Say the Wrong Thing

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

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

I was afraid of saying the wrong thing.

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

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

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

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

       Hold Space for Transformation

       Express Yourself

       Act With Intention

       Reflect on Yourself

       Trust the Process

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

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

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

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

At the White Privilege Conference Philadelphia 2016

At the White Privilege Conference
Philadelphia 2016

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

© 2017 Marcelle Martin

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

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


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

Opening to Divine Guidance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

* * * * *

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

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

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

© 2016 Marcelle Martin


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

Standing Rock: Hope and a Call to Action

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


Standing Rock Reservation, December 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

* * * * *

Our Life is Love: the Quaker Spiritual Journey, by Marcelle Martin, is available from Inner Light Books in hardback, paperback, and ebook. The book was designed to be a resource for both individuals and groups to explore their own experiences of ten elements of the Quaker spiritual journey of faithfulness.  It is also available from QuakerBooks.

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

© 2016 Marcelle Martin

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

Prayer of the World

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

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


Photo by Ken Tapp

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

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

Parts of The Prayer of the World are now available online at 


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

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

© 2016 Marcelle Martin

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

I See You

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Thank you!” he said.

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

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

file0001985899817 crop of morgue file woman on city street


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

*     *     *     *     *


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

© 2016 Marcelle Martin

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

One Second of Silence

We, the people of the USA, are in a state of grief and confusion — even those of us who are not gay, transgender, Latina, or Muslim, even those who don’t live in Florida and haven’t lost a family member to gun violence.  The tragedy in Orlando affects us all. The news reports and social media are full of opinions about what happened and why.  I hesitate to enter the conversation, but a phrase has repeated itself in my mind: “One second of silence.”  I feel drawn to look more deeply, and to reflect on causes.  And I feel called to enter into the vulnerable openness to God which is ultimately the only place of safety.

I first heard news of the tragedy last Sunday morning at Meeting when someone requested prayers.  Afterwards, my husband, Terry, and I bought newspapers, went online, listened to the radio.  Each day we learned more about the horrible murders in an LGBTQ nightclub in Orlando, Florida.  We also attended local gatherings, to grieve and pray.

Orlando vigil prayer a

On the day after the shooting, my husband, Terry, along with many members of my Quaker Meeting, attended an interfaith service held in a local church.  It included singing, prayers, and readings from the Bible and the Koran about being peaceable.  There was a time of silence. He and the man sitting beside him were moved to tears.

The next night we attended a meeting for prayer and worship held at Pendle Hill retreat center, convened in response to a request from Orlando Friends Meeting.  They had asked Quakers everywhere to gather that night and join in prayer for them and for everyone in Orlando needing strength and solace.  At that meeting, we heard expressions of grief and broken-heartedness.  Someone told about five decades of struggle for gay rights and mourned that the killer could find no better way to deal with confusion about his own sexuality.  We heard the voice of a Muslim woman, also broken-hearted, who said that true Islam is a religion of peace and love, not of violence.

I remembered visiting Florida Friends in Orlando meetinghouse, and in the silence of our gathering, I sensed that we were woven together spiritually in a large network of Quakers and others who were praying.  I felt how the tragedy had opened a wound in the collective heart of our nation, or even our planet.  This wound made us feel vulnerable, and at the same time it was an inner place of connection.

On the third day, Terry and I participated in a vigil held outside the courthouse in Media, Pennsylvania.  Many people attended.  We were gay, straight, and transgender.  Forty-nine volunteers lay down on the grass to symbolize the bodies of the forty-nine people killed at Pulse nightclub on Sunday.  It was a sobering sight.  The names and ages of the dead were read aloud; some were still in their teens.  A rabbi, along with many others, recited a Jewish prayer, in Hebrew.  It felt sacred.  A Methodist minister offered another prayer, then raised a large rainbow-colored kite, as a symbol of hope.  We were invited to join in forty-nine seconds of silence, one second for each of the victims.  I felt a holy hush.  Afterwards, the forty-nine volunteers stood up and a local group advocating for sensible gun control addressed the crowd.  Coming together in public with others and sharing our grief and prayer had a healing effect, bonding strangers into community.

Orlando vigil at Media court house 49 bodies b

“Fifty people died that night,” my husband said as we walked away.

It’s worth devoting at least one second of silence for the killer.  First, because he, too, was a child of God, as everybody is.  Next, because looking closely at his life could lead to some insight about the causes of this particular tragedy.  What was tormenting him, and what encouraged his violent tendencies?  Omar Mateen was an American citizen, born in this country to parents from Afghanistan.  He was troubled from childhood.  He abused his first wife, who left the marriage after a short time.  Wanting to be a police officer, he entered a training program in the Florida Department of Corrections.  He was dismissed, however, after making a joke about bringing a gun to class.  He took a job as an armed guard and was known to become enraged when he felt disrespected.  How often do Muslims in this country feel threatened and disrespected?  At various times, Mateen expressed allegiance to different Islamic groups that are in opposition to each other.  This suggests he knew little about them, but nonetheless he felt a kinship.  Although twice investigated by the F.B.I., he had no trouble buying a semi-automatic assault-style rifle and a huge quantity of bullets.  What prompts a young man to the path of terrorism, at the cost of his own life?

I feel called into the silence, to look more deeply at the causes of the violence in Orlando.

We live in a human world of gross inequities. Some people control far more than their fair share of the world’s resources, while many others have less than they need, an injustice that leads to conflict among individuals, classes, groups, and nations.  Those who are different from the mainstream are often demonized, their beliefs and cultures denigrated.

Human beings have a natural aversion to murdering one another. In all past U.S. wars, a large percentage of soldiers never fired a single bullet.  Today the United States as a whole craves dominance and glorifies violence and weaponry.  Television programs and movies acclimate viewers to watching numerous murders, at high speeds.  Certain video games were designed by the U.S. military to train soldiers to overcome their innate resistance to murdering another human being.  Today many children are addicted to this kind of video games in which they shoot and kill as fast as possible.   Hitting targets, whether on videos or on the shooting range, is a way to cope with insecurity and fear; it gives a temporary illusion of being in control, of being safe.  But ultimately watching images of violence and practicing murdering others strengthens the fear that enemies are out to get us.

Orlando vigil Gun Sense America

The root cause of violence among us goes even deeper.  We are so focused on the material world that we do not trust in non-material realities.  We fear death because we are ignorant of the spiritual nature of our true being.  Changing a culture that perpetuates fear, discrimination, and injustice requires us to look more steadily at the Great Love that holds us all.  At the deepest level of our being, we are all one, united in God in ways that are not visible to the outer eye.  To increase consciousness of this underlying unity, we need to look at all the things within us that block our awareness.  We must open our hearts in ways that make us feel vulnerable. Only by entering into undefended open­ness can we feel our connection with everything and everybody, and know our place in the Eternal Reality that is our ultimate and only true safety.

Let’s enter more deeply into the silence.

For more than one second.

All of us.

Orlando vigil crop rainbow flag

One Second of Silence: How do you experience the conflict between love and fear, peace and violence within  yourself?  Do you make time in silence to look within?  Have you found the peace of the divine Presence?

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

Our Life is Love: the Quaker Spiritual Journey, by Marcelle Martin, is available from Inner Light Books in hardback, paperback, and ebook.  The book was designed to be a resource for both individuals and groups to explore their own experiences of the ten elements of the Quaker spiritual journey. QuakerBooks provides discounts for books ordered in quantity.

 © 2016 Marcelle Martin

Posted in Facing Life with Faith, Quaker Faith Today | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Vistas From Inner Stillness

When is it fruitful to share our deepest spiritual experiences, and when is it better to keep them close, to ponder them only in our hearts?  Vistas From Inner Stillness raises the question.  In it, author Richard L.  Walker describes encountering God in some awesome natural settings, when his mind was in deep stillness.  These experiences transformed his faith in the presence of God to an experience of that divine reality. In this 1991 Pendle Hill pamphlet he took the risk to share his unusual experiences in order to encourage others “seeking answers to their life’s quest.”  His accounts reveal, however, the tender and deeply personal nature of such experiences.  Only those who have been reached in similar ways can comprehend; to others is may seem mere imagination.  Clear discernment about one’s own spiritual experiences, or the experiences of others, also comes from a deep place of inner stillness.

Richard L.  Walker was a Quaker naturalist, astronomer, and novelist, the author of articles on binary stars and satellites of the outer planets.  Starting in early childhood, he had some remarkable experiences in the natural world.   From periods alone in nature and from Quaker meeting for worship, he learned to still his mind and “listen” to what he variously refers to as God, Spirit, Light, and Light of Christ.  He found it was not easy to communicate to others the sense of the divine presence he sometimes encountered.  Few could understand.  One friend, however, offered a helpful analogy to describe the ability to perceive the divine presence: it is like finding a particular point on a radio dial that picks up a very subtle vibration:

The signal is always there, but you have to block out all external sensations to hear it.  The signal is so faint, but distinct, it seems to come from a depth inside us.  …and that’s what the Light is like too, a far distant, signal that only seems weak; yet, it is so clear and distinct when we listen with all we have. (5)

In the American Astronomical Society’s obituary for Walker, fellow astronomers noted that he was “a studious and very careful observer.” He made many thousands of measures of particular pairs of double stars.  Over the course of his career, Walker became adept at three different successive systems of astronomical technology.  In our culture, many people would readily accept the knowledge Walker acquired about distant stars and galaxies through powerful telescopes, yet some will question the cosmic awareness he gained through his spiritual perception.  In one experience, for example, high on a mountainside, he encounters an enormous cloud that seems to have a very personal presence.  Another exploration began when he obeyed a compelling inner call to drive up a particular mountain at night and fly a kite.  Under a dark, starry sky, he experienced a sweet, peaceful reassurance and a cosmic power that was in relationship with him. Was his experience that night mere imagination, or was it a gentle encounter with God?

Possibly the most remarkable mystical experience Walker recounts took place in the remote Havasu canyon at the western end of the Grand Canyon.  Walker and two Quaker friends trekked through desolate desert landscape and then six miles down into a narrow canyon.  At the bottom, they walked three more miles, past awesome waterfalls, and finally pitched a camp.  The three Quakers then sat on nearby rocks to hold a meeting for worship under the stars.  Walker describes the thunderous sound of the waterfall, the towering walls of the canyon, the cool air, the rising moon.  In the silence of the worship, in gentle “quantum steps,” he became aware of the presence of an awesome force:

As my wonderment increased, I felt I was being touched, caressed, warmed with the brush of an essence that was about me, which came from an infinite source of power and strength.  I was flooded in light, granting me an awareness that in this setting of explicit beauty, I was surrounded by a facet of the infinite force of the universe, and it was contacting me with comfort, but most of all it was contacting me with an assurance that God was there.  God is everywhere in our lives. (24)

Another person’s spiritual experiences or insight can never be convincing proof of the reality, presence, and power of God.  Everyone must open to their own direct experience.  Reading accounts such as Walker’s, however, can encourage us to trust the moments and ways when we ourselves connect with divine Reality, when we find the spot on the dial of our own perception that allows us to tune into the ever-present presence of God.

Many of Walker’s most profound spiritual experiences took place in remote natural locations.  However, he writes that a Quaker meeting for worship can likewise help people find the doorway not only to perception of God, but to receiving the divine love that wants to flow into the world through us:

In our silent meetings, Friends can tap a tremendous source, a vantage point for an extra view of the universe.  When we hold and nurture it, a mental respite brings fullness and purpose to our lives. …  Our inner silence is like a gate through which the good of the universe flows through us.  It is a good amplified in our lives that flows back leaving us reborn each time with greater love. (26-27)

Vistas From Inner Stillness: Have you ever experienced the presence of God while immersed in nature?  While engaged in a meeting for worship?

dusk sky

My new book, Our Life is Love: the Quaker Spiritual Journey, is available from Inner Light Books in hardback, paperback, and ebook.  It was designed to be a resource for individuals and groups to explore ten elements of the Quaker spiritual journey. QuakerBooks provides discounts for books ordered in quantity.

© 2016 Marcelle Martin

Posted in Contemplative spirituality, Mysticism, Quaker Faith Today | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments