Appreciating Inner Images

One of the most powerful ways to help people open up to divine guidance is to assist them in exploring key images that they receive inwardly. These images might come during a dream, but also while engaging in activity, or during quiet time, worship, or prayer. The soul communicates in innumerable ways, including words and even puns. In my book A Guide to Faithfulness Groups, I speak about images as a form of soul expression:

Images are a more primary language for the soul than words, and for many they are an important way to receive inward spiritual guidance. Some inner images that come in prayer, meditation, or dreams contain great wisdom and truth. If contemplated, they may assist in needed transformation or healing or provide guidance leading toward a new way of doing things, a service that may be required, or the best possible future. Simply focusing on an image and allowing it to affect all one’s inner senses can help a person receive the wisdom, healing, and transforming power the image conveys.

In the book I share an image that came to me more than once during some of my deepest experiences of meeting for worship in the years while I was living at Pendle Hill:

Primeval Forest

Several times, during moments of great inner stillness at the morning meeting for worship at Pendle Hill Retreat Center, I have had an impression of being in a primeval forest, unspoiled, wild, and natural. My deep interior silence was accompanied by a sense of awe. I felt surrounded, supported, and sustained by the ancient forest to the core of my being.

When I explored the image, I felt a holy power and a sense of great fertility, of unlimited possibilities. The image reminded me that the land on which Pendle Hill stands was once unspoiled forest inhabited by the Lenni Lenape people. But the primeval forest that I sensed was older even than any human inhabitants. It existed prior to human beings.

When I recollect this primeval forest, the image has the power to help me touch into the state I experience in a deeply gathered silent meeting for worship with others. The holy, original forest is a metaphor for the Ground of Being, the fertile matrix of all life that we call God. The Ground of Being is a pure state of consciousness, undisturbed by fear, greed, alienation, or attachment. Recalling this image helps me connect to a sacred state of oneness with God and with all things, a state that contains great healing power and unlimited potential.

Recalling this image and the state I was in while experiencing it still has the power to shift my awareness toward the sparkling source of all life. When someone shares such images in the context of a spiritual friendship, clearness committee, or faithfulness group, gentle questions can be asked to help the person notice and savor them. Receptive attention to these images may open them to reveal both wisdom and guidance.

More information about faithfulness groups can be found HERE, including links to videos and to a pdf of the 4-page guidelines.

© 2022 Marcelle Martin

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.

Posted in Contemplative spirituality, healing, Quaker Faith Today, spiritual practices, Supporting Spirit-led Ministry | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Invitation to Quaker Eldering

Early in the Quaker movement, Friends recognized that the living Spirit of God was guiding them directly without need of intermediaries. Members of the faith community were given particular gifts of the Spirit for the benefit of all. Not all gifts were the same, but it was one Spirit giving life to all of them, for the sake of God’s work in and through the community. This new order of life breaking into the world, empowered directly by the Light of Christ, was called Gospel Order. Some were given a prophetic gift, to speak and teach as moved by the Spirit. Others were given the gift to nurture the spiritual life of individuals and the community. In the first decades of the Quaker movement, some of those noted for their spiritual gifts were called “nursing mothers” or “nursing fathers,” noted for their ability to nurture those called to a new kind of spiritual life, and also for their skill in nurturing the spiritual communities created by the first Quakers. A group calling themselves the “Elders at Balby” wrote a document with suggested guidelines for Quaker meetings. By the 18th century, Friends specifically named the different gifts of ministers and elders, recognizing that although all people may be called to some form of ministry and all are called to participate in upholding the faith community, some are given a larger measure of one gift or another, for the sake of the meeting.

Among the branches of Quakerism that evolved through the centuries, some Quakers (including Conservative and Evangelical Friends), have continued to recognize as ministers those who are gifted in ministry, and as elders those who have the gift of spiritual nurture. Among others, recorded ministers are named, but not elders.

Early in the 1800s, divisions occurred in Quaker communities as Friends responded in different ways to religious currents in the world. The branch of Quakers now called “liberal” began to rebel against the sometimes oppressive authority exercised in that time by those recognized as ministers and elders. By the middle of the 20th century, most liberal Quaker meetings stopped the practice of recognizing and naming either ministers or elders.

“All Friends are ministers,” we said, and liberal Friends’ meetings no longer noted that some people are called to dedicate themselves to religious service in a special way. The word “eldering” became associated with criticism, especially of vocal ministry offered in meeting for worship. The positive and necessary functions of elders were forgotten, though the Spirit still continued to give these essential gifts to the meeting in particular people. A prophetic community guided directly by God requires dedication and tending, and when the community stops recognizing and valuing this, the spiritual vitality of meetings diminishes. Over time, liberal Friends have become more secular and intellectual, and prophetic vocal ministry has became more rare.

I began to participate in the Quaker community early in the 1990s, at a time when some liberal Friends meetings were realizing that very much is lost when we don’t recognize and support the gifts of ministry given to members of our meetings. Although most liberal Friends were continuing to feel resistant to naming individuals as “ministers,” by 1990 some meetings had began to recognize that certain people are called to particular kinds of ministry, both within and beyond the community, and that the community is called by the Spirit to support those with calls and leadings. Many meetings began to develop or renew practices for recognizing and supporting ministries.

Around 1999, I was present at a several-day gathering at Pendle Hill retreat center for Quakers called to ministry. Such a gathering had not been held among liberal Quakers in a long time. The co-facilitators were four esteemed Friends who had all been recognized by their monthly and yearly meetings for their gifts in the ministry. Many Friends with strong calls, leadings, and gifts for ministry were in attendance, including some Conservative Friends. Many had received recognition and support for some form of ministry from their Quaker community. The gathering was open to any who registered, however, and some also came whose gifts in ministry had not been recognized or encouraged by their meetings. Many of them were particularly eager for recognition from others.

About fifty of us gathered in the worship room in the Barn at Pendle Hill, and the Presence of the Spirit was strongly felt during the meetings for worship. Many experienced the power of the Spirit speaking to them, and they stood and offered vocal ministry. So many spoke that there was not enough silence in which to absorb the messages, some of them very powerful and prophetic. The sparsity of silence between these messages became more and more painful. Some of the spoken messages, it seemed, were really meant for the person to whom they had been given, not meant to be spoken aloud. Clear discernment was missing, not only in those who were very eager to received recognition for their gifts, but also in some who had already received such recognition.

During these meetings for worship, a few Friends felt moved to discreetly kneel on the floor in prayer, to try to hold the meeting for worship in the depth of Spirit to which the group was called. On the second or third day, a group of Friends identified themselves as elders and took seats on the bench behind the front (or “facing”) bench where the four co-facilitating ministers were seated. When given leave to explain themselves, these elders noted that since liberal Quakers had stopped identifying those with the gifts of eldership, and liberal meetings were no longer encouraging or supporting such Friends in their ministry of spiritual nurture, something essential had been lost. In this gathering, we were feeling the painful lack of the gifts of spiritual anchoring offered by those who called to serve as elders.

That event at Pendle Hill marked an important turning point among liberal Friends. It was a moment when those called to the ministry of spiritual nurture stepped forward and said clearly, “the gift of eldership is essential to the maintenance of a healthy and faithful spiritual community among Friends.”

Elaine Emily was one of the elders who took her place on the bench of elders at that gathering. Afterwards, she felt called to gather together groups of Friends who were experiencing the gift and call to serve as elders. They shared experiences and confirmed for each other the validity and importance of their call. More than twenty years later, Inner Light Books has just published a beautiful book, An Invitation to Quaker Eldering, in which Elaine Emily, Mary Kay Glazer, and numerous other Quaker elders describe the gift of eldering as it has been experienced by them in the first decades of the twenty-first century.

The book offers three metaphors for eldering: cultivating a garden, finding a path in the wilderness of an old growth forest, and connecting everything like the essential but invisible network of fungi which exchange information and nutrients under the surface of the earth. One chapter describes the qualities of elders. Another describes the formation of an elder and their growth in the gift of spiritual nurture. The various functions of elders are described, include nurturing the gifts of the vocal ministers and nurturing the spiritual life of communities. Elders help both individuals and communities to be accountable for the calls and leadings they receive. This book describes these functions of elders and offers frameworks for understanding the nature of this essential but often misunderstood gift.

In addition to the chapters giving an overview of the spiritual gift given to elders, An Invitation to Quaker Eldering contains numerous short accounts written by a wide range of Friends about their experiences of recognizing and exercising their eldering gifts. These personal accounts wonderfully illustrate the wide range of ways that these mysterious gifts manifest among Friends and hint at their function. Like the mycorrhizae under the surface of the earth, the essential nature of these gifts is still barely known, but this book goes a long way toward increasing awareness and understanding.

An online book launch event was held on November 6, 2022. The two primary authors, Elaine Emily and Mary Kay Glazer, and the two Friends who served as their primary elders in this project, Janet Gibian Hough and Bruce Neumann, read from the book and spoke about their process of working together. The publisher, Charles Martin, described why he was glad he postponed his retirement long enough to publish this book. To see the recording of the book launch, go HERE.

Invitation to Quaker Eldering: Have you received the gift of eldering or experienced spiritual nurture offered by another?

© 2022 Marcelle Martin

* * *

The book can be ordered from Barclay Press, Pendle Hill, and other publishers.

* * *

Posted in Contemplative spirituality, Facing Life with Faith, Learning from Early Friends, Quaker Faith Today, Radical Christianity, spiritual practices, Supporting Spirit-led Ministry | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Between This Life and the Next

About a year after my friend Jim died, I began to sense–or imagine–that from the next life he was somehow nudging me to write about my experience of his dying and death–and what happened afterwards. It was as though he was telling me that if I wrote about this, it would be helpful to other people. That was like him: Jim was always trying to be helpful to other people. A couple times I wrote a few paragraphs, but then I set them aside. I had other things to do, more important, I thought. Recently, however, I watched a Quaker Speak video with Quaker hospice chaplain Carl Magruder, who urged Friends to “think deliberately about our death” and to share our thoughts with others. I felt that nudge again.

As I began to write about my experience with Jim, other memories came to me, too: the wake of my grandmother, and being called by a hospital about a friend, Janet, who had been brought in unconscious. The day before Janet’s death, I had given her a flyer for a gathering entitled “Hasten Unto God,” and she had given me a warning about plans I was contemplating. Her death helped me find my way.

What happens in the transition between this world and the next is still largely a mystery to me, but I have increasingly become convinced that our souls remain alive after our bodies die, and that we can touch each other across the gap between this life and the next.

The article I wrote has been published in the October issue of Friends Journal, complete with photographs of my grandmother and Jim. You can read it by clicking on the link HERE.

Between This Life and the Next: How have you been touched by the death or dying of someone close to you?

© 2022 Marcelle Martin

Upcoming Online Webinar with Marcelle Martin:

Introduction to Faithfulness Groups

A small group practice for spiritual support, growth, and accountability

November 19, 2022 online

10:00 am – 12:30 pm and 2:00 – 3:30 pm

In this online introduction to Faithfulness Groups, participants will have opportunities to practice skills in deep listening and asking evoking questions, practices which assume that each person has a direct inward connection with God, Spirit, Christ and/or the Inner Guide. These skills can help people pay more attention to how the Spirit is at work in them and in their lives. They are useful for spiritual friendships and clearness committees, as well as faithfulness groups. Through pair exercises, small groups, and large-group discussion, we will explore the process of Faithfulness Groups as a model for listening to the Divine Presence. We will experience the capacity we each have to support people of any faith in allowing the work of the Spirit to become manifest through us and our communities.  

We intend that you leave the workshop feeling more prepared for continued and deepening faithfulness in your life, and perhaps inspired to participate in a Faithfulness Group yourself. At the end of the session, we’ll discuss next steps and a wealth of additional supports for those who are interested in forming Faithfulness Groups.

Whether you are interested in learning about Faithfulness Groups for yourself or your Meeting, please join us for an experiential workshop to learn about the model of Faithfulness Groups as a way to delve into living more faithful lives—in big and small ways. If your schedule is tight, it is possible to attend only the morning session. The afternoon session, however, requires attendance in the morning.

For more information and to register:

Posted in Facing Life with Faith, Quaker Faith Today, Stories that Heal | Tagged , , , , | 6 Comments

A Hand Across the Ocean

I’m grieving the death of my brilliant young friend Rachel, a Quaker climate specialist and university teacher who has died suddenly.

I met Rachel almost twenty years ago when she was the young Friend sent by Britain Yearly Meeting (Quakers) for a ten-week term at Pendle Hill study and retreat center. She participated in the course I taught, “Discerning Our Calls,” which included learning related to clearness committees. Rachel often stayed after class to talk, and we became friends. As the ten weeks flowed toward their conclusion, Rachel’s fellow students were eager to have her stay another term. She wondered if it would be right to stay longer, so a group was convened to hold a clearness committee, to help her discover what inner guidance she was receiving about this possibility.

Though it happened almost two decades ago, I remember that clearness committee well. Both Rachel and her friends wanted her to stay a while longer. But as we asked her questions and listened to her responses, I also heard her give compelling reasons why going home to England might be the right thing to do now. When she was invited to stay more about this, Rachel became more radiant, describing a sense of calling and purpose that was connected to being at home. Soon it was clear that however much she had enjoyed her time at Pendle Hill and loved her fellow students, something in her heart was calling Rachel home. When a clearness committee reaches the place where the focus person is clearly articulating the truth in their heart, we enter Holy Ground.

Rachel went home at the end of the term. It took her a few more years before the shape of her calling became clear. In the meantime, before the age of thirty, she wrote a wonderful memoir about being a young person finding her way. Raised Catholic, she had been much influenced by spending time living in a Catholic Worker House which provided hospitality to immigrants seeking asylum. She wrote about that experience and also about seeking a theology and spirituality that seemed truthful to her experience. For her, faith was meant to lead to action.

For many years of her life, even after entering an academic career, she volunteered at a homeless shelter in London during the Christmas holidays. She became a Quaker, but took an annual time of retreat in a Catholic convent.

Motivated in part by her desire to protect those who are most vulnerable–the poor of the world, who will bear the hardest brunt of it–she became clear that she was called to help society mitigate the effects of climate change. She studied to earn a Ph.D. and become what she called an “interdisciplinary social scientist with a focus on social behaviors related to climate change.” She took an academic position first at the University of Aberystwyth, Wales, then at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, where she was Programme Director of their interdisciplinary MA in Sustainable Development. Her research interests included: lower-carbon lifestyles; pro-environmental behavior change; energy-related social practices and policies, social movements and education for sustainability; and communication about climate change. Especially interested in education, she was a well-loved faculty member in her department, drawing large classes. Recently she had done research on teaching styles that encourage students to become active in relationship to the fields they are studying, not just passive learners.

Marcelle and Rachel at Friends House in London in 2006.

As Rachel became aware of how significantly air travel contributes to carbon emissions and exacerbates climate change, and that flying is a luxury used most often by the wealthiest people in the world, she became increasingly uneasy when she took a plane. In 2003, shortly after returning home from Pendle Hill, Rachel decided she would never fly again. In part because of Rachel’s vow not to fly, I saw her only one more time, when I flew to England in 2006 and attended Britain Yearly Meeting’s annual sessions, held in London.

Rachel never had a long-term partner or children. Instead, she directed a lot of love and attention to the many members of her large family and to her friends, students, and members of the communities to which she belonged, including Quakers. She sent out regular newsy email reports to a list of Friends, of which I was one. Through this means I kept in touch with her over the years. She told us about her research and teaching; about speaking on government panels related to climate change; about leading or participating in singing programs for Quakers and others; about family events, including the births and milestones of nieces and nephews; about her annual walking vacations along the coasts of England, Scotland and Wales; about the people she met in the homeless shelter, and so much more. She sent photos and links to videos, and sometimes jokes or cartoons. She wrote back whenever I responded to one of her reports. She regularly read my blog and was one of the few who often left a comment. (For example, hers is the first in response to my blog about the Climate Strike event I attended in Philadelphia—she wrote about her experience at the Climate Strike event in Edinburgh. She also commented first on my review of the amazing novel The Overstory.)

Although our friendship was almost entirely long distance, there were two key moments when we were able to reach a hand of friendship across the ocean at times of need. In November 2016, I watched the U.S. election results at home with my husband. We were both unpleasantly surprised when the early results were different from what we expected. Sleepy, my husband went to bed around 11 pm, still hopeful that the candidate for whom we had campaigned door-to-door would win. I was left alone on the sofa with television news commentators to keep me company as the news got worse and worse. In terms of much-needed environmental protections and a wise response to the growing climate crisis—to name one crucial issue, but not the only one–I felt that the election of the candidate I did not favor would be a disaster for the world. Waiting for the results, I felt alone in those wee morning hours. I opened a laptop to see what my Friends on social media were saying as we waited. Eventually, my social media news feed became quiet, too.

And then an email came from the other side of the ocean: Rachel had woken up for the day and learned the uncertain news about the U.S. presidential election. She emailed me to ask what was going on, and we communicated back and forth, both while I waited for the final results of the election, and in the days that followed as we both contemplated what this would mean for the world. Rachel’s companionship and friendship then was very sustaining.

In August this year, she reached across the ocean to me in the middle of her night. For several weeks she had been experiencing physical pains. Medication prescribed by her doctor had failed to soothe the problem, so tests had been ordered. After reading the results of one of the tests, her GP told Rachel to go to the Emergency Room immediately. Rachel looked healthy, and hours after arriving, she still hadn’t been seen by a doctor. A nurse had scolded her for coming to the ER. Finally, more tests were done. It was 1:30 am on her side of the ocean, and Rachel was feeling lonely. She didn’t want to wake her friends by calling in the middle of the night, so she sent a text to me. We texted back and forth. I held her in the Light, as she had asked.

As the medical news in the coming days got worse and worse, Rachel emailed me as she tried to discern the best way to share the bad news with her family and friends of the cancer growing inside her. She felt that I had more distance than those who were closer to her, and was therefore better able to be a sounding board as she first absorbed the news that she did not have much longer to live. It was a privilege to reach a hand across the ocean to her when she needed it.

After that, Rachel sent two more emails to her list of friends. At the end of the first, she wrote to her readers, “I hope you’re OK.” Then family members came to visit her, and she celebrated her birthday. In her last email she reported that it had become clear that no benefits could be expected from chemo; she would therefore be moving into a hospice. At the end, she thanked everybody for the good times they had shared with her.

Two days later we received an email from her father reporting that she had died, peacefully at the end, with both her parents present. It’s not surprising that she asked for a green burial, in a cardboard coffin, environmentally the kindest way to dispose of her body. In reporting the funeral arrangements, her father said that the many cards and notes that had been mailed to Rachel in her last weeks would be placed beside her body when she was buried.

I am so sad to lose my wonderful friend. I am sad for the world, too, because we have lost someone with a powerful commitment to help change society to mitigate climate change.

But I also know that Rachel’s soul still shines brightly, and I expect she will continue to reach out a hand, now across spiritual realms rather than an ocean, to help humanity face the crisis that is here and coming.

A Hand Extended Across the Ocean: © 2022 Marcelle Martin

* * *

Rachel was author or co-author of 29 publications. One that she co-authored, “People and Planet: Values, Motivations and Formative Influences of Individuals Acting to Mitigate Climate Change,” is available HERE.

Sonya Peres, an intern at The Alliance for Sustainability Leadership (EAUC-Scotland), interviewed Rachel in March 2020 for a blog post entitled Academics Who Travel Better: Dr. Rachel Howell, in which she explored the reasons for Rachel’s decision never to fly again. When governments were bailing out the faltering airlines at the beginning of the pandemic, Rachel argued that they should instead let the airlines fail. Funds should be used to re-train those in the airline industry to work in more sustainable fields.

Here is a video recording of a March 2021 online interview in which Rachel speaks about Personal and Political Action on Climate Change.

Wednesday 3 March 2021 with Dr Rachel Howell, University of Edinburgh.

Carbon Cutter or Climate Marcher? Personal and Political Action on Climate Change.

A large majority of people in Scotland (79%) think climate change is an “immediate and urgent problem” (Ipsos MORI survey, October 2020). Why doesn’t that concern translate into more action? If we want to take action, what’s going to make the biggest difference? Is it best to focus on political change, or personal behaviour change? Can an individual have any effect? And what about the current situation: has coronavirus actually been good news for the environment/climate change?  These are some of the questions Rachel Howell considered, and which are discussed by the panel which includes John Dale, and Richard Frazer with moderation by Michael Fuller.

A Hand Extended Across the Ocean: © 2022 Marcelle Martin

Posted in All of Life is Sacred, environmental activism, Facing Life with Faith, Following a Leading, Quaker Faith Today | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 31 Comments

Earth Day S.O.S.

On a lovely spring day, Earth Day, we drove forty minutes from our home in Chester, one of the poorest cities in Pennsylvania, to the headquarters of Vanguard, a company that manages more than $7 trillion in financial assets. In the lovely blooming semi-rural areas we passed through on our way to Vanguard’s headquarters, the idea of catastrophic climate change seemed remote. Yet Chester, one of the poorest cities in Pennsylvania, is the location of one of the two largest incinerators in the U.S. Run by Covanta and financed by Vanguard investments, this massive incinerator, the dirtiest in the country, burns trash trucked in from numerous cities and states up and down the East Coast. In the past, Covanta has found it easier to pay fines for violating the law rather than to install all the legally required filters. They pump toxins such as lead, mercury, and arsenic into air over the city, where rates of asthma, heart disease and cancer are high, diseases with a known connection to breathing toxic particulate matter.

My husband and I are concerned not only about this dangerous pollution where we live, but also about the environmental racism involved in locating such an incinerator in a poor city that is 70% black. And more than that, we are seeking and praying to find our role in facing the challenges that threaten all life on Earth. How does God want us to live and act in this time of climate crisis? How can we help transform a culture that is headed toward disaster?

So we traveled to the Vanguard headquarters in lovely Malvern, PA, a place of multi-million-dollar homes, and joined 150 other people for an inter-faith demonstration to plead with the company to use its enormous financial power to help turn around the climate disaster being fueled by their support of the fossil fuel industry and other dangerous investments. The event was organized by Earth Quaker Action Team (EQAT). Many in attendance were Quakers, but there were also significant contingents from other faith-based groups, including POWER, a grassroots coalition of over 50 congregations committed to racial and economic justice on a livable planet, and Dayenu, a movement of American Jews “confronting the climate crisis with spiritual audacity and bold political action.” Many of those who gathered at the entrance to Vanguard’s headquarters had participated in a five-day walk that began on Monday at the Covanta incinerator in Chester. On Wednesday afternoon there had been an interfaith Passover “street Seder” in front of a local Chase bank branch, demanding a sustainable and thriving future for all of creation. Chase Bank is one of the world’s largest funders of fossil fuels, and Vanguard is Chase’s largest investor. The street Seder, focused on confronting the “Carbon Pharaohs” who fund climate change, was coordinated by a coalition including Exodus Alliance, Dayenu, Jewish Youth Climate Movement, and Pennsylvania Interfaith Power & Light. The Earth and Justice Freedom-Seder text they used was written by Rabbi Arthur Waskow, founder and director of The Shalom Center, who participated in the event. A total of 300 people took part in the walk or in one of the demonstrations during the week.

On Friday morning the crowd who gathered in front of Vanguard’s headquarters ranged from toddlers to elders, including parents with small children, all of us united in our concern for the future of this planet. The government of our country is not adequately admitting or addressing the extent of the climate crisis that’s unraveling Eco-systems on which all life on this planet depends. The interfaith groups that joined in this week-long walk of witness and protest are hoping to mobilize people of faith to address the biggest challenge of our time and transform the powerful financial investors who are currently propping up the fossil fuel industry, an industry which for decades has not only been spreading misinformation about the causes of the climate change in which they are playing a calamitous role but also blocking the necessary shift to sustainable forms of energy that could create a hopeful future for all.

Because this demonstration was based in faith, it recognized that the CEO and employees of Vanguard are people with children and grandchildren, people who also have a desire for a livable planet. The demonstration included not curses, but prayers and blessings for the wise management of the huge financial power that Vanguard wields.

My husband and I were very moved by the speech of a 19-year old Philadelphia college student, who told us that when she won an award in high school, she invested the money in Vanguard, for her retirement. With a microphone in hand, she asked Vanguard, what kind of world will we have when it’s time for her to retire? She pointed out that the investment giant should be protecting her future retirement and investing only in companies and projects that lead to a sustainable future, rather than investing in the continued destruction of systems of life. She has helped start a chapter of Dayenu on her campus to engage other students in faith-based climate action.

A similar demonstration was held the same day at the European headquarters of Vanguard, in London. And on the day before, a coalition of groups around the world had united in a campaign called “Vanguard S.O.S.” Vanguard’s founder, John Bogle, named the company after the HMS Vanguard, a 74-gun ship of the eighteenth century that was involved in a decisive battle against the French in 1798. Until very recently, an image of the ship was used as a logo for Vanguard. The new climate campaign “Vanguard S.O.S.” is an appeal to the financial giant to Save Our Ship, in this case the life systems of planet Earth, which are sinking in the rising waters of climate change.

On April 20th, Reclaim Finance, an international group that highlights the link between finance and climate change, issued its annual scorecard of companies that manage investments. Out of 30 major asset managers, Vanguard received the lowest score on their climate commitments and was at the bottom of the list. Lara Cuvellier, at Reclaim Finance, says that “Vanguard is one of the top two investors in companies developing new coal projects and holds $130 billion in the 12 biggest oil and gas expansionists, and there is not a single policy in sight from Vanguard to restrict investments in fossil fuel expansion or even use its shareholder voting power to hold the world’s biggest polluters accountable.”

Bill McKibben, author and founder of and Third Act, says that, “Vanguard is the quintessential example of an institution that could be doing so much good for the world, and is instead sticking to a business-as-usual mode that is ending in tragedy for the planet and its people. … Imagine how blinkered you’d have to be to be earth’s second-biggest asset manager and not using that power to help ward off the greatest emergency humans have ever faced. It’s tragic, but it’s also maddening — and that anger will propel action as people demand accountability.”

In response to the pressure and publicity targeting Vanguard, the day before Earth Day the company had issued a statement expressing its concern about climate change. Speakers at the demonstration in Malvern applauded Vanguard’s tiny initial step of recognizing the problem, but noted that making announcements or creating a special fund for sensitive investors has no impact at all if the overall funding actions of the company do not change. What is needed is for Vanguard and other giant investment companies, as well as the banks they fund, to set environmental standards for the companies in which they invest and refuse to fund projects that are environmentally destructive and contribute to further climate change. Choosing a life-affirming course may, in the short term, cause their profits to decrease. In the long term, however, none of their investors will have a good return on their investments if Vanguard does not turn around their ship and steer in the direction of keeping the planet livable.

The Earth Quaker Action Team (EQAT) worked hard and long to organize this week of walks, talks, actions, and demonstrations. They were led by a team now seasoned by years of strategic and creative non-violent direct action campaigns against large companies invested in extreme extraction methods and dirty energy. The current campaign director of EQAT, Eileen Flanagan, is the author of Renewable: One Woman’s Search for Simplicity, Faithfulness, and Hope, which describes EQAT’s successful non-violent direct-action campaign to get PNC Bank to stop investing in blowing up mountain tops to extract coal. Whether we are living on the front lines of air pollution, students concerned about our future, or Vanguard customers concerned about the wisdom of these investments, we all have a stake in correcting Vanguard’s destructive course,” Flanagan says.

Many people who participated in the demonstration at Vanguard headquarters in Malvern, PA have investments with Vanguard. EQAT encourages those who have such investments to hold onto them and to use their leverage as shareholders to help change Vanguard’s policies. There are a variety of ways to support EQAT’s work and the ongoing Vanguard S.O.S. campaign. Flanagan teaches in her writing and online courses that there are many roles that people need to play to collectively transform consciousness and culture, and to work for a livable planet. In this time of peril and change, each of us is called to listen to the inward guide and find the roles and actions to which we are called in working with the Spirit for a hopeful future.

Earth Day S.O.S.: How is the Spirit calling, leading, or nudging you to help change consciousness and culture, or to live, serve, or witness for a sustainable life on Earth?

© 2022 Marcelle Martin

*     *     *     *     *

Marcelle Martin, the author of Our Life is Love: The Quaker Spiritual Journey, and A Guide to Faithfulness Groups, is a core teacher of the upcoming 9-month in-person and online faith and leadership program, Nurturing Faithfulness. Co-sponsored by New England Yearly Meeting (Quakers), the program starts Sept. 2022 at Woolman Hill retreat center. Information can be found here or through the New England Yearly Meeting website. Here’s a video in which the core teachers, Marcelle Martin and Hilary Burgin, speak about the upcoming 2022-2023 program. In this video prior participants speak about their experience.

Posted in All of Life is Sacred, environmental activism, Facing Life with Faith, Quaker Faith Today | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

Quaker Wisdom for the Spiritual Journey

When I took a 9-day solitary retreat this winter, I brought three slim books with me to provide spiritual guidance and companionship, for those moments when I needed some help to turn again to the wisdom that comes from the Light within. The distilled wisdom offered by the wise contemporary Friends David Johnson, Marty Grundy, and Brian Drayton served me well. Each book contains potent descriptions of the Quaker way; usually one short section provided enough spiritual sustenance to chew on for a while.

In Surrendering Into Silence: Quaker Prayer Circles, David Johnson offers an overview of the inner cycles of transformation that occur when someone becoming serious about their spiritual life takes up regular spiritual practices. He explains that these cycles are universal, but describes them primarily with reference to the writing of Quakers through the centuries, with support from the teachings of other contemplatives. He beautifully describes these rhythms in simple, clear language. At the end, he emphasizes the important role of a committed faith community in enabling people to really enter fully into spiritual transformation.

Marty Grundy’s book A Call to Friends: Faithful Living in Desperate Times begins with an overview of why she characterizes these days in which we are living as a time of desperation. She describes the Quaker path as rooted in inner spiritual experience and manifesting in culture-changing action. In talking about the depth of spiritual life to which Friends are called, she quotes Thomas Kelly:

What is urged here are inward practices of the mind at deepest levels, letting it swing like the needle, to the polestar of the soul. And like the needle, the Inward Light becomes the truest guide of life, showing us new and unsuspected defects in ourselves and our fellows, showing us new and unsuspected possibilities in the power and life of good will among [humans].

Grundy insists that Friends are called to a deeper relationship with the Holy Spirit, and then into transformed social relationships, following the guidance of the Inner Light. Only when we give ourselves to be transformed by love in the crucible of relationships, especially in our Quaker meetings, can we offer the gifts we are called to give the world now. She writes in conclusion:

It has come to me over and over that Friends have the answer to what this hurting world needs so desperately. Or rather, I believe that our fundamental tradition is the antidote to today’s ills. This is nothing less than a radical invitation to live in the Kingdom of Heaven of which Jesus of Nazareth spoke. Right here and now, breaking into the corrupt, confused, frightened, sick United States Empire, we are invited to live in a new paradigm.

Like the other two authors, Brian Drayton is a faithful Quaker respected for the gift of ministry who has traveled broadly among Quakers. His book, Messages to Meetings, is a collection of letters, blog posts, and notes he sent to Meetings and other Quaker bodies after visiting them. They contain gentle guidance and reminders that are useful not only for the original recipients, but to the readers of this book. I was touched by a letter in which he explained how important it is to look for and affirm the presence of God at work in one another. When we see and affirm that the life of God is active in our fellow Quakers, we foster the work that the Spirit is doing among us. In another letter, he offered a beautiful description of the inner workshop in which we are gradually liberated and transformed by the Light.

A wordless, steady regard, in a time when one is quiet in reverence, is a powerful way of working–or rather of allowing oneself to be worked upon.  When we are truly centered, even for a short space of time, we are tender, that is, vulnerable and teachable.  …  One of the results of this kind of contemplation is heightened awareness.  In that receptive place where we are most able to hear (or see or feel) the truth, we are often given fresh understanding. …  as we feel safe or grounded, we may be given to see barriers that need to come down if growth is to occur, or new things that must be learned, or rifts that must be mended.  A deep fruit of this kind of work is an increase in inward spaciousness and freedom, a peace that is the peace of the ripening or opening seed, and a gift of thankfulness.  It is quiet, but it is also the workshop of turbulent, organic creativity, as in the stillness and tenderness all the materials of ourselves, our works, and our world can be in fluid contact.

All of these books emphasize the collective nature of the way God works with people on the Quaker path. Each of the authors is rooted in Christian faith and practice, yet each invites everybody in, even those who think of faith in different terms and use names for what is divine other than God and Christ, including the Inward Light, Spirit, and Creative Energy. Although each book is short enough to be read in one or just a few sittings, they are rich enough to merit slow reading of short sections over a period of time. They helped me to listen more deeply.

Companions for the Quaker Spiritual Journey © 2022 Marcelle Martin

Links to Book Reviews/ways to order the books mentioned above:

All of these books can be ordered from the publisher, Inner Light Books. Below are links to read reviews of these books published in Friends Journal.

Below are books written by 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: the Quaker Spiritual Journey.) The Friends Journal book review is linked below.

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, Learning from Early Friends, Mysticism, Quaker Faith Today, Radical Christianity | Tagged , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

One With God And Each Other

In preparation for an online conversation and exploration of how we can be more receptive to the gathered meeting, I’ve been reading everything I can get my hands on that’s been written about the amazing experience of entering what can be described as Heaven on Earth. This past week, during the several online meetings for worship in which I’ve participated (one of them lasting three hours), I’ve been paying close attention to how the experience develops, in me and the group—trying to notice the gentle movement as a meeting becomes settled or centered, and how that moves into a gathered meeting. I have long been convinced that being gathered by the Spirit in meeting for worship is one of the greatest gifts of the Quaker way. Now, after deeper consideration of my own experience and what I’ve heard from others, I realize more clearly that this experience is a doorway into another state, a state of profound unity and an openness to the movement of the Spirit. It provides a blessed opportunity for the Spirit to give us the wisdom and strength needed to do God’s work in the world.

During the gathered meeting, most (or all) of the participants in a meeting for worship are drawn into a subtle or strong awareness of the underlying reality at the deepest levels of our being, where we are part of a loving oneness with one another and with (or in) God. This awareness quiets minds and opens hearts. In Listening Spirituality, Vol. II, Patricia Loring writes that during these special times Friends feel that they know, “both God and their fellows more fully and dearly in some indefinable, immediate, non-cognitive way. The sense of oneness, knowledge and tenderness that is planted and tended in the times of gathering has been the ground of Quaker community, organization, and conduct of life together.” Although participants may experience revelations of divine truth during a gathered meeting, and are collectively taught by the Spirit both in the silence and through the vocal ministry, Loring believes that the “true fruit and sacrament of the gathered meeting is love…” By this she means the kind of love that motivates people to action: “The people who have experienced themselves united with God’s will are drawn to manifest it as love in the world.”

Around 1940, Thomas Kelly wrote a beautiful essay, “The Gathered Meeting,” in which he describes the experience as follows: “In the Quaker practice of group worship on the basis of silence come special times when an electric hush and solemnity and depth of power steals over the worshipers. A blanket of divine covering comes over the room, and a quickening Presence pervades us, breaking down some part of the special privacy and isolation of our individual lives and bonding our spirits within a super-individual Life and Power—an objective, dynamic Presence which enfolds us all, nourishes our souls, speaks glad, unutterable comfort within us, and quickens in us depths that had before been slumbering. The Burning Bush has been kindled in our midst, and we stand together on holy ground.” Gathered meetings come in all degrees of intensity or depth, from subtle to very palpable. Here Kelly is describing the more intense form of the gathered meeting, sometimes called a “covered meeting.”

The term “gathered meeting” probably only came into common use as a consequence of Kelly’s essay. But the experience of being gathered by the Spirit in worship was described by the first Quakers in the middle of the seventeenth century. Francis Howgill, for example, spoke of powerful meetings in which, “The Kingdom of Heaven did gather us and catch us all, as in a net….”

Edward Burrough was Howgill’s partner in traveling to share with crowds of people the Quaker message of the Light of Christ within. Some of the curious people who came to listen were scornful of radical new ideas; others were hungry for a deeper intimacy with God. Those who were sincere seekers were invited to attend meetings for worship that lasted for hours. Again and again, participants in some of those meetings were gathered by the Spirit. Burrough describes this as a return to the experience of the first Christians at Pentecost: “And while waiting upon the Lord in silence, as often we did for many hours together, with our minds and hearts toward him, being staid in the light of Christ within us, from all thoughts, fleshly motions, and desires, in our diligent waiting and fear of his name, and hearkening to his word, we received often the pouring down of the spirit upon us, and the gift of God’s holy eternal spirit as in the days of old, and our hearts were made glad….

The effect of being gathered by the Spirit is transforming. Francis Howgill described how their hearts were bonded with one another and God in a powerful way, and they were set aflame with the desire to give everything to do God’s work in the world: “And from that day forward, our hearts were knit unto the Lord and one unto another in true and fervent love, in the covenant of Life with God…. And holy resolutions were kindled in our hearts as a fire which the Life kindled in us to serve the Lord while we had a being.”

Being gathered in the Spirit during meeting for worship is entirely different from reading remarkable accounts of such experiences, whether those of the first Quakers or contemporary Friends. It’s a bit like the difference between reading about the taste of a ripe peach and actually eating one, or hearing about the view from the top of a mountain and actually standing on a summit facing a clear panorama. Reading or hearing accounts of the experience of others cannot convey the experience itself, but it can help us glimpse the potential of surrendering to the Spirit together in a silent meeting for worship, and give us clues about how to open to the experience ourselves.

Whether or not you have experienced the gathered meeting, I invite you to explore further. I have creating an online page of resources with videos, readings and quotes. HERE is the link:

One With God and Each Other: Have you ever experienced being gathered by the Spirit into a oneness with God and with others? If so, what was that like?

© 2022 Marcelle Martin

*     *     *     *     *

Nurturing Faithfulness 2022-2023

a 9-month faith and leadership program

September 10, 2022 – May 22, 2023

Nurturing Faithfulness is a multi-generational faith and leadership program designed to help Friends explore ways to meet God more deeply, hone methods of discernment, reach for fuller faithfulness, and ultimately bring these gifts and strengthened abilities home to their local meetings and beyond. The program is structured to set in place support, encouragement, and accountability. It includes two long weekend residencies at Woolman Hill Retreat Center, as well as a mid-course residency and monthly webinars to be held online. Marcelle Martin and Hilary Burgin are the core teachers of the program, which also includes the participation of several elders and guest teachers.

For more information:

*     *     *     *     *

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.

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.

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: the Quaker Spiritual Journey.)

Find a Quaker Meeting near you: Quaker Finder

Posted in Contemplative spirituality, Learning from Early Friends, Mysticism, Quaker Faith Today, Radical Christianity, spiritual practices | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

The Radical Quaker Spiritual Journey

Earlier this month I was fortunate to be able to spend nine days in a hermitage on the edge of some woods. I went for many reasons: rest; renewal; reconnecting (with God, nature, and my soul); deep inward listening; discernment; and preparation for upcoming teaching and ministry. My retreat was not very structured, but nonetheless was blessed with all of these kinds of gifts.

Day by day, as I let go of plans, expectations, and demands on myself, I felt tension and stress falling away. I began to be more present in each moment, savoring sights, sounds, feelings, textures, tastes, and awareness itself. In spite of cold weather, I surprised myself by how much time I spent walking in the woods, exploring unfamiliar terrain, becoming acquainted with particular trees, boulders, ridges, and the sparkling creek. I carried on my usual spiritual practices and added spontaneous times of prayer.

For decades I have felt called to the ongoing work, in myself, of understanding and living on the radical edge of the Quaker call to spiritual transformation. In the first days at the hermitage, I had been puzzled about why I had brought copies of an 18th century Quaker document by Job Scott, “Essays on Salvation by Christ.” Only in the deeply quiet middle days of my retreat did I remember that I have long felt drawn to wrestle with and understand Scott’s statement about the full transformation to which we all are called.

Job Scott was a highly respected Quaker traveling minister from New England. On a trip to Europe in 1793, during his long passage by ship, he wrote a draft of an essay that he had been attempting to write for many years. Then, in Ireland, he contracted smallpox and died. In a letter written on his deathbed, he asked Friends to edit the essay and asserted his belief that there has never “been any other possible way of salvation but that of a real conception and birth of the divinity in man.” In the Preface to the essay, he clarifies, “[I]n all ages, it has been a real birth of God in the soul, a substantial union of the human and divine nature; the son of God, and the son of man, which is the true Immanuel state, God and man in an ever blessed oneness and harmonious agreement….”

Official Quaker committees examined the manuscript and concluded that while it was true to Scriptures and to Quaker doctrine, publication at that time would be controversial, because of theological divisions among Friends at that time that would be heightened by it. Other Friends, however, copied Scott’s essay by hand because they found it such a valuable guide to the spiritual life. It was finally published thirty-five years after Scott’s death, without official committee sanction. I have hesitated to write a similarly clear statement. My book Our Life is Love: The Quaker Spiritual Journey, speaks of these same truths, connected to Scripture and to early Quaker testimony, but the language, though contemporary, is not as bold as Scott’s.

Our desperate times call for the clearest statement of truth possible. I hope to do this as simply and clearly as I can in writing, joining others who have done the same. I also attempted to put this into words in an online webinar on The Radical Quaker Spiritual Journey. (January 30, 2022). A link to the recording is below.

I’m so grateful to those who have prayed for me and held me in the Light for faithfulness, simplicity, and clarity of expression.

The Radical Quaker Spiritual Journey © 2022 Marcelle Martin

*     *     *     *     *

The link to the recording of the The Radical Quaker Spiritual Journey webinar held January 30th, 2022 is available below.

The first Quakers discovered that a radical spiritual transformation resulted from learning to pay attention to the inward guidance of God. Their collective experience of surrendering together to this direct relationship enabled great spiritual power to work through them, which set in motion many liberating changes in society.

To watch the recording from The Radical Quaker Spiritual Journey, go HERE.

*     *     *     *     *

For Information About Other Upcoming Online Webinars with Marcelle Martin, click HERE.

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: 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 Contemplative spirituality, Learning from Early Friends, Mysticism, Quaker Faith Today, Radical Christianity | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Deep and Going Deeper

In the final lines of his book Deep, journalist James Nestor ponders the mystery of the human being and asks, “What are we?” It is a question, he says, that he asks with every breath, the question that drove his intensive research. His book explores not only the secrets about marine life and evolution that can be glimpsed in the depths of the ocean, but some extraordinary and little-known abilities of the human body in deep water.

The year it was published, Deep: Freediving, Renegade Science, and What the Ocean Tells Us About Ourselves was a New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice and a Scientific American Recommended Read. I devoured the book with great fascination because, I too, am seeking answers to the question “What are we?” or perhaps, “Who are we?” My experience has taught me that human beings today–even those with advanced academic degrees–have a dangerously inadequate understanding of the answer to those questions. Like the freedivers and “renegade scientists” that Nestor gets to know in his research, I, too, have experienced human capabilities that have been, for centuries at a time, forgotten secrets known only to a few. I, too, have a sense of urgency about our need, in this moment in history, to learn some of those crucial secrets—truths about human nature and the nature of reality.


Nestor’s journey into the depths began when he was sent to Greece to report on the annual world freediving competition. What he saw both fascinated and horrified him. Until then, he’d had no idea that human beings were capable of diving as many as three hundred feet deep and staying underwater for three minutes, wearing only wetsuits and filling their lungs with a single deep breath. He was repelled, however, by how many competitors threatened their own lives in the effort to achieve new records. After two competitions, he refused to attend any more. However, along the way he met some freedivers who use their skills not for competition but to explore the depths of the ocean. At the same time, they are discovering more about some extraordinary abilities of the human body.

The human embryo goes through stages similar to the evolution of the species, from a marine creature to a human being. For example, at about four weeks, the human embryo, like all vertebrates, forms pharyngeal gill slits in their throat region. In fish, similar slits develop into gills, but human embryos develop lungs instead. What Nestor learns, and then explains in Deep, is that the human body exhibits unexpected capacities deep underwater, capacities that may remain from earlier stages in evolution.

Underwater, it is possible to hold one’s breath longer than above water. Under strong water pressure, human lungs contract in size. The body withdraws blood from the extremities and then later releases a fresh boost of oxygen to the vital organs after minutes underwater, an event that freedivers refer to as “Flipping the Master Switch.” Until thirty feet, natural buoyancy lifts the human body to the surface of a body of water. There is, however, a point at which the body is no longer able to simply float to the surface. At around thirty feet deep, there is a “no-gravity” zone, where a human body neither rises nor falls. And then, around 35 to 40 feet deep, gravity begins to pull the human body into the depths of the ocean. This is what freedivers call “the doorway to the deep.” At this point, they no longer need to work to go deeper; they simply allow themselves to be drawn into the depths. They count on flipping the “Master Switch” to give them the oxygen they need to fight gravity for their return to the surface.

To become a freediver, James Nestor had to learn many skills. For instance, how to fill his lungs to maximum capacity; how to hold his breath at least four minutes submerged in water; how to equalize the air pressure in his head and ears without taking in more air; and how to reach the doorway to the deep and allow himself to be effortlessly pulled deeper. Overcoming his fear of deep water was a crucial skill, as well. He learned these skills in order to accompany the freedivers and “renegade scientists” who have made it their work to learn more about large marine animals, including dolphins, whales, and sharks. They meet these creatures in the depths of the ocean, where they are at home, recording and videotaping their interactions and communications to discover how they communicate, gain information, and find direction across long distances.

Scientists who are supported by research institutions and large grants generally restrict their study of whale interactions to recording and photographing them from the decks of boats. The freediving scientists, however, meet them in the water. Their research requires great patience and a certain amount of vulnerability. They travel by boat to places where they are likely to encounter the marine animals they want to study, but once in the water, freedivers don’t chase whales, dolphins, or sharks. Instead, they go deep and wait until the marine animals choose to approach them. Some of them are motivated by a love of these creatures, some of which have been hated and decimated by human populations over time. They study these animals, in part, because they want to explain them well enough to prevent their extinction.

Photo by Emma Li on

Nestor describes what they have learned about how whales identify other creatures through echolocation in the water, using loud clicks like a form of underwater radar and x-ray, and then receiving from the echoes an image of the bones and organs of those they are encountering. Sperm whales, he learns, do not chew their prey. They use their teeth as “antenna” in the process of echolocation. Instead, they stun their prey, which are often faster than they are, and then swallow them whole.

For me, the most wonderful description in the book is the moment when James Nestor’s efforts to become a deep diver finally succeed, and, for the first time, he glides through the doorway to the deep without fear or unnecessary struggle. The most exciting moments are when he encounters whales at close range. The first time, a mother whale as big as a bus and her large cub swim by and then turn around. It’s rare for a sperm whale to choose to approach a human; mothers, however, sometimes indulge the curiosity of their cubs. This mother and cub come as close at thirty feet, blasting Nestor and his companion with echolocation “clicks” that feel like “jackhammers on pavement.” Once their curiosity about the human divers is satisfied, the whales depart with a few “coda clicks,” clicks that are thought to be the way that whales identify themselves and communicate with each other.

Photo by Elianne Dipp on

The second time Nestor encounters a whale, while freediving with a researcher, a young bull bombards him with fierce echolocation clicks. The bull then flips over to better receive the echoes, and then decides to swim away. The scientists he is with explain to Nestor that it’s likely the bull initially targeted him as prey, but, after learning that Nestor has a big brain and lungs, chose to leave him alone. Did the whale decide that he didn’t want to eat a creature with capacities similar to his own? Was the whale more “humane” than human whale hunters?

During his research, Nestor found accounts from earlier centuries when human beings used their freediving skills to plunge deeper than 100 feet to collect sponges or red coral from the sea floor. For centuries, in numerous locations around the planet, pearl divers made use of the human ability to dive deep and stay underwater for extended periods of time. In the 14th century, for example, Marco Polo wrote about witnessing divers plunging more than a hundred and twenty feet and staying underwater three or four minutes on a single breath, to harvest pearls. Nestor writes that by the twentieth century, when new technologies had made freediving economically unnecessary, the “human body’s amazing diving abilities and human knowledge of freediving had begun to disappear.” Today modern competitive freedivers are rediscovering these abilities.

Possibly the largest group of human freedivers in human history was the ama of Japan, generations of women who for centuries—possibly as far back as 500 BC—daily dived hundreds of feet to collect sea creatures for food. For his book, Nestor flew to Japan to see if he could find any remaining ama in Japan. After a great deal of persistence and a lot of luck, Nestor found four women in Sawada. Their daughters had decided not to carry on the tradition of their mothers, choosing instead more ordinary and easier professions. These older women, however, the last to carry on a tradition twenty-five hundred years old, are different from the other women of their culture, “bawdy, brazen, and gruff.” They made fun of Nestor’s expensive newfangled wetsuit and fins. Diving since their teens, the women are now over 60; the oldest is 82. Nestor watched them dive for hours and then sell their catch to a sushi restaurant. Then he tried to get them to tell him their secrets.

“You just dive,” one of them told him. “You just get in the water.” This is more or less what most of the freedivers he has interviewed have told him. “The secret to going deep, they all seemed to be saying, was within each of us. We’re born with it,” he writes. Then adds, “But unlocking that secret was trickier than I ever imagined.”

Photo by 7inchs on

In the course of the book, Nestor describes how the warming of the oceans, caused by rises in greenhouse gases and global warming, is killing the phytoplankton that provides 50% or more of the oxygen in the air. At the end, he again writes of the forces that are changing the ocean, “oil spills, trash, sound pollution, nuclear waste” and more. Large marine animals, he warns, “may be gone before we even have a chance to fully understand them.” What we learn about them has much to teach us about ourselves. The exploration described in Deep leads Nestor to the conviction that human beings don’t yet know what we are. It’s a truth, he says, that “is constantly ringing in my ears.”

This book drew me in not only because Nestor is an excellent writer telling a fascinating story, but because his question is my own. The story of the amas speaks to me of wisdom that has been known through the ages by small groups of people, passed from generation to generation, breaking into the wider culture in flashes of wisdom and then being repressed by the dominant culture. There is essential wisdom that needs to emerge in our time, truths about who we are and the good we are capable of, that can still, at this late date, turn around the destruction that we have been unleashing on the planet in so many ways. The depths we need to explore are not just the mysteries of the ocean and the unexpected capacities of the human body, but inner terrain, and the deeper realms of consciousness.

Deep and Deeper: What deep truths have you learned about hidden human capacities from your own experience?

© 2021 Marcelle Martin

Upcoming Online Webinar with Marcelle Martin: The Radical Quaker Spiritual JourneyJanuary 30th, 7 to 9 pm EST on Zoom

The first Quakers discovered that a radical spiritual transformation resulted from learning to pay attention to the inward guidance of God. Their collective experience of surrendering together to this direct relationship enabled great spiritual power to work through them, which set in motion many liberating changes in society.

In this free 2-hr webinar, Quaker author Marcelle Martin will tell what she learned from studying the experiences of both the first Quakers and contemporary Friends, describing ten elements of the Quaker spiritual journey that were important both then and now. The transformative process she describes enables people to face the challenges of our time with radical faithfulness and God-given strength. Jennifer Hogue and Benjamin Warnke will co-facilitate. Participants will have a brief opportunity for sharing with others what you are seeking in your spiritual life.

To register for The Radical Quaker Spiritual Journey, go HERE.

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.

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.

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: the Quaker Spiritual Journey.)

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

Prayer of the World: A Rainbow Psalm

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

I am not hidden
I am splashing my color
all over the earth
       and I call to you     see me     open your eyes
       I ask you to call back the rainbow–
       the colors     the sounds     the presences
                 all form a web of life…

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


Photo by Ken Tapp

The Prayer of the World has been presented live in several different settings.  I experienced it in the Barn at Pendle Hill and at the 2016 summer Friends General Conference Gathering, where a showing was sponsored by the Earthcare Working Group.  Maia read out loud the words of the Prayer of the World and Ken Tapp’s images of the awesome splendor and the beautiful intricacy of the natural world were projected on a large screen.  Ken Jacobsen, with his guitar and voice, provided music.  More recently, it has been offered online.

Each time I’ve experienced the Prayer of the World, I’ve felt shaken out of a certain dull, habituated way of seeing this world to recognize God’s awesome handiwork.  Each time it has been breathtaking to appreciate more clearly the wisdom and healing power present in Creation.  The world is alive and calling to us in so many ways to wake up to the sacredness of our own nature and to our interconnection with Spirit and with all created things.  In the words of the Rainbow Psalm,

All is connected
in a living breathing web
      and I am the web
      the living pulse of energy
      that flows through all creation;

              each pulse a prayer…

The message of the Prayer of the World for humanity is an urgent one, calling us to consciously find our rightful and healing place in the sacred web of life.  

Prayer of the World: A Rainbow Psalm has now been published in book form.  A December 2, 2021 online celebration of the publication of Prayer of the World: A Rainbow Psalm was recorded. (See below)  It included a multi-media presentation and we heard Maia tell her story of how she heard the voice of the divine speaking through the world and how she and Ken traveled to the places where she experienced these sacred revelations.  

The online website for Prayer of the World is here: 

Friends’ Journal review of Prayer of the World (April 2022)

To order a copy of the book, go here: 

For more information about Maia and Ken Tapp, go here:   

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

© 2016 and 2021 by Marcelle Martin    (This blog post is an update of an earlier one posted in 2016.)

Posted in All of Life is Sacred, Contemplative spirituality, environmental activism, prayer, Stories that Heal | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments