The Moses Of Her People

“Harriet,” the first feature-length film about liberator and abolitionist leader Harriet Tubman, emphasizes the prophetic nature of her extraordinary gifts.

In school I learned only a few brief facts about Harriet Tubman: she escaped from slavery and then, bravely, went back repeatedly to lead others to freedom.  “Harriet” dramatizes the life of a remarkable woman guided by God, called the Moses of her people.

The movie does not show her childhood.  She was born enslaved on the eastern shore of Maryland.  Starting around age six, along with siblings, she was hired out to work as a servant on other plantations.  By age 13, she was working in the fields.  One day, she stepped between an overseer and an escaping slave.  A two-pound metal weight hurled toward the one who was fleeing hit her in the forehead..   The resulting injury was nearly fatal.  Young Minty (as she was called then) survived, but ever afterwards had narcoleptic spells, falling suddenly into a sleep-like state, in which she often had visions and heard the voice of God.

The movie begins with her falling into one of these spells and seeing a traumatic scene from her past that haunts her: two sisters being carted away for sale “down South.”  Her memories and the guidance that comes in visions are central to her story; so is her prayer life.  For dramatic purposes, the screenwriter highlights her relationship with Gideon, the son of the plantation owner.  As a child, he had been sickly, and Minty had prayed for his health.  In return, the boy had asked his father to keep Minty when he sold her sisters.  When Minty and her husband, a free man, seek to enforce a will in which her mother, she, and her siblings had been granted freedom, the slavemaster is enraged and warns his son against having a “favorite slave.”  When the man dies suddenly, Gideon swears to sell Minty. Those sold South never return, so she decides to escape.

In a moving scene, from the edge of the plantation, the young woman sings a good-bye song, her way of letting her family know she is leaving.   In secret, the locations and names of some people involved in the Underground Railroad are revealed to her.   With courage, persistence, and divine guidance, she manages to outrun and outwit pursuing dogs, trackers, and the slavemaster’s son.

It was 1849 when she escaped to freedom, walking 100 miles, through Delaware and then into the free state of Pennsylvania.  In Philadelphia she found the office of the Pennsylvania Society for the Abolition of Slavery.  From there she was taken to a boarding house and helped to find a job as a servant.

It was quite remarkable that she emancipated herself with so little help from others, but that is not the reason that the freedom name she claimed, Harriet Tubman, is widely known today.  She was not content to live free in Philadelphia while family members remained in bondage.  Against the advice of others, Harriet went back to the plantation where she had been enslaved.   She made numerous extremely perilous trips down south and led 70 enslaved people to freedom.  Following divine guidance, she eluded capture again and again, in spite of increasing notoriety and a higher and higher price put on her head.  Often dressing as a man, she became known as the Moses of her people.  None of those she led out of slavery were captured.  During the Civil War she served as a scout and spy for the Union.  As we see in the finale of the movie, she commanded black Union soldiers on the Combahee River Raid in South Carolina, which freed 730 slaves.  Harriet Tubman was the first woman to lead a U.S. military operation.

“Harriet” is visually very beautiful.  The moment when she crosses the border into Pennsylvania–the moment of entering a free state–is filmed at sunrise, with golden sunlight streaming onto her face and upon the fields and hills around her.  Much of the movie was filmed outdoors, in woods and fields, along rivers, on bridges, under sunny and starry skies.  The elegant period costumes worn by the free people who work for abolition and participate in the Underground Railroad are beautiful, in contrast to the ragged clothing worn by enslaved people.  But however they are clothed, whether free or enslaved, the beauty of all the black people in this film shines clearly.  The movie highlights their strength, determination, courage, and love for each other.  We see scarred backs and faces, mere hints at the horrors of slavery and at the twisted psyches of those who enslave others.  Considering the subject, the violence shown is limited.  The movie has a PG-13 rating. The most violent scene is the beating to death of a free black woman who had given assistance to Harriet.

The director, Kosi Lemmons, a woman, co-authored the screenplay with Gregory Allen Howard.  In shaping the drama of the film, they made the choice to emphasize the prophetic nature of Harriet Tubman’s call.  “God don’t mean people to own people,” Tubman says in a climactic scene when she and Gideon, son on her former slavemaster, meet each other face to face in the woods, after years of his furious pursuit.  She is like Moses not only because she led enslaved people to freedom, but also because God speaks to her and guides her in a remarkable, direct way.  Like a Biblical prophet, Tubman sees the future that is coming, the terrible Civil War fought by those trying to preserve the evil institution of slavery. She also sees the end of slavery and the freedom God intends for her people.

The portrait of Harriet as a prophet guided by God is not an invention of the screenwriters. A contemporary, Quaker Thomas Garrett, whose Wilmington, DE home was a station on the Underground Railroad, said of Tubman in 1868, “I never met with any person, of any color, who had more confidence in the voice of God, as spoken directly to her soul…and her faith in a Supreme Power truly was great.”

“Harriet” gives testimony to the courage and indomitable spirit of a gifted woman and of a beautiful people determined to be free.  It is also gives witness to the fact that God desires freedom and dignity for all and that the inward voice of God leads people on the path of liberation.  This movie recounts history, but it is a story for our time.

 

© 2019 Marcelle Martin

Our Life is Love: The Quaker Spiritual Journey describes the transformational spiritual journey of the first Quakers, who were inwardly guided by God to work and witness for radical changes in their society. Focusing on ten elements of the spiritual journey, this book is a guide to a Spirit-filled life, designed to be a resource for both individuals and groups to explore their spiritual experiences. It describes the journey of faithfulness that leads people to actively engage in God’s work of making this world a better place for all. Our Life is Love has been reviewed by Marty Grundy in Friends Journal, by Carole Spencer in Quaker Religious Thought, and by Stuart Masters on A Quaker Stew.

A Guide to Faithfulness Groups explains what faithfulness is and how it can be cultivated by small groups that practice ways to listen inwardly together for divine guidance, a practice that holds great potential for supporting individuals of any faith in allowing the work of the Spirit to become manifest through them and their communities.

 

Both books are available from Inner Light Books in hardback, paperback, and ebook. (An excerpt and a study guide are also available on that website for Our Life is Love.)

To order multiple copies of either book, postage free, contact us.

Find a Quaker Meeting near you: Quaker Finder

To read an overview of how early Friends experienced the powerful transformation that resulted from faithfully following the Light of Christ through this spiritual journey, see my 2013 blog post entitled The New Birth.

Posted in All of Life is Sacred, Facing Life with Faith, Following a Leading, Radical Christianity, Stories that Heal, Working for Peace and Justice | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Something Grew Wild in Our Backyard

Something wild and amazing happened in our backyard this summer.  Four little butternut squash plants, started from seeds stuck in a bit of dirt, grew wild at the back of our yard, beside the garage.  Surprised and amused at how they grew, we decided to let them spread, and see what happened.    

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We had bought our house from a woman who loved flowers and flowering bushes and trees.  The enchanting little back yard had been so inviting.  But Terry and I love to grow things we can eat.  So in our first spring in our new home, we planted some beans and tomatoes and basil between the rose and lilac bushes.   The squirrels ate the beans, the hot sun was too harsh for the tomatoes, and the basil didn’t grow large.  We discovered that tomatoes and basil grow much better in a little strip of dirt beside the driveway.  Last summer when two volunteer squash plants grew out of our backyard compost pile, I replanted them beside the driveway.  One withered, but the other sent runners in the narrow space between two garages and produced ten butternut squashes.  So this spring, I planted two seedlings on each side of the garage, and stuck four more in the little plot my husband prepared in the back of the yard, mixing dirt with compost and half a bag of peat moss left by the previous owner.

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Apparantly, the spot that was only mildly welcoming to tomatoes and basil was just right for the squash.  They grew.

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And grew.  The sight of it filled me with joy at the fertility, creativity, and intelligence of the earth, which knows how to spread out like this, when given the right conditions and a chance to do what it loves to do: create life and grow.

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At first, we moved the vines out of the way to mow the grass, and then set the vines back in place.  Then we stopped mowing under them, and let them just take over.

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Under the big green leaves, squash plants were growing.

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We had roses, tomatoes, and squash all mingled together.  But mostly squash!

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We began harvesting, cooking butternut squash soup, which we love, and giving them away.

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Before the first hard frost came, we finally cleared the vines off the yard and harvested the last remaining squashes.

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From the four plants beside the driveway and the four in the backyard, we harvested 74 butternut squashes this year.  We’re delighted and thankful.  We’ll have butternut squash soup all winter.  We hope you enjoyed seeing the bit of wildness that grew in our yard this summer.  Perhaps it will give you ideas for next spring.

Happy Thanksgiving!

@ 2019 Marcelle Martin

At this Thanksgiving, I’m also thankful for the publication of my new book, A Guide to Faithfulness Groups, which explains what faithfulness is and how it can be cultivated by a community that practices ways to listen inwardly together for divine guidance.  The practice of faithfulness groups supports individuals of any faith to allow the work of the Spirit to become manifest through them and their communities.

In the 25-minute video, An Introduction to Faithfulness Groups, seven Friends speak about Faithfulness Groups and their potential for renewing spiritual vitality.

A one-day workshop, Faithfulness Groups: A Deeper Awareness, was video-recorded in November 2019 and is available to watch for freeMore details can be found at: https://releasingministry.org/releasing-ministry-alliance-opps

Our Life is Love: The Quaker Spiritual Journey describes the transformational spiritual journey of the first Quakers. Focusing on ten elements, this book is a guide to a Spirit-filled life in this world, in our time. The book was designed to be a resource for both individuals and groups to explore their spiritual experiences. It describes the journey of faithfulness that leads people to actively engage in God’s work of making this world a better place for all.   Our Life is Love has been reviewed by Marty Grundy in Friends Journal, by Carole Spencer in Quaker Religious Thought, and by Stuart Masters on A Quaker Stew.

Both Our Life is Love: The Quaker Spiritual Journey  and A Guide to Faithfulness Groups are available from Inner Light Books in hardback, paperback, and ebook. (An excerpt and a study guide are also available on that website for Our Life is Love: the Quaker Spiritual Journey.)

To order multiple copies of either book, postage free, contact us.

Find a Quaker Meeting near you: Quaker Finder

 

Posted in All of Life is Sacred, environmental activism, Stories that Heal | Tagged , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

An Introduction to Faithfulness Groups: a book, video, and online workshop

Participating in an ongoing faithfulness group has provided crucial accompaniment in my spiritual journey. This practice can be of great value to anyone seeking to follow God’s guidance in their lives, anyone wanting to live according to their deepest purpose, or seeking to be true to the evolutionary impulse that is collectively leading humanity into the way of Love and Truth. What is required?  A group of about 4 to 6 people able to meet together for two hours every month or so, people who are willing to listen to each other on deep spiritual levels and help one another better notice the call and inner guidance of the Spirit.  Faithfulness groups are appropriate for people seeking to be faithful in their daily lives, and also for those following a call or leading of any kind, whether to education; serving those in need; the work of peace and justice; sustainability, deep ecology, and addressing climate change; witnessing for a new way of life, nurturing community, or encouraging faith.

A few years ago I recognized a call to share this practice as widely as possible.  Now Inner Light Books has published a book that introduces practices for helping one another notice the sometimes humble ways the Spirit makes itself known to each of us. These practices can be of great use in spiritual friendships, spiritual journey groups, clearness committees, and faithfulness groups.  A Guide to Faithfulness Groups explains what faithfulness is and how it can be cultivated by a community that practices ways to listen inwardly together for divine guidance. Above all, this book shows the potential that the practice of faithfulness groups holds for supporting individuals of any faith to allow the work of the Spirit to become manifest through them and their communities.

In this 25-minute video, An Introduction to Faithfulness Groups, seven Friends (including me) speak about Faithfulness Groups and their potential for renewing spiritual vitality.

An upcoming free workshop will explore this practice.

Faithfulness Groups: A Deeper Awareness A Workshop Saturday, Nov 23 (10 am 4 pm)  at Friends Center, 1515 Cherry Street, Philadelphia, PA 19102   

Marcelle Martin, Viv Hawkins, and others will present practices to help each other pay attention to the guidance of the Spirit and to form faithfulness groups, in which the members provide mutual accompaniment over time. There is no cost to attend the workshop. Bring a bag lunch.   This workshop is co-sponsored by Releasing Ministry Alliance, Central Philadelphia Monthly Meeting’s Committee on Gifts and Leadings, and Green Street Friends Meeting’s Worship and Ministry Committee.

The one-day Faithfulness Groups workshop will be live-streamed and video-recorded to make it available for people at a distance. Contact Viv Hawkins at releasingministry@gmail.com, if you’re interested to participate via livestream or recording, preferably with a group at your local site. 

More details on these programs can be found at: https://releasingministry.org/releasing-ministry-alliance-opps

@ 2019 Marcelle Martin

Our Life is Love: The Quaker Spiritual Journey describes the transformational spiritual journey of the first Quakers, who turned to the Light of Christ within and allowed it to be their guide. Many Friends today use different language, but are still called to make the same journey. In our time people seeking deeper access to the profound teachings of Christianity want more than just beliefs, they want direct experience. Focusing on ten elements of the spiritual journey, this book is a guide to a Spirit-filled life in this world, in our time. The book was designed to be a resource for both individuals and groups to explore their spiritual experiences. It describes the journey of faithfulness that leads people to actively engage in God’s work of making this world a better place for all.   Our Life is Love has been reviewed by Marty Grundy in Friends Journal, by Carole Spencer in Quaker Religious Thought, and by Stuart Masters on A Quaker Stew.

Both Our Life is Love: The Quaker Spiritual Journey  and A Guide to Faithfulness Groups are available from Inner Light Books in hardback, paperback, and ebook. (An excerpt and a study guide are also available on that website for Our Life is Love: the Quaker Spiritual Journey.)

To order multiple copies of either book, postage free, contact us.

Find a Quaker Meeting near you: Quaker Finder

 

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Choose Life: the Global Climate Strike

When I arrived at the Sept 20, 2019 Global Climate Strike, my first sight of the crowd lifted my spirits in a way I hadn’t expected.  All the images of the planet, most on handmade signs, made me realize that a planetary consciousness is emerging now on a greater scale, especially among the younger generations, an awareness of our oneness with planet Earth and with all the peoples who live here.

I was heartened by the sight of so many schoolchildren, including those who had initiated the event at Philadelphia’s City Hall.    

I was pleased to see young people recruiting others into their movement to heal the planet and slow climate change.

It was sobering to listen to 16-year old Sabirah Mahmud, a local high school student who helped organize the event. Her family comes from Bangladesh, a low-lying country experiencing catastrophic flooding due to the rise in sea levels. From the stage in front of City Hall, she told about family members who have died because of toxic pollution. I was glad to see people listening, and learning about what’s happening in a distant place.  Although some areas are harder hit right now, climate change is a global event. Because the changes disproportionately affect the poor, addressing climate change is an issue of justice.   Conflicts will escalate as resources like arable land and clean water become more limited; addressing climate change is essential to peace on the planet.

I’ve known about global warming for decades. Many years ago I watched a documentary with other members of my Quaker meeting which explained that climate change would be slow until the oceans and forests were saturated and could no longer absorb more greenhouse gasses.

At that point, there would be a rapid rise in these gasses in the atmosphere. Temperatures, which had been rising very slowly, would suddenly rise more rapidly. Then the polar caps would melt. After the glaciers completely dissolve, the rise in temperatures will accelerate even faster.

I have long known that unless we stopped pouring greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere, the destabilization of the climate would reach a tipping point when catastrophic events would happen. Nonetheless, it all seemed distant. Modest commitments like the Paris Climate Agreement seemed hopeful. Mostly, however, I was lulled by the pervasive denial in our culture. As a society we rarely talk about climate change. The steps weve taken to curb our emissions have been important, but minor in terms of what is really needed to address the problem. It’s not only those who benefit financially from continuing to pour carbon and methane into the air who are denying what the scientists have been predicting. Whether or not we believe the scientists, almost all of us have been denying what’s happening in a functional way, in terms of how we are living our lives and the causes to which we contribute our time, attention, and resources.

 The news that’s been coming out in the past several years has been really shocking.

Record-breaking temperatures all over the globe, year after year for the past decade. Massive forest fires, more furious hurricanes, catastrophic floods, rising oceans. Now scientists are telling us that things are worse than they had predicted. They hadn’t accounted for everything that would happen, such as how much carbon would be released into the air as the arctic permafrost begins to melt. The raging forest fires are accelerating deforestation faster than expected, releasing enormous amounts of carbon that had been safely sequestered in the trees.

The existential anguish of the young people is warranted.

Their future will be dominated by increasingly catastrophic changes, not only in rising temperatures and extreme weather, but in the collapse of food supplies and the economy. The numbers of refugees will continue to rise, not only globally but also within our country, as flooding increases in coastal cities.  

There is still time to slow down the rate of these changes. There are still steps we can take to give our children and grandchildren a chance for healthy lives on a beautiful planet.

But in order to do so, our denial must end.

We must address the problem not only at the level of our own consumption and emissions; we must also expose and fight the corporations and businesses that want to keep making money off the destruction of the planet. Economic forces have co-opted our democracy, and addressing climate change requires addressing political corruption.

Even this will not be enough; we must address the problem at its root, which is our alienation from our true nature, both our earthly nature and our divine nature.

Humanity must recognize our true place in the natural world and learn again from the Earth how to live here in a sustainable way.

We also need to reconnect with our spiritual nature, with the Light of God that shines within each of us and which can guide us toward a hopeful future, if we pay attention. Our energy, our intelligence, our resources, our actions, and our prayers must focus on what is needed for us to come back into harmony and to sustain life on Earth. Just as the scientists have not foreseen all the ways that climate change would accelerate, they are also ignorant of some of the ways that we can rise to the challenge, with divine guidance.

I pray that our society, and societies all over the planet, will heed the plea of the children who came out for the Global Climate Strike. I pray that collectively we choose life.

See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction. … This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him.Deuteronomy 30:15, 19-20 (NIV)

Choose Life: Impressions from the Global Climate Strike: If you participated in the global climate strike or paid attention to news reports about it, what did you learn from it? What are your hopes and prayers? What are your intentions related to addressing the causes of climate change?

© 2019 Marcelle Martin

A Guide to Faithfulness Groups and Our Life is Love: the Quaker Spiritual Journey, both by Marcelle Martin, are available from Inner Light Books in hardback, paperback, and ebook. Both books are designed to help individuals and groups explore their spiritual experiences and actively engage in God’s work of making this world a better place for all. To order multiple books for a study group, postage free, contact us.

Participating in a faithfulness groups is a powerful practice that enables members to support each other in hearing how God is calling and guiding them, and in being faithful.  Attend a free webinar on Thursday evening, October 24 on Faithfulness Groups: An Introduction. 8-9 pm Eastern time. Sponsored by Releasing Ministry Alliance.

More Resources to connect with divine guidance:

Find a Quaker Meeting near you: Quaker Finder

Organizations Involved in Helping to Protect the Earth:

Earth Quaker Action Team (EQAT) is a grassroots, nonviolent action group including Quakers and others working together for a just and sustainable economy. Read one member’s award-winning memoir about how becoming active with EQAT gave her life new purpose, meaning, and energy: Renewable by Eileen Flanagan.

Quaker Earthcare Witness (QEW) is a network of North American Friends (Quakers) and other like-minded people who are taking spirit-led action to address the ecological and social crises of the world.

Sunrise Movement   Sunrise is a movement of young people dedicated to stopping climate change and creating millions of good jobs in the process. They want to elect leaders that will stand up to special interests and make the health and well-being of people and the planet a priority.

 

350.org 350 is an international movement of ordinary people working to end the age of fossil fuels and build a world of community-led renewable energy for all.

Sierra Club The Sierra Club is a grassroots environmental organization to defend everyone’s right to a healthy world.


Posted in All of Life is Sacred, environmental activism, Facing Life with Faith, Quaker Faith Today, Working for Peace and Justice | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Fighting for Life on this Planet: Two Movies

In the face of global climate change, two essential tasks are to gain awareness of our dilemma and find the motivation to address it . Two recent movies highlight the forces and practices that are destabilizing our climate, and revealing people of courageous heart who are making it the business of their lives to fight to ensure the continuation of life on this planet. One is a documentary, the other a wonderful feature film.

Paris to Pittsburgh, a National Geographic documentary, starts with a quick series of photos and news reports starting in 1970 that warn of the impending dangers of climate change. As the decades pass, the warnings get increasingly dire, while global temperatures rise. The first few minutes of the film make evident the urgent importance of the global community working together to curb greenhouse gas emissions. However, attempts to come to a workable international agreement to keep the temperature rise below 2 degrees centigrade fail, until finally the Paris Climate Accord is signed in 2015. The film moves back and forth between dire and hopeful news. The hope engendered by the fragile agreement signed in Paris is quickly followed by footage of President Donald Trump making an announcement outside the White House that he is withdrawing the United States from the Paris Climate Accord.

“I was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris,” he says.

Next we see the mayor of Pittsburgh reacting passionately. Pittsburgh made its fortune burning coal and forging steel, but after that industry collapsed, the city began forging a new identity and honing technological skills needed in our time. The mayor explains that Pittsburgh is now a place of vibrant innovation, and it is committed to moving toward sustainability and living within the provisions of the Paris Climate Accord.

Some of the bad news documented in the film is worse than I had known. Changes in global temperatures and the rise of sea levels are already causing terrible impacts. The problem is global, but the documentary focuses on the United States. For example, streets in Miami are flooding regularly and beaches are losing ground as sea levels rise. The increasing flooding of coastal regions is not the biggest threat to Florida, however. Seawater contamination of fresh water sources of drinking will make many parts of it uninhabitable sooner than most people want to acknowledge. The city of Orlando, however, is looking squarely into the future, moving toward sustainable energy practices and considering how to respond to what will become a growing tide of climate refugees from southern Florida. The devastation of Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria has already flooded Orlando with a large influx of refugees. Many other cities, like Pittsburgh and Orlando, are moving toward sustainability. The filmmakers show us a village in Puerto Rico that solarized its energy supply and now teaches others how to do the same.

In Iowa, a man’s home was twice inundated by massive floods that were labeled once-in-a lifetime”. The film also shows how communities of Iowa farmers are discovering that solar power is the better way to obtain the energy needed to run their businesses. In California, we see brief footage of terrible forest fires, made more devastating by climate changes. Then the filmmakers show how that state and many cities are committed to reduce carbon emissions, using solar and wind energy that is increasingly competitive with burning fossil fuels.

Young people are interviewed who are taking jobs in renewable energy and who know that the future lies in solar and wind power. Yet fossil fuel companies and the politicians they support are still denying that climate change is caused by greenhouse gas emissions and they are continuing to throw dangerous carbon and methane into the atmosphere. Temperatures get hotter, glaciers melt, the sea rises, forest fires rage, hurricanes carry more water, and Midwestern farmland is deluged. The documentary shows the necessity to change our lifestyle in significant ways, very quickly. It leaves us hopeful, however, that this is possible, with awareness, motivation, and innovation.

Woman at Wara wonderful film from Iceland, tells the story of a 50-year old choir director named Hella, a single woman who has taken on a mission: she wants to keep big business from ruining the land and the climate. We learn from the nightly news that Iceland is conducting talks with China, which wants to bring bigger industry into the country. However. Hella wants to convince the Chinese that the power grid is not stable enough to warrant their investment. She’s strong and healthy. We watch her running across the tundra, then pulling a bow and arrow from her backpack. She attaches a metal cord to her bow and sends it flying over some enormous power lines, causing huge sparks and an electrical short.

When the film begins, Hella has only one confidant, a government official who clandestinely supports her. When they converse, they put their cell phones in a freezer, to prevent electronic eavesdropping. Her friend advises her that it is time to put out a public statement about why she is doing what she is doing. Hella devises a clever means of distributing a flyer across the city, a manifesto signed by “Mountain Woman” that people photograph with their phones and send across the internet. She hopes by her actions to raise the issue of climate change and the need to change. But the government puts a spin on the story, refusing to focus on the most crucial issue of our time; instead focusing on the violent “terrorist” who keeps causing shortages on the power lines. Hella knows that a bigger and more dangerous action is required now. The government, on its side, has accepted help offered by the United States and Israel. Now drones, helicopters, infrared censors, and more will be used to track down Mountain Woman.

While Hella is running from her pursuers, a three-piece band and a chorus of singers sometimes appear in the landscape, symbolizing an inner music or source of guidance and encouragement that only she can see and hear. Although the film addresses a very serious threat and is filled with action and chase scenes, it also has a lot of heart. It even has moments of humor. A hapless bystander, for example, keeps getting arrested in her place. Love and help arrive from unexpected sources.

The future is symbolized by an orphan girl in a flooding city. It has long been Hella’s dream to be a mother. Suddenly this becomes possible, but how can motherhood be compatible with her dangerous mission? Police forces are coming closer and closer to tracking her. But something miraculous happens: the hearts of others are moved by Hella’s sacrifices.

The spiritual dimension of Hella’s mission is an undercurrent of the film. There are some powerful shots of her practicing Tai Chi. In her living room, behind her, hang large photos of Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela. These heroes back her up as she breathes deeply and finds the center of inner power that enables her to put the fate of the world above her private interests. Her Tai Chi practice looks even more powerful when she does it outdoors. The land itself is a force. Several times, while running for safety and after arrest, we see Hella lying face down on the tundra, finding support. On another occasion, when she is in danger of freezing to death after crossing an icy river, a friend carries her to a hot springs. There she floats on the water, facing the sky. The camera pulls back and we see her embedded in the landscape. It is clear that she has unexpected allies, not only in certain people, but in nature itself.

Fighting for Life on this Planet: What helps you face the reality of climate change and our society’s role in causing it?

© 2019 Marcelle Martin

Resources to Get Involved in Helping to Protect the Earth

350.org       Sierra Club     Earth Quaker Action Team (EQAT)   Old-Growth Forest Network

Resources for Spiritual Support

Find a Quaker Meeting: Quaker Finder      Shalem Institute      Contemplative Outreach

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 HERE.) The book was designed to be a resource for both individuals and groups to explore their spiritual experiences. It describes the journey of faithfulness that leads people to actively engage in God’s work of making this world a better place for all. To order multiple books for a study group, postage free, contact us.

Marcelle Martin is a core teacher in an upcoming 9-month program, Nurturing Faithfulness, to be held at Woolman Hill Retreat Center in Massachusetts and online. In this faith and leadership program participants become a community of practice to support each other in offering spiritual nurture and encouraging leadings, service, and faithful witness. August 2019 – May 2020. HERE is a link to a video in which past participants talk about the program:

Posted in All of Life is Sacred, environmental activism, Facing Life with Faith, Following a Leading, Stories that Heal | Tagged , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

An Australian Quaker’s Transforming Encounter With Jesus

David Johnson seems an unlikely person to write a book about the Gospel of John. He had a long career as a geology professor and co-authored a standard textbook on the geology of Australia. His book reveals that when he first felt drawn to read the gospels, he did not speak about it to others. Yet it’s clear from his writing that careful reading of the gospels, meditating on them, living with them, and learning to follow the teachings of Jesus, including the inward teachings, transformed Johnson’s life.  In 2007-2008, he spent eight months reading nothing but the Gospel of John, verse by verse.  In his book, Jesus, Christ and Servant of God: Meditations of the Gospel According to John, he shares what became clear to him through that time.

Johnson begins his chapter-by-chapter meditations on John’s gospel by describing the “eternal mystical vision” that we encounter in the first chapter. John 1:1 begins, “In the beginning was the Word” and continues by speaking of the Light that lights every person that comes into the world. Johnson recommends praying with these opening passages, and highlights the oneness of Word, God, Light, and Jesus: “The equivalence of Word and Light and Truth, all in Jesus, is found throughout John’s gospel. First, the Word, the breath of God, is the creator of all. Second, there is the divine Light that sustains life, and this Light is in all. Third, Jesus was the Word and Light as a physical reality while he was alive on earth. Western minds have trouble grasping the interrelationship of these three, that they are one—and more, that everything is simply a function of this divine creative energy that we can experience as the Light within or as the divinely spoken Word.” (10)

Drawing on passage after passage of words spoken by Jesus, and from his own spiritual experience as he turned to the living Christ guiding him from within, Johnson draws a map of the spiritual journey to which Jesus invites his followers. He reveals, as well, an emphasis in the words of Jesus that has been overlooked in mainstream Christianity, but which is very consistent with Quaker understanding and experience since the beginning of Quakerism in the seventeenth century.

During the secret nighttime visit of Nicodemus to Jesus, Jesus reveals that Nicodemus—and all of us—are called to a spiritual rebirth. The nature of this rebirth is beyond the capacity of our mind to fully understand, and requires a thorough change in ourselves that we all resist. This process involves a pruning of ourselves that can be painful, but is necessary if we are to bear the fruit of the Spirit. Johnson writes:

The change needed within us is more than we imagined. Here is the truth of the matter, which is shocking and hard to accept; this rebirth is nothing short of the dying of the ‘old man,’ the former self, with its reliance on one’s own strength and knowledge and qualification. … This will be difficult language for many, but the truth of it cannot be denied for it is the experience of the holiest people in history as well as the calling within us. If you are hearing this you are probably also hearing your own resistance, as I was. Consider the possibilities of complete humility and powerlessness in this matter, of letting go of that resistance, of praying for help in cutting it loose. For only in facing the inner death can we be brought to spiritual rebirth and the start of that regeneration, during which we must daily and resolutely maintain our fervent attentiveness to the Light within. (38-39)

In Johnson’s reading of the gospel of John, and in his experience, he finds the inward Light to be a reliable and always-available guide in this process of death of the old self and spiritual rebirth: “The mystery of God calls me, and the Light of Christ shows me my errors and the narrow path to follow. This Guide is not a bewildering set of regulations; it is the Light within, available to all, at all times.” (57)

Although clearly Christ-centered himself, Johnson’s writing is gently inclusive of those whose theology and religious language differs from his own, as illustrated in his words on abiding: “I understand abiding as a conscious wish and practice to be attentive to the Light within, whether each of us experiences that as the Holy Spirit, as the presence of Jesus, or as a turning to the unknowable God. The more we seek the divine presence, the more it is revealed to us. We live in it and it lives in us.” (143)

I expected this book to focus primarily on David Johnson’s personal experience living with the teachings of Jesus recorded in the Gospel of John. Though his own journey clearly informs his insight into the meaning of the gospel, in the book he reflects primarily on the stories and teachings of the gospel itself. Rather than say a great deal about his own experiences, he sometimes includes passages from the experience of early Quakers to illustrate how the teachings of the gospel have been experienced by Friends, and occasionally he quotes others, including Thomas Merton.

In his commentary on the chapters of John’s gospel, Johnson notes the frequency with which John’s Jesus emphasized a distinction between himself and God, and how he indicated that he does only what God wants to do through him. Thus, Jesus emphasizes his role as servant of God. The first example Johnson points out is in John 4:34, when Jesus tells his disciples, “My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work. In John 5:19, Jesus says, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, The Son can do nothing of himself but what he seeth the Father do: for what things soever he doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise.

Johnson suggests that Jesus is providing a model for all of us to follow, if we will. To live that way requires us to surrender our own willfulness and to become receptive to the work of the Spirit in and through us:

Can I, can we, become like Jesus, seeking and depending on God’s guidance moment by moment, following so that we say and do just what God asks of us, completely faithful, with trust and courage and simplicity and vulnerability and love, just as Jesus did? To enable the first disciples to do this, to undertake such ministry, Jesus breaths on them, saying: Receive ye the Holy Ghost. Jesus used the word “receive”. He does not say, I give you the Holy Spirit. The disciples, and each one of us, have to make a conscious decision to receive the gift. (170-171)

Jesus abides in God, and we, too, are invited to abide in God, with Jesus, in the Light of Christ. Johnson emphasizes that the heart of the matter is learning to love as Christ loves, and to let the love of God flow through us to others:

We are to love one another with no excuses so that our love may become more Christ-like. We find our love is the love of God made available to us. Jesus confirms this new covenant is to love one another that we may abide in him and he in us. The love of his being, the Eternal Christ, can then flow through us. (197)

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David Johnson will be leading a May 5-9 course at Pendle Hill Conference Center entitled John’s Gospel: Retreat and Refreshment. Because of grant funding supporting this offering, the course is considerably less expensive than most 5-day courses at Pendle Hill.  David Johnson is a Friend of great spiritual depth and this is a very special opportunity to spend time in the company of this Quaker from Australia.  Here’s the link for more information and to register: https://pendlehill.org/events/johns-gospel-refreshment-and-challenge/

Jesus, Christ and Servant of God: Meditations of the Gospel According to John, can be ordered from Inner Light Books in hardback, paperback or ebook versions, as can Johnson’s earlier book, A Quaker Prayer Life.

© 2019 Marcelle Martin

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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. (An excerpt and a study guide are also available on that website.) Designed to be a resource for individuals and groups to explore their spiritual experiences, the book describes the journey of faithfulness that leads people to actively engage in God’s work of making this world a better place for all. To order multiple books for a study group, postage free, contact us.

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

Find a Quaker Meeting near you: Quaker Finder

Posted in Contemplative spirituality, Quaker Faith Today, Radical Christianity | Tagged , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

She Lived in a Tree: The Spirit-Led Witness of Julia Butterfly Hill

At age eighteen she opened a restaurant, but a serious car accident three years later changed Julia Butterfly Hill forever. She needed to find a deeper purpose in life than running a successful business. She traveled to California and encountered a forest of giant redwoods, some of them a thousand years old, or maybe older. Among those ancient trees, she felt a powerful sense of aliveness she had never experienced before. She sensed something calling to her.  When she learned that the redwoods were being clear-cut by a lumber company, she prayed for guidance about how to help save the forests.

In mid November 1997, she contacted environmental activists, who told her that their base camp was closing for the winter, and that she wasn’t needed. She went to the camp anyway and eagerly volunteered to do a tree sit for five days.  That’s when she first met Luna, a towering, thousand-year-old redwood tree slated to be cut down soon by the Pacific Lumber Company/Maxxam Corporation.

Although the logging company was engaging in environmentally dangerous practices, legal efforts to stop them had failed. So environmentalists willing to commit civil disobedience had built platforms high in certain old trees and were maintaining a human presence on them, in an effort to prevent their destruction. A small platform had been built near the top of Luna’s 180-foot height. So Hill slogged up a muddy ridge in the rain to get to the tree. Using ropes and a harness patched with duct tape, she ascended to the top, terrified. It was a challenging ordeal to share the 6′ by 6′ platform with two others for five rainy, windy days, and she was eager to get to a warm shower and a real bed when she came down. Soon after her first sit in the tree, however, Hill returned for another five-day stint. Next, as the winter weather got worse and volunteers were harder to find, she offered to stay in the tree for three weeks or a month. She was committed to doing whatever she could to save the life of Luna.

She didn’t come down again for two years.

Luna was the tallest tree on a high ridge. From the platform covered with tarps near the top of Luna, where Hill made her home, Hill could see a nearby area that had been clear-cut the year before. Mud from the now barren hillside had been washed down by heavy rains onto the town of Stafford. Many houses were buried by the landslide and remained uninhabited. Now another swatch of forest was being clear cut on the other side of Luna. For Hill, it was heartbreaking to hear the chain saws day after day and witness one tall redwood after another falling to the ground, “screaming” on the way down and thudding heavily. The death of each tree that fell took a piece of her heart. The redwood trunks were sawed into smaller lengths. Helicopters moved them, and heavy machinery carted them off to be milled. In the wasteland of short stumps left by the loggers, rains washed away the top soil. Later Hill witnessed clear-cut areas being napalmed from a small airplane, to keep anything from growing

Two fiercely cold and windy winters damaged her health, but the intense harassment she experienced from loggers and the lumber company was worse. One day a helicopter, deliberately being flown dangerously close, threatened to knocked her out of the tree. For several weeks men and dogs guarded Luna around the clock to prevent her fellow activists from getting necessary supplies up to her. Although her courageous companions found a way to get through the blockade, after the first ninety days in Luna, Hill did not feel she could endure much more. A fellow activist climbed the tree to encourage her to stay for a record-breaking hundred days.

When receiving conflicting advice about when to descend from the tree, Hill turned to prayer to find her inward guidance.

Under pressure, I have trouble hearing the guidance I live my life by. While I take other people’s thoughts and concerns into account–I’ve never pretended to be a know-it-all–I get my ultimate guidance from prayer. That’s why I pray every morning and every night. … This world is so fast, and there’s so much pressure to move now, move quickly. But I knew that if I wasn’t feeling clarity, I had to take the time to let the right thing happen. I couldn’t let other people sway me just because I was unsure. That was part of the lesson that Luna had taught me: to be still and listen, even in the chaos of my life. I knew prayer had taken me to the Lost Coast, prayer is what guided me to the redwood forest, and prayer is what led me to this tree and up this tree. Prayer is what had given me the strength to continue all this time. (198)

In spite of many frightening moments, Hill persisted, hearing a call to give everything she had to protect Luna. She passed her record-breaking hundred days and felt guided to stay on, persisting even when she feared the winds of El Niño would sweep her to the ground, even when her toes turned purple and then black. She learned to relax and bend like the trees during the fierce winds. Her feet healed, but the dangers she faced were real. A man maintaining a tree-sit in a nearby tree fell and broke his pelvis. One day a logger, enraged by the presence of protesters in the woods, felled two giant trees in rapid succession in their direction. The second tree crushed a young man to death. No charges were brought against the logger.

When Hill and Almond, her helper on the ground, were feeling overwhelmed by the demands of getting their word out, she fasted and prayed because, as she wrote in her book, “this tree-sit needed some divine intervention.”

“Please send someone,” she prayed to God. “We need someone with skills to help pull all of this together.” Four days after she began her fast, she received a call from a forest activist named Robert Parker, who proposed to set up a press office. He then began to run “a well-oiled, international outreach machine.”

Eventually Julia Butterfly Hill became a media celebrity. Her solar-powered cell phone enabled her to be a regular guest on radio talk shows. Some famous people, including Bonnie Raitt and Joan Baez, climbed the tree to talk with her. Striking steelworkers, fighting against unfair labor practices by another company owned by Maxxam Corporation, found her tree-sit to be a source of inspiration. A leader of the United Steelworkers of America made a trip up Luna to thank her.

On radio shows, Hill talked about life in the tree, advocated for the protection of old-growth forests, and gave information about the destructive and sometimes illegal logging practices she witnessed. Using junk bonds, the Maxxum Corporation had taken over Pacific Lumber, an old company which had previously practiced more sustainable forestry. Now Charles Hurwitz, the owner of Maxxam Corporation, was trying to get as much quick cash from the forest as possible, without concern for the future.

Hill worked to develop personal human relationships with those who insulted, harassed, or threatened her.  One day she lowered a baggie containing a photograph of herself to some loggers below. When they saw that she was a beautiful young woman, their attitude toward her changed. Before she agreed to come down from Luna, Hill negotiated for more than half a year with the president of Pacific Lumber, with whom she maintained a cordial relationship.

The environmental group Earth First! built the platform on Luna and began the tree sit. During the early months of Hill’s residency in Luna, a twenty-minute video, LUNA The Stafford Giant TREE SIT, was made that showed the destruction of the redwood trees and featured Hill speaking from the platform on Luna.. Earth First! and a team of human helpers with activist names–such as Shakespeare, Geronimo, Spruce, Seppo, and Owl–were indispensable to starting and maintaining the tree-sit in Luna. In her book, The Legacy of Luna, Hill acknowledges dozens of people who helped support her witness. She also pays tribute to the ancient being who was her constant companion for two years. Luna herself provided the most tangible source of support for Hill’s tree-sit.

Early on, Hill learned to climb the tree without any harness or ropes. Keeping her feet bare enabled her to better sense which branches could bear her weight and which could not.  She used all of her limbs to distribute her weight as she climbed. She felt that Luna was guiding her.  During two critical moments, once during a terrible storm and then on the day she descended the tree, Hill sensed direct inner communication from the ancient tree.

By the time her feet touch the ground again in December 1999, Hill had secured a contractual promise of protection for Luna. Her 738-day tree-sit had also brought international attention to the ongoing destruction of ancient redwood forests on the Pacific coast.

Since then Julia Butterfly Hill has continued to work as an environmental activist and motivational speaker, teaching about spiritually-based activism. In 2002, she was arrested in Ecuador for protesting a proposed Occidental Petroleum oil pipeline being laid through a cloud forest in the Andes. She was sent to jail and then deported, along with other activists. That year Sounds True made a recording of Hill on a CD collection entitled Spiritual Activation: Why Each of Us Does Make the Difference. Meanwhile, both in court and in the trees, Earth First! and associated organizations are still fighting the ongoing unsustainable clear-cutting of forests that contain large, old trees.

Early in the efforts to save Luna, a solar-powered light was placed on her crown, to signal from a distance that the ancient redwood was still standing. It was called the Beacon of Hope. The first time Hill struggled to slog up a muddy ridge toward Luna, the light from that beacon helped her to keep climbing. Today, the witness of Julia Butterfly Hill serves as a beacon of hope to others. When people–both young and old–discover that something is more important than worldly success and respond to the call of their souls, then a hopeful future is possible.

© 2019 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.) The book was designed to be a resource for both individuals and groups to explore their spiritual experiences. It describes the journey of faithfulness that leads people to actively engage in God’s work of making this world a better place for all.

Find a Quaker Meeting near you: Quaker Finder

Marcelle Martin is a core teacher in an upcoming 9-month program, to be held online and at Woolman Hill Retreat Center in Massachusetts. Nurturing Faithfulness is a faith and leadership program designed to help Friends meet God more deeply, hone methods of discernment, reach for fuller faithfulness, and ultimately bring these gifts and strengthened abilities back to home meetings, and beyond. Program participants become a community of practice to support each other in offering spiritual nurture and encouraging leadings, service, and faithful witness. August 2019 – May 2020

Here is a video in which past participants talk about the program:

An information webinar is scheduled for the evening of January 22nd. For more information click HERE.

Posted in All of Life is Sacred, environmental activism, Facing Life with Faith, Following a Leading, Stories that Heal | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments