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.

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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.

golden-light

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?

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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

Standing Rock: Hope and a Call to Action

Several people I know have made the journey to Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota, where thousands of Native Americans and their allies have been prayerfully endeavoring to protect the Missouri River from the dangers posed by the installation of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL). From afar, I’ve been trying to follow news of what is going on there. I’ve found articles and videos from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, CNBC, and other mainstream media. The reports that have most touched my heart, however, have been videos focusing on the Native people at Standing Rock, and first person accounts by other people of faith who have traveled there, including a member of my Quaker meeting. These stories have helped me piece together a picture of a courageous witness in a time when all of us need to ask: How is God calling me to act on behalf of a hopeful future?

standing-rock-photo-crop-b

Standing Rock Reservation, December 2016

A Christian theologian named Jonathan Hatch visited Standing Rock over Thanksgiving. In “Doing Theology at Standing Rock” he wrote, “The Oceti Sakowin camp is specifically a camp of prayer and ceremony. Life is rigorous and disciplined (you’re wakened at 6am), as well as incredibly peaceful. That’s important to stress- the spirit of peace in the camp is overwhelming.” His blog post explains the rules of the camp and tells how he was asked to spend time picking up trash.  A humbling task, but necessary to help keep the place sanitary for the 4,000 people then living there.  He reflects that, “American Christians have talked endlessly about how they want to ‘be like Jesus’. It’s central to their very self-identity. But again, conveniently, they make themselves the final arbiters of what it means to ‘be like Jesus’. But in this Advent season, as we prepare for the coming of the ‘Light of the World’, I can think of no better example of what it means to ‘be like Christ’ than to do what Christ did: … “emptied himself, by taking on the form of a slave, by looking like other men, and by sharing in human nature. He humbled himself, by becoming obedient to the point of death —even death on a cross….” (Philipians 2:7-8).

In late November, John Bergan, associate pastor at a Mennonite Church, served as an observer. In his first-hand report from Standing Rock, he tells that he witnessed “police breaking ribs at peaceful sit-ins, repeatedly strip-searching young women, throwing elders in dog cages, destroying sacred ceremonial items (including peeing on them), dragging indigenous young people from cars, and denying medical care or needed medicine after protectors were teargassed and beaten.” He believes that “the military forces protecting DAPL intend to destroy this movement by any means necessary.” He describes a night of violence against peaceful protestors who were removing a burned-out truck from a blockade. 300 people were injured, by rubber bullets, pepper spray, tear gas, and a cannon that doused them with water on a freezing night. He believes the viciousness of the violence toward these peaceful protestors is related to “the ongoing destruction of native communities by extractive industries and state military forces around the world. It comes from a system that many of us remain complicit in, still unlearning a colonial mindset….” He urges education, prayer, and action: “We need to pray with our hearts, with our hands, and with our bodies. We live in transformative times which demand deep, grounded commitment.”

The Lakota Sioux at Standing Rock have been joined by members of hundreds of other tribes.  They see themselves not as protestors but as defenders of the waters; they and their allies have been calling themselves Water Protectors, and their nonviolent movement is fueled by prayer and love.  Mennonite Tim Nafziger, was a delegate from Christian Peacemaker Teams during a week at Standing Rock. In “Indigenous Peoples Solidarity”, he describes preparations for an action he participated in: “I was crowded with more than 100 other water protectors into a large geodesic dome in the center of Oceti with our body heat and a stove warming us from the freezing temperatures outside. … After an opening prayer, one of the indigenous organizers began to speak. His voice rose and fell as he challenged us to ground ourselves and let go of all hate towards the police and recognize them as people who were lost and in need of healing. He talked about how mother earth grieves as she watches us hate each other.”

The Native and Non-Native Water Protectors at Standing Rock have shown that there is a rising spirit of nonviolent, courageous resistance against the oppression of people and the earth. They give hope that transformation is possible. In early December, a group called Veterans Stand for Standing Rock planned for 2,000 US military vets from all branches of the US military to go offer a nonviolent defense of the demonstrators. A Quaker I know was part of a team of military chaplains who accompanied them. He reported that more than 4,000 vets actually showed up.

500 of these vets participated in a ceremony in which they asked forgiveness from the Native Americans for past actions of the US military. A statement was read by Wes Clark, Jr. acknowledging the long-time role of the US military in oppression of Native peoples: “Many of us, me particularly, are from the units that have hurt you over the many years. We came. We fought you. We took your land. We signed treaties that we broke. We stole minerals from your sacred hills. We blasted the faces of our presidents onto your sacred mountain. Then we took still more land and then we took your children and then we tried to…eliminate your language that God gave you, and the Creator gave you. We didn’t respect you, we polluted your Earth, we’ve hurt you in so many ways but we’ve come to say that we are sorry. We are at your service and we beg for your forgiveness.”  Lakota elders including Leonard Crow Dog, Faith Spotted Eagle, and Ivan Looking Dog (also a US military veteran) offered forgiveness. A Huffington Post article shows moving photos and videos of the ceremony.

For a delegation of Quakers from New England, the witness in Standing Rock revealed both the great dangers that lie ahead related to climate change and the bold faithfulness that is being called forth: “Once again we are invited, through faithfulness, to the quiet yet profound voice of Truth that whispers in our hearts and gives us courage and power to walk boldly in uncertain times. When we give ourselves over to it, we know we too can enter into this Kingdom where our hearts are clarified in purpose, where we cling less to the illusory safety of our culture, where we feel more closely the security and Love of God.”

The dangers the Dakota Access Pipeline poses to the Missouri River and the land around it are real. On December 12, a break in a pipeline just 150 miles from Standing Rock spilled 176,000 gallons of crude into a creek, contaminating it for at least six miles. The video, “Standing Rock – The Whole World is Watching,” states that there are, on average, 560 serious pipeline leaks every year.

In a press release issued on December 7, Native leaders at Standing Rock Reservation warned of arctic winter weather conditions. (For more info, go to www.ocetisakowincamp.org.) They asked everyone to leave the camp now who is not prepared to work very hard every day to survive under such conditions.

The Lakota/Nakota/Dakota people of The Great Sioux Nation have survived in these conditions for thousands of years. If Ally Protectors cooperate with the ancient wisdom and ways of these lands, we will fare well. This movement is unlike any other—it is prayerful as well as peaceful—the consciousness we have raised here continues to resonate across the world. … Oceti Sakowin Camp remains determined—to protect our land. We have been given the obligation to do so in the treaty of 1851—we were specifically asked to protect this river. This is the way of the Standing Rock people, the Lakota people, the Hunkpapa people. All of the seven tribes of The Great Sioux Nation have gathered here again in an historic way—once as former enemies, we now stand together as brothers and sisters.

Sarah van Gelder, editor of Yes! Magazine traveled across the country to visit many places where people are uniting to advocate for health and safety. In the winter 2017 issue, she writes that this coming together as crucial to a hopeful future: “The solidarity at Standing Rock is key to local power going big. The forces that would extract the last barrel of oil, frack the last rock formation, or put at risk the water supply of millions are powerful ones. And only together can communities overcome that power and create the conditions for the regeneration of life. Only together can they weather the damage already done, and support one another in preventing more destruction.”

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Awareness, education, organization, and spiritual power are needed for people to join together in hope and effective action. Where I live, a group of neighbors of diverse age, race, religious denomination, and sexual orientation has gathered to consider how we can work together for good. Six of us attended a recent training sponsored by local Quakers and The New Sanctuary Movement, an interfaith group. We saw a short news video about how Denver Quaker Meeting has provided sanctuary to a mother of two young children who is facing deportation.

Quaker author and activist Eileen Flanagan writes, “In this time of tumult, fear, and hatred, the world needs the gifts that you were born to share. You may not be sure where to use them. You may not know how to use them to greatest effect, or even if you can make a difference at all, but you know you need to do something to work for a more just and loving world. You are not alone!” She’s offering a five-week online course starting January 2nd entitled “We Were Made For This Moment.”  Each lesson of the course will blend three kinds of teaching: 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.”

Standing in Hope: Do you find inspiration or hope from the witness of the Water Protectors at Standing Rock? How are you being called to act, or to prepare to act?

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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.

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

© 2016 Marcelle Martin

Posted in All of Life is Sacred, Facing Life with Faith, Quaker Faith Today, Radical Christianity | Tagged , , | 7 Comments

Prayer of the World

Friends Maia and Ken Tapp have created an awesome work of art called The Prayer of the World.   Maia is a gifted poet and writer, the author of several books.  Many years ago, as she awakened more fully to her connection with God, she experienced inner leadings to  visit particular places on Earth, places of wonder, places where wild creatures live.  She felt called to listen to the divine Spirit that created the world and which is always communicating with humanity through nature. In these places, she has heard a loving voice urging human beings to join in the ongoing prayer of the world.  It spoke to her in poetry, inviting us to recognize the sacred web of life and find our real place within this web.

Maia’s words have been combined with amazing nature photographs by her husband, Ken Tapp, images that reveal the incredible beauty and variety of nature, its rhythms, its sacred dance of life, both in large landscapes and in minute details.

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Photo by Ken Tapp

I have witnessed the Prayer of the World in several different settings now, most recently at the 2016 summer Friends General Conference Gathering, where a showing was sponsored by the Earthcare Working Group.  Maia read the words of the Prayer of the World out loud and Ken Tapp’s images of the awesome splendor and the beautiful intricacy of the natural world were projected on a large screen.  Ken Jacobsen, with his guitar and voice, provided music.

Each time I’ve seen the Prayer of the World, I’ve felt shaken out of a certain dull habituation with this world to see more clearly God’s awesome handiwork.  Each time it has been breathtaking to  recognize more clearly the wisdom and healing power present in Creation.  The world is alive to its sacred source and it is calling us to wake up to the sacredness of our own nature and to our interconnection with Spirit and with all created things.  Its message for humanity is an urgent one, calling us to awaken.

Parts of The Prayer of the World are now available online at www.prayeroftheworld.org/ 

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Prayer of the World: Have you experienced moments when God communicated with you through your encounter with the natural world?  Have you glimpsed the sacred nature of all things?  How are you called to join the prayer of the world?

For U.S. citizens: are you registered to vote?  Your vote can help humanity choose the path of protecting the natural world for all of us.

© 2016 Marcelle Martin

Posted in All of Life is Sacred, Contemplative spirituality, Facing Life with Faith, Quaker Faith Today | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

I See You

I was excited by the racial and ethnic diversity of my neighborhood when I moved to West Philadelphia in 1989.  My neighbors were African-American, Asian, and white.  I didn’t feel safe, however, walking alone in the city at night.  Encountering any man on the street after dusk made me feel anxious, especially dark-skinned men.  But I didn’t want to live a life of fear.  As I hurried from the trolley stop to my apartment, I would talk to myself whenever I noticed I was afraid of the person coming toward me on the sidewalk.  I would remind myself that I was encountering a human being.

In graduate school I had read a 1952 novel by Ralph Ellison called Invisible Man, the story of a black man in this country who had learned that people of the dominant culture wanted him to be invisible.  White people acted as if he was not there–except when they were harassing him.  I didn’t want to perpetuate the prejudices and injustices pervasive in my culture, or be controlled by fear.  I wanted to live with an open heart.  So instead of turning my face away when I encountered a man coming toward me on the sidewalk, I would gather my courage to look directly at each person I met and say, “Hello.”

What I was really saying is, “I see you.  I recognize your humanity.”

Usually I got a response.  A momentary eye contact, a greeting.  Sometimes the other person greeted me first, which helped melt the tension I felt.  It was a very small thing, but each time it felt like a little victory over fear, prejudice, and alienation–for both of us.  Fifteen years later, when I walk through my neighborhood, local park, or on city streets, greeting strangers and being greeted by them still feels like an opening to a more peaceful, joyful world.  It helps me to live in the Kingdom (or Kin-dom) of God, here and now.

Probably my most powerful experience of being “seen” by a stranger in a public place happened not long after the horrific attacks of September 11th, 2001.  I was one of many Americans who went out onto the streets to participate in vigils and hold signs asking my country to choose a non-violent response.  My friends and I got together and wrote letters to the President, our Senators, and Representatives in Congress, asking them not to start a war.  Sadly, at that time there was a terrible upsurge of violence against Muslims in this country.  I received an email from a peace group asking every women in this country to wear a head scarf on a certain date, as an act of solidarity with Muslim women.  That turned out to be the very date that the USA began bombing Afghanistan.

I was traveling home from Lancaster, PA that October day.  When I went to the train station in Lancaster wearing a head scarf, I was apprehensive that I would be looked at with hostility.  In fact, nobody paid much attention until I arrived home in Philadelphia.  I was the last one on the regional rail train by the time it pulled in to my station at the end of the line.  When I stood up to leave, the African-American train conductor looked directly into my face.  He saw me and understood why I was wearing the head scarf.

“Thank you!” he said.

He blessed me in an amazing way that I have never forgotten.  Quietly, we looked at each other with mutual appreciation.  That moment gave me a glimpse of what a different and much more wonderful world we could be living in if we all respected and trusted one another.

Every time we encounter another person, we choose what world we want to live in.

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I See You:  What has been your experience when you move through the veil of fear and prejudice that separates us from our neighbors?

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My new book, Our Life is Love: the Quaker Spiritual Journey, was recently reviewed by Friends Journal.  It’s available from Inner Light Books in hardback, paperback, and ebook.  An excerpt and a study guide are also available on that website. The book was designed to be a resource for both individuals and groups to explore their own experiences of the ten elements of the Quaker spiritual journey. QuakerBooks provides discounts for books ordered in quantity.

© 2016 Marcelle Martin

Posted in Facing Life with Faith, Quaker Faith Today | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments