Portrait of the Artist as a Middle-Aged Woman

I received my membership card from the Philadelphia Museum of Art today. 

The front of it has an excerpt from a painting by Wassily Kandinsky, Circles in a Circle, 1923. [See the whole painting here]

I am not usually a fan of abstract art. But this little piece spoke to my condition. Any way I hold it, any side up or down. It is still fascinating.

Multiple circles and tangential and perpendicular lines in multiple colors

I realized that while I had heard the name before, I knew nothing about Kandinsky, so I googled his name. I read almost the whole Wikipedia article about him (it’s long). He was born in Moscow and grew up in Odesa, Ukraine. He originally studied law and was successful as a professor. He didn't start to draw seriously until his 30s but then he became a painter and a theorist and a teacher and he was part of the Bauhaus and he died in Paris in 1944 at the age of 77.

He was interested in the connections between art and the soul of a human being, and between music and color as abstractions of the soul. He was a theosophist and an Orthodox Christian.

I am captivated by these concepts and theories.

But also by the possibility that one might not discern their true calling in adolescence. There were glimpses - he says he was interested in color as a child. His initial interest in drawing-painting was in figurative," realistic" art. He saw Monet's “Haystacks" series and was initially distressed that he couldn't tell what it was. But it captivated him - it captured his attention. And he continued to explore these connections the rest of his life.

Most of the last month I have spent writing a novel, that began as an idea while driving a carpool a year and a half ago. This morning I had a vision of a series of books featuring my character in order to tell all the stories I was creating for her. Part of this morning's vision was of using a novel to proclaim the Fourth World, integrating another part of my life/self/ambition.

But I have to finish the first one. Not get captivated by the idea of being a novelist and lose the reality of the hard work and penurious life of an artist.

But this was also the first time I actually thought of myself as an artist. Of writing as art. Not just truth. Although art is also truth. 15 years ago, I was considering whether I could call myself a writer or not. I came to accept that as truth about myself. But only now am I seeing my writing as “art.”

One of the Kandinsky quotes on the google search page: "The artist must also cultivate his soul."

I joined the Philadelphia Museum of Art so I could go as often as I want during my sabbatical. Julia Cameron has a concept of an artist’s date, where you go on a date with your muse. 

Last year, I gave copies of Seth Godin’s book The Practice to a few people. A week ago, one of them cited it as being “everything” as she accepted a new job that will require her to step up in a new role. Then she quoted it back at me, when I was being fearful about writing fiction. 

And Samir Selmanovic helped me to think a couple of years ago about what I need to bring forth what is in me that no one else can do. What am I to do with my unique life? My one wild and precious life, to quote that famous Mary Oliver poem. 

So far, my sabbatical has unleashed



55,000 words of a novel.

Tonight, Chris made a joke and I said that would make a great short story. He said if you want to write it, go ahead. I just might.

One of the best things though, about this sabbatical time, is that there are no expectations, no pressure. I can flit from one to the next, and then dive deep.  Kandinsky again, “There is no must in art because art is free." How am I free? Am I bound by my own expectations? By responsibilities? By other people’s expectations? This freedom is part of what makes it art. But I think it is fascinating that the long wikipedia article has exactly three sentences about his personal life as an adult, and only mentions two of the three women in his life (that I read about on another site). What expectations was he exceeding? What responsibilities was he avoiding?

Dear God,

Help me to see what is mine to do and what to leave undone.


[I wrote this a year ago. I'm not sure why I didn't post it then. But a year later, it still speaks to my condition. After I got the card, I have visited the original painting multiple times.] 

Labels: , ,

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]


First Day School in the wake of Covid-19

In late spring of 2021, my monthly meeting began preparing to return to in-person worship in June. We made the transition to hybrid worship-some folks in the meetinghouse and some on Zoom-pretty easily.

Early in the process, God laid it on my heart that we needed to have in-person first day school (FDS) when we returned to the meetinghouse. One reason was to have childcare for our clerk and other parents to be able to attend worship. Another reason was that in the 15 months when we only had Zoom worship, the children and parents had been clear that the kids did not want to participate in another Zoom activity on Sunday morning. A couple of Friends tried to stay in touch with families during the pandemic, but it wasn't very successful as a religious education program. The best thing they did was organize a fifth Sunday intergenerational online meeting for worship with pets. 

• • •

In deference to the pandemic health restrictions, we decided a few things. First, we would not return to the small classrooms upstairs in the meetinghouse - even though they were freshly painted during the first year of the pandemic. We would hold FDS outside, under a tent that had been erected on the grass by the school attached to our meeting. And second, we would begin with brief lessons and plenty of time to play outside. Third, the lessons part would start with getting to know each other again.

I committed personally to being there most weeks and finding a second adult to join me, or finding two adults to be there on weeks I was not. Some of the Friends who had been teaching before came back, and some had moved on in their commitments. A parent volunteered to follow through on the child safety policy requirements, like background checks, etc. 

We had previously not had much of a tradition of snacks in our First Day School, maybe because we always had a robust offering during 'hospitality' or "coffee hour." Since we would be meeting outside in the Philadelphia summer, I started bringing individual juice pouches - popular and pre-portioned - that could offer some hydration, some blood sugar, without a risk of sharing germs. It wasn't very environmentally sound but it seemed like the best solution under the circumstances.

I bought a set of a dozen clipboards to use to write or draw on, and I brought some oil pastel crayons and colored pencils and a surplus sketchbook from my house to have tools that children from 3-12 could use. We encouraged the kids to bring a blanket or towel to sit on if they wanted.

We changed our tradition to have kids sit with their families for the first 15 minutes of worship so that they could arrange where to sit with social distancing and not have to disrupt where other people were sitting at the end of worship. And so parents didn't have to defend space all through worship in order to have a place for their kids to sit when they came back. This also meant that the FDS program mostly started with everyone together, instead of dribbling in. When families were more than 15 minutes late, the kids just joined us outside - no problem.

Kids came-and they came back. Their parents reported that the kids were looking forward to coming to meeting. So I considered that a success.

By the end of the summer, we settled on a loose rotation of one week of spiritual practices that help us feel closer to God, one week of a Bible or Quaker story, one week on the month's advices & queries about how we live our lives (as 3rd-6th graders), and one week of playing sports or games the whole time.

We were lucky that all the kids over 5 got vaccinated just before the weather got too cold to sit outside. We transitioned to meeting in the dining room where we had good ventilation, and no one was cooking anyway.  We're still wearing masks in the meeting house. And mostly when we're outside too.

I kept inviting more adult Friends to join us - to bring something for the content or just to be the second adult. And I set up a text group for last minute announcements to parents. By now, we have a pretty regular cast of characters. We have a regular rotation of teachers and we are renewing our background checks for continuing and new teachers. We have some kids who come (almost) every week and some who come once a month. We can incorporate new Friends any week, and we have a critical mass of participants to be sure that if you come, there will be a program for children and there will be other children there.

• • •

Every week, we start with "News of the Week" - we pass the clipboard around and each say our name, "reporting from Philadelphia," (like a broadcaster) and then whatever is news from our week. Like "my cousins came to visit" or "we had a half day at school and I played a lot of video games" or "I lost a tooth." Whatever is news for you. [This has been a great way to get to know each other better.]

The first couple of weeks we talked about what was different at the meetinghouse now and drew our family portraits (including pets). Then we spent a few weeks talking about God - what is God? How do we know? Does God hear our prayers?  

In late July, the yearly meeting organized a Sunday morning, in-person activity in conjunction with annual sessions. It was a program with separate groups for elementary, middle and high school kids, at the Historic Fairhill Burial Ground, (now a public park) where Lucretia Mott, among others, is buried. It was actually very close to our meetinghouse, and at one point was under the care of our monthly meeting. So we had one week where we learned a little bit about who Lucretia Mott was and how she was (tangentially) connected to our meeting. The next week we all met at the park, and the kids participated in small, age-appropriate groups run by the yearly meeting staff, and it was fun for everyone. The following week, one of the kids reported on the book about a black abolitionist that his family picked up from the Tiny Library in the park. 

We spent the whole month of August learning about prayer. As in, prayer can take many forms-it's between you and God. It can be in motion--a Friend who is an actor came and led some movement. It can be words that are already written. We read the 23rd Psalm and a friend came and led us in a song that is also a prayer. It can be a personal ritual-a Friend came and shared her personal prayer practices.

In September, we spent a couple of weeks preparing for World Quaker Day (first Sunday in October) by interviewing an older Friend in our meeting using the materials from the Africa QREC and FWCC Section of the Americas. Said older Friend also happens to be a documentary filmmaker so she took the footage home and edited it for us and we watched it together, and then showed it to the rest of the meeting on WQD and then sent it in to the WQD website

We started in November using the General Queries of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting on the first of each month that I translated into language appropriate for third graders. The kids have been genuinely interested in answering the questions and we have had some very interesting conversations about how we are living our lives, at home, at school, and at Meeting. 

In December, we started preparing food for the Meeting to share after worship. It's an activity, a snack, and a service project, all rolled into one. We have baked cookies and spread peanut butter on crackers and portioned out baby carrots into paper cups to make serving easy. It's different each month.

[In January, we were back on Zoom-only worship because of the covid-19 surge, so we didn’t have a children’s program for a few weeks. I promoted the yearly meeting’s online programs to anyone who wanted to participate.]

In February, we started, once a month, learning about Quaker distinctives. Why don't Quakers celebrate holidays, or do we? What does plain speech mean? How do we practice it now? What about oaths and music and communion? I have found that our kids didn't know these were part of Quaker tradition but now they are learning more of the depths of our Quaker practice-and talking about what is relevant to them, more than what it was like 200 years ago. I have been pleasantly surprised how engaged they are in the discussion. We just roll with the tangents and the non-sequiturs-everyone has something to say.

So now the content rotation is: first week: answering the queries, second week: playing games, third week: learning about Quaker faith and practice, fourth week: cooking for the Meeting. When there’s a fifth week, we are supposed to organize something for the whole meeting for intergenerational worship, but we haven’t actually done that yet. 

We have one baby who is regularly attending our Meeting, but still sleeping through worship much of the time, and cuddling with his parents the rest of the time. But we are ready when he is to welcome him to our program space - we have a plan and a brand new rug that is just waiting for someone to spit up on it.

• • •

For me personally, it has been a lot of work in the last year. But as I no longer have children at home, I had some time to give. I think it is important that parents don’t have to teach or supervise the children’s religious education program during worship, unless they really want to. For someone who spends her working days talking about how to build Quaker community, it has been a way to stay connected to my monthly meeting - both the joys and the tedium and the normal conflicts of community life. And it has been a way to channel my creativity and to talk about the spiritual things that matter to me. And I’ve gotten to know the kids (and parents) in my meeting a lot better, which is a blessing in and of itself.

Labels: , , ,

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]


Holy Week 2021

I didn't intentionally choose this week to begin my sabbatical. A collection of external factors coincided to make this the right time. I only realized this coincidence would be true a couple of days ago.

But it feels good. Around the world, this is a week of holidays for Christians. In some contexts, secular holidays - schools and businesses are closed. In other contexts, the procession from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday, with special rituals of remembrance on each day in between.
• • •
Holy Monday was the overturning of the tables in the temple. A challenge to unjust economic systems. For me, this time of rest and creative activity feels like a direct challenge to the economic structures of our day. For me, this ten week period feels like a sabbath season. A time to make right the patterns of my life. 8 hours for work, 8 hours for rest, 8 hours for what we will.

What do I will? And perhaps, not what I will, but what God wills. Not God's agents on Earth, not the church, not the government, but the Holy Creator, Source of All Wisdom, Beauty, Goodness. Not Caesar.

My main plan for this week is to begin by writing every day. To go swimming several days. And to schedule all the appointments that I put off until now. A haircut, a mammogram, new glasses, and more. It may take my whole sabbatical season to get to them all.

I already scheduled two - a deep cleaning for our house and our car. These fall into the category of things I could do for myself. However other people will be more efficient and right now I would rather pay someone to do it well and get it over with and not be exhausted when it is done. It will free me to think about other things instead of fretting about the housework. This goes against all my home training, but for once, I think it will be a good tradeoff.
• • •
Later in the week, Maundy Thursday is a reminder about community and service to others. Will I find ways, during this sabbatical season that overlaps with the Covid19 pandemic, to break bread with others and wash their feet? As a serious extrovert, I need to talk to other people for my own mental health. And as a human being and a Christian, I need to be of service to other people. Also for my own mental health. But I also need to practice some discipline around "custody of the eyes". The main purpose of this break is to bring forth that which is in me - to give to the world that which only I can give. Not to spend the time reading what other people have already written.

But recognizing the enormous privilege of having ten weeks in a row of paid leave, without even a newborn baby to take care of, I want to find some way to be of practical service to the community around me in this time as well.
• • •
Holy Friday and Saturday are about dying to self and waiting in the deep unknown. Am I able to give over my own longing to know or do or be anything and sink down to that seed that God sows in the heart? And to let that seed grow in me and breathe in me and be in me without striving to make myself more? For that seed to increase, I must decrease. In my striving and my desire for control and for fame and fortune and, and, and... everything. Not my will, Lord, but thine.

• • •
Then next Sunday, I will be going away. To an undisclosed location. For a week of self-denial of other people and the freedom to just write. A rebirth in some ways, maybe more like extended labor. I don't think it tracks to a resurrection. I'm afraid it's going to feel more like an extended Holy Saturday.

But we'll see. What freedom comes in that emptiness? What new inspirati­on or motivation? What will I be able to produce under those conditions? I have no idea.

Seventeen years ago, I went away for a solo retreat for a weekend. At that point in my life, what I most needed was for no one to touch me for 48 hours. I literally had to wean the baby in order to go away. The writing was just a serendipitous byproduct. But my life has changed ever since. And that baby is 19 years old now.

One of the things people keep telling me is not to have too high of expectations for myself in this sabbatical season. To not feel like I have to fill it with any particular kind of productivity or to set too concrete of a goal. That has been helpful advice.

But I am trying to establish the conditions for creative output to be possible.

I am trying to leave margins of time and energy to do what feels right in the moment.

To seek God's guidance in each day, each moment. And then to follow that guidance wherever or however it may lead.

• • •
This is the way.

That would be enough.


Labels: , , , , , , ,

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]


Un Salmo de Robin, 25 julio 2020

"Un Salmo de Robin" fue escrito el 25 julio 2020 como un ejercicio durante un retiro contemplativo de escribir nuestro propio salmo, utilizando nuestras oraciones sencillas, oraciones de nuestro corazón. La traducción en ingles esta abajo.

Querido Dios,

Ayúdame a que los dichos de mi boca y la meditación de mi corazón sean los mismos.

Reconozco que en tu creación somos tan minúscula como una montaña y tan magnifico como una brizna de hierba.

Pero en nuestra tierra, el mundo llora.

La justicia atrasada es justicia negada. Aun la pandemia no puede detener el progreso de la justicia. Pero ruego su misericordia con los que estamos vigilando nuestros muertos a solas. La raza humana no fue creada para la vida solitaria, sino una vida solidaria.

AMOR, me has creado para esto? ¿Para un tiempo así? Ayúdame a escuchar el susurro de tu voz y que la dejo guiar mi voluntad y mis pasos.

Mi pueblo adoptivo son los Cuáqueros. Con sus antecedentes heróicos y pecaminosos. No puedo asumir el uno sin el otro. Y me has llamado a servir a través de ellos. ¿Quieres que siga haciendo lo mismo? ¿Que estoy apoyando a los Cuáqueros a conocerse unos a otros? Que estoy creando espacio para los demás líderes a tomar sus puestos? ¿Vale la pena trabajar en la viña del Señor en una época así? En vez de la política de mi país?

Me contestas que sí. Para sostener a los que van a cambiar el mundo. Al socorro de tus labradores. Obedezco.

Ayúdame a construir con mis esfuerzos y nuestros Amigos una rampa de acceso para los que han escuchado tu voz y quieren hacer mejor pero que no saben como empezar ni para cual puerta entrar ni salir.

Ayúdame a recordar que no soy separada de ellos, ni los heridos ni los que hieren a su prójimo.

Ayúdame a crear un espacio para hablar de los verdaderos anhelos de nuestros corazones. Ayúdame a escuchar más que hablar. Que no dejo pasar la oportunidad de hacer lo necesario. De hacer lo justo. AMOR, hasta cuándo?

Aunque sigo agradecida por lo que me has brindado.

Ayúdame a no dejar de ser la mujer de mi marido, la madre de mis hijos, la dueña de mi casa, vestida de sencillez y justicia, mujer hacendosa. Reconozco la enseñanza de mis padres para cuidar de mi casa y enseñar a mis hijos. Agradezco la enseñanza de la universidad que no me libra de limpiar mi propia cocina pero no tengo que limpiar las cocinas de otras. Agradezco que me has proveído un hombre hecho y derecho, mi ayuda idónea, quien merece mi confianza y apoya a mi ministerio. Quien se acerca a mi con cariño y me hace reir. Señor del AMOR, ayuda a tod@s a encontrar la ayuda idónea para ell@s. Ayúdame a no despreciar el ministerio en mi junta local a favor de cualquier ministerio global o de aclamación mundana para no olvidar lo tedioso y lo precioso que es la comunidad cotidiana, que es la placa petri de la vida espiritual.

Ayúdame a hacer lo que está en mis manos por el bien de los días que me han tocado vivir, extirpando el mal en los campos y las calles que conozco, y dejando a los que vendrán después una tierra limpia para la labranza.

Y siempre, que no sea como yo quiero, AMOR, sino como tú quieras.

This was written as part of a contemplative retreat exercise to write our own psalm, using our own simple prayers of the heart.. Here is the translation:

A Psalm of Robin, July 25, 2020

Dear God,

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be the same.

I know that in your creation, we are as miniscule as mountains and as magnificent as a blade of grass.

But in our land, the world cries out.

Justice delayed is justice denied. Even the pandemic cannot stop the progress of justice. But I ask your mercy upon those of us who are mourning alone. The human race was not created for a solitary life, but for solidarity.

LOVE, is this what I was made for? For a time such as this? Help me to hear the whisper of your voice and to let that guide my will and my steps.

You know the Quakers are my adopted people, with both their heroic and their sinful past. I cannot take on one without the other. And you have called me to serve through them. Do you really want me to keep doing the same thing? Supporting Quakers to get to know each other? Creating spaces for other leaders to take their places? Is it really worth laboring in the vineyard of the Lord at a time like this? Instead of the politics of my country?

I hear the answer is yes. I am called to support those who are going to change the world. To succour your laborers. Got it.

Help me to build, with my own efforts and these our Friends, an access ramp for those who have heard your voice and want to do better but who do not know how to start or which door to come in or go out. Help me to remember that I am not separate from the others, neither the wounded nor those who wound their neighbor.

Help me create spaces where we can talk about real things, the true longings of our hearts. Help me to listen more than I talk. May I not miss any opportunity to do what is necessary. To do what is right. LOVE, how long?

Still, I’m grateful for all I have received.

LOVE, may I not fail to be the wife of my husband, the mother of my children, the mistress of my house, dressed in simplicity and righteousness, known as a capable woman. I will remember the lessons from my parents so I can care for my home and teach my children. I will appreciate the university education that doesn't stop me from cleaning my own kitchen but spares me from cleaning other people’s kitchens. I am grateful that you have provided me with a man of integrity, a worthy helpmeet, who merits my trust and supports my ministry, who cares for me with gentleness and makes me laugh. LOVE, may everyone find the worthy and willing helpmeet that is right for them. Help me not to forgo ministry in my local meeting in favor of any global ministry or worldly acclaim so as not to forget how tedious and how precious is our everyday community, which is the petri dish of the spiritual life.

Help me to do what is in me for the succour of those years wherein I am set, uprooting the evil in the fields and the streets that I know, so that those who live after may have clean earth to till.

And always, not my will, LOVE, but yours.

Labels: , , , ,

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]


In the presence of God and these our Friends

I remembered this morning why I come to yearly meeting.

20 years ago, I went to Pacific Yearly Meeting for the first time with my husband and our two year old child. The first day was pretty horrible. It was super hot. Eating and sleeping in a new place was a challenge for our two year old. And his parents. We were all pretty cranky. But then he had a really good time at the children’s program. He woke up the third morning saying, “Mommy? I want to go to schooool.” (The preschool program was in a kindergarten classroom.) So I got him to the program pretty quickly on the third day and I made it to the plenary worship for the first time.

I walked in to a meeting for worship with 400 Friends for the first time in my life. As I sat down and settled into worship, it was like sinking into a pool of cool water. I breathed more deeply. And I felt the presence of the Holy Spirit with me and among us. Over the years, I return to that experience in my mind as an example of why I come to yearly meeting.

This morning, after about 24 hours of being cranky about a range of things, I arrived at plenary worship at Philadelphia Yearly Meeting annual sessions. And I had that same sensation of sinking into cool water. Of being in the presence of God and Friends. And I remembered, this is why I come to yearly meeting.

The actual people who are here are trying. They have their issues. Some Friends aren’t here, that’s their choice. The business needs to get done. Sometimes it goes well and sometimes not. But that is par for the course of life. That doesn’t change my experience of the presence of God among Friends.

This is the most important reason why I come to yearly meeting sessions every year.

Labels: , , ,

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]


My 3 Words for 2018

This is still my favorite way to approach New Year’s resolutions and some reflection on the year behind me. This process is from Chris Brogan. You can read about the discernment process and his 3 words for 2018 on his blog. You can search for the hashtag #my3words to see other people’s takes on it. You can read my 3 words for 2017 and find links to the years before that on my blog.

My three words for 2017 were Slow, Teach, Ask. I feel like I made progress in all three areas, so that is something. And I specifically referenced these intentions in my mind throughout the year, to help me choose my words and my commitments and my actions. Which is the point. And it was easy to tell other people my words because they were both simple and cryptic. Most of Brogan’s 3 words choices fit that model. Each single syllable word holds a wealth of meaning and serves as a touchstone for a profound intention.

This year, I’m going to buck that tradition and use the longer words that baldly mean what I mean.
Family, Intellectual, Marketing. 
Family, because this year is going to require more engagement with my extended family than before. My parents are aging and my sister is bearing most of the burden because I live so far away. So I am acknowledging how much positive love and support I have been given by my parents and committing to be more present and more helpful in the coming year.

Intellectual, because I really enjoyed the writing and reading and talking to academic people I did in 2017. I want to push myself to find more opportunities for thinking and writing and talking to people about ideas in the coming year. Most of my non-work reading in the last dozen years has been young adult fantasy and adventure fiction, following my tween and teen kids. (Part of my standing commitment to be able to have conversations with them about the things they are interested in.) But I remember now that I want to read to challenge my brain, not just to comfort or distract myself. And I want to push myself to articulate my ideas clearly and completely. And to write for a wider audience.

Marketing is all about my paid work. This last year, I took an online course with Seth Godin, the first cohort of The Marketing Seminar. It helped me in so many ways. What do you do? Who is it for? What change are you trying to make? How do people who need us learn that we have what they need? How do we delight the people we serve? This coming year, I want to address more straightforwardly the challenges for FWCC, which all have a marketing component. And I don’t want to waste time looking for new words that mean the same things as marketing technical terms but sound spiritual. Plain speaking is still a Quaker value.

As I look at this, these are my personal intentions for improvements in 2018. And as always, I try to remember that what I truly desire to do is not my will, but thine, O Lord.

Labels: , , , ,

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]


New mercies I see

Have you heard the saying that the secret to a long, happy marriage is falling in love over and over again, each time with the same person? I believe this to be true.

I think it is also the secret to a long tenure in the same job, or a long-term practice of the same religion. The cycle of conviction, convincement, and conversion is a staple of Quaker faith and practice.

I feel like the last couple of weeks have brought me to a renewal of my “vows” to my job. (I use quotes here because it’s still a time-limited contract, not a lifetime appointment.) Perhaps it is more a renewed sense of my vocation and the discovery that it is still in line with my paid employment. I think this will come as a relief to my husband and my board of directors, who have watched me wrestle with the questions only I can answer. I know that this season of uncertainty will come again and again. That is just part of the examined life.

One of the factors has been this class I’m taking, on marketing with Seth Godin. I’m using the Traveling Ministry Corps as my case study and it’s been great. I’ve gotten much clearer about how to do that work. But one of the byproducts has been what Godin called, “marketing to the most important student." Which is myself. In the act of thinking about who is this for? and what do they care about?, I find myself articulating more clearly why I think this work is important. Which has the effect of reminding me why I want to do this work. Which makes a lot easier to do it.

Another factor was going to the Stoking the Fire retreat before the FUM  Triennial. It was wonderful to be with about 40 Friends, from high-school age to 80-somethings, who all came to stoke their own fires. And it was wonderful to be taught by women whose character and ways of service I can aspire to. We all need those examples. Imperfect human beings who are sharing their own lessons. I can’t overemphasize how important it was to go to a denominational conference for which I was not the over-burdened staff. I went to worship every day. I was present and vulnerable in worship sharing groups. I snuck out for coffee with old and new friends.

One of the messages from God to me in worship was, “if you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with.” Not in the sense that song was written. But if I can’t be with the Meeting I love, I have to love the gathered community of Friends wherever I am. I can’t hold back until I’m home with the people who already know and love me. I have to share my insights, my faith and my doubts with whoever is there, or I’m not going to make it. (There are limits to this, but they are further out than many people think.)

And if I can’t be with the river I love, I can love any bit of water I can find. The Greenville Y of the Feather River and the Connecting Railway Bridge over the Schuylkill River are both spiritually grounding places in my life. But other lands have sunshine too, and clover

In this same couple weeks, I read Diana Butler Bass’s book, Grounded. In it I recognized my own sense of dislocation from my roots and my connection to the imagery of water in my psyche and my spiritual journey. (Mountains and grass are also important images in my spiritual life, but that’s a different story.) The phrase that resonated the most for me, that speaks to me of my whole life’s project, is “sacred cosmopolitanism.” (Bass, p. 270) Bass cites Kwame Anthony Appiah, Mark Mitchell, and John of Patmos as sources. I’m still working this out, but it speaks to me of an urban theology. We need a positive theology for living together in the 21st century. Cities are not inherently and unrelentingly more corrupt than anywhere else. As a friend said to me twenty-six years ago, “The city is the place of the people animals,” and it has been my place for over 30 years. It is a philosophy beyond nationalistic parochialism, but with room for a “humane localism.” This is a philosophy that can acknowledge that home-grown tomatoes are the best without falling into the trap that only my family’s tomatoes are any good. This speaks to me of the possibility of pluralism and affirming the truth of my own people’s stories. In the midst of the morass, we need the uniquely human spiritual gifts as well: compromise, paradox, balance, contrarianship, translation. None of us is a single story, least of all me.

While I’m at it, I want to acknowledge that all of these good things have coincided with a break in the hormonal crappiness of peri-menopause. Despair is both a spiritual and a chemical condition. I don’t really want to discuss that here, but I think it would be a sin of omission to not recognize that it’s a factor in life, and I am not immune to or above its effects.

Which brings me back to feeling refreshed for the journey and re-committed to my work. I am blessed to have the right and the responsibility to live out my divine calling in my day job.

My main job is connecting Quakers to each other - so that they are freed up to connect with other local people who want to be part of a healthy and functional spiritual community that is committed to peace and justice and following God’s guidance for our lives. From Alaska to Bolivia.

There is always more work to do than hours in the day or days in the week. There is a lot of accounting and administrivia in my job, no fooling. But there is also the opportunity to speak up, to connect people, to see patterns from this particular perspective, to hold the big picture in the Light and to call Friends to live up to the Light that we have been given.

I need to not get so bogged down in the accounting and event planning so that I fail to look up and out and do all the things that are risky and engaging and visionary. I try to practice a refreshing honesty, a warm, engaging hospitality and a bracing ministry of encouragement. Sometimes I get to be a bee, pollinating between blossoms in the orchard of Friends. Sometimes I get to be a gardener, preparing fields for planting, or hoeing crops in the ground, and contributing to some harvests I will not live to see. That is a blessing.

Over the last several months, I have wrestled with the fact that I have to choose my battles. I can keep up with my home life, or my work life, or the national/international world. Pick two out of three. And this year, I realize that I am choosing family and Friends. But I believe that if I and the Friends World Committee do our work well, there will be more than enough hands to do all the work that needs doing.

Because these Quakers are the line of people who taught me to be more fully myself, who helped me understand the mysteries of my spiritual life. Because this is the people I have found who are the most committed to peace and justice and following God’s guidance for our lives. Because I think I can make a difference here and now.

Now, because this is the time I have. Now, because these are probably my peak years to combine experience and energy.

Now, because the world desperately needs more Quakers who are committed to peace and justice and following God’s guidance for our lives. And in order for Friends to live up to our highest calling, we need each other to balance and challenge and support each other.

Now, because it’s the most exciting thing I can imagine doing - where I generally feel competent and appreciated - and fully challenged to live up to the Light I have been given.
Great is thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me. … Morning by morning, new mercies I see.

Labels: , , ,

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]