Sunday, December 26, 2010

Stepping into the Stream


Finding the words to describe my spiritual experience always is challenging for me – and this from a writer! My scientific, analytical, linear mind seeks to name the mysterious presence within and outside of me that guides me and connects me to time, places, and people. I grew up calling that essence God and still do. But now, that’s just one of many words I use to talk about the spirit that is ever-present in my life. Bill Taber’s Four Doors to Meeting for Worship (Pendle Hill Pamphlet 306) is loaded with images and metaphors that speak to my understanding of God and the mystical experience of Quaker worship.

My Meeting ordered a stack of Taber’s pamphlets recently, and in early December, several of us got together to discuss it; that gathering was the initiation of a “Quaker Book Group.”  All of us who met had read Four Doors to Meeting for Worship previously, and we all again found resonance with our own experiences of God and worship. 

Taber suggests that worship offers an opportunity to “enter a reality which has always been there from the beginning of time, waiting for us to join it,” and he uses the image of an invisible stream we can step into at any time.  Perhaps Taber’s imagery speaks to me because I live in the Pacific Northwest, and during this especially soggy rainy season, streams all around are making their presence known.  Yet even in the driest days of summer, I know they’re still there, burbling softly toward rivers and the ocean.

Taber uses the metaphor of a door to discuss the stages of entering into the stream and going deeper and deeper into it to experience the fullness of Meeting for Worship.  My encounters with Spirit typically involve passing through different stages as well, as I move inward, shedding my ego, where, as Taber describes it, the “…analytical mind is cushioned in a vaster mind with access to wider ways of knowing.”  That’s what often happens for me when I write, and perhaps why my writing practice sometimes feels much like my spiritual practice.

For the past week, though, I’ve not stepped into the stream much, at least not in my usual ways. My husband and I traveled by train from Seattle to New York (likely the inspiration and focus for future writing) for the holidays with our children. I’ve not followed my typical routines of quiet centering, journaling, and writing to more consciously enter the stream. But I know the stream is there, and that I’ve dipped into “brief moments of communion” with it, reminiscing with my adult children about their childhood and shared experiences; seeing the city and the wider world through their eyes; snatching some few moments of solitude before the day’s flurry of activities begins.

As I write, I’m entering Taber’s “Door Inward,” the time of  inward focus to prepare for Meeting for Worship. Today, instead of with my small Quaker group on Lopez, I look forward to stepping into the stream with others at Brooklyn Friends Meeting.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Further Convinced to Blog

One of my desires with this blog is to chronicle my experience using this new (for me) venue for sharing my writing. As I explained in my first posts in May, I became convinced to blog last spring following presentations and discussions at a conference of Quakers Uniting in Publications (QUIP). There, Friends from around the world and across generations shared their own experiences of, and concerns about, using blogs to minister through writing. What compelled me most in these conversations was the realization that blogs provide opportunities for dialogue about spiritual journeys and Quaker faith and practice. Last week, I experienced blogging as an extended time of worship-sharing.

The day after I wrote reflections about forgiveness, I discovered a comment had been posted on my blog. Cathy, a Midwest Friend I had met at the QUIP conference, wrote of that same day having experienced the grace of forgiveness. Her comment led me to her blog, Salon for the Soul, where she related her interaction with a friend that resulted in healing old wounds between them (http://salonforthesoul.blogspot.com/2010/11/fresh-act-of-forgiveness.html). 

Following my exchange with Cathy, I e-mailed Ron to let him know that the worship-sharing about forgiveness he had facilitated the previous week continues. Today, I’ll encourage others in our Meeting to join this extended sharing. 

Worship-sharing through blogs? Maybe I’m being convinced of that, too.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Forgiveness


The first Sunday of each month, my Quaker meeting for worship takes the form of worship-sharing.  This month’s theme was forgiveness.

Out of the silence of open worship, the convenor, Ron, read from Practicing Peace by Catherine Whitmire:

“Forgiveness is a condition in which the sin of the past is not altered, nor its inevitable consequences change. Rather in forgiveness a fresh act is added to those of the past which restores the broken relationship and opens the way for the one who forgives and the one who is forgiven to meet and communicate deeply with each other in the present and the future.  Thus, forgiveness heals the past, though the scars remain and the consequences go on.”   ~ Douglas Steere

Ron went on to read some queries for us to reflect upon, focusing on our own personal experiences of forgiving and forgiveness.  I sank into the silence and reached into memories of forgiving and being forgiven.

That day, and since, I’ve returned to a conflict I’ve had for years with another community member (I’ve changed some details to maintain anonymity). Larry and I worked together on a project for several years, with tension and conflict occurring often between us.  My stomach churned before and during nearly every interaction, anticipating Larry’s typical tactics of monopolizing discussions, laying guilt and blame, and making unrealistic demands on me and others involved in the project. I tried every technique I’d ever learned to cope with and affect Larry’s behavior, and nothing worked. Finally, I resigned from the project and have kept my distance from Larry ever since.  Do I need to take another step and forgive Larry?  Forgive myself?

The concept of forgiveness suggests to me there is a wrong-doer and a wronged person. Except in cases of random, anonymous violence or crimes, I believe those roles rarely are so clearly demarcated. I’m fortunate to never have suffered such cruelty, so I don’t have personal experience with forgiveness in situations in which there’s a clear victim and a clear offender. What’s been more common for me is situations like the one with Larry, or with a family member or friend, when I’ve been emotionally hurt and have hurt another.  In those situations, I believe all parties carry some responsibility for the conflict; all have made mistakes. I know that shared responsibility is true for the clashes I had with Larry.

Healing of these uneasy or broken relationships is what I seek, and I’m not sure the act of forgiveness is the route for such repair.  Forgiveness implies someone has superiority, a power to grant something to another person. I believe I can only forgive myself, can only ask for God’s grace to forgive me, and can ask for that same grace for someone whose words or actions have hurt me or others around me.

Lately I’ve been experimenting with Douglas Steere’s suggestion to add a “fresh act to those of the past.”  I don’t envision that “fresh act” would involve hashing things out with Larry, which is my usual approach to interpersonal conflict. Instead, I’ve been opening my mind and my heart to Larry and his wounds that contributed to his hurtful actions. I’m seeking compassion for myself, as well, for the ways my behavior factored into the clashes between us.

I don’t think it’s for me to forgive—I think that happens beyond the human realm. What I CAN do is create an environment—or contribute to its creation—that is filled with love and compassion for all those involved and that can make space for the departure or the healing of the pain and the presence of new growth. I’m open to the possibility that such motion on my part will heal the past between Larry and me and that God’s grace will forgive both of us.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Ferry Boat Meditation




“Shaw Island. We’re now arriving on Shaw Island.”

The announcement startles me. I’d been so absorbed in my writing meditation on the ferry that I hadn’t detected the boat slowing down. I wasn’t really aware the vessel had been moving. I looked up from the glowing white of my laptop screen to notice the jagged, black treetops on the shore outlined by the rising sun.

This is how I start my day twice a week.  On those mornings, my pre-dawn meditation silence is broken by the voice of a ferry crew member announcing our progress on the route to the neighboring island where I work part-time as the school nurse. Between the time I wait in the Lopez Island ferry line to board until I off-load at the run’s second stop on Orcas Island, I steal 45 minutes to quiet, center, pray, and write.

Here I write fast, ignoring typos and grammar, just trying to get the words down as they flow out of my solitary worship time. Often, like today, an idea comes to me that eventually ends up as a blog entry, and I get the beginning kernels on the page.

It’s not much time, but it’s a start. No phone, no Internet connection, no piles of bills and correspondence to distract me.  Just me, in the quiet of my little maroon Subaru, the boat’s humming engine muffling other sounds.

I could get out of the car; walk upstairs to the warmth of the passenger cabin and the quiet murmurings of other ferry commuters. I’ve done that on some particularly cold mornings when my car hasn’t retained the heater’s blast during my 10-minute drive from home to the Lopez landing. But today, and most days, I decide instead to stay in my private confessional/meditation space and write my way closer to Spirit.

“Orcas Island. We’re now arriving on Orcas Island.  Drivers and passengers please return to your vehicles.  Orcas Island.”

I slide my cursor up to the “Save” icon, then direct my laptop to “Shut Down.” An orange-vested crew member signals for me to drive off the deck and up the ramp of the ferry landing.  I breathe in and out, deeply, a few times, and give thanks for these few minutes of solitude. 

Thursday, November 4, 2010

To Be a Good Storyteller




“Good storytellers heal the world. The stories that save us are the stories that give us what some Buddhists call a ‘bigger container.’ They open us up to new understanding and growth. Bigger container stories expand our circles of caring and ‘complexify’ the universe rather than simplify it. They encourage us to risk more for the world’s sake rather than making us cynical, cautious, and jaded…”

                                   ~ Mary Pipher – Writing to Change the World



I made an abrupt decision to apply to nursing school.   It was the day forty years ago that I discovered a classmate had been accepted to a nearby hospital school of nursing.  Like me, Patti hadn’t taken chemistry, a course I had assumed was a prerequisite to get into the program.  Our high school’s chemistry teacher had such a reputation for being unfairly harsh with female students (a claim that baffled me since she was… a she!) that I had avoided any classes she taught.  Instead, I took other challenging college prep courses, thinking I would be an English major and eventually, a teacher.

But the day I heard that Patti was going to nursing school, I knew without reservation that was the work I wanted to do as well.  At the time, I wouldn’t have used the term “calling,” but I did have a sense that something beyond me had opened a door and lit a path that I felt compelled to follow. Ten years later, when I began attending Quaker meeting and learned about leadings, I had a way to talk about a variety of experiences in my life where I had felt clear guidance from the presence I call God. Abandoning teaching for nursing was one of those times.

For years I worked as a nurse with passion and gratitude that I had been called to serve in a way that fed me spiritually and also provided a livelihood. Unexpectedly, twenty years later, the zeal and satisfaction started to fade. What I had assumed was a lifelong leading no longer seemed to fit. I began to question the work I was doing as well as my understanding of calling. Was it possible Spirit was asking me to do something different?

Gregg Levoy writes in Calling­s—Finding and Following an Authentic Life, “…few people actually receive big calls, in visions of flaming chariots and burning bushes. Most of the calls we receive and ignore are the proverbial still, small voices…the daily calls to pay attention to our intuitions, to be authentic…”

I sensed that still, small voice on a deserted mountain highway one summer when I was feeling most distressed about my work as a public health nurse. Like the discovery twenty years earlier that I could go to nursing school even without high school chemistry credits, some barriers to a dream I had had for awhile seemed to be disappearing. As I drove back home after a family vacation in a remote mountain village, a clear plan to spend a full year there unfolded with each mile. This was a fantasy my husband and I had revisited and talked ourselves out of over ten years of vacations there; now a move seemed possible, desirable, and necessary. Responding to that voice required much more discernment and planning, but ultimately we did take what I’ve termed a family sabbatical, initially for one year, and then extended to a second.

The story of my journey during those two years is the subject of a memoir I’m writing. I know of no better way for me to understand what that time was all about for me than to write it.  My hope is that this, and other writing I do, results in some of those “bigger container stories” Mary Pipher talks about in Writing to Change the World.

I know I have much to learn to be one of those good storytellers. To do this work well requires study, practice, and learning the craft of writing. Certainly I’ve been doing that over the past ten years by writing regularly, attending workshops and taking courses, and having my work critiqued. Last summer I took another step to refine my skills by attending a five-day residency that is part of a graduate program in writing.

Attending that residency was one of many actions I’ve been taking recently to discern if I’m to commit to the full graduate program. While I’ve become clear that such a program, and this one in particular, would be of great benefit to me and my work, I requested a clearness committee to help me identify how and what to cut from my already-full life in order to give and get the most from this program.  We met for the first time last week.

My committee and I followed the guidelines Levoy offers for how a Quaker clearness committee works: 

“Members first observe a period of silence…a sincere attempt to shift the center of gravity from the personal toward the transpersonal, toward bringing to an individual dilemma something of the divine.”

Then, we proceeded to the practice that is most effective, yet radical, in the clearness process—the members ask questions only. This allows for what Friend Jan Hoffman describes in Levoy’s book as a process, “…to engage the focus person in a way that makes hearing his or her own inner guidance more possible…”

As I listened for my own inner guidance, I heard lingering questions about whether I’m called to writing and called to further study. My concerns about saying no to other activities and fully committing to the program are intertwined with old beliefs I carry about the value of art in a hurting world and about the “right way” to respond to injustice and suffering.  I spent much of my two years in the mountains wrestling with attitudes in conflict with my growing certainty that Spirit wants us to engage in work that brings us joy; this nudge to move deeper into the life of a writer is giving me more opportunities to test this understanding.

The morning after meeting with my clearness committee, during a long walk with my dog, Buddy, an insight came to me. If I felt called to advanced schooling in nursing, I suspect I wouldn’t be concerned about letting go of other activities so that I could devote my time and energy to my studies. But I’m clear that’s NOT what I’m called to.  It’s time for me to give myself permission to focus on what I do feel called to—and to do so joyfully. 

Friday, October 22, 2010

Calls Not Answered


Feet shuffling. Whispered “Good mornings.” Bodies shifting in chairs. These are the sounds of gathering for worship in friends’ living rooms on Sunday mornings. Recently it was at Gene and Judy’s house where I closed my eyes and breathed in and out slowly and deeply to let those sounds float around me as I grounded myself in the presence of the Spirit.

Then a mechanical voice spoke, “Calls will not be answered.” I peeked through half-opened eyes to see Judy walking away from the telephone; my answering machine gives the same message, in the same voice, when I turn it off before meeting.

Calls will not be answered. How often I’ve thought that when I’ve felt pulled in directions I don’t want to go. I picture myself like a little girl stamping her foot, arms folded tight over her chest, her face in a pout. Calls will not be answered.  God, don’t even ask. Sometimes I’m more polite. PLEASE God, don’t even ask.

Apparently this resistance is part of my Quaker heritage. Marge Abbott writes in her book, To Be Broken and Tender, that 19th Century Quaker Rachel Hicks reportedly first responded to a call to travel in the ministry with the words, “This is a service I cannot perform.”

So often I sit in meeting for worship or in my daily time of silence listening for wisdom to guide me in my actions. Concerns ranging from global climate change and war, to my vocation, family concerns or crises in friends’ lives weave through my meditation.  I’m aware of so many needs, so many issues requiring loving attention and care.  Often on my way to settling and centering, judgment that whatever I’m doing isn’t enough burbles up. Although I know I can’t respond to everything, that not every issue or concern or danger is mine to act on, I put great pressure on myself to hear, and then answer, the “right” call.   I’ve made progress; I used to believe that I really could do it all. Now I understand that God expects me to use my free will and to discern which calls are for me and which I’m to leave unanswered.

The answering machine’s voice seems to be speaking directly to me as I continue to test my leading to strengthen my ministry of writing by enrolling in an MFA program.   The demands of this course of study will require time and energy that I currently use in other ways.  I’m struggling with the awareness that answering this call would mean, for awhile at least, letting others go unanswered.  Too often I’ve forgotten that saying “yes” to something requires that I say “no” to others.  I’ve requested a clearness committee to help me identify what I need to say “no” to if I’m going to be faithful to the call to return to school.

Gregg Levoy uses a slightly different telephone analogy in Callings—Finding and Following an Authentic Life. “We need time when we’re not engaged in what the Taoists refer to as ‘the ten thousand things.’ When we give off nothing but busy signals, calls simply don’t go through. There’s no room for them. Make some room. Get off the line once in a while.”  I hope to come to a sense of peace about focusing on just a few things instead of trying to do thousands.

Updates - Several weeks ago I wrote about my friend, Greg, who was diagnosed with brain cancer.  He’s tolerating treatment well and is living with gusto. I know I’m not alone in my heightened awareness of the many lessons illness teaches about living and dying.

Blogging continues to be a good spiritual and writing discipline for me.  Although I haven’t maintained my commitment to post weekly, this public forum provides just enough of a deadline to nudge me to write regularly, and that’s good for my spirit and the craft.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Two Places at Once

 
Despite my belief in the wisdom of being fully present to each moment, I often yearn to be in at least two, if not three, places at the same time. I started drafting this blog post waiting to board a plane in Washington, DC, headed to Seattle.  I had made a quick trip there to visit my son in combination with exhibiting at the New England Independent Booksellers Association trade show in Providence, Rhode Island.  Too hard to be that close to my son, newly moved to Arlington, VA, without seeing him. Tempting to make a quick trip, too, to see his twin sister, who runs a café in Brooklyn, but I resisted.

As the 737 sliced through a thick mat of gray clouds, I wanted to be both at my son’s cozy apartment just outside the nation’s capital and back home in my quiet, island community. And, while fantasizing the impossible, I also longed to be sipping a cappuccino at my daughter’s café.

The kids haven’t lived at home for over ten years, and I’m clear that they’re both just where they should be at this stage of their lives. I’m equally certain that I’m in the place just right for me. But those sureties don’t keep me from desiring to share more of the landscape and rhythm of our daily lives.

Now, several days later and fully engaged in my life of writing, book promotion, school nursing, Quaker responsibilities, and household care, my heart still aches that I don’t share more of that life with my children and they with me. I expected that they wouldn’t remain close to their childhood home, as much as they love it. But I didn’t expect to miss them as I do so many years after their departure from this home. Yet, here it is, a great longing that wells up, often when I least expect it, and always when I see other friends whose adult children live nearby.

This seems to be another one of those opportunities life and Spirit give me to let go of my illusions of control.  You’d think I’d have gotten it by now. Didn’t it sink in when I learned that I was pregnant with twins instead of the one baby my husband and I had expected? Or when they grew big enough and strong enough that I could no longer physically remove them from a dangerous or undesirable situation.  And then again, when they chose friends, clothes, and activities without my input.

Those earlier parenting lessons seem minor now and not fully preparatory for my role at this time. Now that they’re grown, I long to see my children happily partnered, fulfilled with their work, spiritually nourished (and if it’s not too much to ask, if not a short commute away, at least in the same time zone as me).  I know those are desires I can’t command.

So, I ground myself in this place where I’m called to be and savor the times we have together, relish the e-mails and phone conversations we share, and give thanks for our strong connections over many miles. I pray for patience, and acceptance, and faith that their journeys and mine will be Spirit-filled and Spirit-led. 

Monday, September 27, 2010

Spiritual Hearing Aids


My small, rural Quaker meeting on Lopez Island gathers for worship each Sunday in members’ homes.  Frequently someone reminds people to speak loudly and clearly; even in the country, voices can be muffled by the crunch of car tires on gravel, a ferry foghorn, dogs barking, or a refrigerator humming.  Mostly, the request for increased volume is needed because voices tend to soften and drop when people share from deep, inward places and personal experiences.  And also because many of us are well past middle age, our hearing diminished by floods of loud music or machinery, or just aging senses.

During a recent Meeting for Worship, one member admitted he’s having increasing difficulty hearing and has begun to wonder if he needs hearing aids.   As he’s thought of the possibility of slipping something into his ears to help him hear more clearly, he’s yearned for a similar simple correction to better hear that voice that guides him.  “If only there were spiritual hearing aids,” he said.

I chuckled with others as my friend spoke, yet his lighthearted comment touched a deep truth for me.  I’m always in search of devices to help me hear the wisdom of that divine essence I call God.  Too often that voice is drowned out by others – echoes of fear, worry, anger, doubt, confusion, resistance, grief.  Why is it those voices come to me first and loudest?

I’ve learned to distinguish between the judging, critical tone that took up residence in my head long ago and the kind of wise guidance that comes from a stance of love. Even so, often I have to strain to taken in that loving Presence rather than the old challenges about my worth, trustworthiness, and self-knowledge. I, too, yearn for an effortless way to turn up the volume on the Wisdom that I want at the center of my life.

Maybe tuning in to Spirit never will be as simple as planting a little plastic gadget in my ear.  But there are some techniques that help me cut out some of the competing static.  Most of them require that I slow down—plant my feet firmly on the ground; inhale and exhale deeply; light a candle; journal. Others connect me to a sense of awe and mystery—sunset; the sound of sea water tumbling rocks along the shoreline; an infant’s toothless grin and joyful gurgle; newborn lambs bouncing through green pasture.  Still others remind me I’m not alone—reading words that inspire and cause me to ponder; sitting with others in the full silence of Quaker worship; feeling, smelling, tasting, hearing, and seeing the natural world that surrounds us all.  When that Voice I know I can trust seems distant or muffled, I need to remember, and turn to, the sources of help for my spiritual hearing.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Writer in a Bullet-Proof Vest



Last year, I stumbled on “Castle,” a television program about New York City detectives. Rick Castle is a mystery writer who models his novels’ main character after the show’s Detective Kate Beckett. Castle pulled some strings with a friend in the mayor’s office to follow Beckett and her fellow detectives on their crime solving in order to get material for his books. Before going out on a case, Beckett slides a gun into a holster slung low on her waist and snaps up a black, bullet-proof vest; bold, white letters march across the back – POLICE. Castle looks at his police-issue bullet-proof vest, too. The letters on his spell out WRITER.

As much as she hates to admit it, Beckett depends on Castle’s creative mind to anticipate moves the criminals she’s tracking might make. She accepts Castle’s presence but, with his lack of police training, she fears for his safety; they usually encounter murderers or armed robbers when they’re on a case. She insists on the bullet-proof vest.

I want one of those vests to wear when I sit at my writing desk.

Popular advice to writers goes something like, “Writing is easy. Just sit down and open a vein.” That sounds dramatic, but putting my beliefs and experiences into words on paper can seem as risky as when Castle slinks around an abandoned warehouse. When I sit down to write, I’m not exposing myself to criminals’ weapons, but I am opening myself to feelings that can rip at my heart with the near-force of a bullet or knife blade. When I’m present to the source of my writing, I encounter beliefs, memories, truths, grief, and joy that can leave me gasping for breath, choking on tears, or sweaty-palmed.

I know there’s no gun aimed at my chest when I write, no actual possibility of physical harm. Yet my heart can race and my mouth can dry as if I were being pursued by some danger. What is it I fear? When I’m writing my truth, when I’m writing with a desire to minister, I have to go to those deep, tender places within. To the places where I reveal my weaknesses and flaws. Where I expose my faithlessness, my desire to be in control, my fears that others will reject me if I share my true self or that they’ll disagree with what I hold most dear.

In To Be Broken and Tender, Marge Abbott writes of how she sees “God at work in the hearts of individuals so that they are tender to the pain of the world and the selfish power of the ego is broken apart.” The process of writing opens me and makes me tender to my own pain and the pain of others. My heart may be broken open as I seek to find the words. My ego may be broken as God works in me.

As Abbott writes, “Bringing the painful into the Light does take courage and can open many wounds.” When I write, I often access feelings and knowledge I didn’t know I had or that I’d ignored. I awaken memories of hurting, fear, or sadness that I’ve buried so deep in my unconscious, the pain can feel like a stab to the heart or a punch in the gut. That’s the depth I want to get to in my writing, to those places where the memory and the knowing are alive, touchable. But I ache as I open my heart, and my tender spots need protection, the shielding of a bullet-proof vest.

I could keep my beliefs and awarenesses private. I could, and have, kept them locked deep inside to avoid long-standing self-judgment that I’m not good enough or that I’m not following God’s will. Yet, I’m already known fully by God. And I know that God loves me unconditionally. Isn’t that knowledge my bullet-proof vest?

When I write from my center, I’m surrounded by the light and love and strength of that essence I call God. I’m carried by the spirit that wants me to use and develop my gifts as a writer, that loves me no matter what I put on the page, that yearns for me to minister to myself and others through writing.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The sky outside my window this morning is gray. Fog cuts off the tops of the trees and hangs over the bay like a false ceiling hiding a higher one. Somewhere—above that layer of fog—the sun, the light, is shining.

And I’m venturing into the day with the bullet-proof vest of God’s love within me and around me, protecting those tender and broken places waiting to be opened.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

To Be Broken and Tender—A Quaker Theology for Today by Margery Post Abbott, Western Friends/Friends Bulletin Corporation, 2010, www.WesternFriend.org

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Held in the Light


Candles burn bright and long in my small community these days, even when summer asserts itself for a few more sunny hours. Many of us have turned to these flickering flames to symbolize what Quakers call “holding one another in the light.” The one we’re holding is a beloved man, husband, father, brother, teacher, mentor, friend, neighbor, storyteller, juggler, pilot, sailor, hiker whose world was turned upside down two weeks ago when a doctor told him he has a brain tumor. Now, Greg has a giant half-parentheses incision spanning the right side of his head, and he and his family and a wide circle of friends have been awaiting results of the pathology report.

Two days before Greg’s surgery, our Quaker meeting gathered around him and his wife, Nancy, for worship with an intention to “hold them in the light.” Marcelle Martin writes in the Pendle Hill pamphlet, Holding One Another in the Light, that this is the term Friends use for intercessory prayer—prayer for another person—and that it comes in many forms. “It may involve lifting up specific requests on behalf of someone else, or simply joining with God’s constant love for that person. It can be done when we are alone or with others,” she explains.

On that Sunday, about forty of us gathered. Our clerk lit five candles (one for Greg, his wife, and their three daughters). Out of the silence of worship we expressed our love for Greg and his family; our appreciation for his surgeon and other caregivers; and our hopes for healing, courage, strength, and Greg’s vision that what the doctor would find was a glob of blue jello and marshmallows. Two days later, another group of us met at Greg’s home at the hour he went into surgery at a hospital 100 miles away. Again, we lit candles and spoke aloud our requests that Greg be well cared for and that his tumor be released.

For the past two weeks, I’ve been holding, praying, pleading, and questioning almost constantly. I’ve lit and re-lit candles on my desk and the kitchen table, in the living room, and in the meditation corner in my bedroom. This candle lighting is such a tangible act for something I don’t understand.

Throughout my childhood and early adulthood, I prayed to the God of the Bible stories I read in Sunday school. God was an all-knowing, all-powerful man who, I believed, listened to my every word and might just do or give as I asked. As I matured and my faith at times wavered, but mostly deepened, my mental picture of God became less human-like. Now I experience God as a presence, mystery, an essence of love and wisdom far beyond my human comprehension and constructs.

So when I hold Greg and his family in the light; when I pray for healing, strength, and courage for him; to whom or what am I praying? I no longer believe there is a Great Listening Ear hearing my cries for peace, justice, and restoration of the earth. I don’t picture a white-bearded man nodding thoughtfully or shaking his head in response to my requests (though that doesn’t stop me from chanting silently in my airplane seat during take-off and landing, “Please, please, please keep us safe”). And yet I believe in miracles. And I believe there is a mystical power that receives and responds to my outpourings of love, fear, rage, and hope. A presence that hears my desire to serve and be light in the world. A force that guides my actions when I open myself to its cues and signals.

Earlier this week, Greg wrote on his Caring Bridge website of his anger about this threat to the hopes and dreams he had for the future. He’s mad and asking why this is happening at a time he was looking forward to retirement from a teaching career, just as he was anticipating alternative work, new adventures, and telling the stories he’s collected over 61 years to future grandchildren. That anger and those questions are understandable, seem healthy and right. And I suspect God, that great lover of life and joy and peace, is asking them, too.

Yesterday, Greg got a phone call from his doctor that the cancer cells he cut out of my friend’s brain are stage 4 glioblastoma. Greg has a difficult road ahead living with this tenacious cancer. I don’t know who or what has heard my prayers for a tumor that responds well to radiation or chemotherapy. It’s tempting to believe my prayers were ignored. But as heavy as my heart is today, I know that Greg, and his family, and all of us are being held by an ever-present love and power. And I continue to light candles.

Blogging journey update – One of the finest uses of blogs is Caring Bridge (www.caringbridge.org), a site to help people stay connected with loved ones during a significant health challenge.” Or as we Quakers say, it’s a way to hold someone in the light – electronically!

Comments on my last post led to a bit of dialogue and connection to other Quaker bloggers finding their way with this spiritual discipline; I don’t think these exchanges would have happened without this technology.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

On the Way to Blog, Life Happened


Three months ago, when I began this blog, I committed to posting once a week. Now it’s been over three weeks since my last entry, and I’m writing today primarily out of honoring what I had said I would do (thank you to one of my followers for gently holding me accountable to this intention) rather than from a clear sense of having anything to share, of ministering.

Since August 11, I’ve spent little time in worship. That day, I journaled:

“August – the month every year when, if possible, life here speeds up. More gatherings, more guests, more food from the garden to process, more sunshine pulling me outdoors, more, more, more.

And this morning, fog drapes its shroud over everything except what’s just a few feet in front of me. I hear the ferry’s foghorn out in the bay, reminding me it, and the world, are out there. For now, my focus is trained on what is at hand.”

What was at hand was saying farewell to my son as he relocated to Washington, DC; preparation for being away from home for five days for an intensive writing workshop followed by a short return home for a friend’s 60th birthday party; and re-packing my suitcase for five days in New York visiting my daughter. Now I’m back home, hosting long-time friends here for a few days, then one last get-away before the school schedule resumes for my husband and me (his as a sign language interpreter at a high school and mine as a school nurse).

These have been rich times, filled with stimulating lectures and conversations about writing; celebrating with friends; sharing in my adult children’s lives. In all of that richness, I spent little time in my usual disciplines of prayer, quiet, and journaling. My openness to the Spirit has come in short spurts, often in the midst of getting ready for days so unlike my usual routine I felt as though I was putting my shoes on the wrong feet.

I yearn for my spiritual practice to be more constant through life’s ebbs and flows. I’m aware that I too readily let my disciplines slide when I’m busy, and those likely are the times I need them most.

I have much to ponder right now.

The writing workshop was a beginning exploration of whether I’m being led to enroll in a graduate program in writing. In the coming months I’ll be discerning (hopefully with the help of a clearness committee) if that’s the way to strengthen my ministry of writing.

While I was visiting my daughter, the husband of the friend whose birthday I celebrated two weeks ago was diagnosed with a brain tumor, and he’ll have surgery next week. He’s a beloved teacher and leader in my small community, and his unexpected health crisis, like the August morning fog, has draped us all in sadness. As I re-read those words, I’m struck by the constant challenge in life both to plan for the future and to live in the present.

I don’t know if sharing my journey through this blog or other writing I do ministers to anyone else. I do know writing is one way I open myself to the Spirit. My pledge to blog regularly nudges me to slow down in these busy and emotional times and ground myself in God’s presence.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Doing My Little Part



On the first day of the Iraq War, singer-songwriter Linda Allen penned the lyrics and music for “I Believe that Peace Will Come.” At least that’s the story Tom Rawson told as he led us in singing the song at North Pacific Yearly Meeting’s Annual Session in mid-July. It was a fitting choice for the gathering’s theme “Practicing Hope: Living and Witnessing Our Testimonies,” and the timing was perfect as it preceded the address by our Friend-in-Residence, Bridget Moix.

Bridget, the director of the Peaceful Prevention of Deadly Conflict Program at Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL), titled her talk, “An Ocean of Darkness, An Ocean of Lightness, y un Barquito Grande.” It was Bridget’s two-year-old son, Pablo, who provided that image of a “big little boat,” and it became a metaphor for Bridget’s inspiring message. She kept coming back to the idea that when we put our faith into action (no matter how big or little), it brings about hope, which leads to more positive action and more hope.

We know from George Fox’s journals the grief he experienced, the “ocean of darkness,” as he confronted the pain and suffering in the world, in his time. There’s no doubt that remaining hopeful in these times is a challenge as well. “There are days I turn on my computer at my desk and cry,” Bridget said. “An ocean of darkness is literally rising around us.” Some of the many examples she cited especially struck me:

· War is becoming a common state of affairs.

· 70% of the Afghan population is under 30 years of age, and they can’t remember a time of peace.

· We’re funding war at the expense of our country and the planet.

· As always, the poor and marginalized are hit the worst.

I often weep, too, for these and other signs of suffering around the world and in my own community.

Fox wrote of experiencing God’s infinite love as the “ocean of light” overcoming the darkness, and Bridget related evidence of this light she’s seen in her work at FCNL:

· Now, there are conversations about the prevention of war.

· $50 million have been earmarked in the federal budget for efforts to prevent war.

· The new Civilian Response Corps already has 1000 members working around the world to support overseas reconstruction and stabilization operations.

Examples like this keep me going day after day when I feel overwhelmed by the enormity of the problems in our world and of my limited capacity to change them. When the knowledge of the pain in the world sears me, my unrealistic yearning to “fix it all” immobilizes me. I focus on all the things I’m not doing to bring about peace, reverse climate change, end injustice. Chastising myself for not doing more requires energy—energy that could be used sharing my gifts and following the calling I have.

“Practicing hope is a big job,” Bridget said. “But we’re not alone, and we only need to do our little part. That’s the power of community, to uplift and multiply each other’s gifts.” That was the part of Bridget’s message that I most needed to hear, and that I believe many of us Friends need to take to heart. I know very few Friends who talk of their work for peace and justice as a joy or as in just the right proportion to what they feel they can give and do joyfully. Rather, what I typically hear from others and feel for myself is a sense of being over-stretched, over-committed, frazzled by long “to do” lists.

Bridget’s message gave me much to think about related to what my little part is. Her words cast light once again on my belief that whatever I do, it’s never enough, isn’t good enough. Perhaps some people need and respond well to challenges to do more, are motivated by admonitions to work harder. But the message I need to hear is to slow down; remain open; don’t plan and fill every moment with doing; beware of outrunning the Light I’ve been given.

Doing my little part seems so inadequate in the face of so much suffering and destruction. Yet I think that’s what being faithful, and hopeful, is all about—putting my energy into facing the suffering of the world squarely, listening carefully to what I’m called to do, and then being faithful to that call.

For Linda Allen, it’s writing songs. For me, writing stories is my little part. And if I’m faithful to using my gifts to write, to tell some of the stories needing to be told, I must trust that my faithfulness will result in action that will bring about hope and promote more action, and more hope. Maybe even peace.

I’ve sat with drafts of this posting for two weeks, writing through my questions and understanding about what it means to do my part. Now as I read it one more time, doubts remain about whether I’m on the right track. Is my little part really enough? Is Spirit calling me to do just those things I can do joyfully? What about all those hundreds of needs and problems I’m aware of that I’m not doing anything about?

I hope that those who read this entry will share their experiences and will embark on a dialogue about putting faith into action.

To learn more about two people doing their "little part" through music, visit:
http://www.lindasongs.com/pages/home.htm
http://www.tomrawson.com/folksinger.html

And to learn more about the powerful work of FCNL:
http://www.fcnl.org/index.htm

Monday, July 5, 2010

Conversion Experience



Walking is part of my meditation practice and my regular form of exercise. Usually I’m accompanied by my dog, Buddy (yellow lab/German shepherd). Sometimes I’m in prayer while I walk; often I’m wrestling with worries, fears, disappointment, or confusion. Many times, when I’d much rather sit in my favorite rocker and not expose myself to the rain or wind or both, I reward myself for getting out for a brisk walk by listening to my iPod. I keep a good supply of programs loaded on my tiny nano – selections from “Speaking of Faith” with Krista Tippett; Bill Moyers’ “Journal;” Barnes and Noble’s “Meet the Authors;” and “Weekends with Bob Edwards.”

Last week it was an interview from “Song of the Soul,” one of the programs produced by Mark Judkins Helpsmeet of Northern Spirit Radio, that got me out of the rocker and up the steep hill on a trail near my house. A year ago, Mark interviewed Alivia Biko, one of my friends from the Pacific Northwest Quaker Women’s Theology Conference (see previous post), so I downloaded their conversation (www.northernspiritradio.org).

Alivia is a gifted singer/songwriter and minister at Freedom Friends Church in Salem, OR. I’ve been moved by her clear, spirit-filled voice and lyrics many times at the Women’s Conference. Over the years we’ve had brief conversations, enough for me to feel I’d like to get to know her better. That happened as I listened to her share with Mark her life story and spiritual journey. She honestly and eloquently spoke of her childhood marred by abuse, her mother’s death by suicide, her own struggles with depression and chronic illness, and her spiritual path.

The part of Alivia’s journey that especially spoke to me was her “conversion experience.” Although she had attended a variety of churches in young adulthood, it was while she was hospitalized and visited by a chaplain that she had a new awareness of the love of God. She described it to Mark as one of those “mountaintop moments” that has sustained her through other low times. Mark labeled it a “conversion experience” and contrasted it to the typical description of such times being an awareness of our sinfulness and willingness to “give ourselves over to God.”

“Unfortunately,” Alivia said, “ever since I was born, I had been told I wasn’t good enough and there was something wrong with me. My conversion came through the recognition that in God’s eyes I’m good enough.”

As I listened to Alivia’s story and her song “The Art of Life” that followed, my pace slowed; tears filled my eyes. She had spoken to my condition, to my experience of taking God into my life. I, too, grew up with messages from my family and from the church that I wasn’t good enough, that I couldn’t be trusted to do the right thing. Being loved, both by God and my family, seemed to me as a young child to be conditional, only available as long as I followed all the rules; behaved the way my mom, the church, and my friends told me I must. I lived in fear of doing the wrong thing, of angering God, of disappointing my family, and thus losing their love. For years I worked very hard, striving to finally be good enough to deserve their love.

Thankfully, I, too, had a wise friend, a Quaker woman, who convinced me that I’m beloved, that God loves me just as I am and yearns for me to be fully myself. She taught me about God’s ever-present, unfailing love for me—for everyone. I had understood well my shortcomings, my fallibility, my ability to sin. But I hadn’t taken in that God’s love is steadfast, even when I’m at my most human-like worst. When I’m being critical of and demanding of perfection from myself and everyone around me. When, out of feelings of inadequacy, I respond critically to differing opinions. When I talk, instead of listen; defend, instead of open.

Until I heard Alivia name her awareness of God’s unwavering love as a conversion, I had questioned the validity of my own discovery of God as an unconditionally-loving parent. I hadn’t fully accepted that my taking in of God’s unswerving love for me was my own conversion experience, that that was the change that was central to my spiritual journey.

Alivia went on to explain that after her own discovery of God’s love for her, she still had much work to do to recover from earlier wounds. I know that for her, and for me, this healing work continues. Alivia’s naming of her experience, though, provided some healthy tissue for my own deep wounds, and I’m thankful to her for telling her story.

~ ~ ~ ~

Blogging update – I checked Google Analytics and am delighted to see some numbers adding up about people visiting my blog. However, I don’t know much about what that means i.e. who these visitors are, how they got to the blog, whether they come back after a first visit. And of course, I don’t know what they think about what I’ve written unless they comment. I appreciate the comments people have written and am content to see how/if more dialogue occurs. I know I have limited time to read and comment on blogs, and I suspect the same is true for many others. For now, I’m still enjoying the discipline of putting into words some of my questions and reflections that arise from adding blogging to my spiritual practice.

Monday, June 28, 2010

No Assumptions

This year’s Pacific Northwest Quaker Women’s Theology Conference, the eighth such gathering of women from various branches of Quakerism, carried me several steps further on the path of letting go of the assumptions that distance me from the rich diversity within the Society of Friends. The epistle from the conference (follows this post) expresses well the collective experience of the sixty women who worshipped, discussed, sang, and prayed with a focus on the theme, “Walk With Me: Mentors, Elders, and Friends.” Through my writing, I’m exploring what the conference meant for me.

My introduction to Quakerism nearly thirty years ago was through the unprogrammed tradition. Like so many other convinced Friends, quite soon after attending my first meeting for worship, I had a sense of having found my spiritual home. And, just like many Quakers I’ve met, I was a refugee from a church (Missouri Synod Lutheran for me) that I felt couldn’t tolerate my questions and beliefs about God and faith. For me, the Religious Society of Friends was a place that not only tolerated, but also encouraged my seeking to understand my own spiritual path. A community that didn’t claim to have all the answers and that didn’t require that I adhere to a prescribed set of beliefs “spoke to my condition.” When I discovered there were evangelical Friends with churches and ministers and missionaries, I was surprised. For years I assumed that branch of Quakerism didn’t have anything to do with me or my faith journey.

Slowly, I began to open myself to the possibility that, despite differing forms of worship and beliefs, there was much common ground among these varieties of Friends. Not long after my son participated in the Quaker Youth Pilgrimage in 1998, I started to hear about a group of women from Friends churches and meetings in Portland, OR who were getting together regularly to bridge the differences among them (their history is told eloquently in Pendle Hill Pamphlet #323, “An Experiment in Faith – Quaker Women Transcending Differences,” by Margery Post Abbott). When I learned they had expanded the conversation among women throughout the Pacific Northwest through a Quaker Women’s Theology Conference, I was intrigued, but intimidated. What did I know about theology? I was still brimming with questions about God, Jesus, Spirit, faith, and what I was called to do in life. I assumed that the women who went to this conference had all of the answers and that those from the evangelical branch would try to impose their beliefs on me. But I remained intrigued and grew in openness to the experience as I watched trusted women F/friends venture into this experiment.

Finally, in 2004, I mustered the courage to attend the conference and felt welcomed into a community of faithful, seeking women. I served on the planning committee for the 2006 conference; missed the conference in 2008 due to schedule conflicts; and returned for this year’s gathering June 16-20 (http://pnwquakerwomen.org/wordpress/). At each conference I’ve found a safe haven to explore my own beliefs and to learn from others as they explore theirs. I’ve been especially drawn to the conference’s use of narrative theology, that is, personal stories of faith expressed in reflection papers that participants share with each other, as a way to integrate our experiences and our understanding. Much of my own narrative theology revolves around finding the vocabulary to describe my faith experience; it’s through wrestling with words that I become more clear about what I believe. The conference is a place I can see how some of this faith vocabulary—God, Jesus, calling, ministry, mystery, Spirit—feels on my tongue and reverberates in my ears. The conference is a place I let go of my assumptions of what those words mean to others and where I trust people let go of assumptions of what those words mean to me.

This year, in particular, it didn’t matter to me which tradition the women I met are from, and I didn’t feel a need to name my affiliation when I met someone new. What did matter, and what nourished me, were the many opportunities we had to share the variety of ways in which we experience the presence of God in our lives.

Epistle - Pacific Northwest Quaker Women's Theology Conference

To our Quaker family,

Surrounded by the waters and wildlife of Hood Canal and the snowy peaks of the Olympic Mountains, sixty women gathered in Seabeck, Washington from June 16-20, 2010 for the eighth Pacific Northwest Quaker Women’s Theology Conference. Begun fifteen years ago to promote dialogue and build relationships among different Quaker traditions, this conference continues to be deeply Spirit led and enriches the lives of women who attend.

Though we represent different backgrounds and branches of Quakerism, the lines between these seemed very thin and blurred. No one avoided talking about her home meeting or church, but our membership didn’t have as much weight as our personal experiences shared in love. Even as we attempted to be open and accepting, at times we mis-stepped and unintentionally hurt each other. Many of us felt broken open and left this conference changed.

Through reflection papers we wrote, plenary sessions, home groups, and discussion, we each connected personally with the theme, “Walk With Me: Mentors, Elders, and Friends.” Each plenary brought us back again and again to the awareness of the need for support and mentorship in our lives. We identified places in which we are being accompanied and are accompanying others and places where we feel the absence of that loving presence. Many of us made commitments to seek those relationships in our meetings, churches and beyond.

Despite colds, more serious illnesses and concerns for the health of loved ones, we drew strength, support, and encouragement from one another. Many think of the Women’s Conference as a reunion and newcomers found they were welcomed into the family with open arms.

In keeping with the testimony of community, we opened ourselves to another group, Interplay, also staying at the conference center. We described the kind of work that we each came to do, invited them to join us in worship, and likewise were invited to experience their ministry and we shared grace together before meals.

We celebrated the gifts of many through plenaries, workshops, singing and readings by several published authors. During one plenary session, several young adults shared personal experiences of their ministries in relation to the theme of the conference. We were thrilled to hear stories of women being supported and held sacredly in their ministry. However, we were deeply saddened to learn that some are not empowered or recognized in their ministries. We were thus reminded of the reality of sexism in the Society of Friends. Encircling the young adult women, we joined together in heartfelt prayer and were moved by its healing and supportive power. This experience deepened our worship and fellowship together. We challenged ourselves to be aware of internalized sexism, as well as the sexism in our churches and meetings, and to work toward true equality.

During business meeting on Saturday, we reaffirmed the work of this body of women and our leading to continue meeting together as an intra-faith group. We look forward to the next opportunity to join in fellowship.

~ ~ ~ ~

Blogging experiment update – One woman led a workshop at the conference about blogging, and of course I signed up. I learned a few more “tech-y” things like how to find out how many people visit my blog, and another woman helped me set it up through Google Analytics. I got there by “googling” Google Analytics, and my friend prompted me about how to set it up for my blog; I don’t know how well I would have done on my own, but I think it’s fairly self-explanatory. Now I can monitor how many people visit my blog whether they comment or not. I’m not sure what that will tell me, but I’m curious.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Saying Yes to Writing

For the past week, I’ve been immersed in my writing life and am just beginning to re-enter and re-integrate it with the rest of my life. I attended an advanced memoir workshop, and it was a time-out-of-time. For five days I retreated to a house at the end of Lake Chelan with writing teacher Ana Maria Spagna (see previous post about her new book, Test Ride on the Sunnyland Bus) and six other women (thank you, Tee for the photo). We read, discussed, and analyzed writing craft in poetry, fiction, essay, and screen-writing followed by prompts by Ana Maria using some of the techniques in those genres in our memoir writing:

Write a sonnet (14 lines in iambic pentameter)

Write a paragraph about God, sex, or death. Then use line breaks to turn it into a poem. Next, make your paragraph into a scene.

Take a scene and write it just in dialogue.

Now I’m back home, commuting to another island for my part-time job as a school nurse, clerking the Epistle Committee for my Yearly Meeting (our task is to write a letter to Quakers around the world summarizing our annual gathering coming up in July in Montana), and preparing for my presentation at next week’s Pacific Northwest Quaker Women’s Theology Conference (http://pnwquakerwomen.org/wordpress/).

It’s that last task, my upcoming presentation (Saying Yes to Writing as a Path to Spirit), that is grounding me most about how writing fits into my life and how it leads me to Spirit.

For most of my adult life, writing has been a vehicle for me to understand what I believe, feel, question, and know. But when I felt called to nursing, the writing I did was technical and health care-related. Over the next twenty years, I journaled and wrote sporadically for self-discovery until, in the early 1990s, I acknowledged my passion for nursing was fading. I took two years away from nursing (way far away with my family to a remote mountain village in Washington’s North Cascades) to discern if I was being led to different work. I also attended more to my creativity through writing, music, and art.

A few years later, at a Writing as Ministry workshop at Pendle Hill Quaker Conference Center, I said yes to writing as a spiritual path and as the work I’m called to do. At the workshop, led by Tom Mullen, participants did writing exercises, read each other’s work, and received critique from Tom. Something shifted for me at that workshop, in the way I’ve often experienced Spirit moving in me, a seemingly sudden clarity and knowing deep in my bones about a next step. Ever since then I’ve thought of my writing as my work. That means I’ve treated it with the same respect as a paying job, reserving time for it Monday through Friday on my calendar.

For four years I devoted that writing time to a collection of stories about people who work with their hands and in 2009 published my first book, Hands at Work (www.handsworking.com). That project arose from an exhibit of black-and-white photographs of people’s hands by photographer Summer Moon Scriver. The images of the hands of a baker, a knitter, a spinner, and a gardener spoke to me of a passion for work that I had once had and lost and that I know is missing for many other people. I wanted to give voice to those stories of satisfaction with work.

The interviewing, writing, and editing brought me much joy. The people profiled expressed their gratitude for being listened to and for having their work honored. I hoped the stories and images would speak to others as well, though I recognized that was out of my hands. It’s a thrill every time people tell me the book has moved or inspired them.

Now I’m at work on my own story, a memoir of my journey to discern where Spirit leads me. Most of the time I’m clear that I’m called to write this particular story both as a way to Spirit and as a ministry to others, though I still struggle with outward expression of my interior search. The workshop last week offered some new tools to write my way toward Spirit. This experiment in blogging provides another avenue to “publishing” my truth and opens the possibility of dialogue (ministry?) with readers.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Small, Courageous Acts

Over the weekend, my husband and I hosted our long-time friend, Ana Maria Spagna, and her partner, Laurie, as part of Ana Maria’s tour promoting her new book, Test Ride on the Sunnyland Bus – A Daughter’s Civil Rights Journey. I’ve read the book once just for the pleasure of learning the story of Ana Maria’s path to understanding her father’s involvement in the Tallahassee Bus Boycott. I’m reading it a second time to learn from this skillful writer how to tell a multi-layered story like Test Ride. Ana Maria uses literary techniques to, as she says, “braid” the stories of her father, who died when she was eleven; her own discovery of her father’s past that had not been discussed in her family; and her mother’s experience with cancer (find out more at www.anamariaspagna.com).

One of the joys of hearing an author read and talk about her own work is to be able to learn more about her process and what she discovered about herself through her research and writing. I was fortunate to get two of those opportunities during Ana Maia’s visit – both at her public reading and earlier in the day when I interviewed her for our local low power FM radio station.

I heard about how she starts her writing day first reading someone else’s writing that inspires her. Then she re-reads what she wrote the day before. “Sometimes I think it’s the worst thing I’ve ever written,” Ana Maria said. “At those times, I allow myself to just close that file without hitting the delete button, and move on to something else I’m working on. That’s the benefit of working on more than one project at a time.” Then she writes for a few hours, or revises if that’s the stage she’s at on a piece. “I’m pretty unproductive at writing after two or three in the afternoon,” she says, “so I shift to preparing for a writing workshop or the on-line teaching I do for a writing program.” Ah yes, the reality for most writers of having a “day job” (or two or three).

Ana Maria also talked about the two years of research she did about the civil rights movement and especially about the Tallahassee bus boycott and her father’s role in it. Here’s a synopsis of what she learned about the latter.

One Saturday morning in Tallahassee, Florida in January 1957, three black men and three white—my father, Joe Spagna, among them—gathered outside Speed’s, a small corner grocery, to wait for a city bus. Their plan was simple enough, to ride the bus together, but it was dangerous as hell.”

Through her research, Ana Maria got answers to many of her questions about what happened after that bus ride, questions she had wanted to ask her father but couldn’t because he had died when she was eleven years old. She also learned a part of U.S. history in much more depth and much more personally than she’d ever understood. As Ana Maria shared about that learning, she ministered to me.

“I had grown up with such a limited view of what happened during the civil rights movement,” she said. “I’m embarrassed to admit I had accepted that condensed version I’d been taught in school – the stories of Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr., and the four young black children who had integrated an all-white school. What I learned is there were hundreds and hundreds of people who did courageous acts, large and small, to try to bring about justice.”

Hundreds and hundreds of people doing small, courageous acts to bring about justice. I’m just as guilty as Ana Maria of looking at only the well known, headline-making actions of people working for peace and justice—and holding myself to that standard. While it’s true that change usually requires that some people take action that gets lots of attention and demands huge sacrifice, sometimes even loss of life, I’m grateful for the reminder from Ana Maria’s story about the importance of the small things many of us do every day. I’m open (most of the time) to the possibility that someday I’ll be called to act in a big way, and I pray I’ll have the courage to follow such a leading. There really are so many examples, though, so many stories, of the small, courageous actions within our families, our communities, and our own hearts that contribute to peace and justice. Ana Maria learned about many of them that never made it into any history books or newspaper headlines. I’m grateful she had the courage to share some of them through her writing. They support me to put my energy into remaining faithful to the opportunities the Spirit provides me and trusting that those small actions, combined with others, will make a difference.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

An update on my experiment with blogging. I spent more time than I would have liked this morning figuring out how to include the image of the cover of Test Ride in this post, but that’s part of the learning of a new skill. I’m discovering some unexpected ways this medium connects me to other people. For example, a couple of the people who have commented on my posts have included information about their own or others’ blogs. When those links appear in their posts or profiles, it’s easy for me to click on them and encounter some people and ideas I hadn’t known about before.

Having set a goal to post every week is supporting me to focus my journaling and meditation time and going deeper into some of the ideas that surface. I’m also getting practice at disciplining myself to use this tool for that deepening rather than as a way to avoid it by getting diverted to other sites.