, “witnessing” about what one had to do in order to be saved. I’m sure I did more talking than listening, but I think we were both just repeating the stock phrases we had learned in our religious confirmation classes.

More recently, I had a conversation with my sister, who is still firmly within the Baptist tradition, about evangelism. She had specifically asked me whether Quakers engaged in missionary activity. I answered that while it was important in some branches of Quakerism, liberal unprogrammed Friends for the most part were not into proselytizing. She asked, “How can you not warn people that unless they accept Jesus they will go to hell?”   I think my reply was to state the belief that there was “that of God” in everyone and that I saw my job, not to warn people but to nurture and affirm the goodness that we all have.

Today, in this written format, I am having a conversation with myself about whether I am allowing spaces where I encounter the Living Christ. I realize that transformation or spiritual conversion is not a one-time affair. It is more than what happens at an altar call, where the pastor gives an invitation to people who want to accept Jesus as their personal savior and be saved. When I was engaged in the 2-year residency of the Spiritual Nurturer Program, I was more frequently attuned to the voice of the Inward Teacher, the Seed, the Living Christ. I still experience it from time to time and know that it is possible, but I have not been as intentionally seeking those encounters.   I find that I get so caught up in my activities that I don’t take the time to fill the well, to drink the living water, to restore my soul.   If I am to offer space for others to encounter the Living Christ, I must open the space within myself.

Inward Quiet, Outward motion

In yoga class this morning the teacher talked about three gunas, or energies related to our practice. One, called tamas, is stillness, quiet, calm. It’s like the quiet potential of a seed. If this energy is out of balance, it can turn into stagnation, inertia. Another, rajas, has to do with action. It’s like the seed bursting through the seed coat and growing. It’s good to move, stretch, and so on, but going beyond your limits can be damaging. It can burn us up. The third, sattva, is a balance between the two, finding the sweet spot of stillness within action. [1]

This last one reminded me of the words of Thomas Kelly:

There is a way of ordering our mental life on more than one level at once. On one level we may be thinking, discussing, seeing, calculating, meeting all the demands of external affairs. But deep within, behind the scenes, at a profounder level, we may also be at prayer and adoration, song and worship and a gentle receptiveness to divine breathings.”

For me, as I settle into silent worship, I am quieting my body and my mind in order to engage fully in expectant waiting. Ideally, that quiet center is carried into daily actions so that those actions are grounded in Spirit. Finding and sustaining the balance is a constant challenge, but it has been a guiding principle for me since I seriously adopted Quakerism as a life path. My practice of yoga helps me engage my body and consciously integrate my movements.

At the annual gathering of our Yearly Meeting this year, a member spoke passionately about how sitting for a long period of time is harmful to our bodies. Her young meeting has adopted a rather unconventional approach to Quaker worship—one which includes movement and song (Unconventional for our Yearly Meeting, at least). She says this form of worship is more accessible for children and young adults.   Her words made some of us uncomfortable, not so much because of the chosen practice of this new meeting among us but because she was challenging us to do likewise—to get outdoors, to move around, recognizing that, as Kelly says, we may be in worship all the while.

I have not fully processed her words. I am loathe to abandon our current practice of waiting worship but recognize that there may be other ways to enliven the movement of Spirit in our midst.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] Shared by Tracy Lease from Nischala Joy Devi, The Secret Power of Yoga

Hope

Last week I took a shift at the Alaska Peace Center booth at the Tanana Valley Fair. I smiled and said hello to people as they passed, but 9 out of 10 did not acknowledge my greeting even in a minimal way, e.g., making eye contact or nodding, and some seemed downright hostile. But I did have a couple of interesting conversations. One was with a man who stood in front of our booth, shook his head, and said, “I just don’t believe peace is possible.” I think my response was something like. “I can’t give up hope that it is.” We exchanged a few more words, and after he passed I thought of all the cool things I could have said about hope. I could have given him my reasons for believing that peace is possible, based on examples of nations, groups, and individuals who have maintained a stance of non-violence in the face of a violent world. More importantly perhaps, I could have suggested some actions that we can take to work toward peaceful resolutions rather than war.

For me, hope is an attitude, related to faith. I have been ridiculed for this attitude at various times in my life, acquiring the title Dr. Hope in relation to my belief in indigenous language revitalization when the director of the Alaska Native Language Center was preaching a message of doom. Yes, the number of languages spoken in the world today is drastically decreasing, and yes, the tendency is for smaller indigenous languages to die out in the face of urbanization, education, and commerce using a more widely spoken language such as English or Spanish. But, just as there are shining examples of groups of people choosing non violence over war, there are examples of dedicated people working toward maintaining at least some functions for their ancestral languages.

Another recent example of hope/faith, where I was the one who doubted, was my Kenyan F/friends who made it through seemingly impossible odds to attend a meeting of the United Society of Friends Women and Quaker Men International (held by Friends United Meeting) and then visit us in Alaska. Alaskan Friends generously donated to make it financially possible, but there were hurdles with getting the money to them (neither Western Union nor the bank would send money to Kenya), getting their visas in time, registering after the deadline, and arranging the travel. At each of these points, I was ready to give up and return the donations, but Emily says she kept praying. She knew God would find a way for them to get here. When they finally arrived in Alaska we celebrated the miracle.

Finally, I am inspired by a quote from George Fox (1676):

Hold fast the hope

which anchors the soul,

which is sure and steadfast,

that you may float above the world’s sea.

For your anchor holds sure and steadfast in the bottom,

let the winds, storms and raging waves rise never so high.

And your Star is fixed,

by which you may steer

to the eternal land of rest and Commonwealth of God.