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


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.