Monthly Archives: May 2017

Stay Close to the Root

As I was sorting through a pile of old papers today, I found a note from a friend which included the quote, “Stay close to the root.” I’ve lost touch with the friend who sent it and forgotten the context that brought it up. But for some reason this early Quaker advice struck home for me today, and I am musing about its current relevance. Some years ago I was asked to speak about simplicity to the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Fairbanks. I believe I spoke about staying close to the root in making decisions about simplifying our lives, citing Fran Taber’s pamphlet, The Taproot of Simplicity. This was in the early days of environmental awareness when it was difficult for people to make changes in their lives that would reduce their carbon footprint (not that it’s any easier today; we just have more strategies available). My message was that we don’t need to go lopping off branches, i.e., deciding to change bits of behavior from the top down; we need to find the taproot deep within ourselves which will then give us strength and clarity to know what changes are needed and where we need to engage in outer action. That’s what I said then, and I still believe it, but I’ve strayed from its truth.

There is a certain irony in finding that quote in the midst of my mess, a mess that continues to haunt me: old academic papers, data from uncompleted research projects, samples of student writing, letters from family and friends, pictures, and lots of handouts from Quaker workshops. I’ve carried most of this stuff around for years, and while I know that most of it can be thrown away, I have to go through it, just in case there’s a gold nugget in there somewhere. I read each card and letter and think of the person who sent it. Then I decide whether to keep it or toss it.
It’s a laborious and time consuming process, but it is helping me figure out what is essential, or, if not essential, important to me for some reason. I know the rule about throwing something away if you haven’t looked at it for 10 years, and I know if I died tomorrow the whole lot would be hauled off without a look, but still, still, there are stories and connections with people who influenced my life. Some letters contain bits of truth that still speak to me; others I can offer a silent thanks to the sender and send along to recycling.

I’m also feeling stretched a bit thin right now, too many irons in the fire ( abashedly mixing metaphors). Each day I get notices to write my congress people or sign a petition or write a letter to the editor about an urgent matter. And everyone wants money for their cause ( Many of the papers I disposed of were funding appeals ). Some days I just want to walk out in the woods and breathe deeply, smelling the new growth, greeting each intrepid plant that has survived the winter here and is returning to grace my path. But this sorting work needs to be done and I have been dreading it and putting it off. I think I need to reframe the task as one of reviewing my life— treasuring certain moments, reliving the pain of others. It’s not so bad that way. And I got through a whole box today!

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Defend the Sacred

“Seek and you shall find
Knock and the door will be opened
Ask and you shall be answered
When the love come tumblin’ down.”

This song rose for me in worship yesterday, and has continued to work me since. I am struck particularly by the action verbs: seek, knock and ask. Each of these actions implies an agent, someone doing something.

Until recently my spiritual life has been mostly passive, that is, I have received, I have been blessed, I have been been given gifts. I haven’t had to do much. Now, I am feeling a call to action that is stretching me in new ways. I’m not accustomed to knocking on doors or asking for things. One of these tests was serving on the Development Committee for the School of the Spirit. Asking people to donate money to a cause is not something I’m comfortable doing, but when it was presented as a spiritual practice I saw that work in a new light. It still wasn’t easy for me, but it was do-able.

Another example of of how I am being stretched, often beyond my comfort zone, is in the arena of social activism. I am learning to see these opportunities as spiritual practice. Last week, the Arctic Council, made up of nations bordering the Arctic, met in Fairbanks to sign an agreement and to pass the chairmanship from the U.S. to Finland. As a group of us prepared for actions, some of which could be seen as civil disobedience and could lead to arrest, I had to do an internal check to determine what was mine to do.

In a conversation with a friend yesterday concerning the rightness of participating in these activities, she pointed to the example of Jesus overturning the tables of the money changers in the temple. I agreed that that was one example, but I believe it’s the only one which involved any kind of violence. More typically, Jesus engaged in conversations with people: Nicodemus, the Pharisee, Matthew the tax collector, the Samaritan woman at the well. His form of protest against the Roman occupation was in creating alternate narratives. His entry into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey just as the Roman officers were approaching the gates dressed in their regalia and riding their fancy horses was a brilliant bit of political satire.

I have been following the actions taken by EQAT (Earth Quaker Action Team) in Philadelphia under the guidance of George Lakey. Their actions have included sitting in worship in the lobby of a PNC bank building in protest of the bank’s funding mountaintop removal, and walking 100 miles to visit communities served by PECO, the power company that serves the region, to argue for installation of solar arrays in low income neighborhoods. They have risked arrest but their actions have all been nonviolent. Not just nonviolent but spiritually grounded.

In a workshop that George Lakey led for us in Fairbanks back in November (just before the election), he pointed out that there are 4 main roles in any activist group: helpers, those who jump in and do things that need to be done for the group; advocates, those who can talk to people in power; organizers, those who figure out the plans and help carry them out; and the rebels, those who are willing to cause disruption and sit on blockades. Each role has a place, but if not understood and accepted there can be fragmentation of the group.

While the activist group that led the rally and other actions this past week is not Quaker, there is clearly a spiritual foundation to the work. The rallying theme was “Defend the Sacred,” i.e. the lands of indigenous people which are being threatened by increasing fossil fuel extraction. Prayers were offered at the beginning and the end of the rally. My role, as I see it now, is to accompany the Native folks who are organizing the protests, to assist as needed, to speak out in support (advocate role?) and to be a prayerful presence.