What resonates for me today are the three simple prayer words suggested by Anne Lamott: Help, Thanks, Wow. Yesterday in our time of “afterthoughts” at the rise of meeting for worship I heard one person ask us to hold her friend in the Light, and another express gratitude for something that had happened. I noted that these expressions fit the first two kinds of prayer and I added an example of the third. My weekend had been one big WOW, and I was still relishing it. We had gone to Denali Park on a sunny day, with a few clouds scudding across the mountains allowing the sun to spotlight one point and then another. Some hillsides were splashed with golden birch and aspen leaves intermingled with the deep green of spruce. Other hills were cloaked in red tundra vegetation. We took a couple of short hikes, feeling grateful that our feet, legs, and knees still support us. We stopped to rest along the Savage River and marveled at the ancient rocks that were tumbled over time and carved into overhanging cliffs by this relentless waterway. We saw a couple of hoary marmots scampering among the rocks. At each point, as I uttered or simply experienced “Wow,” I felt in the presence of God. This is what Anne Lamott calls prayer: “Prayer means that, in some unique way, we believe we’re invited into a relationship with someone who hears us when we speak in silence.”
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.
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.
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. 
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.
 Shared by Tracy Lease from Nischala Joy Devi, The Secret Power of Yoga
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.
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.
A week ago today I wrote from a boat cruising Southeast Alaska’s Inside Passage with 34 other Sacred Harp singers. When we reached Petersburg, a small town on Mitkof Island, I made my way to a computer in the public library and started typing my blog. Unfortunately, I timed out of my 30 minute allotment and everything I’d typed disappeared. So today I will try to recapture my musing from last week.
But first, perhaps a bit of background would be helpful. Our friend Kari Lundgren from Sitka had been planning this Sacred Harp cruise for almost a year. While it sounded wonderful, we had concluded that it was out of our reach. Three days before the ship was due to sail, Kari called with the news that another couple had experienced a medical emergency and had to cancel. They had been reimbursed by trip insurance, so Kari was offering us their space. What a gift. We managed to untangle ourselves from commitments made for the week, buy plane tickets to Juneau, and we were on our way.
On the second full day of the trip we headed into Tracy Arm-Fords Terror Wilderness, entering a narrow fjord leading to South Sawyer Glacier. On each side loomed giant granite walls scoured by the retreating glacier. As the captain maneuvered among the bergy bits (small chunks of floating ice from the glacier) we were all out on the deck watching birds and sea mammals along the way.
As we moved further into the fjord and approached the first of several big bends, we fell into an excited silence waiting to see what would be around that bend. Would we get to see the glacier? We didn’t sing, we didn’t talk. It was the closest thing to worship I experienced on the trip. We kept going, bend after bend, until the way was clogged by larger chunks of ice, but we did get a view of the glacier and came away feeling satisfied.
Later, in musing about the experience, I wondered what it would be like if we approached our meetings for worship with that same sense of excited anticipation. What if we truly waited expectantly for what might be revealed?