Faithfulness Groups

Participating in an ongoing Faithfulness Group helps me sense more clearly God’s call on my life.  We offer each other a form of prayerful attention and companionship that helps us remember, again and again, that God is always present, ready to guide each and all of us. It’s a crucial spiritual practice.

My group currently includes six members and meets once a month. This month we met at my house. After a simple potluck supper together, we settled into my living room. Then we devoted one hour each to two people in the group. During that hour, a person talks for fifteen minutes about some area of life in which he or she is seeking to sense divine guidance more clearly and respond faithfully. After the presentation, the group asks questions to help the presenter look more closely at how the Spirit has been at work internally and in the events of their lives. Over time, our group has learned not to hurry with our questions and not to engage in mental analysis of the situation, but to prayerfully wait for the questions that rise from the Spirit among us. After each question, we hold the person in prayer as they look within for the deep knowing that resides in the heart.

Usually when my group settles to engage in the Faithfulness Group process, I find myself moved to a deeper place of inward calm, a place of reverence. My busy mind slows down. Then I’m better able to attend to a subtle awareness of the divine Presence among us. When I hear stories of the particular ways that others have experienced the Spirit at work, my faith is strengthened. When friends share their longing to be of true service and their deep desire to know how God is guiding them, I find that same longing and desire strengthened in me.

It is a blessing both to witness the faithfulness of others and to share my own journey honestly. Something in my heart relaxes and opens wider when people listen lovingly as I speak about the simple and glorious ways I sense God teaching and leading me. Trust has grown over time, and gradually my ability to be deeply honest has increased. It is freeing to be able to speak the truth I know in my heart that contradicts the norms of society. And revealing my secret fears, hurts, and places of resistance has helped me to allow God to heal those things.  When I speak to others about my intimate walk with the Spirit, the truth of it becomes revealed to me in new ways. Sometimes during a Faithfulness Group meeting, I can feel the light within me shine more brightly.  I see it happen in my companions, too. Gathering with our Faithfulness Group each month is a practice that helps all of us remember our faith and find the firm ground of God’s steadfast love.We meet about once a month, with two people having the focus of the group, one at a time. Each person has the group’s attention about four times a year. It’s like having an ongoing spiritual support group and clearness committee at the same time. But a Faithfulness Group adds another dimension. Because we accompany each other over a long period of time, we get to know each other’s inner, spiritual lives in an intimate way. We can help each other notice the ways that we resist God’s leadings and call. Through prayer, deep listening, questions, and loving support, we help each other overcome the hidden internal barriers to a life of faithfulness.  A clearness committee helps a person discern a leading; a faithfulness group helps discern each small step along the path, and find the way back after a misstep or distraction.

Each month, our group rotates the role of convenor, whose primary task is to keep time so that everyone has a fair share of attention, and so that we finish punctually. Sometimes, when we veer into problem-solving, advice-giving, or telling our own stories, the convenor also needs to gently remind us of the guidelines for our group. Our intention is to provide “holy accompaniment” to each other and to let the Spirit guide our sessions.

I first encountered the format of these groups while enrolled in the Shalem Institute program on Spiritual Guidance, a program designed for people who spend time listening to others explore their spiritual lives. My teachers in the Shalem program—Gerald May, Tilden Edwards, and Rosemary Dougherty–emphasized the importance of having peer support while engaging in spiritual guidance of others. To be faithful to the call to that particular form of ministry, they said, it was very useful to meet with other spiritual guides and spiritual directors with whom one could share the workings of the Spirit and reveal the inward challenges, resistances, and blocks that were coming up. For nine years, I was part of a group of Quaker spiritual nurturers meeting monthly to provide this wonderful kind of peer support to each other.

At some point during those years, another Friend and I realized that this format could be opened up so that people could provide companionship to each other for many forms of faithfulness—following a leading, living out a call, engaging in service or some sort of ministry, or being faithful in one’s job or family commitments. When we seek to hear God’s guidance and respond faithfully in any of these areas of our lives, participation in an ongoing faithfulness group can be a great blessing.

In 2005, with permission from Shalem Institute, we revised the peer group guidelines for wider use; then we called together a group of friends who were seeking to be faithful to calls to various forms of ministry, including the ministry of eldering. The first group we formed continues to meet, though some of the original members have moved away and other Friends have joined us. Initially the group was called a peer group. As other groups formed, some took different names, including “mutual spiritual accountability groups.”  Recently we’ve adopted the name “Faithfulness Groups,” to describe our intention and practice. I have participated in several Faithfulness Groups. One, which lasted for five years, was of vital importance in my ability to grow into my call as a speaker, teacher, and writer about the spiritual life. In the groups I’ve been involved in, we’ve supported each other in faithfully participating in meeting committees, engaging in environmental and political activism, serving as a chaplain, working against racism, doing prison ministry, discerning a call to marriage, being a parent, creating theater performances, facilitating workshops, leading groups, and much more.

The ideal number for Faithfulness Groups is 4-6 members, although 3 participants is sometimes sufficient. Members can be drawn from your faith community. It’s also possible for people of different faiths to join together in this way, if there’s a common desire to respond to God’s leadings and to support each other’s discernment in respectful ways. It is not necessary to share a meal together; in fact the two-hour format is intended to make it easy for busy people to fit a monthly Faithfulness Group session into their schedules. The current guidelines for Faithfulness Groups are available HERE.

Many Friends feel that their faith communities do not provide all the spiritual intimacy and support that they need to live faithful lives. I’ve been blessed to have received a great deal of holy accompaniment in my life. Participation in Faithfulness Groups has been key.

© 2018 Marcelle Martin            photo of two women @ Leigh Ruddick Tolton

Marcelle will be facilitating an April 15-19, 2018 short course at Pendle Hill entitled Nurturing Faithfulness. Participants in this course will learn the Faithfulness Group process and explore spiritual practices to support themselves and others in noticing the movements of the Spirit and responding with an open heart.

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

Marcelle’s book, Our Life is Love: the Quaker Spiritual Journey, 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 Facing Life with Faith, Quaker Faith Today, Radical Christianity, spiritual practices | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

The Best of A Whole Heart

In celebration of five years of writing A Whole Heart, I’ve looked at my WordPress statistics that show which blog posts have been most popular. The blog was created in November 2012, in a burst of intense inspiration, just before the presidential election. That creative energy opened my heart. Over 400 people took a look on the first full day. By the end of 2012, I had published 10 pages and posts. One of them, Ten Elements of the Quaker Spiritual Journey was a brief overview of the material that later became my book Our Life is Love. Each year since then, at least 730 viewers have gone to see that blog post, and it’s been viewed more than 4,500 times. It is, by far, the most popular post I’ve written overall.

This year, however, a new blog post drew the most viewers. Opening to Divine Guidance has been viewed more than 1000 times. Posted at the end of 2016, it contains a link to a twenty-two minute guided meditation, “A Meditation to Heal and Reveal,” my own variation on the Experiment with Light meditations. 556 times someone has clicked on the link to hear or download it. A few people have told me that using that meditation has become a regular spiritual practice, and someone asked me to make a five-minute version, a project that is now on my long To Do list.

Some other popular blog posts were also rough drafts of material later published in Our Life is Love, including The Refiner’s Fire and Following Leadings Today. Two popular posts that did not become part of my book were The New Birth (on early Quaker ideas of spiritual rebirth) and The End of Life and After, which tells about accompanying my father as he was dying, and explores ideas about what happens after death.

Statistics aren’t the only way to measure the best writing on A Whole Heart. My hope in writing the blog is to offer evocative words, information, ideas, experiences, stories, connections, prayers, and visions that can contribute to the shift of heart and mind needed in our world today. Writing each post has had a heart-opening effect on me.

The one I may have most enjoyed writing, with my whole heart, was A Movement of Love, for Life, about the 2016 Women’s March; I especially loved including photos of the creative signs and energized people I saw at the march in Philadelphia. It was important to me to testify to the loving motivation for the march and to identify the largest movement for life in the world today.

My latest blog post may have required the most courage. At the very least, it required overcoming huge inner resistance ingrained in me by decades of living in a patriarchal culture. My husband, who is the first editor of my blog posts, says it’s the most powerful one I’ve written so far. In Hidden Stories of Christmas, it was liberating to write about divine Wisdom (Sophia). For over a thousand years, divine Wisdom has been largely deprived of her rightful place in Christianity and the Bible–and, more importantly, in our hearts and minds.

As I mentioned, I have a long list of topics I’d like to write about in A Whole Heart. I have tried to be true to the intention of the blog, however, which is to write from the heart, from spiritual inspiration rather than from even my best mental ideas. So when I find myself pushing to write something, I set it aside. I wait for words and ideas that seem to flow from the heart as well as from the head. Sometimes I feel a powerful creative energy, like a fire inside, that wants to be expressed in words.  It’s not always easy, of course, to discern divine inspiration from my own enthusiasm about something. I have made a rule to first check my blog posts with an editor, almost always Terry, who is a discerning reader. Then I wait at least one night before finishing and publishing a post. Usually I find many more things to revise when I look at it fresh the next day. Sometimes a blog post waits many days or months before it feels finished.  In writing one, I often feel my heart is being stretched open, like a bow, and that the blog post is the arrow that flies from my heart when I finally press “publish.”

Once this summer, when publishing Looking at the Shadow That Blocks The Light, I did not follow my own rule. I went to bed on the evening of August 20, 2017 with no idea of writing a blog post about the Shadow (though I have given a lot of attention to that subject both in my inner work and in my book.) When I woke up on August 21st, however, a message was waiting for me to write it down. A total eclipse of the sun would soon pass over the USA, from coast to coast. I drafted it in a couple of hours. Terry looked it over. I revised it and then sent it out quickly, in time to get to a friend’s house to watch the eclipse. Of all the blog posts written in 2017, it’s the one that has been viewed most often.

When I named the blog “A Whole Heart,” I was expressing my aspiration for the kind of whole-heartedness that allows us to see God. Writing it has been a joyful experience that has helped me become more whole-hearted, and also helped me to sense the ongoing guidance and loving, creative energies of divine Wisdom, Christ, and the Holy Spirit. I hope I’ve been faithful, and that this blog serves God’s purpose.

I have the sense that in the coming year I’ll keep moving into a wider field. In the beginning, I focused a lot on the experiences of the first Quakers, to find guidance about being Spirit-filled and faithful today. Now my focus is on whatever truth-filled knowledge and stories can help us face the realities of our time and allow us to co-create, with love, the best possible future that can emerge if we follow divine guidance.

By the standards of the most popular blogs on the web today, A Whole Heart has a tiny readership. I’ve been heartened, however, by the people who have read and commented, either online or in person. WordPress tells me that people in 87 countries have viewed my blog this year. In the past five years, A Whole Heart has been viewed from 141 countries. To those who have been readers, whoever you are and wherever you live, my heart goes out to you with love and gratitude. Thank you!

The Best of A Whole Heart: Do you have a favorite blog post, piece of information, or story from A Whole Heart?

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, Learning from Early Friends, meditation, Quaker Faith Today, Radical Christianity, spiritual practices | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Hidden Stories of Christmas

The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.  (John 1:9 NRSV)

On the winter solstice, a friend sent me a link to a web page about Reindeer legends of northern lands. I had known that the story of Santa Claus is a modern version of the story of St. Nicholas, a holy fourth-century bishop known for his secret gift-giving. What I was astonished to learn is that Santa’s costume and his sleigh pulled by reindeer are a retelling of earlier stories of the Mother Reindeer who was celebrated at winter solstice in Norse and Slavic cultures, and in Lapland. Reindeer are the only members of the deer family whose females have horns. It turns out that male reindeer lose their antlers in late fall or early winter, while females retain theirs until they give birth in the spring. In winter, females lead the reindeer herds.

In cultures that depended upon the reindeer for pulling their sleighs, for food, for clothing, and more, Mother Reindeer came to be a revered symbol of fertility. In far northern places, winter nights are very long and days are very short. Not surprisingly, many northern cultures worshiped a Sun Goddess; she flew through the sky on the Winter Solstice in a sleigh pulled by a horned reindeer, a sacred event that heralded the return of the sun, day by longer day. The goddesses who presided in those cultures ate special red-and-white mushrooms as part of their religious ritual, and their ceremonial red and green costumes included red hats with white fur.

It’s natural for myths to change over time, but it’s sad to see how myths and cultural legends that once celebrated women, as well as female reindeer, were replaced by a man and a lead reindeer named Rudolph.

When it comes to stories of Light coming into the world, there’s a far more important story that’s been hidden for many centuries.

At the time Jesus was teaching his disciples, the Wisdom tradition was popular. In various scripture passages, divine Wisdom is depicted as the first creation of God, or sometimes as an aspect of God. She is associated with Light. Brighter than any light visible to human eyes, she is the divine Light out of which every created thing was created. “Yahweh created me when his purpose first unfolded, before the oldest of his works…. When he laid down the foundations of the earth, I was by his side, a master craftsman, delighting him day after day, ever at play in his presence, at play everywhere in his world…. (Proverbs 8: 22, 30-31 NRSV)

Hokhmah and Sophia (Hebrew and Greek for wisdom) are both feminine nouns. In the Bible, divine Wisdom is often depicted as a woman. Wisdom is eager and ready to teach human beings all they need to know to prosper. She prepares a feast of bread and wine and calls everyone to her table. “All the words I say are right, nothing twisted in them, nothing false, all straightforward to him who understands, honest to those who know what knowledge means. Accept my discipline rather than silver, knowledge in preference to pure gold. For wisdom is more precious than pearls, and nothing else is so worthy of desire.” (Proverbs 8: 8-11) Most human beings, however, do not want to follow the discipline of cultivating divine Wisdom within themselves. Few come to her table to partake of her feast.

Wisdom 7:22-30 (NRSV) gives perhaps the most complete description of divine Wisdom:

She is so pure, she pervades and permeates all things. She is a breath of the power of God, pure emanation of the glory of the Almighty; hence nothing impure can find a way into her. She is a reflection of the eternal light, untarnished mirror of God’s active power,/ image of his goodness. Although alone, she can do all; herself unchanging, she makes all things new. In each generation she passes into holy souls, she makes them friends of God and prophets; for God loves only the man who lives with Wisdom. She is indeed more splendid than the sun, she outshines all the constellations; compared with light, she takes first place, for light must yield to night, but over Wisdom evil can never triumph.

The Book of Wisdom, along with many others, has been removed from some Bibles, classified as part of the Apocrypha (which means Hidden). But the Book of Wisdom (also called The Wisdom of Solomon), along with other books that speak of Wisdom, was not hidden in the time of Jesus.

Jesus referred to Wisdom when speaking of himself. For example, in Luke 7:34-35, Jesus tells how he is being criticized for the unconventional things he is doing, then says, “Nonetheless, Wisdom is vindicated in all her children.” In the similar passage in Matthew 11:19-20, when speaking of the miracles he had performed (which he calls “deeds of power”), Jesus said, “Wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.”

After his death, the disciples, apostles, and followers of Jesus, trying to make sense of who Jesus was and of his relationship to God, thought of him in relation to the stories of the expected Messiah (a human person as described in the Hebrew tradition), but also as an incarnation of divine Wisdom. Paul spoke of Jesus as “the power of God and the wisdom (Sophia) of God.” (I Corinthians 1:24)

In the time of Jesus, the opening of the gospel of John would have been understood as referring to divine Wisdom:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. …  (John 1: 1-5 NRSV)

John chose to use the masculine word Logos (which can be translated in many ways, including as Word or Reason).  The use of the masculine pronouns in the opening of John’s gospel is therefore fuzzy—it’s not clear when he is referring to Logos and when he begins to refer to Jesus. If John had used the feminine word, Sophia (Wisdom), instead, it would have been more clear:

In the beginning was Wisdom, and Wisdom was with God, and Wisdom was God. She was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through her, and without her not one thing came into being. What has come into being in her was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

Through John’s choice of the word Logos instead of Sophia, as in many other Christian texts, feminine references to God’s and God’s emanations become hidden.

From the beginning of Quakerism, Quakers have placed importance on John 1:9, “The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.” (NRSV), translated in the King James Bible as: “That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.” They have noted that the same divine Light and Wisdom that Jesus incarnated is available in some measure within every person, available to teach and guide in the path of God’s Truth.

There has been a terrible cost to humanity and the earth for hiding the Light of divine Wisdom and the story of how She comes into the world. It’s time now for the Wisdom of God to shine in all, in the fullness of God’s power.

Hidden Stories of Christmas: What stories of the divine Light and Wisdom experienced within yourself have you kept hidden?

© 2017 Marcelle Martin

To learn more about the subjects in this blog post, check out the following links:

For more about Reindeer legends:  Doe, a Deer, a Female Reindeer, The Spirit of Mother Christmas and The Reindeer Goddess by Judith Shaw.

There are many books of Biblical scholarship that speak about the relationship of Jesus and divine Wisdom. One that has been of great importance to me is: Wisdom’s Feast: Sophia in Study and Celebration 1995 edition by Susan Cole,‎ Marian Ronan,‎ and Hal Taussig. A twentieth anniversary edition was issued in 2015: Wisdom’s Feast: Sophia in Study and Celebration 2015 edition by Susan Cole,‎ Marian Ronan,‎ and Hal Taussig. One of the co-authors, Catholic theologian Marion Ronan, professor at New York Theological Seminary, wrote a blog post called The Sophia Wars, in which she tells of the controversy that was occasioned in the Methodist Church at the time the book was first released.

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.  Quakers emphasize the importance of inward experience of the divine Light which is directly available within each person.  If followed, it leads to a powerful process of inward and outward transformation.

Posted in All of Life is Sacred, Learning from Early Friends, Radical Christianity | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments

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.

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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

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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