Hiking Naked

Every year in the days before my birthday, I make time to remember why I was born. I’ll take a walk in the woods, perhaps a long bath, and spend some hours writing in my journal, seeking to sense more strongly the larger purpose for my life. I try to tune in more clearly to the specific leading of the Spirit I may be following at the moment. I ask myself, am I called to something more or different than what I’m doing now? Am I distracted and drifting off course? Has the link to the larger purpose become faint? I pay attention more closely, inwardly. I open up to a fresh infusion of the Spirit. Sometimes I get in touch with something that’s constraining, distracting or burdening me, and I receive inward and sometimes outward help in letting go and moving into more freedom. Sometimes I remember more clearly how I’m blessed by the relationships in my life, and I allow love to flow more abundantly. Whatever comes, it’s like a birthday present from Life.

Of course, it’s valuable to take some time every day to reconnect in some way with our life purpose and the divine Love that created us and that is always moving us toward a more abundant life. There come times in our lives, however, when something more than our regular daily, weekly, or annual routines of spiritual practice are needed, turning points in life when we are called to devote a larger period of time to look at where we have been and where we are called to go. At such times we usually need to strip away a lot of what fills our time and pulls our attention outward. The process of letting go of what we have been can make us feel naked.  In that nakedness, we wait to hear what we’re now called to become.

A lovely new book by Quaker Iris Graville, Hiking Naked, describes time her family spent on a remote island. For all of them – husband, wife, and teenage twins – but especially for her, it was a time to check the inner compass, reconnect with what is most important, and reorient to a new stage in life.

Graville had worked for a long time as a public health nurse, then as a supervisor of public health services. She had followed a calling into service that had been meaningful, though challenging, for a long time. In her forties, however, she recognized that she was experiencing burnout and that something needed to change. The first sign that her life was about to blossom in an unexpected way was the impulse to change her name to Iris.

She and her husband had been taking an annual summer vacation in a remote village, while their children visited grandparents. Then the whole family added an annual winter vacation there. For years they had been fantasizing about finding a way to spend a whole year living in the tiny village. That fantasy had never seemed practical.

But when burnout came, Graville received what Quakers refer to as a leading: a still, small, inner voice guiding her and her family to take a time apart from the busy-ness of the world, to live in Stehekin, WA, a little village at the end of a 55-mile-long lake. She felt this leading during a three-hour drive home over the mountains in Washington State. When the radio signals were blocked by mountains on either side, she was driving alone in silence. The thoughts in her mind about her family spending a year living in Stehekin then took on a different quality than the familiar fantasy:

My heart rate quickened and my mind raced with ideas about making Stehekin our home for at least a year. I imagined quitting my job and renting our house out. Even as I thought to myself, this is crazy, I felt a presence, urging me along, stripping away obstacles. It wasn’t that I heard a booming, God-like voice speaking to me, but I sensed a wisdom there with me, opening me to a vision of how things could be. The energy that was compelling me seemed to be coming from a different level of awareness than my usual decision-making approach listing pros and cons, obstacles and opportunities. Another Quaker term, leadings, conveys that awareness of being urged by God to take some action, and that night I was feeling led as surely as the highway was routing me over the mountain pass.

When her husband and children expressed openness to the adventure, they explored the practical details that would make the year away a real possibility – a leave of absence from work, new school, housing, temporary jobs, familial and financial arrangements. Iris and her husband, Jerry, met with some fellow Quakers for a clearness committee meeting, to test if this was a real leading of the Spirit. The committee members asked them questions, listened prayerfully to their answers, and agreed that they were clear.

The family saved money, moved to Stehekin, and settled in to a new way of life. At three-thirty am, Iris rode her bicycle in the dark to the village bakery, where she learned how to bake breads and pastries. Her husband drove a bus. Their teenage twins flourished in a one-room schoolhouse. Together the family encountered wildfire, flood, deep snow, power outages, bears, and the deaths of some people they loved. They also enjoyed hikes in the wilderness and family time in their small cabin, including visits with extended family and friends from home. When the bakery closed for the winter, Iris had lots of time for solitude. Taking long walks and sitting with her journal, she listened for guidance about the long-term changes she sensed she needed to make. She had been called to service in the public health field for a long time, but now new calling was seeking to emerge. The time in Stehekin helped all the members of the family discover more about who they were and what they loved most. Eventually, the Inner Guide led them to a new life they didn’t imagine before.

This book, Hiking Naked: A Quaker Woman’s Search for Balance, is the third that Iris Graville has written since her family followed the leading to live in Stehekin. It’s a sparkling account of a woman listening to the voice of her soul, and a family healthy enough to welcome unexpected adventure. We need more stories like this, that reveal how we all can be guided by holy wisdom from within, if we take the time to listen and have the courage to follow where it leads.

A book review of Hiking Naked, published by Friends Journal, includes a link to order the book online.

Image result for hiking naked book review friend journal

Hiking Naked: Have there been times in your life when you followed a leading to take a time apart and listen more deeply for new direction?

© 2017 Marcelle Martin

For information about other upcoming courses and workshops with Marcelle, go to Teaching and Upcoming Workshops.

Our Life is Love: the Quaker Spiritual Journey, by Marcelle Martin, is available from Inner Light Books in hardback, paperback, and ebook. An excerpt and a study guide are also available on that website. Reviewed by Friends Journal, the book was designed to be a resource for both individuals and groups to explore their own experiences of ten elements of the Quaker spiritual journey of faithfulness.

Posted in All of Life is Sacred, Facing Life with Faith, Quaker Faith Today | Tagged , , , , , , | 5 Comments

When Will We Ever Learn?

Where have all the young men gone?…Gone to soldiers every one….     When will we ever learn? When will we ever learn?   –Pete Seeger

Every evening this week I’ve been watching the new 10-part PBS series on the Vietnam War. Like all of the beautiful documentaries made by Ken Burns (this one in partnership with Lynn Novik), it brings us a complex story through many voices and perspectives–U.S. presidents, military officers and marines who served in Vietnam, journalists who risked their lives to film what was happening, the families of U.S. military men, anti-war protesters, and Vietnamese people from both the north and the south, former soldiers and civilians. The film reveals how many different perspectives there were–and still are–on what happened in a beautiful land far away from the United States.

In the first episode we learn about the man who came to be known as Ho Chi Minh, who ardently desired to liberate his people from 100 years of French colonial rule and who appealed to the United States for help in doing so.  His appeal met deaf ears.

Throughout the documentary, we hear tape recordings made of phone conversations of U.S. Presidents who were making decisions about involvement in the war; some are contrasted with clips of public statements made at the time. Many Americans feared that communism would spread in southeast Asia if not stopped. The so-called “Domino Theory” became more important that any reality in Vietnam, a rationale for escalating a war that the highest U.S. officials and military officers knew was most likely unwinnable. We learn how fear of international humiliation and desire to win the next election also affected decisions that ultimately cost millions of lives — mostly of Vietnamese people.

This larger political overview is interspersed with interviews of people who lived through the war, and the voices and photos of others who died. One veteran tells that a high percentage of U.S. casualties were from land mines, and he describes how much courage it took to just walk each step on the land. Another tells of sitting in the dark at night hearing the whispers of the near-by enemy seeking to kill him; he admits that many decades later he still can’t sleep in the dark. We follow the story of an eager recruit who badgered his parents for months to gain their permission to enlist at age 17, and then hear his letters from the war. We learn that the U.S. knew as early as 1965 that this country could not win the war, and we hear the bitterness of a U.S. Marine sent to Vietnam three years later. Former Vietnamese soldiers also recount their stories of war and terror and loss. Some intrepid journalists tell how they accompanied soldiers into battle. We see filmed coverage of bombings, shootings, falling helicopters, torched houses, and corpses strewn across the ground.

I’ve been watching all this on the sofa beside my husband, a U.S. Army veteran drafted in 1968, and I hear his pained reactions to the decisions made step by step by U.S. Presidents to escalate the war, decisions based all-to-largely on fear, misinformation, lies, ego, and political ambitions.

Why should we watch something so difficult to see and know?

As I wrote in my recent blog post, Looking at the Shadow That Blocks the Light, in order to truly understand ourselves and our current situation, it’s necessary to see truths we’ve been hiding, and the real motivations that shape our action. As individuals, we need to face not only our personal but also our collective Shadow. I recommend that you take the time to watch it. Doing so may help us make the best and most honest choices possible as we face the equally complex challenges of our time and the temptation to resolve them with military force. 

Although this documentary reveals some of the worst in people, it also captures the luminous beauty of the land, and the courage, hopes, and humanity of soldiers, journalists and civilians. I pray that as we face the thorny issues of today, the people of the U.S. — and every country — can and will hold our public officials to wise decisions that work for the best of the whole world.  I pray that we are guided by our “better angels”–not by fear or by short-term, self-serving motives, but by love, truth, faith, courage, and divinely- inspired wisdom.

Angel Holding Fallen Soldier, 30th St. Station, Philadelphia

Viewing of the show on PBS takes place for five consecutive nights, two weeks in a row, through late September. Follow the link below to see a short clip from an interview with a Marine who fought in Vietnam:


When Will We Ever Learn? What is your perspective on the Vietnam war, on wars fought since then, and on the best approach to take in the current situation regarding North Korea?

© 2017 Marcelle Martin

Our Life is Love: the Quaker Spiritual Journey, by Marcelle Martin, is available from Inner Light Books in hardback, paperback, and ebook. An excerpt and a study guide are also available on that website. Reviewed by Friends Journal, the book was designed to be a resource for both individuals and groups to explore their own experiences of ten elements of the Quaker spiritual journey of faithfulness. It’s also available from QuakerBooks, which provides free shipping on orders of six or more books.

For information about other upcoming courses and workshops with Marcelle, go to Teaching and Upcoming Workshops.

Posted in All of Life is Sacred, Facing Life with Faith | Tagged , , , , , | 8 Comments

Looking at the Shadow that Blocks the Light

At sunrise this morning, the day of what is being called the Total American Eclipse, I woke up thinking of the Shadow–my shadow, the shadow of my beloved Quaker community, and the shadow of my country, which was created to be a powerful experiment in human freedom and equality. The shadow includes everything about ourselves that we don’t want to know or acknowledge, whether “bad” or brilliant. Fear drives our lives more fully than we know, and we don’t see how that’s so. We don’t see how the deep need to conform to social norms shapes and limits us. We don’t acknowledge how fully our desire to be comfortable keeps us from seeing and confronting the enormous challenges facing us, keeps us from truly addressing the real danger we face of making the planet largely uninhabitable for our species, in the lifetime of our grandchildren.

On this day when millions of people in the USA are watching the total eclipse–either through solar glasses or on screen–on this day when a 73 mile-wide shadow crosses North America from Oregon to South Carolina, may we become willing to face the shadow in our individual and collective psyches. May we allow the divine Light which can illuminate reality show us truth, teach us the path toward true freedom and the way to live from love, rather than fear.

Credit: Rick Fienberg / TravelQuest International / Wilderness Travel

For many of us, the social and political events of our time have increasingly revealed the fear, greed, violence, racism, misogyny, and other conscious and unconscious limiting forces that are influencing us. The presence and power of the Shadow becomes more frankly and horrifyingly visible as we read news of violent murders of unarmed people, as we see images of Nazi flags waved in our city streets, as more and more people around the world face drought and famine because of climate change, as the current administration overturns environmental protections, as we read of marine animals choked to death by our discarded single-use plastic bags and packaging, as a majority of congressmen attempt to deprive the poor of health care and maximize private profits for basic social services, as the Washington DC hotel bearing the name of our president rakes in money from political influence, and we learn more about the influence of the very wealthy in determining our national politics. Will we look directly at the forces in us and society that are moving us toward greater social catastrophes and unthinkable environmental destruction? Will we look not only for the specks in the eyes of the other, but at the plank in our own eyes? Will we invite the divine Light–the Light that “lighteth every [hu]man that comes into the world,” the Light that shines in the darkness–to show us what is blocking the Light, what is concealing Truth, what is stifling Love? Or will we continue to distract ourselves with busy-ness, entertainments, and superficial conversations?

A prime reason we don’t face our shadow is because we are controlled by fear. Our fear inhibits us from experiencing the divine power that is available to us if only we turn toward it. The Shadow hides negative forces within; it also conceals the immense spiritual potential and powers that can guide and shape our society. It blocks our vision of the radiance that we were created to shine.

Today, as we view in awe the eclipse of the sun as it crosses the United States of America, may we pray to face the Shadow that is being revealed so starkly in our time. Today I am asking myself, how is fear constraining me from telling the truth to myself and to others? How is fear holding me back from generosity, compassion, and courage? How am I distracting myself from the precious opportunity my life provides to discover God at work within me and make Truth and Love visible and palpable in everything I do and say?

Looking at how our shadow obscures the Light can be a blessed event, an opportunity for the freedom that comes with truth-telling and the greater love made possible when we recognize our true unity with one another, with the planet, and with God.

© 2017 Marcelle Martin

Our Life is Love: the Quaker Spiritual Journey, by Marcelle Martin, is available from Inner Light Books in hardback, paperback, and ebook. An excerpt and a study guide are also available on that website. Reviewed by Friends Journal, the book was designed to be a resource for both individuals and groups to explore their own experiences of ten elements of the Quaker spiritual journey of faithfulness. It’s also available from QuakerBooks, which provides free shipping on orders of six or more books.

Eclipse photo found at https://eclipse.aas.org/resources/images-videos

Posted in All of Life is Sacred, Quaker Faith Today, Radical Christianity | Tagged , , , , , | 22 Comments

A Faithful Friend

As we drove to Ohio for Katharine Jacobsen’s memorial service, my husband and I remembered her loving friendship and the radiant, welcoming smile with which she greeted us when we came to visit. Katharine and her husband, Ken, had invited many Friends to a time of Poustinia at their home in Wisconsin. The traditional Russian Poustinia is a small cabin or shack in which a person takes a time of silence and prayer. The Jacobsens did not have a shack in their yard; instead the room on the second floor of their home was a place where visitors could come for retreat, prayer, and rest. Poustinia at the Jacobsens’ home involved joining them for a period of silent worship in the morning, and then again in the evening. In between were meals, spaces of silence, and walks on a wooded path to the shore of Lake Delavan, usually accompanied by a golden retriever eager to fetch tennis balls.

I got to know the Jacobsens when they were interim co-directors of Pendle Hill Retreat Center. They arrived at Pendle Hill in a time of difficulty and pain for the community. Through their spirit of loving hospitality to everyone, their integrity, and their humble, prayerful approach to leadership, they brought healing to the staff, nurture to visitors, and clarity to the finances. Previously they had brought similar leadership to Olney School in Barnesville, Ohio during a similarly difficult time of change.

During my first year as resident Quaker Studies teacher at Pendle Hill, Katharine volunteered to serve as the elder (or spiritual nurturer) for my Quakerism course, which I was teaching solo for the first time. She sat in the back of the room, silhouetted against the wide windows, praying for me and the class members, smiling her lovely smile. After class she would tell me what parts of the class had seemed most graced. She delighted when shy people spoke up, including those for whom English was a second or third language. She noted keenly the moments when the Inner Teacher appeared and unexpected learning emerged in the group, as guided by the Spirit.

When several Friends offered a nine-month program at Pendle Hill entitled “The Way of Ministry,” under the care of the School of the Spirit, Katharine served as elder for the program, along with her dear friend, Barbarajene Williams. Both of them were recognized elders among Conservative Friends in Ohio Yearly Meeting, and they modeled and taught a form of eldering that helped the teachers and participants grow in faith and faithfulness. They maintained a deep stream of prayer before, during, and after the program’s four residencies. They noted and sometimes named aloud how the Spirit was moving in the group. They offered counsel and spiritual nurture to the teaching team as well as to individual participants. When the program faced challenges, they helped maintain a loving and hopeful spirit.

During their time at Pendle Hill and afterwards, Katharine and Ken facilitated a number of retreats. Whatever the specific topic, they always taught how to attend to the subtle movements of God’s Love. A five-day workshop that was repeated was called “Communitas: Quaker Practices for Becoming a Healed and Healing Community.” They defined Communitas as “the human community in the presence of the Sacred—infused, healed, and led into service by the energy of divine Love.”

Both in teaching and in leadership of the Pendle Hill community, Katharine and Ken worked closely together as a team. In their long relationship, they had witnessed the ongoing teaching of Christ as the presence of Love, accompanying and guiding them forward, especially when they had the most difficulty seeing the way ahead.

When Terry and I visited their home for the first time, they welcomed him as a friend, although Katharine had never met him before and Ken had talked with him only once. Before and after the periods of worship, and during meals, they had gentle questions, questions that showed a true interest and care, and a desire to learn from each person.

Katharine remained as active as possible after being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. She used ski poles to help steady herself while taking walks. One August afternoon during the annual sessions of Ohio Yearly Meeting, I met with the Jacobsen’s next to their tent, where they were camping on the grounds of Stillwater Meeting.

This illness is deepening our love for each other,” Ken said.

How wonderful!” I remarked.

We think so,” Katharine responded.

In her last years, Parkinson’s disease increasingly weakened her voice, but she maintained a strong presence in every conversation.

Tell them about that,” she would say to Ken, mentioning something when it seemed that a particular story was the right contribution to the conversation. During our visits, her voice was always strong enough for cogent remarks and incisive, caring questions. In gentle ways, the Jacobsens helped us gradually turn more fully and trustingly to the same divine Love that guided them. When we left, Katharine stood in the driveway smiling lovingly, radiantly, just as when we arrived.

This winter we received news that Katharine was leaving the hospital to receive hospice care in their home, where she could rest near the fire and look out the windows at the trees and snow.

Pray for us,” Ken asked their many friends.

When Terry and I took time to pray for Katharine and Ken, we experienced something unexpected. Praying for them seemed unusually easy. When I prayed, I did not feel so much that I was giving something, as receiving. Receiving from that divine Love that circulated so abundantly around them.

A couple days before Katharine died, a hospice nurse greeted her and asked, “How are you feeling?”

In love,” Katharine answered.

Her love drew many friends from long distances to Stillwater Meeting for her memorial service in Ohio. Near the beginning, Ken sang a version of “The Water is Wide” that he had written for their marriage. He had warned us that his voice might falter as he sang, but it came out strong and clear. Then he read a poem about the blessed gift of their 10,000 days of marriage: 10,000 days begun and ended in prayer together. After we settled in silence, one person after another rose to tell how Katharine had encouraged them, named their gifts, and made them welcome in the circle of community, and encouraged them to be teachable and faithful.

I had known from the weather report that storms were expected that morning, but the big rain held off until after people entered the meetinghouse. Then there was thunder and lightening, a torrential downfall, and big winds. The earthly turbulence subsided by the end of the memorial service. We walked out into the clean air with the sense that our faithful Friend had not really left us. She was still present in the great Love for which she had been such a graceful channel.

Faithful Friend: Are there friends who have nurtured you into a closer awareness of the presence and activity of divine Love in your life?

© 2017 Marcelle Martin

A few spaces have opened up in Pendle Hill’s first Quaker Wisdom School with Cynthia Bourgeault, Paulette Meier and Marcelle Martin, May 14-19. 2017.

New England Yearly Meeting and Woolman Hill Retreat Center are co-sponsoring a nine-month spiritual renewal and leadership development program entitled Nurturing Worship, Faith, and Faithfulness. It begins with a residency at Woolman Hill over Labor Day weekend 2017. An information webinar will be held Wednesday evening, May 10 at 8 pm Eastern Standard Time.

Our Life is Love: the Quaker Spiritual Journey, by Marcelle Martin, is available from Inner Light Books in hardback, paperback, and ebook. An excerpt and a study guide are also available on that website. Reviewed by Friends Journal, the book was designed to be a resource for both individuals and groups to explore their own experiences of ten elements of the Quaker spiritual journey of faithfulness. It’s also available from QuakerBooks, which provides free shipping on orders of six or more books.

Posted in All of Life is Sacred, Contemplative spirituality, Facing Life with Faith, Quaker Faith Today | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments

A Movement of Love, For Life

I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses.  Now choose life, so that you and your children may live.”     (Deut 30:19)

The recent U.S. election offered a choice between very different approaches to government. The majority of American people want good public services, peace, and a hopeful future for their children and grandchildren.  The new admin-istration’s policies toward the environment, however, lead toward death. The good news is that the election ignited a mass movement.  We can still choose life, if we allow ourselves to be guided by divine love, and filled with the power of the Spirit.

On election night, my husband went to bed early; tired from weeks of knocking on doors to get out the vote. I sat up alone, waiting in uncertainty with the television newscasters.  After Clinton sent her tearful supporters home, I checked social media for company.  It seemed most of my friends were asleep.  When a friend in Scotland, waking up for her day, sent an email, I felt accompanied. I waited until the new president-elect made his victory speech, his sleepy little son standing by his side. Then I went to bed and woke my husband, to tell him the heartbreaking news.

Shock. Sadness. Anger. Fear.

At my Quaker Meeting, we’ve been struggling to understand the millions of people who, we believe, voted against their best interests—including some members of our own families. Trump’s slogan was, “Make America Great Again,” but the Republican victory was largely financed by wealthy individuals and corporations whose true agenda is to increase their corporate profits by dismantling government regulations and public services.  Republicans in Congress intend to repeal the Affordable Care Act; if approved, their alternative will cause an estimated 24 million people to lose health insurance.  Without health care, many of them will die sooner. Racist, misogynist, anti-immigrant rhetoric has led to an increase of hate crimes.

We Quakers have been wondering, where is God in this situation?

Puzzlement. Sadness. Anger. Fear.

The election was a powerful wake-up call for those who had passively counted on a Democratic president to protect democracy, civil rights, public education, health care, workers rights, religious freedom, world peace, and the environment. Millions of people have realized we can not afford to remain passive. So much is at stake.

A Friend who lives in my neighborhood hosted a gathering of concerned neighbors, members of several different churches. It was one of the most racially mixed gatherings I have attended. We shared our anger, fear, and concerns about the many people and rights now threatened more than ever.  We agreed to gather information, get to know each other, and meet again.     The group continues to meet, and more have joined.

All over the country, people who have not been very active politically are gathering to meet with others, to discover what we can do collectively to face the troubling reality in which we find ourselves. Members of my Quaker Meeting organized a group of twenty Friends to participate in the Women’s March in Washington, D.C. the day after the inauguration, including whole families: mothers, fathers, children. I feared the possibility of standing in the cold for hours and did not sign up. But January 21, 2017 turned out to be a sunny day, so my husband and I joined the Women’s March in Philadelphia. Like half a million people in Washington, and the millions who came out in other cities, we found ourselves participating in one of the most amazing, creative, and joyful events of our lives.

Some members of my family and my husband’s are conservative Christians who voted for Trump;  they believe that the most important issue in the world today is protecting unborn babies, and they imagined that his presidency would do that. From slanted news reports, some assumed that the Women’s March was all about abortion rights and that the “pussy hats” worn by many women were a symbol of this.

Actually, what I experienced in the streets of Philadelphia was different. The humorous pink hats, with their little “cat” ears, were a way of protesting the rhetoric of a man who bragged on television about grabbing women by the “pussy.”  With their hats and their signs, women at the march were saying: “Keep your hands off my private parts and off all of my rights.” Numerous signs asserted that women deserve respect and that we refuse to cooperate with degrading rhetoric and repressive policy—against ourselves or anybody else.

The signs were hand-made, colorful, and creative. I would sum up the gist of many of them this way:

All People Deserve Respect.

Love is More Powerful Than Hate.

Love Your Neighbor.

Care for the Stranger and the Poor.

Curb Corporate Greed.

Stop Climate Change.

The policies of the new administration–including revoking environmental controls and permitting the construction of dangerous pipelines carrying dirty fossil fuels–threaten all life on this planet. Care for the environment is the biggest Pro-Life issue of our time. Continuing to pollute the waters and to release carbon, methane, and other greenhouse gases into the air threatens the lives of all generations of unborn children. To keep the planet habitable, we need to be investing in alternative forms of energy, instead.

In spite of the anger and fear felt by so many, those who turned out for the Philadelphia Women’s March were kind.  Friends who went to Washington and were packed onto the streets like sardines say that kindness characterized the march there, too.

After months of paralyzing dread, it was a day of hope. It is estimated that 3.3 million marched in 500 U.S. cities, women and men.  People around the world marched in solidarity, too, as reported by The Wall Street Journal in “Women’s March: Massive Protests Across U.S., World.”  I was moved by a video clip of the speech Bernie Sanders delivered in Monpelier; he said a movement had been created that would not be stopped.

A big public demonstration can actually dissipate the energy needed to make real change, however.  Deep, active, long-term engagement is required to protect democracy, the earth, public education, health care, women’s rights, civil rights, justice, civility, and peace. There are so many issues. Real change happens when groups of people coalesce and make a commitment to act on behalf of particular issues.

In choosing how to focus and what to commit to, more is required than information, analysis, rhetoric, passion, or strategy.  Although these things are significant, discernment is even more important—seeking divine guidance and the leading of the Spirit.

God has a plan for healing.  The Creator cares for the planet.  We are all loved, whatever our political persuasion, race, gender, religion, or ethnicity.

A country’s greatness does not come from excluding, scapegoating, hating, or repressing certain groups or taking resources away from the poor and giving more to the rich.  Spoiling our air and water does not lead to greatness, either.  If we want to be great, we must be good.  We must heed God’s promptings— the inward prompting to care for the earth and to love our neighbors as ourselves. The significant threats we all face can be adequately addressed only if we truly and humbly listen to the promptings of truth and love in our hearts, and let God take the lead.

Discernment requires taking time for silence and prayer. It requires looking within and waiting to hear the still, small voice of the True Shepherd. We must wait for divinely-inspired leadings and distinguish these from our own ideas of what God wants. Only the leadings of the Spirit are filled with the spiritual power that can heal and unite us, and lead us toward a hopeful future for generations yet unborn.

Once we discern the true leadings of the Spirit, a faithful response is required.

                  *     *     *


A Movement of Love, For Life: In your heart, have you experienced any promptings to act on behalf of God’s love, truth, justice, mercy, or peace? Have you spoken with others about your sense of being led, or listened to others’ sense of God’s leadings? Are you part of a community that prays, discerns, and acts together?

© 2017 Marcelle Martin

                 *     *     *

Quaker author and activist Eileen Flanagan will again be offering her five-week online course We Were Made For This Moment. Each lesson blends social change theory, spiritual discernment, and personal empowerment, to integrate “hearts, minds, and spirits for the work of creating a more just and sustainable world.” For those in groups that are discerning their focus or what action to undertake, a second course is now available: Building a Nonviolent Direct Action Campaign, starting Monday, April 17.

New England Yearly Meeting and Woolman Hill Retreat Center are co-sponsoring a nine-month spiritual leadership development program entitled “Nurturing Worship, Faith, and Faithfulness,” beginning with a residency at Woolman Hill over Labor Day weekend 2017.

For information about other upcoming courses and workshops with Marcelle, go to Teaching and Upcoming Workshops.

Our Life is Love: the Quaker Spiritual Journey, by Marcelle Martin, is available from Inner Light Books in hardback, paperback, and ebook. An excerpt and a study guide are also available on that website. Reviewed by Friends Journal, the book was designed to be a resource for both individuals and groups to explore their own experiences of ten elements of the Quaker spiritual journey of faithfulness. It’s also available from QuakerBooks, which provides free shipping on orders of six or more books.

Videos about leadings:

How To Listen For A Leading

Why I Blockaded 30,000 Tons of Coal With a Lobster Boat,

Videos about discernment:

The Quaker Practice of Discernment,

How Quakers Make Decisions (It’s Not Just Consensus!)





More videos about the Women’s Marches:

New York Times, Women March around the World

Ashley Judd’s angry “Nasty Woman speech”

How Pink Pussyhats Took Over the Women’s March



Posted in All of Life is Sacred, Facing Life with Faith, Quaker Faith Today, Radical Christianity | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Say the Wrong Thing

My brother-in-law Barry married into our family about twenty years ago. I met him long before that, when he and my sister Cindy were high school sweethearts. But it was only this past year that I initiated a conversation with him about how he has experienced racism. He had a lot to say, and I was glad we talked about it.

Why did I wait so long to bring up the subject?

I was afraid of saying the wrong thing.

In April 2016 I attended the White Privilege Conference, held in Philadelphia. I was one of about 500 Quakers in a crowd of around 2,500 people. We were there to learn more about how our culture privileges whiteness and what we can do to help undo racism.

During one of the keynote talks, inspirational speaker Verna Meyers told the mostly white audience that white people are so afraid of saying the wrong thing that they often say nothing in situations where connecting is greatly needed. Saying nothing, Meyers said, can be worse than saying the wrong thing.

Friend Amanda Kemp–playwright, college professor, and founder of Theater for Transformation–has written a slim, wonderful book entitled Say the Wrong Thing: Stories and Strategies for Racial Justice and Authentic Community. It’s a collection of short essays, personal stories, and reflections–originally posts from her blog, “On a Mission to Heal the Planet.” It begins with a moving account of a key moment when she risked saying the wrong thing to her then-fiance, Michael Jamanis. She was creating a new piece about race, and he was collaborating with her to create music for it. However, she was feeling that his skillful classical violin music symbolized “Western and Northern European dominance,” and that it just wasn’t the right sound for her piece. It was one of the first times in their relationship that being of different races seemed to matter a lot. Dr. Kemp risked their relationship to tell her fiance the truth, to say what might have been the wrong thing. What he said back surprised and challenged her, too. That conversation opened the door to a new level of intimacy and creativity for both of them. Michael, now her husband, was able to “improvise and change his sound, so that he is sometimes a chaotic siren and sometimes a beautiful melodic line.” In the end, they collaborated “to create an edgy, angry, mournful and inspiring piece, INSPIRA.”

Say the Wrong Thing: Stories and Strategies for Racial Justice and Authentic Community is organized to explain the H.E.A.R.T. strategy:

       Hold Space for Transformation

       Express Yourself

       Act With Intention

       Reflect on Yourself

       Trust the Process

I’m finding it valuable to read these short pieces one at a time. They share Amanda Kemp’s experience of being Black, from the inside, and they help me to get another perspective on race in this country. They guide my reflections on how I can live in a way that helps hold the space for transformation.

I recommend the book, Dr. Kemp’s blog, and her upcoming Pendle Hill workshop, entitled Say the Wrong Thing: Strategies of the H.E.A.R.T. for Racial Justice and Authentic Community.

Here’s a link to the Friends Journal review of Say the Wrong Thing

Our times require lots of courageous risk-taking, not only political activism, but risky conversations from the heart, with strangers, co-workers, neighbors, and the people we love best.

At the White Privilege Conference Philadelphia 2016

At the White Privilege Conference
Philadelphia 2016

Say the Wrong Thing: When have you risked saying the wrong thing in order to try to make an authentic connection across lines of difference? What was the result?

© 2017 Marcelle Martin

Our Life is Love: the Quaker Spiritual Journey, by Marcelle Martin, is available from Inner Light Books in hardback, paperback, and ebook. An excerpt and a study guide are also available on that website. Reviewed by Friends Journal, the book was designed to be a resource for both individuals and groups to explore their own experiences of ten elements of the Quaker spiritual journey of faithfulness. It is also available from QuakerBooks., which provides free shipping on orders of six or more books.

For information about Marcelle’s upcoming courses and workshops, go to Teaching and Upcoming Workshops.


Posted in All of Life is Sacred, Quaker Faith Today | Tagged , , , , , | 6 Comments

Opening to Divine Guidance

We each have an amazing inner connection to divine wisdom and guidance.  It’s always available; the challenge is to turn our attention toward the divine Presence within us and stay focused.

In spite of regular attendance at church, I never clearly learned while growing up that the  presence of God within us all can offer specific guidance and teaching.  Then in my late twenties, a teacher showed me how to focus inwardly on God and encouraged me to pose a heart-felt question and wait with a quiet mind for an answer.

When I tried this, I wasn’t always sure if I heard a response.  When a thought or impression came into my mind, I questioned whether it had a divine source or was merely one of my own ideas.  However, I began to notice that I was receiving some valuable and trustworthy insights and guidance.  Sometimes this came in a dream, or when I was peacefully working with my hands. At other times, if I held a particular question in prayer, day after day, for long periods of time, a clear understanding would grow in me.  On other occasions when I cleared my mind and turned toward God, something was revealed almost immediately: words, a phrase from scripture or a song, an image or story, a memory, a clear knowing, or a very subtle impression.  If I paid attention on a regular basis, the divine Teacher let me know when my behavior had been motivated by fear or envy or anger, and revealed a more loving and truthful way to be.

Over time, I grew better able to discern–more able to identify guidance or instruction that came from a divine source, as distinct from ideas generated by my mind or memory.  I discovered that others with deep spiritual experience could help me with this discernment, too. In searching for the best way forward or trying to understand a difficult situation, my deeply-ingrained habitual mode had been to consult my thinking mind first.  Even today, after decades of experience receiving trustworthy guidance from a divine inward source, it still takes an effort to quiet the activity of my thinking mind and turn my attention to a more subtle level of awareness. 

The reality of the divine presence within was news to me in 1984, but it had been a fundamental truth of Quakerism since the middle of the seventeenth century.   The pivotal discovery of the first Quakers was that God and Christ can teach directly, from within.  After Richard Farnsworth stopped attending church services filled with too many words, he remained at home on Sundays, waiting in silence for the direct revelation of God.  Eventually Christ spoke within him, saying, “I will teach thee freely myself, and all the children of the Lord shall be taught of the Lord, and in righteousness shall they be established.”  George Fox declared, “Christ is come to teach his people himself.”   Esther Biddle wrote to her country’s political and religious leaders, declaring, “The Lord doth not speak to us in an unknown Tongue, but in our own Language do we hear him perfectly, whose voice is better than life….”

The first Friends identified the inward divine Presence as the Light of Christ within, the same Light described in John 1:9, “the true Light, which enlightens everyone.”  Christ often communicated to them in words of Scripture, which they heard inwardly with particular clarity and authority, speaking directly to their own lives.  They discovered the Light of Christ to be a formidable teacher: stern, humbling, loving and, ultimately, empowering.  The Light revealed eternal Truth, and also, bit by bit, revealed everything within society and in their own behavior that was contrary to the loving, just, and peaceful ways of God. 

This kind of revelation can feel like stinging judgment.  Love is its ultimate purpose, however, not condemnation.  If heeded, the Light brings transformation and healing.  When we learn to turn toward it and pay attention, this wise source of truth imparts an intimate clarity about every aspect of our lives and also provides loving guidance about steps toward healing and wholeness.  Its purpose is to restore the divine nature in which each of us was created, in the image and likeness of God.  As we learn to be responsive to the divine presence, teaching, and guidance, we learn to participate in the work of making manifest the Kingdom (or Kin-dom) of Heaven on Earth.

We all have the deeply ingrained habit of allowing our often disordered and fear-based thinking to control us. Our analytical minds have an important role to play, but if they don’t operate in concert with divine guidance, they can take us in harmful directions.  It takes regular spiritual practice to develop the habit of giving our attention first of all to the subtle divine presence of God.  Fortunately, a Quaker meeting for worship is designed precisely to help everyone tune in more clearly to the guidance available from within.  Gathering together with this purpose can help God’s presence and guidance be more clear for each of us.  However, one hour of worship a week is not enough to develop a habitual orientation to the Light.  More practice is needed.  Every day at Pendle Hill Retreat Center begins with a half-hour meeting for worship. 

It can be a tremendous help to gather in silent worship with others, but it’s not essential. Sitting alone in prayer and meditation on a regular basis is also a way to become more receptive to God’s subtle inward teaching and guidance.  I have sometimes found it supportive to have some spoken words that guide my solitary prayer and meditation.   One helpful form of guided meditation, created by British scholar Rex Ambler, is called Experiment With Light.  Borrowing from the meditation called Focusing and using words from George Fox about “minding the Light,”  the 40-minute meditation intersperses brief instructions with periods of silence.   In future blog posts I will write more about this and other spiritual practices that can help us open to divine guidance.

For the new year, I wish to offer a link to a 22-minute guided meditation.   Like Experiment With Light, it suggests you invite the Light to show you several areas of your life in which there is an uneasy sense about something.  Next you choose to focus on one of these situations and wait with an open mind and receptive heart for the divine teaching and guidance that is available. 

Receiving the wisdom imparted by the Light can be like learning a new language, sometimes hard to comprehend at first.  For certain issues, it may require more than one period of meditation before clarity comes.  It is more than worth the effort, however, for divine guidance is far more valuable than the ideas and solutions we generate on our own.

A Meditation to Reveal and Heal is my gift to you as we head into a year when the world needs more of us to pay attention to divine instruction and guidance.  If you try the meditation, I would love to hear about your experience.


Opening to Divine Guidance: What is your experience of being guided directly, from within, by God, or Christ, or the Light?  If you tried the the Meditation to Reveal and Heal,  did you receive any new insight or guidance?

* * * * *

Starting in January 2017, Pendle Hill is offering an online course entitled Exploring the Quaker Way, facilitated by Marcelle Martin.  It includes weekly webinars, readings, online discussions, videos, interviews with guest teachers, and more. For more information, click HERE.

Our Life is Love: the Quaker Spiritual Journey, by Marcelle Martin, is available from Inner Light Books in hardback, paperback, and ebook. The book was designed to be a resource for both individuals and groups to explore their own experiences of ten elements of the Quaker spiritual journey of faithfulness.  It is also available from QuakerBooks, which provides a discount for quantities of six or more books ordered for study groups. For links to an excerpt, a study guide, and book reviews, click HERE.

For information about Marcelle’s upcoming courses and workshops, go to Teaching and Upcoming Workshops.

© 2016 Marcelle Martin


Posted in Contemplative spirituality, Learning from Early Friends, meditation, Mysticism, Quaker Faith Today, spiritual practices | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments