Becoming Whole-Hearted in the Midst of Division

Through study of the charismatic beginnings of Quakerism, I have received a key to the Quaker spiritual journey that can help us  respond to the extraordinary demands of our time and truly become the needed agents of God’s healing we are now called to be.  Deep in my heart I know that what I have to share is a gift from God for us; yet I falter when faced with the task of speaking to a divided spiritual family.  Quakers today span the Christian theological spectrum, and beyond.  We are diverse in belief and practice.  Since I moved to Indiana a year ago, I’ve been in the midst of Friends suffering and grieving because of the painful split in Indiana Yearly Meeting (FUM).  The split involves different interpretations of scripture, different ideals of the role and authority of the Yearly Meeting, different ideas about the inclusiveness of God’s love.

The diversity and divisions among Friends mirror the condition of humanity.  Over a long Thanksgiving holiday, I was acutely aware of how divided my own family is, and my country, as well.  Eleven members of the extended Martin family gathered in Virginia to celebrate Thanksgiving early, against the backdrop of the Shenandoah Mountains.  After that, about twenty people connected to the Hauger family gathered in western Pennsylvania.  Members of the two families came from as far away as New York City and Phoenix, Arizona.  Like our nation, we ranged across a spectrum of political and religious beliefs.  In the Martin gatherings, our passionate exchanges about the presidential candidates were kept brief because tears came so quickly.  Which party was in the majority kept shifting as additional family members arrived.  At a meal with mostly Democratic members of the Hauger family, five-year-old Ethan (nicknamed ChiChi) asked incredulously, “Uncle Nate, did you vote for Romney?”  On Thanksgiving day, however, Nate was in the majority.  That morning we were on a farm where four men dressed in bright orange hunted for pheasants and rabbits, in fields doTreeline 2croptted by blue gas wells.  I could hear gun shots as I peeled ten pounds of potatoes in the kitchen.  In the afternoon, fifteen of us sat down together to share a bountiful meal, preceded by a prayer of thanksgiving.

During the election season, I had been feeling sad about how divided our nation is.  Over the Thanksgiving holiday,  I was reminded that the divisions in this country have a long history.  One day “Gone With the Wind” played for hours on the television, showing hundreds of wounded soldiers and the burning of Atlanta.  Another day several of us watched “Gettysburg,” which vividly depicted scenes from a decisive and very bloody Civil War battle fought on Pennsylvania fields.  That film gave voice to the convictions and questions of both Union and Confederate soldiers.  Some were motivated by ideals of freedom–for themselves, or for all.  Many simply desired to protect the culture and lifestyle dear in their region of the country.  A British witness to the conflict was puzzled because the two sides had so much in common–the same language, the same religion, the same songs.

“But different dreams,” he decided.

Even those of us who nominally share the same religion are deeply divided in our theology–as was true in England when Quakerism began.   On several mornings during the Thanksgiving holiday, before gathering with others, I sat with a laptop and tried to find the right words to succinctly describe the Quaker spiritual journey, as I’ve come to understand it from the writing and experience of early Friends.  During one meal I shared a brief version of this with some family members who listened politely, without comment.  They immediately changed the subject.  I ask myself: Who cares what I have to say about a life surrendered to the Light of Christ within?  How can I describe it in a way that others receive as good news?  How can I possibly communicate through all the different beliefs of those who might be reading these words? 

I am afraid to offend others, and also afraid to be dismissed, mocked, or condemned.   I have named this blog “A Whole Heart” not because my heart is already unified, but because I am learning to become whole-hearted.  I am called to be so.  I believe that early Friends were able to receive so much power from God in part because of how whole-hearted they were.  They, too, lived in a time of deep political and religious divisions.  Quakerism emerged during England’s Civil War, a time of disorienting social change, when numerous Christian denominations were each proclaiming to have found the right way to worship God and to organize the church and state.

Here is the first paragraph that I wrote in western Pennsylvania over the Thanksgiving holiday:

Friends today often wonder why contemporary Quakerism lacks the spiritual power manifested at the beginning.  Those who became the first Friends were whole-hearted in their desire to know and follow the ways of God.  Collectively they were ready to undergo the thorough spiritual transformation that was central to the early Quaker experience.  It involved an utter surrender to the Light of Christ within and among them.  They died to the selves they had been and were born anew, a rebirth that enabled them to live as sons and daughters of God.  If Friends today better understood how God wishes to transform us, we might more fully embrace the divine gift offered in our time, and become more powerful agents of God’s healing of humanity and the planet.

In the next post, God willing, I’ll share ten elements of that spiritual transformation.  May we learn together the singleness of eye and wholeness of heart to which we are all called.

 Shenandoah Mnt1

(c) 2012 Marcelle Martin

About friendmarcelle

A Quaker writer, teacher, workshop leader, and spiritual director, I've traveled widely to facilitate workshops and retreats about the spiritual journey. I'm the author of Our Life is Love: The Quaker Spiritual Journey, and A Guide to Faithfulness Groups.
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21 Responses to Becoming Whole-Hearted in the Midst of Division

  1. Karie Firoozmand says:

    Dear Marcelle – Thank you so much for this sharing. I continue to notice the name of your blog, and it makes me think of a striking statement I read recently in a book about the Wisdom Tradition. It was discussing what the heart is, and the author said it is the organ of perception (as opposed to personal emotional agendas), and the level of being we are at gives the organ of perception more or less receptivity to higher meaning.

    That had and has a lot of meaning to me, so I wanted to share it with you.


  2. Michael K. says:

    Heart Hugs. I Hear you Fellow Traveler… What a Gift It Is! God Bless es . . . It’s All “E”nergy . . . Recently a new song appeared.Sing along Chorus: “I wanna Be a Conduit, Your Lovin Energy runnin Through it.I wanna Be a Conduit, For Your LovE.” as you, we surely ARE

    Michael K.

    Date: Fri, 30 Nov 2012 15:59:04 +0000 To:

  3. Pat Thomas says:

    Keep speaking the Truth Marcelle, even if what you say offends others and they react towards you in the many ways you fear. At times people are offended and react in those ways because they know they are wrong and are feeling the conviction that is often necessary before a true repentance and transformation. Jesus spent his last night alive on earth praying for his disciples, “THAT THEY MAY BE ONE. ” That tells me it is important to God that we who call ourselves his disciples are one in Spirit and in Truth, “for the Father is seeking such people to worship him.” Your message is not only important, it is crucial in these days we are living in. Thank you for your loving boldness to speak Truth. The Truth spoken in love will always carry God’s power to transform lives. Amen and Amen.

  4. I can identify a bit with your Thanksgiving experience. In my case, I was glad that I was led not to spend the holidays with my family of origin. I spent it with a cousin and her family. She politely listened to me talk about Quakers. She was interested in how Quakers are different than other denominations and how open we are to other religions, but it didn’t seem possible to take the conversation much deeper than that.

    I find it difficult to put into words my experience and depth of conviction for people who are not Friends. Hannah Whitall Smith in her “Secret to a Happy Christian Life” book argues that we need to speak using the language of our time when speaking to others of our experience. This is a challenge that I wrestle with… something for me to work on.

  5. Nancy Fennell says:

    Dear Marcelle,

    You certainly speak for a lot of us who are trying to be faithful to what we feel we must say. And, I empathize “wholeheartedly” with both fears you mention. I am just now reading Margery Pose Abbot’s To Be Broken and Tender and God certainly challenged all her fears. The lack of response to what has been given to say/write/teach is especially hurtful when one is among Friends. I am following your blog with great interest. Thank you for your honesty and openness. It is a blessing.

    Nancy Fennell

  6. broschultz says:

    It is good to hear you are alive and well in Indiana. I look forward to your future postings on this topic as I have no doubt they come from your worship experience, a glimpse of which you were gracious to have shared with us at Manhasset last year.

  7. treegestalt says:

    This is a piece of something we are all struggling with — and I hope you will find my somewhat interpretive history a pointer in a useful direction. (I am waiting for the right nudge/inspiration to write up the core of what I’ve been learning from the effort, specifically for Friends. And what you are saying here is definitely a part of it!)
    You may or may not remember me freaking out briefly in your Pendle Hill class… Anyway, my Christmas poem seems apropos also:
    My heart is sick of being right.
    Liars, fellow-cowards, fools caught
    between God and Satan, listen!
    Isn’t it time for
    honest yearning?
    Haven’t we had enough
    of being too wise to trust?

    I can take disappointment; I cannot
    endure another year’s prudence.
    Roll back the sky, shatter
    my face with a terror of angels
    but make me yours, God!

    Another stillborn Christmas
    and another, and another?
    Wake us! I’ve seen enough
    of reasonable expectations.

    Let me babble incoherent
    prophecies of mercy coming, mercy here!
    with only our need as evidence

    and may the dead rise singing hallelujah
    before I worry anymore
    what people think!

  8. Thanks for sharing. You wrote: “I am afraid to offend others, and also afraid to be dismissed, mocked, or condemned. ” If you truly deeply believe that what you have to share is important, then I urge you to not be afraid to offend, do not think one bit about being dismissed, mocked or condemned. Basic civilities aside, any attempt to lead will generate these reactions. Always have, as I know you do, the courage of your convictions. Paraphrasing President Lincoln, you can never please everyone all of the time. Believe. Lead. Act.

  9. Judith Applegate says:

    I think it is important to be aware of and sensitive to the reactions of others, as you have illustrated you are. It is also true that the reaction of others says much more about them than it says about us or our message. When we offer a drink to those who are not thirsty, the purest spring water will stimulate no response or interst. Remember, Jesus could perform no miricles in his home town. On the other hand, there is also a place of grace where we are free from needing and/or seeking acceptance, appreciation, or affirmation of our message. In that spece we are aware of simply being a conduit of divine Love. And God, even more that we can imagine, is always present and eager to touch, embrace, and transform each of us exactly where we are.

  10. maurine pye says:

    Dear Marcelle, I have not see you since our stay at Pendle Hill in 2006. I will be in Richmond next week (December 12-13). Want to have a cup of tea? Thy light still shines for me.

  11. I said for years the early Quakers were charismatic in practice ~ but was not pleased when God called me into a charismatic church. There is unity that can only be found in the Spirit & it cuts across denominational boundaries. I have no problems with the theory but the practicalities…ah, the practicalities do my head in!

  12. francis says:

    thanks for the blog. I look forward to move Francis

  13. Bill Samuel says:

    “I am afraid to offend others, and also afraid to be dismissed, mocked, or condemned.” Jesus Christ offended others, and was dismissed, mocked and condemned. It is so with anyone who speaks the truth. Let God fill your heart, and then share freely what God puts in your heart. Do not worry about what other people will think. Only seek to be faithful.

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  16. Mary Noland says:

    Marcelle-Thank you so much. Mary N.

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  18. Dear Marcelle, I’m glad to have some days off to finally catch up with your blogging. Thank you so much, dear friend, for writing so whole heartedly. : ) I resonate with what you share and am also inspired. It seems like it not only takes the courage of conviction and the urgings of Spirit to speak the deep truths of our heart(regardless of the reactions of others), but also the confidence that even when it seems that no one cares or is listening, it is still important to share. It’s one of the battles I struggle with all the time, a battle that seems to be symptomatic of this postmodern era…… can anything I think, say, or do make a difference? Your words do make a difference, Marcelle. Your continued faithfulness to the early Quaker practice of “thorough spiritual transformation” and to “utter surrender to the light of Christ” inspires me and reminds me of what is needed and what is possible.

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  20. Alicia Adams says:

    Dear Marcelle,
    I’ve found the Light of Christ in the most unlikely places–according to our belief systems. I recognize it by the Light of Christ as it flows through them and transforms me. I spent over a year in India under very difficult circumstances. This Light flowed through people of diverse belief systems–and no particular belief systems. “Whole-Hearted” is the key. When we become whole-hearted, even momentarily, the Light of Christ shines forth through us.

    I’ve also discovered that when our hearts are wounded, we are not whole-hearted. We know this difference at a deep level of our awareness. It causes us enormous pain. Often people who have blocked awareness of their inward heart-wounded state act in ways to wound others–particularly targeting those who are sensitive to the Light and open to the tenderness of the Christ Spirit. Compassion is needed in these situations. All of our aggression and defensiveness comes from our heart-wounds, largely unacknowledged.

    The Light also illumines all that is not of the Light. This is painful. We hide from our pain by oursourcing the cause of this pain onto those who remind us of how we are meant to be: whole-hearted and tender with one another.

    Your journey is truly a whole-hearted journey into greater Light of Christ. All who resonate with you and your seeking, yearning, and finding are One with you and the Light you express. Bless you, Marcelle!
    Alicia Adams

  21. Homer Wood says:

    As always, you are an inspiration to me.

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