In Order to Give Our Gift

                    Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it. (Mark 10:15)


Operating out of a sense of separation from God and the rest of Creation, human beings have changed the ecology of our planet, causing climate change, habitat erosion, and extinction for more and more species. Unless we avert the catastrophe we have set in motion, extinction may be the lot of our children or grandchildren, too. The Religious Society of Friends has a gift to give the world, a gift to use for the healing of the planet and the human race.

I joined with Quakers twenty-two years ago, after some life-transforming spiritual experiences. I was gathered into a community designed to support direct divine experience and encourage prophetic faithfulness.  I found much quiet spiritual depth, a rich history, a theology that made sense to both mind and heart, and a community that walked with me.  After I started to respond to the inward prompting to offer vocal ministry in Lansdowne Meeting, however, I learned that some Friends were uncomfortable hearing about my experiences.  This made me wonder if Quakerism was the right spiritual home for me, after all.  At that time I had a powerful, luminous dream, the rare kind of dream that is sometimes called a vision because of its scope, clarity, and the vivid way it has remained in my mind.

In the dream I saw that humanity was facing a slowly developing but devastating environmental catastrophe.  God knew about this long in advance and had a plan to cause a shift in human consciousness.  As part of God’s plan, people had been born all over the planet with the purpose of helping to bring about that shift.  I saw that I was one of those people, and that I was being sent, with a partner, to a group of liberal, comfortable, well-educated people who were skeptical about the nearness and power of God.  These liberal Quakers had a crucial part to play in the divine plan, but only if they learned to pray whole-heartedly.  For their prayer to be effective, they needed to open their hearts in child-like trust to God.

In my dream, my partner and I joined in a circle with these Friends.  However, I was affected by the skepticism in the group.  My heart clenched in fear.  We tried to pray, but nothing happened among us.  I knew, however, that humanity’s transformation required the gift this group could give, and that giving that gift depended upon becoming able to truly pray.  I confessed that I did not know how to pray.  I asked God to teach me, to teach us.  Humbled, my heart began to open.  Vulnerable, I began to feel a child-like trust in God’s ability to bring change into the world.  Around the circle of gathered Friends, more and more hearts began to open in humble, vulnerable trust.  Then the power of God flowed through the group.

That dream came in 1994, and it helped me to know that God wanted me to stay among liberal Friends, that I had a ministry among them.  When I shared this dream with Lansdowne Meeting, I received much encouragement and was told that Friends had a long tradition of traveling in pairs.  Two years later, in a gathering of Friends from many branches of Quakerism (Quakers in Pastoral Care and Counseling), I learned an intimate practice of praying for each other in small groups.  Ever since, I have been sharing this and many other prayer practices with Quakers, often with a partner serving as an elder for me as I travel to different meetings.  Usually there is much reluctance and resistance when I introduce certain prayer practices, but experience changes hearts.  I am always delighted to see the glow on Friends’ faces after they feel divine love and healing power flow through them.

In the twenty-two years since I first started attending a Quaker meeting, I have witnessed a gradual spiritual renewal among liberal Friends, a renewal that was set in motion and fostered in prior generations by many Friends, including Thomas Kelly, Sandra Cronk, and others. Today it is much more common in liberal meetings for Friends to take time at the end of Sunday’s meeting for worship to pray for the needs and joys of members, or hold them in the Light.  We now more readily recognize and provide support for those called to ministry, and recognize those with gifts for spiritual nurture and eldering.  I believe there is still a long way for us to go, both in our prayer and in our action, before we become pure vessels (superconductors) of divine transforming healing power.  The essential gift we have to offer the world in our time is still waiting to emerge.

About ten years ago, at the annual session of my Yearly Meeting, the clerk of the Environmental Working Group quoted someone who said that the ecological movement would not gain real traction in this country until it became clearly identified as a religious and spiritual issue.  This man’s presentation had been full of facts and information about climate change and ecological footprints, but he had not spoken of God or used any faith language himself.  Whether we use words or  not, we need to become vulnerable and fully open to our Divine Source in order to effectively make our contribution to the shift that is urgently needed in our time.

Our effort is crucial: changing the way we live, speaking out about what is wrong and the healing path that is possible, and giving witness in society.  Our action is as necessary as our prayer.  However, it is not our power that can make the needed change.  Only God’s Power–flowing through us and through many all over the planet–can avert total catastrophe.

I pray to trust more and more deeply that God, our Divine Source, is able to heal us and our planet.  I pray that we Friends grow increasingly able, faithfully, to play our part in the birth of a new, more conscious, connected humanity, a birth now reaching a painful stage of labor.

Last week Quaker Speak released a new short video in which I speak about learning from early Friends what is needed in our time to participate with God in a healing shift of human consciousness:

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Please share this blog post with your friends and offer your comments below!

© 2014 Marcelle Martin


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A Tale of Two Gatherings

I have just returned from attending both Quaker Spring and the Friends General Conference Gathering. Loving community blossomed at both, but they were quite different gatherings.

Quaker Spring, which invites Friends to, “experience the Inward Christ Together,” was held on the campus of Olney School in Barnesville, Ohio.  Stillwater Meetinghouse sits on a rise at the entrance to campus, above Friends Center, the retreat house of Ohio Yearly Meeting (Conservative). The Olney grounds include dorms, a small lake, an ample garden, a greenhouse, pastures for cows and goats, a chicken coop, and barn.  Since 2007, Quaker Spring has been an annual opportunity for liberal Friends to gather and learn with Conservative Friends. Mornings include Bible reading followed by a lengthy unprogrammed meeting for worship. In the afternoons, participants can invite people to join them in discussion on a particular topic, or may organize a clearness committee or game or outdoor event. A “Listening Committee” meets at breakfast to discern what is arising in the group. They plan the evening program day by day.

I came to Quaker Spring feeling burdened. During the opening meeting for worship, I had an image of a sunken ship, a boat called the Phoenix, whose involvement in Quaker activism in the 1950s and 60s  I have been researching for my book.  Recently it was found at the bottom of a river.  The ship is now being restored for future use by the Veterans for Peace. Like the mythological phoenix, it will rise again, and so will I.  But on the opening night I shared with my small group how I have sometimes felt sunken this past year.

I was grateful for extended worship every morning. Day by day I felt how God–and Christ–have been revealing and healing the emotions and thought patterns that have surfaced as I’ve struggled with various challenges, including grief at the end of a relationship. I rested every afternoon and walked quietly around the pond.  A few times, on the island, I sat in a narrow gap between evergreen trees and watched a flock of geese and goslings as they swam, waded, and pulled off the tops of tall grasses.  One afternoon, in preparation for speaking on an evening panel about Listening to God, I recalled the many different ways I have been aware of the divine presence alive in me and active in my life.  I remembered a time in 1995 when I was walking alone on a country road and had a sense that Jesus was walking beside me, asking me to commit to finishing an article for Friends Journal, the outline of which I had received in a dream. When I made that commitment, it seemed as though he took my hand, and I have never really walked alone since. One leading has flowed from another and I have been on a path of learning, teaching, and writing about the Quaker spiritual journey–past, present, and future–ever since. It was comforting to remember that I am accompanied, even when I seem to be alone.

A member of the Listening Committee convened a small group to have dinner with me on the last night. For an hour and a half, four wonderful people listened to me, asked questions, and provided love and support, helping me to feel how the Phoenix is rising even now.

At Quaker Spring, the movement of the Spirit builds day by day. This year, in an extension of last year’s conversations, the Listening Committee grappled with some hard questions about how to make the gathering more welcoming of racial diversity. In my final morning meeting for worship there, I felt God–Christ–very powerfully present in the vocal ministry and in the inner movements within me. It became more clear how the feelings and thought patterns that have been surfacing this year had their roots in my childhood and also in a patriarchal culture that has not valued intuition, emotion, mystical experience, and women’s ways. Even though I have struggled with difficult emotions, I have also seen God’s grace in the opportunity to acknowledge and embrace these aspects of myself and let them be released and healed. It has been part of the path to greater wholeness. Naming my blog “A Whole Heart” was an expression of the calling I have long felt to become whole-hearted.

The next day I traveled to the campus of California University, south of Pittsburgh, PA, for the FGC Gathering.  As a workshop leader, I arrived a day earlier than most participants. Still, after the quiet intimacy of Quaker Spring, I felt stunned by the numbers of people, the noise, and the confusion of figuring out the campus layout. By my second day, more than 1200 Friends had arrived and were noisily mobbing the dining hall. I wondered if it had been a mistake to come. However, I quickly discovered how to get into the quieter dining room by eating meals early, and I took time to rest and prepare for my workshop every afternoon instead of attending any of the many enticing events scheduled then.

I gained in strength as the week went by.  Elaine Emily, serving as elder, held my workshop group in prayer for five mornings as we focused on “Stories of God’s Love and Power.” From Monday through Thursday, I told stories: a Bible story, Quaker stories, and my story. Participants engaged and shared deeply. On Friday, they told their own beautiful stories of seeing God’s love at work even in difficult circumstances.

The theme of the Gathering was, “Let Love Be the First Motion.” Just a week before, Eileen Flanagan, a member of my meeting, had been asked to step in as the Thursday evening plenary speaker. At breakfast three days in a row, I joined with some other Friends to provide support as Eileen discerned what to include in her talk, and how much she would say about her participation in the Earth Quaker Action Team (EQAT). For a couple of years, EQAT has been engaging in demonstrations, including civil disobedience, in an effort to persuade PNC Bank to stop financing mountaintop removal in Appalachia.

On Thursday afternoon, Eileen and almost 200 other people traveled from the Gathering to Pittsburgh, where PNC Bank’s headquarters are located, to participate in a demonstration. That same afternoon, I convened a group to hold them in the Light. Over the course of ninety minutes, seven people joined our circle. We sat in a sunny classroom with a view of the green hills surrounding the campus. In the deepening silence, I felt a strong connection to the Earth, its mountains, its flowing waters, and the people who live on this planet. I prayed for Eileen and the Friends I knew were in Pittsburgh, including a group of Middle School Friends.

My prayer soon extended to the employees and stockholders of PNC bank, and then to all of us in the U.S. who consume energy in ways that make blowing up mountains and polluting rivers profitable. My heart kept expanding. I prayed for all of us to have the wisdom and courage to choose sustainable ways to live on this planet; I prayed for help and guidance in making the changes that are needed. A couple of those present seemed sleepy. Yet a Power was present among us, expanding our circle way beyond the windows of the classroom. I did not feel like the initiator. Prayer was happening and I was a participant.   Love was the first motion, not personal love, but divine Love that flowed through us. I felt that the prayer of our little group was more powerful because it was connected to people who were taking action on behalf of the earth and its people. I don’t know if Friends in Pittsburgh were aware of our little group holding them in the Light. Nonetheless, all of us were part of a larger effort, a divine motion of Love.

That night Eileen told the Gathering how her connection to friends in Botswana had sensitized her to the effects of climate change on the world’s poorest people. She said that high temperatures and decreased water in the soil threatens the lives of 180 million Africans in the near future. After visiting Botswana in 2011, she felt led to take action. She lifted up the importance of providing spiritual support for discernment and action.

After the plenary, I joined some other Friends on the plaza outside the convention center. We sat on a low wall that circles a fountain and shared our different perspectives and experiences of the Gathering, learning from each other.  During the week, two different conversations with Friends at lunch helped me to listen more carefully, inwardly, about how to invite my workshop group to move into deeper waters.  Walks and conversations with other Friends gave me a boost of encouragement.  That week I saw so many Friends with whom I have made important connections in the past. At first it was painful not to be able to engage in deep conversation with many of them. Eventually, I felt peaceful about just waving and smiling and giving quick hugs, feeling how we were connected in one community in which love was palpable.

On Friday afternoon I offered an interest group about the Elements of the Quaker Spiritual Journey, not sure if anyone would come in the middle of the last afternoon. I had reserved a small room that held a conference table and 25 chairs. To my surprise and delight, 30 people showed up. Some Friends brought more chairs from other rooms.  People were interested in the elements of the transformative Quaker spiritual journey, and we had a wonderful discussion.

God’s love and power were at the center of the stories in my workshop, and no doubt also in many of the other workshops at the Gathering. The evening plenary talks were deep and moving, yet they included few explicit references to God. Speakers shared stories of how love, community, and steadfast witness are able to touch and sometimes overcome terrible pain and suffering, including rage at the murder of a son and the agony of thousands in U.S. prisons condemned to solitary confinement. Asking questions in the search for truth, loving and supporting one another in discernment and action, and prayer were all held up as important. At the FGC Gathering, we were a loving, accepting, and diverse community, embracing many interests, needs, and activities. But there was little acknowledgement in the opening worship or evening talks that what can really change and heal the world is not our limited human love and power, but only the great Love and Power of God, which can flow through us if we are willing to join with the divine Fountain of Love.

On Saturday morning after breakfast, a final meeting for worship was held in the same huge arena where the plenary talks had been held. Chairs were arranged facing in from four sides, and microphones were delivered slowly and deliberately to those who stood to offer vocal ministry. Many people had already departed from the Gathering by then. Those who participated in that meeting for worship rested not only in the love we felt for one another and the gratitude for a blessed time together, but also in the Great Love. Many messages acknowledged God, or the Mystery, the Eternal Being, and Christ within.

streaming fountain cmw3_d_fountain2 mrgfile941245026256

The theme of next year’s Gathering, in Cullowhee, North Carolina, will be “Seeking Wholeness.” I pray that we will speak clearly of the truth that wholeness comes only when we are joined in that Eternal Being, divine Mystery, and Fountain of Love.

© 2014 Marcelle Martin

Posted in Quaker Faith Today | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Quakers and the Light

At the heart of the Quaker way of knowing God is the experience of the Light, the divine inward illumination and guidance that was known by early Friends as the Light of Christ within.  This is the Light referred to in John 1:9, The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.  Early Quakers urged everyone to become Children of the Light.

What is this Light?

A delightful short YouTube video in the QuakerSpeak series shows nine contemporary Friends describing the Light and their experience of it.

Quakers and the Light: What has been your experience of the Light?

© 2014 Marcelle Martin





Posted in Learning from Early Friends, Quaker Faith Today | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

Today is the World’s Birthday!

Yesterday was cold and cloudy; today is windy but warm.  Spring’s first maple leaves have opened their tiny fingers and now catch the wind with full hands.  I have come through a long sad winter of navigating icy sidewalks in wind chills as low as negative thirty-five degrees.  Occasionally warmed by friendly companionship, I never completely lost awareness of God’s nearness, but it has been a dark night’s journey, inwardly as well as outwardly.

Since waking this morning, a phrase comes repeatedly into my mind: “Today is the World’s Birthday.”

This morning I eat brunch with seven Earlham College students, all of them musicians or actors as well as scholars.  We celebrate working together to facilitate the weekly semi-programmed College Meeting for Worship.  I am grateful for how these busy students showed up faithfully all year, and for their creativity, energy, and thoughtfulness.  Over bagels and tea, they tell me that learning about disasters in the past (Bhopal, Chernobyl) makes them feel greater compassion for those who suffer, along with a desire to bring change in how we live on the planet.  We consider the alienation that is at the root of destructive living.

Today is the World’s Birthday!

Walking home afterwards, I stop on a bridge high over the Whitewater Gorge, pressing against the metal railing and leaning into the open sky.  I am mesmerized by the tall swaying trees below, and by the purple blossoms of the redbud trees against the clusters of new green leaves.  The flowing river sparkles.

Today is the World’s Birthday!

I am preparing to facilitate a “short course” at Pendle Hill retreat center soon, a course entitled, “In the Life and Power of God.”  Over four days we will consider each of the ten elements of the Quaker spiritual journey that I have been describing on this blog, looking at how early Friends experienced the process of spiritual transformation, and how we experience it today.  These elements are all facets of the work of the Light within us, different aspects of the one transformation that brings us into fuller and fuller unity with God and into harmony with one another and this planet.

Today is the World’s Birthday!

In his twenties George Fox went through a long dark night’s journey.  He was shown much within himself and within his culture that resisted God.  He saw, “that there was an ocean of darkness and death.”  It became clear that people who deny the divine presence within themselves and block out the guidance of the Inward Teacher create a society of dead rituals, inequality, and injustice.  It was painful to him to see how human beings are in captivity, without knowing it.  He suffered, too, when he discovered the seeds of sin in himself. As he came through his dark night’s journey, however, he saw that there is “an infinite ocean of light and love, which flowed over the ocean of darkness.”

Today is the World’s Birthday!

As I prepare to facilitate the Pendle Hill course, I feel more clearly that there is great value in understanding each of the ten elements of the spiritual journey experienced by early Quakers.  Some of these elements are quite familiar to Friends today.  We talk often of leadings and encourage each other to be faithful when prompted by God to particular tasks.  We listen and expect to receive divine guidance and insights, which early Friends often described as openings.  We know something of how God shapes us through the challenges and blessings of community.  We speak much more rarely, however, of other equally essential elements of the Quaker way described by early Friends, particularly the Refiners Fire and Living in the Cross.  Most of us are aware of the fear and injustice which grips humanity, but we are not practiced at allowing the Light to show us clearly the roots of spiritual resistance and oppression within ourselves. Nor do we often encourage each other to stay present to the painful insights and feelings that are necessary in order to become free of the inner bondage that separates us from awareness of God at every moment.

Today is the World’s Birthday!

In the midst of this difficult winter, I have been aware that my suffering is related to God’s loving and merciful action to free me of old baggage, baggage that hinders my clarity and faithfulness.  Remembering that God is at work in this “thick night of darkness” helps me to accept feeling the pain I carry from the past, helps me to allow myself to stay present when shown the negative beliefs, fears, and behavior patterns I have internalized from my upbringing and culture.  After I allow the Light to reveal such things, after I feel in my body how something in me has been blocked or repressed, then it becomes unstuck, or scrubbed or melted away.  I become more free, better able to give over control to God.

Today is the World’s Birthday!

As I arrive home today after brunch, my housemate, Tracy, invites me to go kayaking on the local reservoir.  Today’s wind makes it harder to steer and requires more vigorous paddling.  Once in a sheltered cove, however, we relax.  I expand toward a wide sky scattered with bright clouds.  A Great Blue Heron glides swiftly overhead; its long pointed bill and tail make him look like an arrow shot from a cosmic bow.

Today is the World’s Birthday!

The process of spiritual transformation to which God invites us is not just for the sake of individual salvation.  It is for the sake of restoring the world to the Shalom–God’s peace and harmony–for which it was created.  Rocking in my kayak, surrounded by the circle of saplings on shore, I remember words from Romans 8, a chapter of scripture important for early Friends.  It speaks of how all of creation is subjected to futility.  Human beings are not meant to remain stuck in the ocean of darkness, however.  God invites us to a higher form of life and consciousness.  The suffering we go through when we respond to the call is compared in Romans 8 to the pains of childbirth.  Those who respond are in the process of being born again as sons and daughters of God.  As we become liberated from fear, resistance, and alienated ways of living, spiritual gifts are released that touch all things.  [T]he creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation …itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.

Today is the World’s Birthday!

A turtle sunning itself on a log drops quickly into the water as I paddle near.  Another one, head erect, remains exposed in the warm sun.  I paddle into a shallow little side creek.  A goose that was peacefully floating there stands up and its wet webbed feet grip the muddy edge of the shore.  He honks at me with fury, his open mouth menacing.  I see that another goose lies in the grass nearby, no doubt incubating her eggs.  In the tight space of the shallow water, Papa Goose circles me so that the only way to get out of the creek is for me to move closer to him and  her.   As I maneuver in the shallow water, I try to show that I am going away, that I am not a threat.  He remains standing guard for quite a while after I leave. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.

Today is the World’s Birthday!

Early Friends believed that the End Times which are predicted and described in various places in the Bible are not just in the future.  The Kingdom of Heaven is within.  For those who respond to God’s call, the glorious transformation that God is bringing about becomes visible in the present.  The promised Second Coming of Christ is already happening, within. Even while alive here in a world that is still suffering the “bondage to decay” and going through labor pains, it is possible to enter the “new heaven and new earth.”

Today is the World’s Birthday!

Tonight, on the eve of Finals Week, the Earlham College students put on their second performance of Dance Alloy, featuring twenty high-energy dances all choreographed by students.  Some choreographers share dance styles from home–including Asia, Africa, Latin America, and New York City.  There are two powerful duets, but most dances feature ten dancers or more.  The beat is strong.  The theater is packed, and the audience is loudly enthusiastic.  One of the dances is rated four chili peppers.  Seventeenth-century Friends would have been scandalized.  I remember the joy I discovered when I started dancing in college, and well as my own efforts at choreography when I was twenty-two and living in Paris.  These brainy students are showing that they have not only minds, but also bodies. I consider that Creation is liberated through the marriage of Spirit and matter.  Afterwards, outside, the air is cool.  A bright crescent moon is visible beneath the evening star.  In the dark sky, the Milky Way shimmers like a river of Light.

Today is the World’s Birthday.

Today is the World’s Birthday:  How have you experienced the ocean of darkness and death, and the ocean of light and love?  What can you tell us about the labor pains of being born into the life to which God calls us?  Can you share anything from your experience of becoming freed from inner bondage?

* * * * * This post is part of a series about Ten Elements of the Quaker Spiritual Journey.

A four-day opportunity to explore the Quaker spiritual journey will take place at Pendle Hill Retreat Center, Wallingford, PA, May 11-15th, 2014.  In the Life and Power of God: on the Spiritual Journey with Early Friends

A Whole Heart has a page on Bibliography.

swan rising

© 2014 Marcelle Martin

Posted in Learning from Early Friends, Quaker Faith Today | Tagged , , , , , , | 6 Comments

The Big Question

          Quaker singer/songwriter Jon Watts is also a videographer.  One of his provocative YouTube videos, “Dance Party Erupts During Quaker Meeting for Worship,” has been viewed more than 84,000 times over the Internet.  In a May 2013 Friends Journal  interview and video, he urges Quakers to use the Internet to communicate in a passionate way.  He describes the ambivalence of most Friends today toward Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, but suggests that one should approach these media not as a passive receiver but as an “engaged content creator.”

He urges Friends to use the Internet as a medium for prophetic expression, the way that early Quakers used the newly accessible printing presses to get their radical message to the public.  Take this attitude, he advises:

“I have a message.  I have something to say.  I have a vision for the society, and I have some analysis of the ways the society is broken, and I’m going to get it out there.  …  I’m going to really get in people’s faces about this, because this society is broken.  It’s fallen.  It needs to transform.  And who is going to do it, if it’s not us?  I see the Internet as an opportunity….”

Jon is  creating a YouTube channel called “QuakerSpeak” that will soon start releasing one video per week.   In preparation, he interviewed me last May, after reading my blog and pamphlets, plus an online interview.  He came up with some thoughtful questions related to spirituality and early Quakers.  During a pause, Jon commented on my speaking style.

“You start out your responses with a burst of energy,” he said.  “And then you sort of fade out.”

Public speaking has usually been a cause for anxiety for me, even terror, but I try to be faithful when called to speak.  My intention is to let the Light shine through my words and my being, no matter how much the fearful part of me wants to hold back.  So I made an effort to work with Jon’s feedback.

Recently, we met again.  Two days in advance, he sent some sets of questions to think about, with a reminder that he was looking for a “YouTube-sized answer,” i.e. about four minutes.  Number three was a BIG QUESTION, one I’ve slowly been working toward answering in the writing I’ve been doing.

“When discussing the boldness and courage of the Early Friends in our last conversation, you said that you feel God is trying to call forth something even more powerful in our time,” he wrote.  “What do you feel God trying to call forth in our time?  What is our world in need of?  How can our Quakerism help inform this calling?”

On the morning of the second interview, I took a walk with my friend Terry, who often serves as an elder for me.  Through listening, asking questions, hearing deeper than my words, listening some more, and sometimes making suggestions, Terry helps to draw out a message or ministry that’s forming.  On the 2nd of January, we walked across an open field a few hours before an expected snow fall.  I practiced saying what I thought God was calling forth in our time.  For thirty years now I’ve had a strong sense of God leading me as part of a larger plan, but I have not often tried to look directly at the bigger picture, at what God is leading us toward.  I’ve been dancing around that question.  It has been easier to study the radical, passionate activity of early Friends than to fully face what God is collectively calling us to do now, in the times in which we live.

After lunch, Jon set up his cameras in Terry’s apartment.  After he turned on the equipment, the three of us settled into a period of silent worship.  Jon asked his questions, listened to my answers, then listened inwardly for the prompting of the Spirit before asking follow-up questions, some of them unexpected.  A couple of times, during the silence, I felt moved to speak spontaneously.  Terry sat to the side, holding it all in the Light.  Toward the end he offered a question, too.

Some of my answers were lively, some not.  After fifty-two minutes of filming, snow was falling outside.  Jon turned off the cameras.

In the next two days, while traveling by train and waiting at snow-covered stations, I reflected on what I had said.  I knew I had not given a satisfactory answer to the BIG QUESTION.  At least, I wasn’t satisfied.

In our time, what is God asking of us?

For weeks I’ve been turning my attention to see more clearly.  This morning I woke up early, picked up the journal beside my bed, and wrote four pages.  The whole picture is not going to come through one person or one group, and the picture will remain fuzzy as long as it’s a prospect for the future.  It will become clearer the more we live it out with our lives and not just our words.  More is coming.

The Big Question: What do you know about what God is calling us to now, in our time?  How is the Spirit calling you, your meeting, your community, the Religious Society of Friends, the human race?  What are we asked to do, say, create, dismantle?  How are we called to live?  What must we sacrifice? To what are we called to give our energy, our attention, our resources, our love?


To see the trailer for Jon Watt’s QuakerSpeak YouTube channel, go to

A four-day opportunity to explore the Quaker spiritual journey will take place at Pendle Hill Retreat Center, Wallingford, PA, May 11-15th, 2014.  In the Life and Power of God: on the Spiritual Journey with Early Friends

A Whole Heart has a page on Bibliography.

© 2014 Marcelle Martin

Posted in Learning from Early Friends, Quaker Faith Today | Tagged , , | 9 Comments

A Whole Year of A Whole Heart

It was two days before the presidential election. Fresh in my mind were images of Hurricane Sandy flooding New York City and New Jersey, and the frightening memory of having being caught on a sweltering day in a derecho that swept 800 miles from Chicago to Washington, DC.  Tremendous winds had uprooted and snapped enormous trees and cut power to 4.2 million people. I was also troubled by a video of one presidential candidate mocking the other for wanting to address climate change.
As I went to meeting for worship that Sunday morning, I was praying for my country to make a wise choice on Election Day. But I also knew that lowering the dangerously high level of CO2 emissions in the earth’s atmosphere and stopping the rise of the oceans requires more than changing public policy. To use Quaker terminology, I was being “exercised” spiritually. I did not know that my first public blog was about to be born.
Eighteen months earlier, I had created practice blogs on both WordPress and Blogger. I had not notified anybody about them, and they were hidden on the web. I was busy working on two books, one telling the story about the radical, charismatic beginning of the Quaker movement, and a shorter one describing ten elements of the transforming spiritual journey made by early Friends. At Earlham School of Religion’s annual Writers’ Colloquium, I had just attended a workshop on making better use of the internet. For weeks I had been trying a new writing practice to help me listen to the voice of my heart.
In the silence of an unprogrammed meeting for worship that First Day morning, those of us gathered with Clear Creek Meeting were palpably gathered by the Spirit. I felt deeply stirred, and the prayer for the world I had been praying took shape in words. My heart pounded. I stood and spoke. After I sat down again, I quaked. It felt like something had cracked open, perhaps my own heart. At home after meeting, I woke from my afternoon nap knowing I needed to share the message and prayer more widely.
My partner was away, and I had no constraints on my time. In a burst of pure creative joy I started a new blog, and named it A Whole Heart. I wrote my message and sent out news to everyone I knew. It was viewed 405 times the next day, the eve of the election.
It has been a whole year since then, and more. I have written blog posts about all ten elements of the Quaker spiritual journey, both as experienced by early Quakers and by Friends today. As best I could, in those posts I described the transformation caused by turning one’s life over to the direction of the Light, the Spirit of Christ.
Now, on the eve of Christmas 2013, I am remembering a vivid dream I had in 1996. In the dream I was sitting at a table with the man who was my partner at the time. He was drinking a Coke, and I was reheating mushy corn pasta. Jesus was speaking to us. In my dream Jesus told us that in the future there would come a time when troubles in the world would cause a great spiritual hunger. He showed us an earthquake, a tsunami (I did not know the word at the time), and a nuclear melt down. He looked at the miserable food we were eating. We were supposed to be able to meet people’s spiritual hunger when the time came.
Feed my food, my people,” Jesus pleaded.
On WordPress, when you create a blog, they give you a form for your first post, entitled “Hello World!” The night I created my first practice blog, the title of the first post gave me pause. What was the message I had for the world?
According to the UTC time zone, by which WordPress dates blogs, it was March 11, 2011. At the same time that I was composing the words of that first practice blog post, trying out my message for the world, tremendous energy was being released deep inside the earth. On the other side of the planet. Japan had been trembling for days with small earthquakes. Exactly three hours after I pushed “send” on that post entitled “Hello World!” one of the most powerful earthquakes in human history ripped through the bottom of the Pacific Ocean.
Registering 9.0 on the Richter Scale, it shifted the earth’s axis by several inches and moved parts of the main island of Japan almost 8 feet closer to North America. Enormous tsunami waves rose out of the ocean, rising as high as 40 meters (around 130 feet) and crashing inland as far as 10 kilometers (6 miles). More than a million buildings were damaged; 129,225 of them totally collapsed. Almost 16,000 people died. Like some nuclear reactors in the United States, the six nuclear reactors in Fukushima had been built over a earthquake fault line. Two of the six reactors at Fukushima completely disappeared, and the remaining four suffered damage, followed by explosions. Across Japan more than 4 million people were left without power. With no electricity to operate the cooling systems in the remaining Fukushima nuclear reactors, fuel rods overheated and melted down. Radioactivity was released into the air and the local area was evacuated.
When I heard news of the devastation in Japan, the “Hello World!” message I had sent out just hours earlier seemed tiny. From the age of five I’d had known that I had been born to write–and to publish what I’d written. But the message I was meant to release was still hidden inside. By November 2012, however, when A Whole Heart was born, I was ready to share with the world what I had been learning both from the Inward Teacher and from my study of the powerful inward transformation and outward witness of the first community of Quakers. Now that I have done so, at least in this initial way, I believe I have begun sharing the food that Jesus wants me to offer to those who are hungering spiritually.
The disaster of the Fukushima nuclear reactors is far from over. Hundreds of tons of radioactive water have been released already into the Pacific Ocean. A very delicate operation has begun to move the 1,300 fuel rods in Reactor number 4 to a safer location. A single broken rod could set off many times more devastation than the bombs that were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Reactor number 4 is in better condition that Reactors number 1, 2, and 3, because it was not in operation at the time of the tsunami. No one knows how long it will take to close down the four reactors left at Fukushima, or if it can be done without causing more damage to the planet than even the climate changes set in motion.
To address the planetary challenges of this precarious time, a widespread change of heart is required, a surrender to God’s guidance and the inward work of the Spirit. The transformation that the first generation of Quakers collectively made is an example to all of us of the collective transformation required in our time.
I have more to say about all of this, and I hope to learn more from Friends today about how we are experiencing the inward transformation of the Light in our time. I intend, also, with help from Friends, to publish a short book about what I’ve learned from early Friends, a book that can be used as a study guide by Quaker meetings and other groups.
In spite of the reckless way we human beings have been harnessing, burning, and consuming energy, divine guidance is still available to show us a way to a hopeful future. May we learn collectively to turn to the divine Presence alive within each person, which early Quakers knew as the Light of Christ, receive its guidance, and allow it to become the center and guiding force in our lives, not only individually but also collectively. May the Spirit of Christ be born within and among us again in power, in this time.
Sunrise 2012n crop 1
* * * * * This post is part of a series about Ten Elements of the Quaker Spiritual Journey.
A four-day opportunity to explore this material will take place at Pendle Hill Retreat Center, Wallingford, PA, May 11-15th, 2014.  In the Life and Power of God: on the Spiritual Journey with Early Friends
A Whole Heart has a page on Bibliography.
© 2013 Marcelle Martin
Posted in Learning from Early Friends, Quaker Faith Today | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The New Birth

For the first Quakers, convincement was about much more than accepting new beliefs.  Even a powerful experience of the Light of Christ within was only the beginning.  Then they learned how to allow that Light to be an active and growing force.  After turning their attention to the inward presence of Christ, early Friends were shown startling and uncomfortable truths about the nature of their society and their inner psyche.  They saw that they had been conforming to deceptive and oppressive social behaviors.  Painfully, they recognized that they had been under the control of subtle inward negative forces which created a separation from God.  They had not been fully alive.

The Light revealed this and then changed their lives from the inside out.  Early Quakers accepted to be put into the spiritual fire of purification, cooperating as God melted away inner impediments to a life of Truth and faithfulness.  The person they had been before this change was called “the old man.”  Through the process of surrendering everything to the transforming power of the Light, the image of God within their humanity was restored.  A “new man” or “new creature” was born, a son or daughter of God, a person willing to “crucify” personal desires and pleasures, when necessary, in order to center his or her life around God and God’s loving and radical purposes.  They called this process “regeneration.”  They were “translated” (transformed) into a new kind of being.  They changed their clothing, their speech, their social mannerisms, their business practices.  They stopped complying with unjust social norms and laws, accepting the loss of social status and sometimes imprisonment that followed.  They supported one another to be faithful and to endure persecution by forming close networks of community.  Their spiritual rebirth involved a great deal more inward and outward change than is usually signified by those today who claim to be “born again.”

The Journal of George Fox recounts the many years during which he endured the experience of the Refiner’s Fire.  To his surprise, he saw an inner battle between the Light of Christ within and those parts of himself which resisted the Light and veiled him from God.  He gradually opened to spiritual truth and direct guidance from within, ending his conformity to whatever he recognized as oppressive and false in society.  He gave up everything else to travel by foot from one region of England to another to share the prophetic message given to him, enduring much persecution and loneliness.  After years of transformation and increasing faithfulness, he had a visionary experience of being taken to see “the Paradise of God.”  The growing prophetic power that was working through him began to reach more people.  The first Quaker groups formed, calling themselves Children of the Light.

Only after all of that did George Fox receive an indication of having fully been “born again.” In his Journal he describes it briefly, using Biblical language: “On a certain time, as I was walking in the fields, the Lord said unto me, ‘Thy name is written in the Lamb’s book of life, which was before the foundation of the world:’ and as the Lord spoke it, I believed and saw it in the new birth.”  Mentioned in Phillipians 4:3 and several times in the Book of Revelation,  the Book of Life is the list of those who will live forever in heaven with God.  When traveling Quakers Mary Fisher and Elizabeth Williams were arrested for preaching in the streets of Cambridge, they told the mayor that their names were “written in the Book of Life.”   For this and other bold declarations, they were brutally whipped in the town square.

In “The Inheritance of Jacob” Francis Howgill gives an account of his long journey toward the “new birth.”  It began early in childhood and through the first decades of his adult life, when he searched for closeness with God and Christ through reading, prayer, solitude, repentance, spiritual practices, and participating in a series of different denominations, joining whole-heartedly with each church community in turn, but not finding the true life of the Spirit.   Finally he became a preacher among the Seekers, those who were waiting for the true form of Christian faith yet to be revealed.  Although highly acclaimed by others for his spiritual knowledge and a mature man in his fifties, when Howgill heard George Fox preach on Firbank Fell about the inward presence of Christ, he recognized that his decades of Bible study and Bible teaching, his earnest practices and prayers had all focused outward, on a distant God.  He had been ignoring and denying the subtle inward divine presence.  For months afterwards, he endured an intense experience of the Refiner’s Fire.  It revealed to him the falsity of his previous ministry, a ministry that came from intellectual learning and not from direct experience of the presence of God within.  All the works that had come from his own will, even those that appeared to be for God’s glory, were revealed to be contrary to the work of God.  Howgill accepted the judgment.  He experienced the death of his false self, and then “the new man was made.”

“Eternal life was brought in through death and judgment,” he wrote.  “And then the perfect gift I received, which was given from God, and the holy law of God was revealed unto me, and was written in my heart.” His text explains that in order to receive this pure and freely given gift of God, “Self must be denied…that he may be all and you nothing.”  In the new man, in the one who is spiritually born through this process, Christ lives: “Therefore it is no longer the creature, but Christ, who is all in his saints.”  Francis Howgill was anointed for a true ministry.  He was called to leave his farm, his wife, and his children, in order to travel and teach the truth of the Light of Christ within.  He became one of the most effective of the early Quaker traveling ministers, spending the rest of his life in ministry, the final five years in prison.

For early Quakers, true Christianity, Truth, was not primarily about believing in what Jesus had already done for them a long time ago in Jerusalem.  His life and death and resurrection were holy acts of God, but not sufficient in themselves to save people.  In their experience, salvation comes only through allowing the living Light of Christ, which exists within oneself in the present time, to become the active force in one’s life.  They felt that Jesus had called them, and all people, to be “born from above” and to live the Christ life.

This is, indeed, an overwhelmingly demanding call.  My editor, the first reader of most of the drafts of my blog, found this post more challenging than the others.  He wrote: “Is it my shortcomings or is this culmination just too much to accept?”  One of the reasons I have dragged my feet so long about sharing what I’ve learned from early Friends is precisely because of the inadequacy, fear and resistance that I, too, feel when faced with their message.

Hundreds of the first Quakers felt called to publicly testify to their faith and travel in the ministry, but most did not.  Thousands were put in prison, many for merely attending a public meeting for worship, or for refusing to pay their tithes.  Still, tens of thousands of early Friends did not go to prison.  The traveling ministers I have written about in this blog were among the most ardent leaders of the early Quaker movement.  The faithfulness of early Friends did not always take the form seen in their examples.  A life of surrender to God takes many forms.  Still, the rebirth to which all are called is a formidable process.  Although they experienced God as a refiner who put them in the fire, early Friends also testified to God’s compassion and mercy through this transformation.  Thomas Ellwood, for example, described his early openings to spiritual truth this way:

I felt some of that divine power working my spirit into a great tenderness, and not only confirming me in the course I had already entered, and strengthening me to go on therein, but rending also the veil somewhat further, and clearing my understanding in some other things which I had not seen before.  For the Lord was pleased to make His discoveries to me by degrees, that the sight of too great a work, and too many enemies to encounter with at once, might not discourage me and make me faint.

In court, early Quaker leader William Dewsbury testified that, “We witness the Work of Regeneration to be an extraordinary Work wrought in us by the Spirit of God.”  The ten elements of the Quaker spiritual journey which I have been describing in this blog are all elements of that process of spiritual rebirth which the first Quakers courageously witnessed not only in their preaching and writing, but more importantly, in their transformed and transforming lives.

The New Birth: Have you experienced the death of a false self and a spiritual rebirth?  Has the Light of Christ within led you or those you know through a process of utter transformation?

Star quilt 3

* * * * * This post is part of a series about Ten Elements of the Quaker Spiritual Journey. The  next post will describe contemporary Friends’ experiences of spiritual rebirth.

A four-day opportunity to explore the Quaker spiritual journey will take place at Pendle Hill Retreat Center, Wallingford, PA, May 11-15th, 2014.  In the Life and Power of God: on the Spiritual Journey with Early Friends. 

A Whole Heart has a page on Bibliography.

© 2013 Marcelle Martin

Posted in Learning from Early Friends | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments